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Indybay Feature
Mother Jones Epidemic
by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at] hotmail.com)
Friday Sep 4th, 2020 11:04 PM
As a Labor Day weekend begins with many millions out of work, while we're supposed to stay home (if we have one) and not have any fun,I thought I'd share from Mother Jones' autobiography how she lived though the epidemic of her day.
CHAPTER 1, EARLY YEARS

I was born in the city of Cork, Ireland, in 1830. My people were poor. For generation's they had fought for Ireland's freedom. Many of my folks died in that struggle. My father, Richard Harris, came to America in1835, and soon as he had become an American citizen he sent for his family. His work as a laborer with railway construction crews took him to Toronto, Canada. Here I was brought up but always as an American citizen. Of that citizenship I have always been proud.

After finishing the common schools, I attended the Normal school with the intention of becoming a teacher. Dressmaking too, I learned proficiently. My first position was teaching in a convent school in Monroe, Michigan. Later, I came to Chicago and opened a dressmaking establishment. I preferred sewing to bossing little children.

However I went back to teaching again, this time in Memphis, Tennessee. Here I married in 1861. My husband was an iron moulder and staunch member of the Iron Moulders Union.

In 1867 a yellow fever epidemic swept Memphis. Its victims were mainly among the poor and the workers. The rich and well-to-do fled the city. Schools and churches were closed. People were not permitted to enter the house of a yellow fever victim without a permit. The poor could not afford nurses. Across the street from me ten persons lay dead from the plague. The dead surrounded us. They were buried at night quickly and without ceremony. All about my house I could hear weeping and the cries of delirium. One by one, my four little children sickened and died. I washed their little bodies and got them ready for burial. My husband caught the fever and died. I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came for me. Other houses were as stricken as was mine. All day long, all night long, I heard the grating of the wheels of the death cart.

After the union had buried my husband, I got a permit to nurse the sufferers. This I did until the plague was stamped out.
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