During this Labor Day weekend here the US, we're number 1 in Covid deaths and have millions out of work consequently, Here in San Francisco, as fires rage and smoke overwhelms, we're supposed to stay inside with our windows shut and have no fun. In light of all this, I thought I'd share Cork-born labor heroine Mother Jones' experience of surviving the epidemic of her day.
Autobiography of Mother Jones Chapter 1 Early Years
I was born in the city of Cork, Ireland, in 1830. My people were poor. For generations they had fought for Ireland's freedom. Many of my folks died in that struggle. My father, Richard Harris, came to America in 1835, and as soon as he became an American citizen he sent for his family. His work was as a laborer in railway construction crews took him to Toronto, Canada. Here I was brought up but always as the child of an American citizen. Of that citizenship I have always been proud.
After finishing 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 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, this time in Memphis, Tennessee. Here I married in 1861. My husband was an iron moulder and staunch member of the Iron Moulder's Union.
In 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept Memphis. Its victims were mainly among the poor and 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 permits. 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 could hear weeping and the sounds 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. No one could. Other homes were as stricken as was mine. All day long,all night long, I heard the grating of wheels of the death cart.
After the union buried my husband, I got a permit to nurse the sufferers. This I did until the plague was stamped out.