The Mother Jones Heritage Project will be unveiled an important historical marker, exhibit and digital story tours on December 11 timed to coincide with the end of the year-long Illinois Bicentennial celebration. The marker highlights the remarkable historical figure Mother Jones. The large 4-foot x 4-foot marker is placed in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation, at the I-55 Northbound Coalfield Rest Area, exit mile marker 64, which receives over a million visitors each year 25 miles south of Springfield. The indoor exhibit will feature a march of coalfield women that occurred in Springfield in 1933.
Joining the ribbon-cutting honors were Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America, and Elliott Gorn, the author the leading biography of Mother Jones. In addition, a descendant of Agnes Burns Wieck, who led the massive march in 1933, was present. He displayed a quilt given to Wieck in 1933 by the women’s auxiliaries, which enhanced the understanding of the historic moment.
The marker dedication will also kick off a larger project of stories and tours that will be available to visitors to Route 66. The Mother Jones Heritage Project, through funding from the Government of Ireland and the Illinois Humanities will launch a new stories and tours, including a digital-platform and free downloadable booklet tour of the Union Miners Cemetery/Mother Jones Monument and a walking tour of the Virden Illinois Mine War conflict of 1898. Mother Jones decided to be buried in Mt. Olive’s Union Miners Cemetery in recognition of the importance of the Virden conflict for shaping Illinois’ history. Both of these tours will help to bring to life the struggles of coal miners for a living wage, and the drama and violence of this era and make the history understandable through sketches, performance, and images.
The marker and indoor exhibit was funded in part by the Government of Ireland in recognition of that nation’s growing interest in the role of Mother Jones. In addition, support or funding came from United Mine Workers of America, Mother Jones Foundation in Springfield, Illinois Labor History Society, United Staff Union of Illinois, Springfield & Central Illinois Trades & Labor, Northern Illinois University, Illinois State Historical Society.
Rosemary Feurer, director of the Mother Jones Heritage Project, explained that “the coalfields were important to shaping all of Illinois’ history. The goal of the marker is to draw people who visit the rest stop into a history that they might not normally associate with the prairie landscape of I-55. In addition, we are proud that we have added a woman to another marker is our state’s history.”
Please note that for those coming from the north, it is necessary to go to the Raymond exit from Southbound exit, then head North until mile marker 64, which is where the coalfield rest area is located.