Mark Murray wrote a great review of Elliot Gorn’s new book, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America (CityBooks, “One Bad Mutha,” 4/27), but he missed an opportunity to tell the story of Mother Jones’ last days, in D.C. and in nearby Adelphi, Md.
As a labor organizer and agitator, Mother Jones had no fixed address. She once told a congressional committee: “My address is like my shoesit travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against slavery.” She often slept in workers’ homes, union halls, and even miners’ tent colonies.
When she visited Washington, she would often stay with Terence Powderly, the former head of the Knights of Labor and, in the ’20s, the U.S. commissioner general of immigration. The Powderlys lived in the Petworth area of the District, at 5th Street and Rock Creek Church Road NW. The Powderly house still exists and is now the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, a shelter and home for community-service workers.
Terence Powderly died in 1924, and Mother Jones, well into her 90s, needed a place to rest and recuperate. The labor icon was becoming increasingly frail. She went to live with Lillie May Burgess and her husband, Walter, in a country house at the corner of Riggs Road and Powder Mill Road in what is now Adelphi. The Burgesses owned a small truck farm, and it was there that Mother spent the last years of her life, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the area. She celebrated her 100th birthday on May 1, 1930, and, on Nov. 30, 1930, she died in the arms of Lillie May Burgess, her caregiver and friend.
Last December, on the 70th anniversary of Mother Jones’ death, the Maryland Historic Trust placed a marker at the site of the Burgess home. A commemoration and celebration accompanied the placing of the marker and officials from the United Mine Workers, the AFL-CIO, the Labor Heritage Foundation, the National Labor College, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women participated.
The Most Dangerous Woman in America is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on!
Takoma Park, Md.