Atkinson’s overview and use of contrasting quotes from various figures in Mother Jones set the stage for the drama that unfolds over the remaining fifteen chapters, the wins and losses in the struggle between employers and employees. While the book might well have been intended for an adult audience, it is of importance to young readers for its portrayal of Jones as a fearless, compassionate union worker who demanded fair treatment for all workers, young and old; for its sense of American history and the story of American labor; and for its evocative scenes of conflict between police and ordinary working people demanding their rights. Atkinson clearly sympathizes with Jones and her union associates; she has little but scorn for the exploitative Rockefellers of the nineteenth century United States, whose companies denied workers the right to assembly, forced children to work long hours under dreadful conditions, and generally brutalized the working population into submission until trade unions became powerful agents of social and economic change.
Atkinson’s narrative shows Jones’s organization of the rights of working children and the apathy of successive American governments to the issue of child labor. In a chapter entitled “The Children,” the reader learns not only about the plight of working children in the Kensington textile mills in Philadelphia but also about President Theodore Roosevelt’s response to Jones and the several hundred striking children from the textile mills who, in 1903, had marched from Kensington, Philadelphia, to see him at his “Long Island summer mansion.” Consistently refusing Jones’s requests for an audience,...
(The entire section is 684 words.)
Atkinson’s book is a fascinating study of the life of a powerful woman union organizer and her role within the context of American history. As such, its value for young readers is great. Mother Jones provides a strong role model for young girls and presents a powerful indictment of corporate owners in their treatment of their workers and families. The book’s illustrations are a graphic but equally absorbing pictorial account of the history of trade union development. The text would serve as a valuable educational tool not only for students of history and sociology but for students of rhetoric as well. Atkinson’s unsentimental approach to her subject shows readers how a writer’s sympathy can be conveyed convincingly through argument and information, thus leaving the young reader to decide who won or lost in the historical struggle for worker rights.