Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Shirley Griffith. March seventeenth is Saint Patrick's Day, a time to
celebrate Irish culture. The Census Bureau says that in two thousand seven,
thirty-six and a half million people in the United States claimed Irish
ancestry. That was more than ten percent of all Americans -- and more than
eight times the number of people in Ireland itself.
week on our program, we remember three Irish-Americans: the labor activist
Mother Jones, the early photographer Matthew Brady and the entertainer Bing
That song is called "The Death of Mother
Jones." Gene Autry recorded it three months after she died in nineteen
Harris Jones was one of America's most effective labor organizers. Yet few
people knew her real name. She rarely, if ever, used it. She was known as
Mother Jones. Those on the other side of the labor struggle called her
"The Most Dangerous Woman in America."
is also the name of a book from two thousand one by Elliott Gorn, a professor
now at Brown University in Rhode Island. His research produced new information
about Mother Jones.
example, she said she was born in Ireland in eighteen thirty. She was born in
Ireland but Professor Gorn found that the year was eighteen thirty-seven. In
other words, she was seven years younger than she claimed.
Mary Harris was a schoolteacher in the
state of Tennessee when she married an iron worker named George Jones. They had
But in eighteen sixty-seven her husband and all four
children died of yellow fever.
Jones moved to Chicago and became a successful dressmaker. Then everything she
had was destroyed again -- this time, in the Great Chicago Fire of eighteen
After that she became involved in the labor movement.
Mary Jones seemed to appear whenever and wherever there were labor problems.
She often worked with coal
miners. They began calling her "mother," and she started using the
name Mother Jones. Sometimes she was called "the Miner's Angel."
was produced mostly in six states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West
Virginia and Colorado.
eighteen forty, the United States had seven thousand coal miners. They dug
about two million tons of coal from the ground.
nineteen hundred, the number of miners had reached almost seven hundred
thousand. And that year they produced three hundred fifty million tons of coal.
killed thousands of mine workers. Miners were low paid and generally lived in
towns owned and operated by the mine owner. Under this system, the company paid
the miners, then the miners paid the money back to the company in return for
goods and rent.
workers who attempted to organize met fierce opposition, and sometimes
violence. Mother Jones believed that unions represented the best hope for coal
miners and other workers to improve their lives.
spoke out against child labor and unsafe working conditions. "Pray for the
dead and fight like hell for the living," she would say.
worked for an early union called the Knights of Labor. Later she became an
organizer for the United Mine Workers union. She was also a founder of the
union known as the Industrial Workers of the World.
And for several years she traveled as a
speaker for the Socialist Party. But, in the end, she found that she liked the
ideas of Socialism more than the party and its supporters.
Jones led protests to further the cause of unions. Many of the protests
involved women and children. She led a march of miners' wives in western Pennsylvania
in nineteen hundred. And three years later she led a children's march to
President Theodore Roosevelt's New York home to protest child labor.
Mother Jones was arrested many times. In West Virginia
in nineteen twelve, violence connected to a miners' strike led to her trial and
conviction for conspiracy to murder.
state governor freed her, but only after the United States Senate ordered an
investigation into conditions in the West Virginia coal fields.
nineteen thirteen, she was kept under house arrest for nine weeks after helping
to organize mine workers in Colorado.
Jones died after celebrating, supposedly, her one hundredth birthday in
nineteen thirty. Professor Gorn says she was really ninety-three. But her place
in labor history is undisputed. Mother Jones is recognized in the National
Women's Hall of Fame and the United States Labor Department's Labor Hall of
we move on to an American whose father was born in Ireland. Matthew Brady
documented the American Civil War in pictures. He has been called the father of
was born near Lake George in New York State around eighteen twenty-two. His
father was a farmer.
Matthew Brady moved to New York City
where he learned about photography, still a new technology then.
began taking pictures of famous people in eighteen forty-four. Among his
subjects were Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen
He wanted to photograph more political leaders, so in
eighteen forty-nine he moved to Washington, D.C.
Civil War began in eighteen sixty-one. Matthew Brady decided to document the
conflict. Yet he suffered from poor eyesight. So he put together teams of
photographers to help him.
took some of the battlefield pictures himself. But he got credit for all the
photographs because they were made by his teams.
could now see battlefield deaths as captured by a camera rather than an
artist's pen or paintbrush. But Brady could not sell enough pictures to pay the
costs of taking and processing them. He had to sell his offices to pay his
In eighteen seventy-five, Congress bought all of his
Civil War pictures for twenty-five thousand dollars. But even that was not
enough to save him from financial ruin.
Brady died a poor man in eighteen ninety-six. But the pictures that he and his
photographers made left a wealth of history for all future generations to see.
(MUSIC: "Too Rah Loo Rah Loo Rah")
Bing Crosby was a singer and actor whose mother's
family came from Ireland. He was born Harry Lillis Crosby in nineteen hundred
and three in the northwestern city of Tacoma, Washington.
are different stories about how he got his nickname. One version says his
friends started calling him Bingo, and later Bing, after characters in a local
comic strip, the Bingville Bugle. Another story goes that when he was a boy
playing cowboys and Indians, he shouted "bing" instead of
"bang" after a make-believe gunshot.
Crosby started to sing professionally in the nineteen twenties. His group the
Rhythm Boys joined the famous Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. When the group
broke up, Bing started singing alone in nightclubs and on the radio. And he
started appearing in movies.
made more than sixty films. He won an Academy Award for best actor for the
nineteen forty-four movie "Going My Way." He played an Irish priest,
Father O'Malley. Later, he had his own radio and television shows.
As a singer, Bing Crosby's biggest recording success
came from a nineteen forty-two movie. In "Holiday Inn" he sang a new
song by Irving Berlin. That recording of "White Christmas" has sold
more than one hundred million copies. That puts it among the best-selling
singles of all time. Bing Crosby died in nineteen seventy-seven.
(MUSIC: "White Christmas")
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced
by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Shirley Griffith. You can find our programs with transcripts and MP3s at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA