Mother Jones Imprisoned at Pratt Boarding House, 1913
Pratt Boarding House as it appeared before it was demolished in 1997 and removed from the National Register of Historic Places. The Post Office that appears to the left is still in use.
This picture shows how serious the miners were about the strike. The munitions in this picture were seized from miners after martial law was declared.
Mother Jones in front of the Pratt Boarding House where she was imprisoned temporarily in 1913.
This sign on the window of the former boarding house demonstrates the long historical memory of Mother Jones among the descendants of the coal miners.
Backstory and Context
Tensions between coal miners and operators began in the late nineteenth century when attempted to unionize threatened the harsh control coal companies held over miners. During 1902 to 1903 Mother, Jones helped coal miners in West Virginia gain some success with unionizing. However, in the decade between coal operators were successful in driving out the Union. By 1912, the miners’ union contract expired, and the operators refused to increase the workers’ wages. Mother Jones came back to West Virginia to help organize the striking coal miners. On April 18th, the strike began in the Kanawha Valley. Coal operators hired the Baldwin-Felts detectives to work as mine guards. Violence subsequently ensued between the mine guards and the coal miners. The Baldwin-Felts detectives were instructed to harass miners and their families in hopes they would leave the Kanawha Valley. However, the miners did not back down from the intimidation tactics employed by coal operators.
Violence escalated from both sides prompting Governor Glasscock to declare martial law. The small town of Pratt was converted into a makeshift prison camp for miners arrested during the period of martial law. Here, the miners awaited trial through a military tribunal. Most notable of strikers arrested and imprisoned at Pratt was Mother Jones in February 1913. Mother Jones helped bring national attention to the plight of coal miners in West Virginia. Despite becoming ill with pneumonia, Governor Glasscock would not release Jones. However, when Governor Hatfield was elected he allowed Jones to receive treatment and recover in Charleston, but she was sent back to Pratt. Jones was able to sneak letters out further her cause for striking coal miners. After several months imprisoned at the Pratt Boarding House, Mother Jones was released, but not without violence and unconstitutional imprisonment according to Jones.