Jun 21, 2011

The Molly Maguires

(Providence College) The "Molly Maguires" were miners in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania who organized into a union during the 1860's and 1870's. These miners were chiefly, although not exclusively, Irish and the union was called the Workingmen's Benevolent Association. In general, the members of this union were also members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a semi-secret fraternal society, which had its origin in Ireland as a completely secret and anonymous association.
This organization of Irish miners was dubbed the "Molly Maguires," after a group of Irish peasants who dressed up as women to antagonize their landlords. This group was infamously known as murderers and assassins and the press and police in America applied the name to the Irish miners. The label was used by both the press and the owner-operators of the mining companies to their distinct advantage. They called anyone who was pro-union a "Molly," inferring that they were criminals at best. This helped to subdue, even if only slightly, uprisings in the work place. The conditions of the mines were horrendous: there were no provisions for safety nor proper ventilation within the pits. Mine inspectors were figments of the imagination - not until 1870 was legislation passed mandating a second exit for escape in case of explosion, fire, cave-in, etc.
The legislature was largely under the influence of the coal mine operators and ignored the workers, as the mine owners perceived them as having no power. The initiative behind the eventual passage of the 1870 legislation was the Avondale fire in 1869, in which 179 men died. Even then, however, it was only in Schuylkill County that this legislation was passed, which stated there must be a second opening, force ventilation, and the appointment of state mine inspectors.
These laws were, however, extremely weak and rarely enforced. It was not until a mine operator was one of the men killed in a severe explosion in the Ravensdale Collier in the Pottsville district that a need was finally seen for the grievances the miners had been voicing for years. In Schuylkill County alone, 566 miners were killed and 1665 maimed in seven years. Continued