There's no hint of history at the corner of Riggs and Powder Mill roads. No clue that 70 years ago, just several hundred yards east of the Montgomery-Prince George's line, a legendary figure in U.S. labor history--the diminutive agitator once called the most dangerous woman in America--spent the final years of her remarkable century of life.
These days, the intersection is a hop-skip from the corner of the Hillandale Baptist Church parking lot. But in 1930, this stretch of suburbia was remote and rural, and a two-story farmhouse stood surrounded by fields and woods.
It was here that Mary Harris "Mother" Jones came as her health failed, here that she celebrated her 100th birthday, here that she died.
Late this fall, that important but essentially forgotten footnote of the 20th century will be commemorated as a state historic marker is erected along Powder Mill.
"Mother Jones, Grand Old Champion of Labor," it will read. "The legendary labor organizer spent a lifetime fighting for unions and the rights of workers. She died at the Burgess Farm near here on November 30, 1930."
"People don't know she died in Maryland," said Saul Schniderman of Takoma Park, who is a cataloger at the Library of Congress and local AFSCME president. His search for the site began more than two decades ago.
Even then, few neighbors were around who remembered the house where Jones moved in 1927. Lillian Burgess, an acquaintance through mutual friends in Washington, became her constant caregiver.
Jones did not fade quietly away, however, and on May 1, 1930, her bunting-bedecked birthday party drew 200-plus guests, a band and congratulatory telegrams from around the world. According to one newspaper account, the frail yet fiery guest of honor cut her five-layer, union-baked cake only after a vigorous denunciation of capitalists.
Seven months later, her death made national headlines. "Mother Jones Dies As Labor Mourns," announced a front-page story in the Washington Evening Star on Dec. 1, 1930. It noted that "only her nurse and friend, Mrs. Walter Burgess, with whom she spent her last months on earth, was at her bedside, at 11:55 o'clock, when the feeble eyes of Mother Jones closed" forever.
Following Walter Burgess's death the next year, his widow opened the "Mother Jones Rest Home" and advertised rooms for "convalescents and semi-invalids." Records and memories for subsequent decades are lacking, and today no one seems to know when the building was torn down.
Lillian Burgess sold the property to the Baptists in 1952. The only trace of history that Hillandale Baptist minister William Moyer has found in church files is a financial receipt with the rest home letterhead.
"People are getting more curious as to what this is all about," Moyer said this week. The congregation's interest was especially piqued last spring when crews repairing a sewer line under the parking lot, now officially considered part of Adelphi, chanced upon part of the farmhouse's original foundation.
Chance is how Schniderman got involved back in 1979, stumbling over a reference to Jones's death in a book about coal mining songs, but he didn't start pushing the Maryland Historical Trust for a road marker until last year. He found ready support from the United Mine Workers of America, whose international president wrote an enthusiastic letter.
"Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mother Jones," Cecil E. Roberts noted, "miners and other working people across the country were finally able to achieve a voice with their employer. . . . Mother Jones never stopped fighting the good fight."
She came late to that activism. Born in County Cork, Ireland, Mary Harris emigrated as a girl with her family. As a young woman she taught a while, then married George Jones, a member of the Moulder's Union. In 1867, he and their four children died in a yellow fever epidemic.
Jones moved to Chicago to make a living as a seamstress, but the great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed her shop and home and left her destitute. Only then did she join with unions. At 56, she became a field organizer for the newly formed United Mine Workers, crisscrossing the country, recruiting and speaking, clashing with government and police authorities and, even into her 80s, landing repeatedly in jail.
"Her boys" in the mines always held a special place in her heart, and she was buried beside them in the United Mine Workers Cemetery in Mount Olive, Ill.
"Without a doubt she's the most dramatic and compelling woman figure in American labor history," Schniderman said. "I feel like I have helped keep the spirit of Mother Jones alive."