Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living

Mother Jones? Mary Harris Jones? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A rallying cry employed by protesters apparently began with labor activist Mary Harris Jones who is better known as Mother Jones:

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: Mother Jones described in her 1925 autobiography a visit she made to a group of miners. They were holding a union meeting in a church which they had rented, and when Jones arrived, she told them to leave the building: 1

“Boys,” I said, “this is a praying institution. You should not commercialize it. Get up, every one of you and go out in the open fields.”

The union meeting was held outside, but Jones noticed a school nearby, and she told the audience members to consult with the school board and hold future meetings in the school building to which they held a rightful share. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Your organization is not a praying institution. It’s a fighting institution. It’s an educational institution along industrial lines. Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!

Mother Jones should be credited with this statement which she included in her autobiography.

Image Notes: Public domain portrait of Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones) circa 1902 from the Bain Collection via the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division.


  1. 1925, Autobiography of Mother Jones by Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones), Edited by Mary Field Parton, Chapter VI: War in West Virginia, Quote Page 40 and 41, Charles H. Kerr & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)