Who were the Molly Maguires? Did they really exist? These are questions asked by many people today. Some historians wonder if the Molly Maguires really did bring their secret society from England to the United States, or if the incidents blamed on them were just random accidents on which officials needed to place a blame. We may never actually know...
There are many ideas about how the "Molly Maguires" got their name. One of the most popular is that Molly was a poor widow, who was evicted from her home after the landlord's agent apparently, "severely abused her and her daughter". The group adopted this name in homage to the Molly and her bravery. Another theory is that Molly's home was used as the first meeting place of this new secret society, so they used her name as their title. Yet another speculation for this name is that Molly was a huge, fierce Irish woman with a pistol strapped to each thigh, who led gangs of young Irishmen dressed in women's clothing on night raids. One of the most famous Irish theories is that Molly was a crazy old woman from Count Fermanagh, who imagined that she had great armies and organizations of men under her control. However, no one really knows exactly how the title" the Molly Maguires" came about. The "Mollies", as they were sometimes called, were miners in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania who organized into a union during the 1860's and 70's. These miners were mostly Irish. Their union was called the Workingmen's Benevolent Association. Many members of this union were also members of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.
The Ancient Order of the Hibernians was a semi-secret fraternal society, that was begun in Ireland as a completely secret and anonymous association. This group was determined to be the most powerful charitable and immigrant-aid group lodge in the country.
A question the reader may now be asking themselves is, why were they fighting? The Mollies, as stated in the beginning of this paper, were miners who formed unions because of their frustration dealing with their working circumstances. It was not the actual conditions of the mines; it was the conditions of the worker's lives that pushed them to extreme action. Salary was low, the company store was overpriced, and the living conditions, horrendous. In addition to the low pay, the miners worked extremely long days. In 1868, 20,000 miners protested for the eight-hour workday to unfortunately, no avail. A year later, The Workingmen's Benevolent Association. The WBA struck first for a minimum base of objectives (i.e., better hours, better pay, etc). Their strike showed general unification even though it was unsuccessful in achieving basically, anything.
While the Workingmen's Benevolent Association's members were of many different nationalities, the Irish continued with their local chapters of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. The middle and upper classes, although it consisted of all classes, mainly ran the AOH. Therefore the Irish workers had a difficult time, even with their own "brothers", gaining support for their struggle for better working conditions in the mines.
The destruction of the AOH became essential to the coal operators, because they did not want all of their workers turning against them. When miners involved in the AOH realized that many, if not most of the companies they were fighting against were heavily invested in by British investors, fuel was added to their fire. The Irish-American could not easily forget their hatred for the English.
One may question, what did the Irish have against the English? The answer one will find is, plenty! In Ireland, the landlords and agents and in American there were bosses and mine owners. The landlords in Ireland lived on large estates in the Irish countryside and charged outrageous rates for renting one of the many little shacks they owned. Also, nine times out of ten they would not even come to check up on the tenants or to collect the rent....
Bibliography: Kenny, Kevin. Making Sense of the Molly Maguires. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
Broehl Jr., Wayne G. The Molly Maguires. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965
Hall, Patrick J. Overthrow of the Molly Maguires. Hit on: 11/3/03
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