California State University, Long Beach

Show simple item record Thomas (O'Neal), Mary (1887 - ) Berger Gluck, Sherna, interviewer 2020-09-21T20:17:01Z 2020-09-21T20:17:01Z 2020-09-21
dc.description SUBJECT BIO - Mary Thomas (Oneal) became spokesperson on behalf of the striking miners and their families who were the victims of the Ludlow massacre in 1914. Born in the Ogmore Valley in South Wales of a mining family, Thomas came to the US in 1913 with her two children, seeking her miner husband, who had deserted the family. She arrived in Colorado during the organizing drive of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and initially became involved primarily as a result of her singing talents. After the eviction of the miners from their company-owned housing and the establishment of a tent colony in Ludlow, she became actively involved in the daily affairs of the community. When the tent colony was attacked by the militia on Easter morning, 1914, she played a critical role in saving the lives of many women and children and in assisting the men who had fled to the hills. She was the only woman from among the miners community to be arrested. After her release from jail, Thomas traveled east to talk about the strike, and spoke to audiences in New York and other cities. She also went to Washington, DC, and with the assistance of Judge Ben Lindsey, made a direct appeal to President Wilson for federal troops. Thomas moved to Salt Lake City, where she worked as a waitress, then to Nevada, where she supported her children by running a restaurant, and later a dance hall. She re-married in Nevada, and when the family moved to Los Angeles, she opened her own tailoring business. Thomas wrote a book about her experiences, Those Damn Foreigners (Hollywood, California: 1971). She suffered from short term memory loss at the time of the interview, but her accounts of the Ludlow experience and her speaking tour were consistent both with the material in the book and newspaper accounts. TOPICS - Mother Jones; Louis Tikas; husband and marital relationship; immigration to US; moving into Ludlow camp; living conditions; singing for mining crowds; ethnic background of Ludlow families; threats of violence by mining owners; Ludlow massacre and camp raids; fleeing massacre; helping miners load rifles; refuge at a ranch of union sympathizers; getting wounded; arrest and jailing; singing union songs outside jail window; speaking tour to Washington, DC;visit to Washington, DC and speaking with President Woodrow Wilson; speaking tour; husband's activities during the massacre; receiving assistance from religious groups following the massacre; recollection of Ludlow camps following the massacre; move to Utah; waitress work; singing for union crowds in Colorado; exposure to unionism through father; confronting husband about his deserting the family; health; taking children away from her husband; waitressing in Nevada; opening up a restaurant in a dance hall; and meeting second husband, Don O'Neal; en_US
dc.description.abstract INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This is the first interview with Mary Thomas O'Neal in her hotel room at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. I was alerted to the whereabouts of a woman who was a survivor of the Ludlow massacre by Dorothy Healey, who had received a letter informing her about Thomas. Both from the letter to Healey and from the initial phone conversation with Thomas (O'Neal), there was some concern about her mental alertness. As a result, a decision was made to concentrate mainly on Ludlow and get some background information. Thomas (O'Neal) had written a book several years ago earlier Those Damn Foreigners which detailed much of her history. It was apparent that Thomas had virtually no short term memory, a fact of which she was well aware. However, she did remember the incidents of Ludlow rather clearly, although not necessarily the precise chronology. She appeared somewhat feeble and certainly no younger than her eighty-seven years. Her room was neat and rather sparse, much like the other rooms of women in hotels, but the hotel itself is in considerably better repair than most. Her book held center stage in the room. Despite her memory problems, Thomas (O'Neal) was very interested in the project, and interesting and cooperative. There was a problem with the microphone in the beginning of the tape. 12/2/1974 en_US
dc.description.tableofcontents *** File: lhmthomas1.mp3 Audio Segments and Topics: (0:05-2:37)... Interviewer introduction (2:37-4:13)... Note: the audio quality of this segment is fair. Thomas recounts an incident of Mother Jones ordering a woman who harassed Louis Tikas during the Ludlow strike out of the strikers' encampment. She also refers to the murder of another person involved in the strike (Peacock?). Note: because of Thomas's hoarse voice and background noise, it is a bit difficult to understand her. (4:13-9:22)... Thomas was born in Wales. She met her husband while he was there visiting relatives and married him when she was seventeen. After they had three children, he decided he no longer wanted a family and returned to Colorado to resume working in the coal mines. She supported herself and her children with the help of her relatives and by working in a store. After saving enough money, she purchased a ticket to US. On arrival, she was quarantined at Ellis Island for a few days, after which she traveled to Colorado to tell her husband that she was quitting him, not the reverse! (9:22-14:42)... When miners and their families were evicted from their homes, they moved into tents furnished by the union. There were three separate encampments in Ludlow: one for women and children, one for families, and another one for men. Thomas and her two daughters stayed with the other women and children because she had left her husband. Each family received $4/week from the union and she worked odd jobs to help feed her family. She also was well known for singing to crowds during the strike. Her husband was very jealous because she was pursued by so many men. She comments: "I would not have any of them because I had my fill of men." (14:42-17:43)... Those at the Ludlow encampments were mainly foreigners. Thomas and her daughters were among the very few English-speaking people in her camp. Most of the children there learned English from Thomas's daughters and they, in turn, taught it to their mothers. Thomas and her daughters mixed with the Italians in their camp. Each nationality had a separate leader during the strike. Although she could not recall his name, the leader of the Americans worked hard to make the encampments a nice place to live and "a lot of them were quite happy there. They figured that it was better than nothing, and it was." (17:43-22:45)... Before the massacre, the miners and their families were warned to leave before they got shot, but they ignored these warnings as empty threats. Just after feeding her children breakfast on the morning of the massacre, she heard a loud explosion. Louis Tikas came running into the camp yelling at people to leave before they were burned out. Thomas followed his directions and led to the women to a ranch about two miles a way. As they walked to the ranch, their feet were shot at and Thomas was wounded. When they got to the ranch, the woman who had earlier pursued Tikas was occupying the only available bed, which angered the other women, especially when she directed them to the stables. When a union official from Washington, D.C. came to the ranch to gather information, this woman claimed that she had helped the miners, though Thomas maintains that hadn't done "a damn thing." After settling in the stables, Thomas began praying for help and she believes that things got better after that. (22:45-26:29)... When a union official from Washington, DC came to the ranch in Ludlow following the massacre, he asked for people with knowledge about the strike to accompany him back to Washington to share their experiences. The woman who had been involved with Louis Tikas came stepped forward, but the official picked Thomas, instead. He bought her and her children new clothes and prepared them for the trip. A woman (Pearl Johnson?) chaperoned Thomas and her children. As an aside, she recounts seeing one of the miner's wives on the train leaving the restroom with a man. This leads to a discussion of living arrangements in the camps, and assertion that most women in the camp were decent and did not engage in sexual relations with other men. (26:29-28:01)... When Thomas and the other women arrived at the ranch where they sought refuge with the union sympathizers, they laid the children down on the hay. There were four women in their group with about twenty-five to thirty children. Even though she was raised in a religious household, she was not religious at the time. Nevertheless, because she felt that the situation was dire, she began praying. (28:01-35:00)... Thomas didn't witness the camps being raided or set on fire. Rather, when the raids began, she placed approximately twenty-five children in a dry well near the railroad to shield them from bullets and then went to the home of a union sympathizer to seek food. After feeding the children, she took some food to the miners who had set up a defense unit on a hill out of sight of the camps. When she got to their location, she saw a dead, who they identified as Charlie Costa. The miners showed her how to load a rifle and she helped them until their ammunition ran out. When Louis Tikas did not show up with more ammunition, they surmised he had been killed. They later learned that he was beaten to death. One of the miners instructed her to get the children out of the well and find refuge. At that time, she went back to the well, retrieved the children and they made their way to a ranch owned by union sympathizers. After the raids, they discovered that a group of children had been killed while hiding in a cave under two, burned out tents. (35:00-36:21)... Thomas was wounded by gunfire while she was taking children from her camp to a dry well for shelter. She recalls that one of her daughters was holding her hand, the other one was holding onto her skirt, and she was carrying another woman's baby with her free arm as they walked to the well. They were being shot at the entire time and a bullet grazed her foot. A woman in the group used her stocking to bandage Thomas's injury. (36:21-39:49)... When the Ludlow Massacre ended, Thomas returned to her camp in search of her belongings only to find out that everything had been destroyed. The authorities arrested her accusing her of being a leader. Even though she was never officially charged with committing a crime, Thomas was jailed for two weeks. Her children stayed with her in jail the entire time. She was the only woman in the Ludlow camps who was arrested. In jail, she sang union songs at her window (reciting one during the interview.) She was released after the head of the union spoke to the authorities. (39:49-43:44)... After Thomas was released from jail, the head of the union took her and her children to a hotel where they stayed until they went to Washington, DC. Two other women involved in the massacre accompanied Thomas to Washington. Thomas notes that one woman who lost five children during the raids went insane. And, although the circumstances are unclear, she alludes to a man who stole union funds while the head of the union was in Washington. [Note: She shows the interviewer a picture of the two women who went with her to Washington, DC posing with the head of the union, Pearl Johnson, as well as a judge and his wife, and two senators. End of tape. *** File: lhmthomas2.mp3 (0:32-3:17)... When she arrived in Washington, DC, she was taken to the White House where she recounted the events of the Ludlow Massacre to President Woodrow Wilson, but did not testify at the congressional hearing. She alludes to a photograph she took with Washington officials, two of whom were senators who she believes reported to Congress following her visit to the president. Thomas traveled to various cities on the East Coast and spoke about her experiences at Ludlow. The crowds of people who gathered to listen to her and the other Ludlow survivors cheered and cried for them upon hearing about their ordeal. (3:17-4:03)... When she was helping the miners load their rifles, they could see the Ludlow camps in the distance. The soldiers were located about a mile or two from the women's camp. (4:03-4:50)... When it became apparent to the union that the strike was going to drag on, they found jobs for some of the miners at different locations. Thomas's husband left Ludlow and was not at the camps when the raids began. (4:50-5:09)... Thomas did not seek medical attention after she was wounded by a bullet during the massacre; rather her foot was bandaged while she was helping miners load their rifles. (5:09-7:52)... After Thomas was released from jail, she joined some of the mining families at a location where they were resting and trying to recover from the Ludlow Massacre. Several religious groups, mostly Catholic, offered their assistance to the miners and their families. A woman invited Thomas and her children back to her motel room so that they could bathe and get ready for their trip to Washington, DC. She also supplied them with clothing. (7:52-10:16)... After Thomas's two-week speaking tour, she returned to Colorado. She recounts going to the camps: "all I saw were sticks from the ground and iron beds and it just looked like ghosts...." The union gave Thomas money and she decided to return to the East Coast rather than "living there among the ghosts." She stopped in Salt Lake City to visit a friend, but became ill and never went on. Her friend Harriet, who nursed Thomas back to health, had an abusive husband. In fact, Thomas originally met Harriet when she fled to Colorado to escape from her husband. (10:16-11:41)... After the Ludlow Massacre, fighting continued when miners from other cities came to Ludlow in search of the men who had raided the camps. Most of the people responsible for the raids were in hiding and avoided confrontations with the miners. The union eventually interceded and stopped those seeking retaliation. (11:41-15:29)... Everyone in the Ludlow camps knew Thomas because she sang to the miners and their families at meetings. Mother Jones visited her tent on occasion. Thomas recounts an incident when a railroad man forewarned Mother Jones that the authorities were waiting to arrest her at the next stop. He let her off the train early and she walked to the Ludlow camps without detection. She stayed with Thomas until Charlie Costa arrived and took her to a new location to avoid the authorities. Thomas talks about her introduction to unionism though her father and her brothers, who were miners in Wales. She comments: "I was in favor of the union man whether he was right or wrong. I have been union all my life." (15:29-19:08)... Thomas's original purpose in going to Colorado was to confront her husband about abandoning her and his children. By this time, she had fallen in love with a man she met on the boat to the US, and informed her husband that she had no intention of reconciling with him. However, she did not divorce him for quite some time because she could not afford it. After going to Salt Lake City following the Ludlow massacre, Thomas began to work as a waitress. Her children remained in Colorado with the union sympathizers who had supplied her with food during the raids. In Utah, Thomas had a nervous breakdown as result of the trauma she experienced in Ludlow. Thomas's friend, Harriet, hired a Mexican woman to take care of Thomas. She contracted small pox from this woman and remained in Utah for approximately two months recovering from her illness. (19:08-21:51)... While Thomas was in Utah, her husband took her daughters away from the couple with whom they were staying; they moved in with him and the woman with whom he was living. When Thomas recovered from her illness, she returned to Colorado and went door-to-door searching for her daughters. She absconded with them and returned to Salt Lake City. She later received "a pathetic letter" from her husband, in which he chided her for leaving him and taking his children. (21:51-24:23)... When Thomas and her daughters arrived in Salt Lake City, her friend Harriet suggested that Thomas place them in a Catholic school so that her husband could not find them. Although Thomas was raised Baptist, she felt that this was the best arrangement for her daughters. (24:23-32:19)... When the restaurant in Salt Lake City where Thomas and Harriet worked as waitresses closed, they had a difficult time finding work, which she attributes to the Depression (she is probably referring to the farm depression of 1921). Eventually, they found a job through an employment agency. They faced terrible working conditions in the restaurant in Nevada where they went to work. In Nevada, Thomas and her friend Harriet met two men who encouraged the women to open their own restaurant. They eventually rented a restaurant facility inside a dance hall and made a lot of money operating that business. When the owner of the dance hall went back to New York during the winter to visit her family, she left Thomas in charge of the dance hall. Occasionally, Thomas sang in the dance hall. However, she was usually busy keeping the dance hall and the restaurant operating smoothly. (32:19-34:04)... Thomas divorced her husband while she was living in Nevada. At that time, she began dating Don O'Neal, a man she met originally on the voyage to US. He had asked her to marry him while they were on the boat, but she rejected his proposal. She later regretted her decision because he was a good man. They married shortly after they re-united in Nevada. The interview ends just as Thomas is discussing the chronology of her book. End of tape. en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.rights This repository item may be used for classroom presentations, unpublished papers, and other educational, research, or scholarly use. Other uses, especially publication in any form, such as in dissertations, theses, articles, or web pages are not permitted without the express written permission of the individual collection's copyright holder(s). Please contact the CSULB Library Administration</a> should you require permission to publish or distribute any content from this collection or if you need additional information or assistance in using these materials: en_US
dc.subject Individual Labor Activists en_US
dc.subject Labor History en_US
dc.title Thomas (O'Neal), Mary (audio interview #1 of 2) en_US
dc.type Recording, oral en_US

Files in this item


This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show simple item record

Search DSpace

My Account

RSS Feeds