Mary Thomas O'Neal

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Mary Hannah Williams Thomas O'Neal

Mary Hannah Williams Thomas O'Neal (1887 – after 1974) was a Welsh-born American labor activist who wrote the only eyewitness memoir of the Ludlow massacre.

Early life[edit]

Mary Hannah Williams was born at Nantymoel, in the Ogmore Valley, South Wales, to parents James Williams and Mary A. Williams. Her father was a coal miner. She was married at age 17 to Tom Thomas, an American-born miner.[1] She was the mother of two daughters when she moved to Colorado with her children in 1913, looking for her estranged miner husband.[2]

In the American West[edit]

At Ludlow, Colorado, Mary Thomas was soon involved with ongoing United Mine Workers of America efforts to organize the miners; she even sang to the strikers.[3][4] She was arrested in riots in February 1914, and spent eleven days in jail.[5] Mrs. Thomas led the camp's women and children to safety at a nearby ranch when the militia attacked their tent city in April 1914, and arranged for them to be housed and fed. She lost all her own possessions in the attack, valued at $1500 in press accounts.[6] Arrested and detained, she used Welsh in her jailhouse conversations with Tom Thomas, knowing that the listening guards were unlikely to comprehend them. She also led fellow prisoners in singing union anthems.[1]

After her release from jail, the union sent her and her little daughters to Washington D. C. to speak on her experiences, to raise awareness and cultivate allies for the miners' cause. She traveled with a party including Judge Ben B. Lindsey,[7] stayed at Hull House as a guest of Jane Addams,[8] and met with President Woodrow Wilson and other officials to discuss conditions at Ludlow.[9] In May 1914, she testified before the United States Commission on Industrial Relations in New York City.[10]

Mary Thomas lived in Utah and Nevada after the events at Ludlow and her visit to Washington D. C. She worked as a waitress and later ran a restaurant and dance hall. She married again, to Don O'Neal, in Nevada.[1]

Later years[edit]

Mary Thomas O'Neal moved to Los Angeles later in life, and opened a clothing shop. After World War II she visited Wales again, with her second husband. In 1950 she attended a union commemoration at the Hollywood Palladium,[1] and in 1965 she spoke at a memorial program at Ludlow.[11] She wrote a memoir, Those Damn Foreigners (1971), considered the only "published eyewitness account of the Ludlow massacre."[1][12][13] She lived in the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel as an old woman, and experienced memory loss before she died, probably in the 1970s.[2]

Barbara Yule wrote a one-woman play about Mary Thomas, For Tomorrow We May Die, which was performed by Tanya Perkins in Colorado in 2015.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ronald L. Lewis, "From Nantymoel to Hollywood: The Incredible Journey of Mary Thomas" in Welsh Americans: A History of Assimilation in the Coalfields (University of North Carolina Press 2009): 283-306. ISBN 9780807887905
  2. ^ a b Sherna Berger Gluck, "Mary Thomas O'Neal, audio interview" (oral history interview conducted in 1974), Scholarship @ the Beach: The CSULB Digital Repository.
  3. ^ Scott Martelle, Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West (Rutgers University Press 2008): 78. ISBN 9780813544199
  4. ^ Priscilla Long, "The Women of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Strike, 1913-1914" in Ruth Milkman, ed., Women, Work, and Protest: A Century of U. S. Women's Labor History (Routledge 2013): 62-85. ISBN 9781136247699
  5. ^ "Investigators at Coal Camps" Ogden Standard (February 18, 1914): 1. via Newspapers.comopen access publication – free to read
  6. ^ "Colorado's Militia Exposed" Coast Seamen's Journal 27(June 3, 1914): 8.
  7. ^ "Judge Lindsey and Women and their Babies Who Are Enroute to Washington to tell President Wilson about Colorado War" Evansville Press (May 20, 1914): 6. via Newspapers.comopen access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "Ludlow's Story is Too Horrible to Put in Print" Daily Capital Journal (May 19, 1914): 1.
  9. ^ "Women Tell of Terrors of Colorado Strike War" The Day Book (May 27, 1914): 5.
  10. ^ Congressional Serial Set, Report on the U. S. Commission on Industrial Relations (May 29, 1914) (U. S. Government Printing Office 1916):
  11. ^ "Widman Speaks on Organizing at Ludlow" United Mine Workers Journal (June 1, 1965): 11.
  12. ^ Marilynn S. Johnson, Violence in the West: The Johnson County Range War and the Ludlow Massacre — A Brief History with Documents (Waveland Press 2014): 123. ISBN 9781478623045
  13. ^ Mary T. O'Neal, Those Damn Foreigners (Minerva Press 1971).
  14. ^ Apishapa Valley Historical Society, calendar.