The Molly Maguires in American History

Who were the Molly Maguire’s?

The Molly Maguire’s were an Irish-American labor rights group that got their name from their attire; many of the groups men dressed up like women to do their extralegal affairs, such as violence, sabotage, and arson. The group’s activities began in the United States in the 19th century around the area of eastern Pennsylvania known for its long burning coal, called anthracite.  Use of Anthracite for smelting iron along with the railroad boom created a need for unskilled labor. Irish immigrants came to America in throngs to meet those needs and find a more fruitful existence. The Molly Maguires championed the cause of safer work environments and higher pay for Irish immigrants at a time when Robber Barons who ran big businesses ignored workers needs and thwarted attempts at unionization. There is still contention among scholars as to weather or not the Molly Maguires were related to the Irish organization The Ancient Order of Hibernians who championed similar causes in Ireland.


Franklyn Gowen
Franklyn Gowen

Franklyn B Gowen

The president of the Reading and Philadelphia railroads, Franklyn B. Gowan had a monopoly on the Pennsylvania areas coal and transport industry. Thereby, he paid diminutive pay to his workers, and earned excessively much. Gowen hired Pinkerton detectives with his extra money instead of settling with unions like The Workingmen's Benevolent Association, and sought the “bad apples” in his work camps instead.

James McParland
James McParland

John Mc Parland aka "John McKenna"

It was John McParland, who came to the aid of Franklyn Gowen. Under the alias John McKenna, the Pinkerton detective infiltrated the secret society of Irishmen. Twenty Maguire’s found guilty were given the death sentence, ten of those were hung, The Molly Maguire fiasco lasted about ten years during the 1870’s. Despite the hangings, many other problems existed within the work camps both before and after the Maguire incidents.


More Recent Developments

Despite the hundred some years since the Maguire hangings a female relative of John “Yellow Jack” Donahoe, Margaret Mary Juran, asked the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons to clear her relatives name. A 1995 Pennsylvania ruling requires a unanimous vote of a four-member board to grant clemency in the murder case. What has not been decided is if the ruling should have a grandfather clause for pre-95 cases. Claims are that all the Maguire hanging was under “dubious circumstances.”



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Loretta Murphy 3 years ago

Thank you for this web page that mentions both my Welcome to Wiggans Patch website and my novel, The Pipes Are Calling, which is a fictionalized account of the truth behind the Wiggans Patch Massacre.

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