For almost a century and a half historians, researchers, Pennsylvania coal region residents, and descendants on all sides of the “Molly Maguire” conflict have wrestled over competing versions of this history. Compromised research collections—including damaged documents, missing documents, large gaps in microfilmed collections, and sympathetic newspaper coverage that never made its way into archived collections— severely challenge anyone who tries to trace the remaining trail.
Interest in this history ebbs and flows, as do advocacy efforts. In 1978 John Kehoe’s great-grandson Joseph Wayne, along with members of Pennsylvania’s Labor History Society, advocated for a posthumous pardon for Kehoe. In January 1979 Governor Milton J. Shapp signed Kehoe’s posthumous pardon.
Two decades later Kehoe’s great-great-granddaughter, Anne Flaherty, began to investigate this conflict. Flaherty armed herself with family lore and two documents: a photocopy of a letter written by Kehoe from his jail cell at Pottsville to Quaker attorney Ramsay Potts, and an interview given by Kehoe from the same cell.
In 2005, with help from AOH president Ned McGinley, Flaherty drafted the initial versions of Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 235 and House Resolution 527. Both protested the lack of due process in Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” trials. Both passed their respective bodies unanimously.
With support from family and friends, including Wayne, McGinley, Ellen and William Engelhardt, Howard Crown, Professor Rosemary Gido, and Henry Foner, and with help from published works by numerous historians, Flaherty has pieced together much new evidence in this astounding and profoundly disturbing chapter in U.S. history. Grants from the current-day Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and Indiana University of Pennsylvania helped with the research. Flaherty has presented some of her findings through programs at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Penn State University, State College; and American University, Washington, D.C.
John Elliott, the attorney who helped secure Kehoe’s posthumous pardon, characterizes Pennsylvania’s “Molly Maguire” prosecutions as “blatantly unconstitutional judicial lynchings.” Flaherty’s work, said Elliott, “contains original and highly valuable insights into this tragic era.”
In 2011 Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University and holder of the Pulitzer Prize for his work The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, declared Flaherty’s findings “impressive and important.”
The foundation’s goals include the publication and presentation of research materials, the organization of seminars to foster reconciliation and understanding, and the eventual establishment of a museum and research center to preserve and honor this history.