“Bread and Roses” continues to symbolize women’s struggles for equality.

Suffragist and labour activist Helen Todd used the analogy in a speech advocating for women’s suffrage in 1910:

Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.

Invoking Todd’s shorthand for the head/heart of the women’s movement, James Oppenheim published his “Bread and Roses” poem in the December 1911 issue of American Magazine.

As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing, “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses. . .

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”

Female textile workers walked off their jobs at the Everett Mill in Lawrence, MA on January 11, 1912 demanding better wages and working conditions. The next day, workers at the American Woolen mill joined the walkout. The images evoked in Oppenheim’s poem became synonymous this strike action. As well, the strike forged links and united workers from different industries and immigrant communities.

The Bread and Roses strike was won by the Industrial Workers of the World (an industry-wide “radical” union acting as spokespeople for the strikers) with workers seeing an increase in their wages and improvement of working conditions, eventually throughout New England. Images from the strike of police brutality, especially actions against women and children, lead to Congressional inquiries including living and working conditions. But victory came with the cost of lives, including a woman striker, Anna LoPizzo.

“Bread and Roses,” has been set to music several times, and in the 1930s was an anthem for women providing assistance and support to strikers on the picket line. In 1974, singer-songwriter and activist, Mimi Fariña, set the words to new music – the familiar refrain continues to symbolize women’s struggles for equality.

As a young, idealistic women’s rights activist in the 1970s, I remember singing, “Bread and Roses.” We marched a lot then. We marched to take back the night, for equal pay, for women’s rights. So that our daughters, real and metaphoric, could live in a world more equal than our own.

“We are marching, marching, marching . . . Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”

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Information drawn from:

Wikipedia articles on “bread and roses” as a concept; a poem; a strike; a song.

Primary source documents on-line such as Helen Todd’s “bread and roses, too” article in the American Magazine; materials from the 1912 Lawrence textile strike (sources found, for example via Library of Congress website)

Additional online resources:

Thought Company; History News Network; Bread and Roses Festival; New England Historical Society; Digital Public Library of America