12.3.11

Bread and Roses



Bread and Roses
by James Oppenheim

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!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.

The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

-1911

This poem, written by James Oppenheim to celebrate the movement for women’s rights and published in American Magazine in 1911, is closely associated with the Lawrence textile mill strike of 1912. During the strike, which was in protest of a reduction in pay, the women mill workers carried signs that quoted the poem, reading “We want bread, and roses, too”. The photo above was taken during the strike.

The strike was settled on March 14, 1912, on terms generally favorable to the workers. The workers won pay increases, time-and-a-quarter pay for overtime, and a promise of no discrimination against strikers. The strikers are credited with inventing the moving picket line (so that they would not be arrested for loitering)

Bread and Roses was set to music by Mimi Fariña in the 1970s, and has become an anthem for labor rights, and especially the rights of working women, in the United States and elsewhere.

Here is a recording of the song by Judy Collins.

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