Bread and Roses

Massachusetts National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets surround a parade of peaceful strikers.

"Bread and Roses" is a political slogan as well as the name of an associated poem and song. It originated from a speech given by Rose Schneiderman; a line in that speech ("The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too."[1]) inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses[2] by James Oppenheim. The poem was first published in The American Magazine in December 1911, with the attribution line "'Bread for all, and Roses, too'—a slogan of the women in the West."[3] The poem has been translated into other languages and has been set to music by at least three composers.

It is commonly associated with the successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts during January–March 1912, now often known as the "Bread and Roses strike".

The slogan pairing bread and roses, appealing for both fair wages and dignified conditions, found resonance as transcending "the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances" in the "light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect", as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.[4]

The Lawrence Strike

The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike, which united dozens of immigrant communities under the leadership of the Industrial Workers of the World, was led to a large extent by women. The popular mythology of the strike includes signs being carried by women reading "We want bread, but we want roses, too!", though the image is probably ahistorical.[5][6]

To circumvent an injunction against loitering in front of the mills, the strikers formed the first moving picket line in the US.[7][8]

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.[4][9]


The slogan "Bread and Roses" originated in a speech given by Rose Schneiderman; a line in that speech ("The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too."[1]) inspired the title of the poem.

After its first publication in 1911, the poem was published again in July 1912 in The Survey (magazine) with the same attribution as in December 1911, and again on October 4, 1912 in The Public, a weekly then published by Louis F. Post in Chicago, this time with the slogan being attributed to "Chicago Women Trade Unionists". The first publication in book form was in the 1915 labor anthology, The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest by Upton Sinclair, this time with a new attribution and rephrased slogan: "In a parade of strikers of Lawrence, Mass, some young girls carried a banner inscribed, 'We want Bread, and Roses too!'".


After the 1915 publication in Upton Sinclair's anthology, Oppenheim's poem lay dormant until it was rediscovered after the Second World War. It was published again in January 1952 in Sing Out!.[10]

It was set in music several times. The oldest seems to be the one attributed both to Martha Coleman and Caroline Kohlsaat which suggests that both names refer to the same person. It was again set to music in 1974 by Mimi Fariña and has been recorded by various artists, including Judy Collins,[11] Ani DiFranco, Utah Phillips, and Josh Lucker. John Denver also set it to music in 1988, using a melody different from the more common Mimi Fariña version. It was again set to music in Germany by Renate Fresow, using a translation by the Hannoveraner Weiberquartett, but which is sung mostly with the German translation by Peter Maiwald (1946-2008).

Since 1932, the song has been sung by graduating seniors at Mount Holyoke College during the Laurel Parade ceremony, part of the college's graduation tradition.[12]

Composer Christian Wolff wrote a piano piece entitled "Bread And Roses" (1976) based on the strike song.

Mimi Fariña created in 1974 the Bread and Roses Benefit Agency.

In 1989/91, Si Kahn wrote a song the refrain of which starts with the songs title: "They all sang 'Bread and Roses'".[13]

A quarterly journal produced by the UK section of the Industrial Workers of the World ('Wobblies') is called "Bread and Roses".[14]

The 2014 film Pride depicts the members of a Welsh mining community singing "Bread and Roses" at a National Union of Mineworkers lodge during the UK miners' strike (1984–85).[15][16]

See also



  1. 1 2 Eisenstein, Sarah (1983). Give us bread but give us roses. Working women's consciousness in the United States, 1890 to the First World War. London: Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 0-7100-9479-5.
  2. "Bread and Roses, by James Oppenheim". Retrieved Apr 20, 2016.
  3. Zwick, Jim (2003). "Behind the Song: Bread and Roses". Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine. 46: 92–93. ISSN 0037-5624. OCLC 474160863.
  4. 1 2 Ross, Robert J.S (March 2013). "Bread and Roses: Women Workers and the Struggle for Dignity and Respect". Working USA: The Journal of Labor & Society. Immanuel News and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 16: 59–68. ISSN 1089-7011.
  5. Sider, Gerald M. (1997). Between history and histories: the making of silences and commemorations. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-7883-4.
  6. Watson, Bruce (2006). Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (reprint ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303735-4.
  7. Gabaccia, Donna R.; Fraser M. Ottanelli (2001). Italian workers of the world: labor migration and the formation of multiethnic states. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-02659-1.
  8. Moran, William (2004). The Belles of New England: The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove (reprint ed.). Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-32600-5.
  9. ´Silber, Irwin (March 10, 1999). "Re: Happy!; Bread and Roses". Newsgroup: Usenet: APC&1'0'7c92df7d' Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  10. ´Silber, Irwin (March 11, 1999). "Re: Happy!; Bread and Roses". Newsgroup: Usenet: APC&1'0'7c92df7e' Retrieved 18 February 2014. In any event, I am virtually certain that the song had been dormant for close on to 30 years until I came across sheet music for it while doing some research at the New York Public Library sometime in 1951. That's where the name Martha Coleman appeared. (This is just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if Martha Coleman turned out to be a pseudonym for Caroline Kohlsaat.) There is no evidence to indicate that this was particularly known as a song. The poem was somewhat known but not with a musical setting. The tune itself never caught on which is one reason why others have tried writing a new melody for it. I think if it was being sung prior to its publication in Sing Out! (January 1952), I would have known about it.
  11. "Bread And Roses". Retrieved Apr 20, 2016.
  12. "Chain of Events: The History of the Laurel Parade". Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  13. Offer, Joe (2005-01-22). "Lyr Req/Add: They All Sang Bread and Roses (S Kahn)". Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  14. "Bread and Roses". Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  15. "Pride Soundtrack". Universal Music Operations Limited. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  16. Sisk, Emma (13 September 2014). "How Welsh singing starlet Bronwen Lewis turned rejection on The Voice into big screen Pride". WalesOnline.

External links

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