In 1912 the successful Lawrence (Massachusetts) Textile Strike was led by women and immigrants fighting for better working and living conditions. One slogan, made popular in culture and song, “We want bread, and we want roses, too!” summed up workers’ desire for both life’s necessities and its glories. It must’ve been in the back of my mind since my childhood (both my parents were big folkies, so I’m SURE I had heard this many times growing up), and it jumped off the page onto an abstract I just finished.
The poem, written by James Oppenheim after the strike:
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 song of 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—then that toil where one reposes—
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses!