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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.

The phrase is commonly associated with the successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during January–March 1912, now often referred to 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 first mention of the phrase and its meaning appears in The American Magazine in September 1911. In an article by Helen Todd, she describes how a group of women from the Chicago Women's Club, after listening to advice from Senator Robert La Follette, decided to initiate an automobile campaign around the state of Illinois for the right of women to vote in June 1910.[5] The women who made up the first automobile campaign were Catherine McCulloch, a lawyer and justice of the peace; Anna Blount, a physician and surgeon; Kate Hughes, a minister; Helen Todd, a state factory inspector; and Jennie Johnson, a singer. Each of the speakers was assigned a subject in which they were an expert. McCulloch gave a record of the votes of the representatives and senators to their home constituents. Blount's subject was taxation without representation as concerns women. Hughes gave her speech on the history of the women's suffrage movement. Johnson opened up the speeches with a set of suffrage songs which was intended to focus and quiet the audience for the subsequent speeches. Helen Todd, as a factory inspector, represented the working women and discussed the need for laws concerning wages, work conditions, and hours.[6]

It is in Helen Todd's speech on the condition of the working women that the phrase is first mentioned. A young hired girl expressed to Helen Todd, who was staying with the hired girl's family overnight during the campaign, what she had liked the most about the speeches the night before, it "was that about the women votin' so's everybody would have bread and flowers too." Helen Todd then goes on to explain how the phrase "Bread for all, and Roses too" expresses the soul of the women's movement and explains the meaning of the phrase in her speech.[7]

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.

Helen Todd, subsequently, became involved in the fall of 1910 with Chicago garment workers' strike. The Chicago garment strike was led by the Women's Trade Union League of Chicago.[8] The Women's Trade Union League of Chicago worked closely with the Chicago Women's Club in organizing the strike, picket lines, speeches, and worker relief activities. Helen Todd and the president of the Women's Trade Union League Margaret Robins made a number of speeches during the strike and manned with the thousands of striking garment workers the picket lines.[9] In 1911, Helen Todd went out to California to help lead the suffrage movement in the state and campaign for the right to vote for women in the state's fall referendum. The women's suffrage campaign proved successful, and the right for women to vote passed in the state's referendum in November 1911.[10][11] During the California campaign, the suffragettes carried different banners with slogans. One of the slogans carried by the suffragettes was "Bread for all, and Roses, too!" – the same phrase that Helen Todd used in her speech the previous summer.[12][13]

The phrase was subsequently picked up by James Oppenheim and incorporated into his poem Bread and Roses,[13] which was 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."[14] After the poems publication in 1911, the poem was published again in July 1912 in The Survey 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".[15] The slogan "Bread and Roses" was also subsequently mentioned in a speech by Rose Schneiderman of the Women's Trade Union League of New York; a line in that speech ("The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.").[1] 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!'".[16]

The Lawrence StrikeEdit

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.[17][18]

To circumvent an injunction against loitering in front of the mills, the strikers formed the first moving picket line in the US.[19][20] 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][21]


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!.[22]

The poem has been set to music several times. The oldest version seems to be the one attributed 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 this version has been recorded by various artists, including Judy Collins, 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.[23]

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.[24] It is also one of the central songs at Bryn Mawr College, traditionally sung at the College's "Step-Sings."[25]

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

Mimi Fariña created the Bread and Roses Benefit Agency in 1974.[26]

The logo for the Democratic Socialists of America, formed in 1982, was inspired by the slogan.

In 1989/91, Si Kahn wrote a song the refrain of which starts with the song's title: "They all sang 'Bread and Roses'".[27]

A quarterly journal produced by the UK section of the Industrial Workers of the World ('Wobblies') is called "Bread and Roses".[28]

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).[29][30]

In 2018, the song was used in a video produced by London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign to promote the #HomeToVote movement, which encouraged young Irish people living abroad to return home to vote in the Referendum on the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Irish Constitution.[31][32]

See alsoEdit


  • Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (New York: Viking, 2005), ISBN 0-670-03397-9.


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. ^ The American Magazine. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. 1911. p. 611.
  6. ^ The American Magazine. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. 1911. p. 612.
  7. ^ The American Magazine. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. 1911. p. 619.
  8. ^ Official report of the Strike committee,Chicago garment workers' strike October 29, 1910-February 18, 1911. Women's Trade Union League of Chicago. 1911.
  9. ^ Associated Press (2 November 1910). "Chicago Society Women Arrested in Strikers' Riot". Los Angeles Herald. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Ballot Uplifts Women of the West Says Worker". Los Angeles Herald. 29 June 1912. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  11. ^ "How WomenWon the Vote" (PDF). National Women's History Project. p. 8. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  12. ^ Farmer's Advocate and Home Journal. Farmer's Advocate of Winnipeg. 1912. p. 229.
  13. ^ a b "Browning or the Budget". The Independent. 30 November 1911. p. 1220. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  14. ^ Oppenheim, James (December 1911). American Magazine. Colver Publishing House. p. 214.
  15. ^ Post, Louis Freeland; Post, Alice Thatcher; Cooley, Stoughton (4 October 1912). The Public. Public Publishing Company. p. 951.
  16. ^ Sinclair, Upton (1915). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest ... Sinclair. p. 247.
  17. ^ Sider, Gerald M. (1997). Between history and histories: the making of silences and commemorations. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-7883-4.
  18. ^ Watson, Bruce (2006). Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream (reprint ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303735-4.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ ´Silber, Irwin (March 10, 1999). "Re: Happy!; Bread and Roses". Usenet: APC&1'0'7c92df7d' Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  22. ^ ´Silber, Irwin (March 11, 1999). "Re: Happy!; Bread and Roses". 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.
  23. ^ Karl Adamek: Lieder der Arbeiterbewegung, Büchergilde Gutenberg, Frankfurt am Main 1986 (2. Auflage), ISBN 3-763225633, S. 246 f.
  24. ^ "Chain of Events: The History of the Laurel Parade". Archived from the original on 2016-04-20. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  25. ^ "Bryn Mawr's Summer School: Answers and Questions". Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  26. ^ "Bread & Roses History". Retrieved 4 Jun 2017.
  27. ^ Offer, Joe (2005-01-22). "Lyr Req/Add: They All Sang Bread and Roses (S Kahn)". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  28. ^ "Bread and Roses". Archived from the original on 2016-03-20. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  29. ^ "Pride Soundtrack". Universal Music Operations Limited. Archived from the original on 8 October 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  30. ^ Sisk, Emma (13 September 2014). "How Welsh singing starlet Bronwen Lewis turned rejection on The Voice into big screen Pride". WalesOnline.
  31. ^ "The #HomeToVote videos released today will give you goosebumps". The Daily Edge. 23 Apr 2018.
  32. ^

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