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January 11: Bread and Roses

Lawrence Bush
January 11, 2010

breadandroses_0308The Lawrence, Massachusetts textile workers strike, led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), began on this day in 1912. It lasted two months and united thousands of women of varying ethnicities who spoke dozens of languages among them. The strike later became known as the “Bread and Roses strike,” after a poem of that title by James Oppenheim (1882-1932), published in The American Magazine in December, 1911. Oppenheim was a lay psychoanalyst and an early follower of Carl Jung who worked for the Hudson Guild Settlement and the Hebrew Technical School for Girls in New York. He was the founder and editor of Seven Arts magazine until he was blacklisted for his opposition to World War I.
The Lawrence History Center created a quite extensive online exhibit about the strike for the Bread and Roses Centennial in 2012.
“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 -- ten that toil where one reposes --
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.”
—James Oppenheim
Listen to Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Farina sing Mimi’s arrangement of James Oppenheim’s poem

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.