On this date in 1946, James Oppenheim’s poem “Bread and Roses” was published in Industrial Solidarity. This was not its first publication, however: That was in the American Magazine in December 1911. The slogan upon which the poem was based originated from a speech given by Rose Schneiderman, in which she said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” The poem has been translated into other languages and has been set to music by at least three composers. It is suitable for singing on May Day!
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,” in the words of Robert J. S. Ross.
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!
Adapted in part from Wikipedia.
Photo: Wikipedia (CC)