In Blue Thread, fictional Miriam Josefsohn and the Osborne sisters (Charity and Prudence) joined the real crowd who waited at the railroad station in Portland to meet suffragist leader Anna Howard Shaw on Saturday, September 29, 1912. During the rally, Miriam tells us:
The people around us commenced to recite a poem and Charity joined in, her voice high-pitched and clear. Prudence touched my sleeve. “This poem has been popular since the textile strike this past winter.” She searched my face. “In Lawrence, Massachusetts? The strikers there kept walking a picket line. They didn’t stand still, so they couldn’t be arrested for loitering. Clever women.”
…We all stood together as Prudence, Charity, and the rest of the crowd recited the last lines of the poem:
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!
January 1912 started on what seemed like a hopeful note for the impoverished workers in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The state legislature had reduced the maximum hours one could work during a week from 56 to 54 hours. But the mill owners pushed their employees to work faster and docked two hours pay from their wages. A group of immigrant Polish women were the first to shut down their looms and march through the streets to protest the “short pay.”
Soon hundreds of mill workers followed. Then thousands, many of them women. One woman reportedly carried a sign that demanded bread (a decent living wage) and roses (as a sign of humanity and respect).
It’s likely that the poem “Bread and Roses” was first published in 1911, before the actions in Lawrence, but the Lawrence strike became known as the Bread and Roses Strike. If you have the opportunity, visit the centennial exhibit in Lawrence in person this year. If you can’t get there, take to look at the information on the exhibit’s excellent online site.