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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Bread and Roses poem released, December 1, 1911

Rose Schneiderman who popularized the slogan Bread and Roses

The great and inspiring trade union classic poem Bread and Roses was first published on December 1, 1911 when the December issue of The American Magazine was released. Written by James Oppenheim, it was inspired by the words of early US trade unionist and feminist fighters like Helen Todd.

The poem reads in part (the part adapted later most often in song):

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 days 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 trudging spirits knew—

Yes, it is Bread we fight for—but we fight for Roses, too.

The poem became an anthem of the trade union movement and was associated with the textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912, which was led by women and immigrants. It expresses the demand for dignity and beauty as well as economic justice.

Bread and Roses as a slogan also found its way into the famous speech by US union organizer, leader and feminist Rose Schneiderman in 1912 who said:

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.

The poem was put to music and adapted and modernized at times. It has been a union and feminist anthem for decades.

In 2014 one of the most powerful modern renditions of the song was in the UK film Pride. Get out the Kleenex:

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