Bread and Roses, by James Oppenheim

Bread and Roses

by James Oppenheim

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!

-1911

This poem, written by James Oppenheim to celebrate the movement for women’s rights and published in American Magazine in 1911, is closely associated with the Lawrence textile mill strike of 1912. During the strike, which was in protest of a reduction in pay, the women mill workers carried signs that quoted the poem, reading “We want bread, and roses, too”. The photo above was taken during the strike.

Bread and Roses was set to music by Mimi Fariña in the 1970s, and has become an anthem for labor rights, and especially the rights of working women, in the United States and elsewhere.

Here is a recording of the song by Judy Collins.


More poetry

More women’s lib

~ by lolarusa on May 9, 2008.

13 Responses to “Bread and Roses, by James Oppenheim”

  1. I read about this strike when I was about the same age as the strikers. Their hardships moved me as if I was there too. They really changed the world. Over 40 years since I read of the Bread and Roses strike. It was a real suprise when I realized I now live in the buiding they are marching by, on the corner of Lawrence street and Common Street. Lawrence is still an imigrant city. I am in awe of their courage.

  2. I’m very interesting about the workers’ fights to conquer their rights so I have decided to make known this piece of American history in my thesis, here in Italy where no one yet has paid the right attention to such events.
    I think it would be wonderful to walk where they walk!

  3. This is an event worth teaching in US History classes. The recording of the song is wonderful, but that is not Judy Collins singing, it is Joan Baez, the sister of Mimi Farina.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Paula. The story of “Bread and Roses” is indeed worth teaching in history class. But you’re mistaken about this recording of the song. It is in fact Judy Collins’s version of the song that I’ve linked to here. Google “judy collins bread and roses” for info.

  5. Someone can tell me where can I find the original text of the Oppenheim’s poem??? Thank U.

  6. The original poem is on wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_Roses.

  7. I thought of this powerful and poignant poem and song yesterday, after the horrible violence in Tucson AZ, and the killing and wounding of so many……. Truly, we fight for bread AND roses!

  8. Mimi Farina’s lovely tune is not the first time poem was made singable.

    Caroline Kohlsaat set it to music at the time of the Lawrence strike, and it has been recorded in its earlier form by many labor-music artists.

    I have come to prefer the new tune, but resented it at first because Mimi, Judy Collins, and the rest who have cherished it did not mention the earlier one! I know little about Carolyn Kohlsaat but she must have been an activist as well as a composer, at a time when it was hard for a woman to be either one. Credit where due please!

    A group in Los Angeles will include this song in a March 13 program commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 1911, which — like the events in Lawrence — helped to catalyze the US labor movement. Details at www dot sholem dot org.

    Harmony & Solidarity!

  9. Thanks for the fun fact, Joanna!

  10. Have always loved this song; have Judy Collins album with it The Occupy Wall Street nationwide movement should use this as their marching song.

  11. I salute all those brave women who fought , that we may have d courage to stand up for our rights and dignity. The song is written so beautifully each word in the song says a lot . Even today we still fight for Bread and roses

  12. Beautiful song and so meaningful!

  13. I, too, like Walter Carter, who commented above, come from Lawrence, and I remember that we were not taught about the Bread and Roses Strike in school by our history teachers—even though we were growing up in the city where these history-changing events took place. I recall that I began to hear about it and learn more of the real history at the time in 1970 and 1971 when we were holding anti-war rallies on the Lawrence Common, whose trees are pictured in the photo of the marchers at the corner of Lawrence Street and Common Street. At the time, in 1970-71, we were protesting the ongoing war in Vietnam—but there were older people involved in our peaceful demonstrations and rallies who knew and remembered a lot more that we younger people, at the time, had ever been told. They told us, for instance, that we were giving anti-war speeches from the very same bandstand on the Common used by Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in 1912—and we were holding rallies in the same spot where Joe Hill sang his organizing songs during the Bread and Roses Strike. So learning about Bread and Roses was re-education for us—and it still is today a task for the responsible and committed to both preserve and relay to the upcoming generations the real history of our country. By the way, John Denver also did a recorded version of the James Oppenheim poem, very marching in its rhythms, and opening with bagpipes! Check it out!

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