This Wednesday was May 1st, also known as May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day.
In honor of the occasion, let’s make this Friday’s Music to Move the World “Bread and Roses.”
Where Bread and Roses Began
The idea was coined by Rose Schneiderman, a feminist labor leader active in a strike of mill workers in Massachusetts in 1912. In a speech she 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 priviledge, give her the ballot to fight with.”
Her words were so moving that the strike came to be known as the “Bread and Roses” Strike of 1912.
The Poem and Song
Rose’s words inspired James Oppenheim so much that he wrote a poem which was later adapted into a song:
As we go 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 in the struggle and together we shall win.
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, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we. fight for, but we fight for roses, too.
As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
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.
A Reminder of What We’re Fighting For
To this day the song is a reminder: the revolution will ALWAYS be led by the women in the trenches. When in doubt, follow their lead. While fighting, make sure that every woman has the right to sun, and music, and art. Make sure that we’re reaching across the lines of class and race and lifting everyone up. In Rose’s own words: “Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”
The Radcliffe Pitches did this spellbinding rendition of this old labor song. It’s probably one of the best I’ve ever heard, and that’s coming from a connoisseur! Enjoy!
And if you loved reading this blog, sign up for our newsletter below for more Activism Joy right to your inbox!