Bread and Roses Strike of 1912

Lawrence, Massachusetts, Immigrants Usher in a New Era of Unity, Labor Gains, and Women’s Rights

“When I first heard the theme for the 1999-2000 National History Day Contest, ‘Turning Points in History,’ my thoughts instantly centered on a subject that is personally meaningful and relevant to me: the struggle during the early 1900s of textile mill workers, both male and female, for fair wages, safe working conditions, and better living standards. The struggle eventually erupted in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and became known as ‘The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912.’”

“No ordinary strike, it has been recognized as a defining moment in the labor history of the United States. It forced management to stop, look, and listen to its workers. The consciousness of the American people was awakened to the desperate living and working conditions of immigrant families. This strike was a turning point in unifying different nationlities. It was one of the first times in American history that individuals set aside their ethnic backgrounds and united in a common cause: fair wages and better working conditions. This strike was a unique lesson in patient and peaceful demonstrations.”

“This strike victory of 1912 gave strength to the industrial union advocates of the labor movement. The strike also helped women to take their rightful place beside male workers; they became effective union organizers asserting their right to a ‘voice’ in public policy. They pushed for equality and full participation, establishing a link with the suffragist movement. The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 succeeded in providing not only ‘bread’ for those involved, but also ‘roses’ or a fuller measure of human dignify and respect for all workers.”

The preceding paragraphs are taken from Lisa M. Litterio’s “Bread and Roses Strike of 1912: Lawrence, Massachusetts, Immigrants Usher in a New Era of Unity, Labor Gains, and Women’s Rights,” which appeared in Labor’s Heritage, vol. 11, no. 3. The article, containing an annotated bibliography, is the oral and written work Litterio presented at the national competition, with minor editorial changes by the staff of Labor’s Heritage. The historical photographs and other illustrative material are a portion of the fifty-nine images used in the original presentation.