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Bread and Roses

[ Roud - ; DT BRD&ROSE ; Mudcat 3742 ; James Oppenheim]

Bread and Roses is a poem written by James Oppenheim; it was first published in December 1911. Oppenheim noted that he saw the slogan “Bread for all, and Roses, too” and when his poem was published again in 1912 that slogan was attributed to “Chicago Women Trade Unionists”.

These days it usually sung to the tune written by Mimi Fariña in 1974.

Judy Collins sang Bread & Roses in 1976 as the title track of her Elektra album Bread & Roses.

Suzie Adams and Helen Watson (later Helen Hockenhull) sang Bread and Roses in 1983 on their Dingle’s album Songbird. Helen Hockenhull returned to the song ten year later when she recorded it in 1993 with Grace Notes for their first CD, Down Falls the Day.

Frankie Armstrong sang Bread and Roses to a tune written by Leon Rosselson in 1990 on her Harbourtown album Ways of Seeing, in 2004 on her Harbourtown CD Darkest Before the Dawn, and in 2021 on her CD Cats of Coven Lawn. She noted on the last album:

These oft sung and said words were inspired by a strike held by mostly women workers in the textile mills in Laurence, Massachusetts, in 1912. James Oppenheim wrote the poem which gave rise to a number of musical settings. This heart-stirring version is by Leon Rosselson. That, though near starvation,the women chose to equate roses with bread is a wonderful reminder of the need for beauty in our lives.

The Rheingans Sisters sang Bread and Roses to a tune written by Rowan Rheingans in 2013 on their first CD, Glad Gold Hearts. Rowan returned to this song in 2017 on the Coven EP Unholy Choir.

Rosie Hood recorded Bread & Roses as a bonus track for the Kickstarter supporters of her 2017 RootBeat CD, The Beautiful & the Actual. She also sang it on the Rosie Hood Band’s 2023 album A Seed of Gold. This video shows her at Chester Folk Festival in May 2018, accompanied by her then trio partners Nicola Beazley and Lucy Huzzard:

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Bread and Roses on their 2018 album Shadows in the Mist. They noted:

A protest by factory girls in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912 is associated with James Oppenheim’s poem which leans on a speech made by Rose Schneiderman. (“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”) During the Lawrence strike, the women carried banners quoting the poem which had been published in 1911 and the strike is known in the USA as ‘The Bread and Roses Strike’. We were drawn to the song setting my Mimi Fariña after watching the film Pride which tells of the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s. In the film, the song is used as a powerful tool of persuasion to unite the two groups of protagonists.

The Unthanks sang Bread and Roses on their 2020 CD Diversions Vol. 5: Live and Unaccompanied.


Bread and Roses

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.