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Children as Advocates: The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912

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This is a guest post by Karen Romero, who is working with the education team at the Library of Congress as part of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Internship Program.

Last month history was made as the seventeen year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (along with children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi), making her the youngest person to be given such recognition. Her work in advocating for children’s education has brought international attention to the rights of young people throughout the world, and to the impact young people can have when they advocate.

Children and youth have often been active participants in protests and movements. For example, during the 1912 “Bread and Roses Strike” in Lawrence, Massachusetts, children were a critical component of the activities that led to better working conditions in the city’s textile mills.

Thousands of men, women, and children went on strike to protest reduction of wages and adverse working conditions of textile mills, known as the “Bread and Roses Strike.” As the str

Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with many children posed on sidewalk. 1912
Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with many children posed on sidewalk. 1912

ike gained momentum, children were sent to live with family, friends, and supporters in Vermont, New York City, and Philadelphia for their care and safety.

The day book., February 21, 1912
The day book., February 21, 1912

On February 24, 1912, police officers tried to prevent children from leaving, resulting in injuries and the arrests of mothers and children. This incident captured national attention, which was further intensified as Lawrence children marched in New York City as part of the ongoing protests. The following month the House and Senate investigated the strike, hearing testimonies from children involved in the strike. As a result of the strikes and protests, employees gained improvements in wages, conditions, and work hours in textile mills not only for themselves but also for thousands of workers to follow.

Teachers may:

  • Ask students to look closely at the picture of the “Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts...” to see who participated in the strike. Invite them to hypothesize on why so many children were part of the event.
  • Invite students to observe and analyze the photograph from the February 21, 1912, edition of The Day Book. How does the image shape their understanding of the role the children played in the strike? How does reading the article below the photograph add to their understanding? What questions does it raise?
  • Read this March 6, 1912 article from The Day Book with students for an account of the February 24 incidents around the children’s departure from Lawrence. If time is short, students might focus on the headline “Mill Owners’ Chief of Police Calmly Denies All Clubbing Women and Children” and discuss what they can learn from that headline about both the events and the sympathies of the newspaper. Compare the newspaper description of interactions between the police and the strikers to the photograph, “Guarding approach to mills,” dated January 12.

As we reflect on the movements that have shaped human rights and liberties, it is important to explore the role that young people have played. Consider first how students and youth have played a part in various protests and movements throughout history.  Next, explore which rights are being fought for today. Speculate how may these be perceived by future generations.

Let us know in the comments what insights your students offer as they explore these ideas and primary sources!


Comments (3)

  1. We have co-edited a new book, titled “The Great Lawrence Textile Strike: New Scholarship on the Bread and Roses Strike, Baywood Publishing, 2014,” which contains fresh perspectives on many of the aspects you describe in your wonderful blog entry. Thank you for keeping the memory alive!

    For readers in the DC area, there will be a book launch and discussion at the 5th and K St Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, February 3. All are welcome!

    Jurg Siegenthaler and Robert Forrant

  2. 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!


  3. Children activists

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