Guiding Questions:

Who led the Lawrence, MA "Bread and Roses Strike of 1912"? Would the strike have been successful without the involvement of women or the unions?


Primary Sources:

Statement of Strikers on Causes of Lawrence Strike of 1912 from Report on strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Mass., by United States. Bureau of Labor, Charles Patrick Neill, pp. 41-42.

Proclamation of The Striking Textile Workers Of Lawrence.
from Report on strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912 by United States. Bureau of Labor, Charles Patrick Neill, p. 503.

Pictures of Lawrence: ps10_bdagostino_tenementviews_lawrence.pdf ps10_bdagostino_aveaptsacres_essexst_lawrence.pdf ps10_bdagostino_aptsperacre_lawrence.pdf ps10_bdagostino_alleyview.pdf

Conditions and Cost of Living of Workers:

Report on strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912 by United States. Bureau of Labor, Charles Patrick Neill (Google Books), pp. 19-22

The immediate cause of the strike in Lawrence was a reduction in earnings growing out of the Massachusetts law that became effective January 1, 1912, which reduced the hours of employment for women and for children under 18 years of age from 56 to 54 hours per week. A former act of the legislature, effective January 1, 1910, had reduced the hours from 58 to 56, and at that time the Lawrence mills had increased both piece and day rates so that the reduction in hours per week from 58 to 56 had meant no reduction in weekly earnings. With the reduction in hours from 56 to 54 on January 1, 1912, the time and piece rates were not readjusted, and this reduction in hours meant, therefore, a reduction in weekly earnings of 3$ per cent. This reduction appears slight, but it was really a very serious matter to the low-paid textile-mill employees.
The law of the State does not permit the employment of persons under 14 years of age. Approximately one-half of the persons in Lawrence 14 years of age and over—men, women, and young persons—are employed in the textile mills. In studying the Lawrence strike, wage data were secured from pay rolls for 21,922 textile-mill employees, or one-third of the total number of people in Lawrence 14 years of age and over. The average rate of wages for the 21,922 textile-mill employees was 16 cents per hour. Approximately one-fourth (23.3 per cent) of the total number earned less than 12 cents per hour, and about one-fifth (20.4 per cent) earned 20 cents and over per hour.
The average amount actually received by the 21,922 employees during a week late in 1911, in which the mills were running full time, was $8.76. Almost one-third (33.2 per cent) of the total number received less than $7 during the week, and approximately one-half as many (17.5 per cent) received $12 and over during the week.
The earnings are, of course, materially affected by the amount of work available, and while it was not possible to get an exact measure of the slack time in the textile mills of Lawrence, sufficient data were secured to confirm the complaints of the mill employees as to the serious curtailment of their earnings by reason of lost time, particularly during the past two or three years.
The hours of work for women and for minors under 18 were limited to 56 before the strike; no limit was placed by law upon the hours of work of men. During the week for which pay-roll data were secured 57.2 per cent of the 21,922 employees worked 56 hours, 22.9 per cent worked less than 56 hours, and about an equal proportion (19.9 per cent) worked more than 56 hours. The average hours worked during the week were 54.4.
The distribution of the 21,922 employees for which wage data were secured into sex and age groups was as follows:
Number. Per cent
Male, 18 years of age and over 11, 075 60. 5
Male, under 18 years of age 1, 075 4. 9
Total males., 12,150 65.4
Females, 18 years of age and over 8,320 38.0
Females, under 18 years of age 1,452 6.6
Total females 9, 772 44. 6
Grand total 21,922 100.0
The actual economic condition of the families of the workers in the textile mills in Lawrence can not be easily pictured by a mere statement of individual earnings. It is obvious from the figures of earnings that the full-time earnings of a large number of adult employees are entirely inadequate to maintain a family. Thus the full-time earnings of 7,275 employees, or about one-third of the total covered in this investigation, are less than $7 a week. Of the 7,275 earning less than $7 a week, 5.294 were 18 years of age or over, and 36.5 per cent of the 5,294 were males. These wages, however, are not peculiar to Lawrence. The wages of textile workers in that city are not lower than in most other textile towns. The plain fact is that the textile industry, as far as earnings are concerned, is in large part a "family industry." It gives employment to men, women, and children. The normal family of five, unless the father is employed in one of the comparatively few better-paying occupations, is compelled to supplv two wage earners in order to secure the necessaries of life.
From a study of the table showing earnings it is very apparent that in many occupations, if the father of the family has not at least one child old enough to go to work, it becomes necessary for the wife to enter the mill to supplement the earnings of the husband in order to maintain a family. Where, as is often the case, the father, the mother, and three or more sons or daughters are at work and contribute their earnings to a common family fund, the family can live in comfort and lay a tidy sum aside weekly in the way of savings. But, on the other hand, the economic condition of the head of the family in one of the poorer-paid occupations, with two or three children so young as to necessitate the mother remaining at home to care for them, is one of extreme hardship.
Necessity forces a large number of wives with small children to enter the mills, and in these cases, where no older children or other members of the family remain at home throughout the day, the small children are left in charge of other families, in which the mother or some grown female member of the family looks after those left in her charge. In some instances the children are taken out on Sunday afternoons to the country and left there until the following Saturday, then during the Saturday afternoon holiday the parents go out and bring the children back home and keep them until the afternoon of the following day. The usual practice is, however, for the father and mother to take the children, before going to work at 6.50 a. m., to a neighboring family, in whose charge they are left during the day. In the evening, after the close of the day's work, the children are again brought home. In families where there are older children who are still tit school the father and mother go to work and leave the older children to take the younger brothers and sisters to the family in whose charge they are to be left. In the Italian quarter there is also, in connection with one of the churches, a day nursery, where a number of parents take their children on the way to work and leave them until they return in the evening. The rate usually charged for the board and care of a child ranges from $1 to $2 per week.

Cost of Living -- Food
Report on strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912. by United States Senate. Link to entire book - From New York Public Library and HathiTrust Digital Library Senate Report on Strike of Textile Workers in Lawrence, Mass in 1912 Chapter 4 "Retail Prices and the Cost of Living" pp. 165-186. ps10_bdagostino_lawrencefood1.pdf ps10_bdagostino_lawrencefood2.pdf ps10_bdagostino_lawrencefood3.pdf ps10_bdagostino_lawrencefood4.pdf ps10_bdagostino_lawrencefood5.pdf

Photos of Strike:

Photos of Strike from Library of Congress
Photos by Lewis Hine of child laborers in Lawrence MA 1911



"Bread and Roses" as sung by Mt. Holyoke alumnae

Bread & Roses Centennial website, Lawrence History Center

American Women's History: Labor Unions, A Research Guide

Mass Moments "Bread and Roses Strike"

Account of IWW and the "Bread and Roses" Strike

Mary K. O'Sullivan, "The Labor War at Lawrence," Survey (6 April 1912): 72-74.

Learn NC's description of working in a textile mill