Bring Me Bread and Roses

Susan Kelley
4 min readApr 20, 2022

It’s Not as Weird As It Seems

Photo by Magda Fou on Unsplash

Bread and Roses Humanism. The whole title has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I mean, who doesn’t like both of those things? Bread offers sustenance at its basest level, and roses are beautiful and smell sweet (also, by any other name…).

Sure, it’s utopian and therefore the whole thing is likely to fail, but the notion isn’t altogether absurd on its face. Or, at least it isn’t to me. So, on that level take it with a grain of salt, I suppose.

Here’s the gist: the basic political/labor slogan, “an injury to one is an injury to all” is at the core of the Bread and Roses ideal. I can ascribe to this. I think I’ve always believed this way, anyway. I mean, if you hurt my neighbor, I’m not cool with that. I’ve always been the ultimate mama-bear and in fact, it has been tragically difficult for me over the years to not come to the aid of my children, even now that they are grown-ass adults. Hurt them, and you hurt me by extension.

Let’s go back to the actual, actual origin of “Bread and Roses,” though, for a more thorough understanding.

The genesis of the phrase hails from James Oppenheim’s poem, first published in a 1911 issue of American Magazine:

“Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.”

The poem was long thought to be inspired by the textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where women carried signs reading “We want bread, but we want roses, too!” (This is of course not true, since the strike was a year later, but it makes for a good story.)

Nonetheless, the idea of “bread and roses” has since become a banner phrase for coupling the basic needs of both dignity and justice together and understanding them as simply human.

An understanding of today’s Bread and Roses thinking might encompass a broad right to choose — the ability to choose simplicity in things like working from home if your vocation accommodates it, choosing to have or not have children without criticism, imagining an alternative American Dream that either embraces home ownership or nomadic existence. Who said we all have the same path, anyway?

Susan Kelley

Susan is a runner, a mom of 3 grown children, and an avid traveler. She writes about humans, and wrote a book about false accusations of sexual assault.