By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — After more than a year of researching the history and events related to the textile strike of 1912, Robert Forrant and Susan Grabski wrote a book about it.
Later this month, “Lawrence and the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike” will be published in the ‘Images of America’ series by Arcadia Publishing.
“The strike had national and international resonance and issues we still hear about today such as labor disputes, diversity of immigrants,” said Grabski, executive director of the Lawrence History Center. Forrant is chairman of the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee and a professor of history at UMass Lowell.
“This story also shows what happens when groups act collectively and overcome barriers. It can help a generation of new immigrants see a different perspective,” Grabski said.
The strike began on Jan. 12, 1912 when workers, mostly women and children, in the American Woolen Company Mills walked out of the factory when their hours were cut from 56 to 54 per week resulting in a loss of wages.
The strike is often referred to as the Bread and Roses strike. It lasted nine weeks.
The authors say the book looks at the lives of mill workers before the strike, events during the conflict, and how the strike was perceived by others throughout the nation and world.
“This is more than the basic story told from the eyes of the mayor, the head of the militia and the head of the strikers,” Forrant said. “This book looks at what life was like before the strike and we could tell a more complete story.”
The book features more than 180 photographs from the Lawrence History Center as well as others from the University of New Hampshire’s Roland D. Sawyer collection, Lawrence Public Library, Library of Congress, American Textile History Museum in Lowell, and the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. Many of the pictures many have never been published.
The book has nine chapters including the history of Lawrence, the exodus of the children, congressional hearings, the striker’s victory, “God and Country,” how the city remember the strike 100 years later and a time line of the strike.
Within its pages, the book offers more details about participants as found in jail records and death certificates. It also reveals the involvement of famous Americans who came to support the strikers, including Helen Keller.
During the strike, Keller, who was blind and deaf, toured Lawrence and helped raise money to provide food and find home for the children. She was an active member of the Ettor-Giovannitti-Caruso defense committee, who were charged as accessories to the fact in the death of striker Anne Lopizzo. She even spoke in their defense during the trial. Keller later said the Bread and Roses strike inspired her desire for socialism. Keller also wrote an introduction to “Arrows in the Gale” by Arturo Giovannitti, principal leader of the Bread and Roses strike. “Giovannitti is, like Shelley, a poet of revolt against the cruelty, the poverty, the ignorance which too many of us accept.” Keller wrote in the 1914 book of poems.
Labor journalist Mary Heaton Vorse covered the strike for a New York magazine and also wrote about her experience in her memoir, “A Footnote to Folly” in 1935. Another prominent woman who came to Lawrence to support the strikers was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, an organizer for the International Workers of the World. She played a leading role in organizing the children’s exodus and gave a rousing speech.
Rounding out the book is the image of Ralph Fascenella’s 5-foot by 10-foot painting, “Lawrence 1912: The Great Strike” also titled “Bread and Roses - Lawrence, 1912” The self-taught artist came to Lawrence in the mid-1970s, to sketch for his series of paintings of Lawrence’s strike. The paintings by the famed artist and labor activist rekindled an interest in the strike, Grabski said.
The book also includes information and a photograph of the Striker’s Monument at Campagnone Common, a bronze sketch depicting workers rushing out of the mills holding American flags created by sculptor Daniel Altschuler of Gloucester.
The bronze relief was permanently affixed on a 30,000-pound basalt boulder, a volcanic rock, donated by Brox Quarry in Dracut. The plaque weighs 120 pounds and is 40-inches by 28-inches down.
The stone stands across from City Hall where Bill Haywood of the Industrial Workers of the World urged strikers to accept the wage proposals made by owners of the American Woolen Company to end the strike.
The installation concluded two years of planning by members of the 1912 Strikers’ Monument Committee and co-chaired by David Meehan, retired Lawrence High School art teacher and historian Jonas Stundzia.
To read: "Lawrence and the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike" will be available Aug. 26. It can be pre-ordered through Lawrence History Center, 6 Essex St., Lawrence, MA. 01841 or purchased at the Bread and Roses Labor Day Festival at Campagnone Common on Labor Day. Cost: $21.99.