"Bread for all, and the roses too": Political slogan turned feminist restaurant

20 March 2020

Gender and Sexuality | History

This blog includes temporary free access to “[Bread and Roses Women's Restaurant]” from the Adam Matthew resource Gender: Identity and Social Change. Click here or to view this document for free until 20th April 2020.

While we all face uncertainty about what to expect from the coming weeks and months, I wanted to use this blog to end this week on a lighter note and highlight some of the fantastic content I was able to find sitting on my sofa.

The phrase "Bread and Roses" is mostly associated with the Lawrence textile strike of 1912. After a new law reduced the women's working week from 56 to 54 hours, thousands of workers faced pay cuts that were out of their control. Lasting just over 2 months the strike did become violent, resulting in the unfortunate death of Anna LoPizzo on the picket line, but was ultimately successful in providing workers with all of their demands, including a 15% increase in pay. It is reported that one of the striking women carried a picket sign that read "We Want Bread, But Roses Too!".

 

Lawrence Textile Strike 1912. Image via: Wikimedia Commons

However, the phrase "Bread and Roses" did in fact precede the 1912 strike. Originating from a speech given by suffrage activist, Helen Todd, and originally appearing in print in 1911 in the form of a poem by James Oppenheim. The poem allowed the message this phrase embodied to travel much further, being put to music at least three times and recorded many more (even featured within a heart-warming scene in the 2014 film, Pride).

Inspired by this poem and its origins, a women's collective of the same name was formed in 1969, in Cambridge Massachusetts. They became a collective of subgroups of women who met regularly to support each other and their political and personal activities. Within Gender: Identity and Social Change I came across a publication released by one of these subgroups (or perhaps the collective as a whole), in their initial year. This publication addressed the role of the women's liberation groups and the state of oppression at that time, “in the course of the fight we will have to raise the issues of the human relationships in which the special oppression of women is rooted: sexual objectification, the division of labour in the home, and the institutions of marriage and the nuclear family.” This publication also provides a reprinted version of Oppenheim's poem.

Image © Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Image © Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

This collective encouraged many women to begin dedicating all of their time to the movement. Two women, Gill Gane and Patsy Hynes, used this as inspiration to open their own feminist restaurant called, yes you guessed it, Bread and Roses! The original business plan they created to interest shareholders can also be found within Gender: Identity and Social Change, and is temporarily free to access here. 

They wanted to build safe space for women to visit, and talk of "a place where women and their friends can get together and eat in a feminist atmosphere…a place where any women can feel comfortable, whether she comes on her own or with friends". Their vision for this hub of community would offer “a range of entertainments and activities for the women of Boston."

They wanted shareholders to "Invest in Women (or, put your money where your mouth is going to be)". An example menu shows exactly how they wished to use this space for food, entertainment, political activities and teaching.


Image © Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

With the help of women architects, women lawyers and women carpenters, the restaurant finally opened in 1975 and appeared to get off to a flying start. In a letter to their shareholders a year later, we are told of their successes. Throughout that first year they held a total of 18 art exhibitions, collected between $50-$125 in donations weekly (for a total of 35 women's organisations), and created a thriving softball team. The space became a hive of activity and every Sunday night, featured performances such as musicians and poets, as well as discussions on projects, newspapers, housing and drop-in centres.

A sense of community seems to have been created within the walls of this restaurant, empowering women to take control of their situation and enjoy themselves freely. So many stories similar to this can be found within our collections including Gender: Identity and Social Change, I encourage you all to go and take a look.

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About the Author

Alice Hone

Alice Hone

I joined the team at Adam Matthew in 2018 as a Development Assistant. Since starting my role I have enjoyed working on a variety of upcoming projects and look forward to seeing them become published collections. My academic interest lies in film and television studies, with particular interest in the history of commemoration broadcasting.