moment in American history. As landless immigrants with no status or political influence, the Lawrence
strikers faced daunting barriers as they mobilized to protest pay cuts and overall working conditions in the
bitter cold of a New England winter. Their stunning victory in the face of an overwhelmingly violent response
to their efforts by mill owners, local, and state governments, clergy, police, militia, and Harvard
undergraduates is legendary.
Though the strike itself lasted only 63 days, it looms large in the history of American labor reform for
several reasons, including its outcome as an enormous victory for the organizers affiliated with the Industrial
Workers of the World (IWW). A presence in Lawrence for five years, IWW national organizers visited the city
helping with work slowdowns and wildcat walk-outs in late 1911 and provided all-encompassing support
during the strike itself.1 The “One Big Union’s” inclusive message bound together the polyglot of ethnic
groups working in the city’s woolen industry.
In addition to the IWW, the Italian Socialist Federation (ISF) played a significant role in the strike’s
success. The ISF’s members were among the first workers out of the mills and provided local leadership
and strategies to the larger strike force. Most were syndicalists with strong ties to radical labor organizations
throughout Italy and other European countries.2
Female networks in Lawrence’s ethnic neighborhoods added considerable strength to the strike force.
Workers, wives, and mothers forged strong alliances with neighbors in their tenement blocks out of
necessity born of poverty. The strength of these networks contributed to the solidarity essential to sustaining
the strike of 1912. 3
Important to this study is the recognition that union membership and strike activity by women were not
socially accepted among the larger American culture. Picketing and parading were completely at odds with
notions of feminine propriety. Though many immigrant women were not bound by such cultural constraints in
their homelands, 4 mainstream American reaction to women’s labor activism was one of disdain and horror.
Traditional craft-based labor unions also ignored women workers, dismissing them as not worthy of
representation. Not so for the Wobblies who encouraged women’s participation and activism from their
Together, these three elements -- the IWW, ethnic organizations, and women’s activism -- proved a
formidable combination in the fight for higher pay and better working conditions in Lawrence. In the strike’s
aftermath, mill workers throughout New England took to the streets in hopes of achieving similar outcomes.
Dozens of strikes occurred from March 1912 to August 1913 in Massachusetts alone and while each had
distinct local characteristics, they shared many of the hallmarks of the Lawrence strike. This essay explores
the influence of the Lawrence strike on those subsequent strikes with a special focus on women’s roles. In
what follows, we provide a synopsis of Lawrence, highlighting key female figures and the strategic roles they
played. Next, we turn our attention to consideration of several representative Massachusetts strikes during
the subsequent 15 months with an emphasis on the roles women played. As will be demonstrated, the
Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 had implications for workers beyond Lawrence’s boundaries.
The Bread and Roses strike had its roots in the protective legislation enacted by the state, reducing the
hours of labor for women and children from 56 per week to 54, causing a de facto reduction in wages.
Effective January 1912, the first pay day brought “short pay” to workers. On January 11, Polish women walked
off the job shouting for their co-workers to join them. By the end of the next week 10,000 workers had done so
and by the end of the strike 20,000 to 25,000 were out.
In 1912, the tenements, streets, and mills of Lawrence teemed with immigrants from a multitude of
countries. Conventional wisdom held that the strike was doomed to fail precisely because of the ethnic
make-up of the force. IWW organizers however, preached an inclusive message, one that traditional labor
unions had eschewed. “Do not let them divide you by sex, color, creed or nationality for as you stand today
you are invincible,” Big Bill Haywood implored them. 5 For the next several months, this message resonated
through Lawrence’s streets and meeting halls.
The workers organized quickly, forming an official strike committee of 12 individuals, including one
woman, Annie Welzenbach, a skilled mender. Welzenbach, 24 years old in 1912, is credited with bringing the
English-speaking workers into the strike, another important ingredient to victory. 6 A general committee
composed of 56 members responsible for the different ethnic groups involved also was established. 7
These individual ethnic units were charged with taking care of their own, providing soup kitchens, medical
assistance, and clothing for their compatriots. The ISF in conjunction with the IWW raised funds for the
strikers nationally and internationally. 8
Workers met nightly in halls to listen to IWW speakers. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the most prominent female
organizer, spoke directly to the plight of the women strikers, “The conditions are very bad here. The mill
operatives are not paid what they are worth to the corporations. Just think of the mothers who work daily in
the mills and then have their children kept at another house. It is unbearable when you think about it.” 9
Gurley Flynn was a constant presence in Lawrence, enormously popular among the workers. Recognizing
the constraints faced by female strikers, she began holding women-only meetings, explaining, “The women
wanted to picket. They were strikers as well as wives and were valiant fighters.” 10 Such meetings
contributed to the women’s empowerment.
Early on, the IWW warned against violence as a strategy. Despite their reputation as anarchists bent on
destroying property and lives, violence had no place in official Wobbly ideology. Mass picketing began
immediately as workers left the mills. City officials called for the state militia’s help to contain the large
numbers of strikers flooding the streets. Security was supplemented by the Pinkerton agency and Harvard
undergraduates joined the force as reinforcements and strike breakers.
It is significant to this study that females dominated the Lawrence work force.11 These women forged
strong alliances with neighbors regardless of ethnic background. They shared food and child-care, laundry
and papers necessary for gaining their children employment. The strength of these networks also
contributed to the solidarity essential to sustaining the strike of 1912. 12
For the next several weeks, strikers took to the streets to both picket and keep strike breakers from
entering the mills. In response, mill owners had police turn water hoses on them. Some effort was made by
the state board of conciliation and arbitration to get the two sides talking, but the mill owners adamantly
refused to meet with the general strike committee. They insisted on meeting only with representatives from
recognized unions employed in their own mills. The strike committee was equally steadfast in its demand to
be recognized as a legitimate bargaining unit. 13
January 29 proved a watershed day for the strike. After hearing reports of the arrival of a trolley car filled
with out-of-town strike-breakers, workers swarmed the scene. Newspaper reports and city officials blamed
strikers for the ensuing riot as “scabs” were dragged from the cars. Pinkertons, disguised as workers, mixed
in the crowd and beat the strikers back while generating fear and hostility among the general populace. 14
Among those arrested for rioting that morning were Margot Sonia and Serafina Peradelia. Later that day,
worker Anna LoPizzo was shot and killed during a rally, most likely by police. Her death set in motion one of
the key contributing factors to sustained labor unrest throughout Massachusetts in the ensuing months, the
arrest and imprisonment of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti.
Despite the fact that neither was in Lawrence on that day, national IWW organizers Ettor and Giovannitti
were charged with being accessories to LoPizzo’s murder. Authorities argued that their earlier presence in
the city had incited the mob leading to the events of January 29. A day later during a demonstration, a young
Syrian striker, John Ramey, was struck with a bayonet and killed. Quickly, the city issued orders banning
strike parades and public meetings simultaneously, ceding responsibility for public safety to the state militia.
It is at this juncture that existing communication networks of women became essential to the life of the
strike. The women of Lawrence seized the neighborhoods. “In the absence of formal gathering places,
operatives grew increasingly dependent on women’s unauthorized networks to get out the news, gather
information, coordinate activities, and sustain unity.” 15 Organizer Pearl McGill met with women outdoors to
help plan morning vigils for the purpose of ensuring solidarity on the picket lines. McGill, a button-worker
from Muscatine, Iowa, had come east as an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union League. 16 Working in
Boston, she was drawn to Lawrence at the start of the strike, quickly became enamored of the IWW, and
soon worked exclusively for the Wobblies.
One strategy the Lawrence women came up with was the moving picket line. The idea was to form a
massive constantly moving human chain by linking arms, providing both unity and protection from arrest. 17
The strategy was so successful that it was replicated in numerous strikes across the Commonwealth in the
months that followed. “Scab mugging,” another tactic favored by the women, included following strike-
breakers right to the gates of the factories, all the while hectoring and bringing down the wrath of strike-
sympathetic passersby. Domacilla Lafskoski, an elderly woman, ended up being arrested while shoveling
snow off her sidewalk in late February. Police said she was yelling “scab” at passersby, whacking her shovel
while she hurled the epithet. 18 Four young Polish women were also arrested that morning for blocking the
Through it all, the IWW, the ISF and other ethnic societies provided organizational support and resources
to the strikers, acting in partnership with local leaders. Money was allotted to each family for food, coal, and
wood. Women were in charge of cooking at the 11 soup kitchens organized around ethnicity. 19 The relief
committee held meetings and raised money nationally and internationally for the Lawrence strikers. Pearl
McGill traveled to workers’ conventions throughout Massachusetts to garner financial and moral support.
Support for the strike extended beyond the working class. When local strike leader Annie Welzenbach and
her sisters, Emma and Lillian Steindl, were arrested on charges of intimidation, the Progressive Women’s
Club of Lawrence issued a public condemnation of the police. Police, to avoid the possibility of a backlash
from the strike force, removed the sisters from their homes at midnight. The club women compared these
actions to those of Russian authorities and demanded that an “end be put to such injustices.” Later, they
hosted a protest meeting at the Colonial Theater with Wellesley College professor Vida Scudder as the
keynote speaker. 20
Violence continued through the month of February. The militia had to be called to the vicinity of the
Arlington mills to break up thousands of picketing Polish women. They were contained by bayonets and
charging police. 21 Striker Josephine Lis, Polish delegate to the IWW strike committee and occasional court
room interpreter during Wobbly trials in Lawrence, was found guilty of molesting a soldier. She flatly refused
to pay the $10 fine levied against her, choosing instead to be jailed. Eventually both the judge and her
attorney convinced her to appeal the case and she was released on bond. “We can handle the men all right,”
prosecutor Douglas Campbell declared, “but it takes 10 men to handle one woman.” 22
Perhaps the most publicly creative action associated with the strike was the decision to send the children
of the strikers out of Lawrence. The strategy, common among Italian and other European labor activists, was
based on the premise that workers might be compelled to return to the mills before the strike was settled if
they were worried about their hungry offspring.
On February 10, 1912, Margaret Sanger, working on behalf of the IWW, accompanied a group of children
on their “exodus” to New York City. By and large, response to the event and news coverage was favorable,
save in the city of Lawrence. Mill owners and the mayor were furious at the action. City officials called for the
National Guard, and threatened workers with jail if they tried to send any more children out of the city. Defiant
strikers sent two dozen more children to Barre, Vermont, where Italian granite workers at the Socialist Labor
Party Hall greeted them. The Lawrence police chief and city officials publicly vowed that not one more child
would leave the city.
On February 24, the strikers returned to the train station with more children. They were met with brutal
opposition as police seized children, tossing them into trucks. Parents surrounded the vehicles carrying the
children and a 20-minute battle with the militia ensued. The children were sent out of the city to the poor farm.
23 Frantic mothers and fathers stormed City Hall only to be beaten back by police. Clashes occurred
throughout the day “so demonstrative were they that 33, 27 of them women, were arrested.” 24 Eventually,
the children were returned to their parents who sent them on to Philadelphia. Accompanied by Anna Sachs,
Anna Fulden, and Mary Sholik , the children were greeted as “militi della medesima lotta” (soldiers of the
same struggle). 25
The public was outraged by the violence, and nationally labor activists and social reformers called for an
immediate investigation. A Congressional hearing was slated for March 6 and Sanger accompanied young
workers to Washington DC. Spectators, including First Lady Nellie Taft, heard compelling first-hand
testimony about conditions in the Lawrence mills. Carmella Teoli described losing part of her scalp when
her hair got caught in a machine. 26 Josephine Lis testified about being charged for a dipper of water during
the work day. Lawrence officials attempted to counteract the vivid testimony as workers were not the only
witnesses called to Congress. One police officer complained of coming upon women armed with
broomsticks and a baseball bat. He denied any violence on the part of the police or militia. 27
Under mounting public pressure and unable to break the strike force, the mill owners sought talks with
the strike committee. The unified forced proved formidable and the mill owners capitulated to the workers’
demands. Triumphant workers returned to the mills at the end of March.
The story of Lawrence workers’ solidarity and activism did not end there, however. Ettor and Giovannitti
remained in a Salem jail along with Joseph Caruso, awaiting trial. National IWW organizers stayed in
Massachusetts raising funds for their defense and bringing the message of the Lawrence victory to workers
in mills and factories. Pearl McGill presided over a mass meeting of 1,000 in Boston’s Tremont Temple in
August. 28 In September, thousands of Lawrence workers descended upon Boston parading through the
streets demanding justice for the imprisoned organizers. McGill led 8,000 workers onto the Boston Common
where they joined another 9,000 gathered to hear Big Bill Haywood’s demand for the prisoners’ release. The
publicity generated by the workers’ victory and Ettor’s and Giovannitti’s imprisonment sparked momentum as
labor unrest spread throughout the Commonwealth.
Fast on the heels of the Lawrence strike, approximately 500 employees at the Barre Wool Combing
Company walked off the job “and with shouts rushed into the street.” 29 By the end of a week, the strike was
estimated to be about 1,000: 700 from the Barre Wool Combing Company and an additional 300 recruits
from the Norway Worsted Mill. Italian immigrants dominated the Barre strike force. There was no question as
to where they got their motivation, at least in mill superintendent R. G. Thompson’s perspective. “They are
acting like a crazy lot of sheep running about the streets and waving flags, and I feel that they have become
crazed by reading about the Lawrence strike.” 30
Wobbly organizer Samuel Fassel traveled to the small Central Massachusetts town to aid the strikers.
Fassel wrote up their demands, basing them on those of the Lawrence strike. The demands included an
increase in pay along with a 54-hour work week (for the men too?). Strike parades began immediately. Local
officers attempted to deflect the mass picketing in front of the mill by turning fire hoses onto the crowd. 31
Riots broke out when Sheriff Emory A. Bacon ordered rifles, shotguns, and 100 armed guards to prepare for
any violence among the strikers. “Specials,” police officers from nearby towns, arrived to ensure order and
sharpshooters armed with rifles took up position in the top floors of the mills. 32
Headlines in Il Proletario, the ISF paper shouted, “The Insurrection of the Hungry in Mass” and “Come a
Lawrence! (As in Lawrence).33 The bloody conflicts included beatings by both police and strikers. Mill
owners refused to recognize the IWW demanding instead to negotiate with John Golden, leader of the United
Textile Workers (UTU). 34 The UTU represented only a small fraction of the workers and, as such, no
negotiations took place.
Women played a significant role in the strike, picketing and parading daily. As they had in Lawrence, IWW
organizers met with the women separately in outdoor locations. 35 On March 16, strikers set out to stop
three freight cars filled with wool from leaving the mill yard. A group of women acting as decoys headed
towards the tracks as the cars were being coupled. They were allowed to advance by unsuspecting guards
who quickly realized their error. In the melee that followed, large numbers of men broke through the lines and
rushed the trains, hurling stones at the cars as they set out of the yard. Women rushed from nearby homes
wielding broomsticks and axes attempting to stop the train. Both Boston and New York newspapers reported
the women’s tactics as being similar to those used in Lawrence. 36 Another reported that the women fought
“as hard as men.”37 Shots fired above the crowd by police sent the strikers into a frenzy and many were left
wounded. The experience hardened the workers’ resolve and they held fast to their demands. Railroad
workers refused to transport any more goods from the mills.
The owners could not hold out any longer and right before noon on March 21, the strikers’ demands were
met. The employers set a work week of 54 hours, an overtime rate of 1¼ pay, an increase of five percent for
piece work, and no discrimination against the workers involved in the strike. Organizer Nelson told a local
paper, “We claim this is one of the greatest victories we ever had.” 38 The total amount spent on the victory by
the IWW was $50.
On the day the Barre workers settled, a strike broke out in nearby Clinton at the Lancaster Gingham Mills;
1,300 weavers demanded a ten percent wage increase. 39 Pearl McGill was among the IWW organizers
dispatched from Lawrence to lend her organizational skill. 40 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke at a rally on
March 28 describing “the objects and methods of the IWW and urged the strikers here to remain firm.” 41
The Clinton work force, comprised primarily of Poles and Greeks, proved up to the challenge. Workers at
Clinton Wire Cloth joined the strike in early April. 42 Owners agreed to some of the workers’ demands and it
appeared that the strike was settled. However, local organizer Dennis Callahan was fired for his activism
and the workers returned to the picket lines in solidarity demanding that Callahan be re-hired.
Parades, meetings, and scab mugging became part of the daily routine. Mary Welsh and Rose Heinold
were among those arrested for assaulting female strike-breakers. 43 Bavarian immigrant Heinhold and her
husband were both active Wobblies and held strike meetings on their property. Strikers took to the streets
and broke windows of the houses where workers had broken ranks and returned to work. It was also
reported that the word “scab” was painted across the front doors. 44
On June 2, a riot broke out in the center of town. The fracas began when several Greek strikers attempted
to stop strike-breakers from entering the factory. A nearby police officer used his night stick to prevent the
strikers from barring the scabs. Stones were thrown as more of the strikers gathered. Clinton police called
for help from surrounding towns and 40 specials armed with clubs and guns arrived. Attempting to avoid
being beaten, strikers ran into a Catholic church yard, throwing stones at their pursuers. Police opened fire
into the church yard and seven strikers, four women and three men, were shot. 45 Though the events
generated some news coverage, little effort was made on behalf of the Clinton workers by the national IWW
or the state board of arbitration and conciliation. The mills continued to operate with about a quarter of the
normal work force.
There were additional reports of police officers tripping young Greek girls as they picketed, and beating
them as they lay on the ground. The Greek Consul arrived from Boston in an effort to stop the persecution of
Greek strikers to little effect. 46 The strike dragged on without resolution until June 26 when workers voted to
return to the mills, no victory in hand.
Throughout the spring and summer, strikes broke out in Lowell, Newton, Waltham, Chicopee, Webster,
West Warren, New Bedford, and North Adams. (A strike was avoided in Fall River as mill owners voluntarily
raised wages ten percent). Replicating the actions of Barre, local officials in each of these communities
sounded a general alarm as workers took to the streets. Police officers from neighboring towns would rush
to the affected area and violence and multiple arrests resulted. Women were active in all phases of these
strikes: picketing, scab mugging, and running soup kitchens.
As noted above, large rallies protesting the continued imprisonment of Ettor and Giovannitti took place
throughout the summer and fall. A defense committee was formed in Lawrence with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
at the helm, with Josephine Lis also serving. Pearl McGill and Gurley Flynn barnstormed around the state
raising funds and generating support. Lawrence workers staged several one-day strikes in protest and held
massive parades demanding the prisoners’ release. Similar protests occurred throughout the United States
and Europe, especially in Italy. 47 The trial of Ettor, Giovannitti, and Joseph Caruso took place in October
and November and all three were acquitted, thus providing workers with additional incentive to continue their
quest for better pay and working conditions.
In January 1913, workers in the silk mills of Paterson, New Jersey, walked off the job in protest over
increased responsibility with no accompanying increase in pay. The national IWW sent Gurley Flynn and
other organizers to the scene. Though there were similarities between Paterson and Lawrence (including
the deaths of two strikers), a smaller strike in Massachusetts during the spring of 1913 bears nearly all of the
hallmarks of Bread and Roses.
Hopedale/Milford, March 1913 – July 1913
Hopedale, a small central Massachusetts town, was founded as a utopian community by reformers
influenced by Transcendentalism. Among the original settlers, the Draper family dominated the town by the
turn of the 20th century. The company was a leading American manufacturer of power looms and employed
at its height several thousand workers. As the single largest employer in Hopedale, the owners of Draper
manufacturing held sway over life in the small town as well as its larger neighbor, Milford. In 1913, Eben
Draper, former governor of Massachusetts, ran the company. Though earlier generations of Drapers had
comported themselves as paternalistic guardians of their employees, Gov. Draper, as he was known, was
less sympathetic to the working class.
The strike of 1913 mirrored that of Lawrence, albeit on a smaller scale. Immigrant workers, fed up with
low wages and long hours, demanded redress and when they were denied took to the streets. Italian
workers’ circles, along with other ethnic societies and the IWW, organized and supported workers throughout
the strike. The strike was marred by violence, including the murder of one worker and the wounding of many
more. Strikers were denied access to public spaces and frequently jailed while attempting to picket.
Workers’ children were exiled to Providence and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in a manner identical to that of
What distinguishes this strike from Lawrence’s is the lack of female workers in the main strike force.
During the time period under study here, Draper employed fewer than a dozen women. However, large
numbers of women did participate in this strike by picketing and scab-mugging . Still more walked off their
own jobs in sympathy, causing havoc on the streets. One woman in particular was essential to the strike’s
organization. Palmira Merolini served as translator and secretary to the strike committee as well as
chaperone for the exiled children. Merolini's contributions will be discussed further below. Another distinction
between this strike and Lawrence’s is the fact that most of the strike activities did not occur in the same town
where the manufacturing plant was located. Though Draper provided some housing in Hopedale, most
employees with families lived in neighboring Milford, which was the location of strike rallies and parades.
Palmira Merolini (Boston Globe photo)
Draper, many others worked in the granite quarries of the town. The majority of these immigrants were from
southern Italy and the largest number hailed from the area of Foggia. The Italians clustered in the Plains
district and worshiped at Sacred Heart church. Like their compatriots in Lawrence, the Italians of Milford
found support in ethnic societies, including civic, musical, and religious groups.
Worker circles supported the ideals of the IWW and raised funds for Lawrence strikers as well as Ettor’s
and Giovanniti’s defense throughout 1912. "There were two radical circles in Milford, an IWW group on East
Main St. and an anarchist group on Plains Street. Each had about 25 members, all Italians,” recalled former
resident Ralph Piesco. 48 An active participant in these radical circles was Ferdinando Sacco (a.k.a. Nicola)
whose execution was a cause celebre for anarchists all over the world.
Controversy erupted in Milford during March of 1913 when it became known that Draper employees had
invited IWW speakers to address workers. Officials denied necessary permits for this meeting to take place
at the town hall. Instead, workers met at Oliveri Hall and the meeting was conducted entirely in Italian. A few
days later, another meeting was held at Charles River Hall with addresses being delivered in English,
Italian, and Armenian. On March 31, workers voted to strike.
The workers immediately appealed to the IWW for help in organizing the strike force. Draper executives
responded by sending out an alarm to nearby police departments and dozens of neighboring towns sent
officers to protect the company. Unfortunately for the workers, the IWW was embroiled in a large-scale silk
workers strike in Paterson, New Jersey. Joseph Coldwell, a local photographer sympathetic to IWW,
emerged as strike leader. Both Ettor and Giovanniti visited during the strike and Gurley Flynn addressed
workers in late June.
The workers’ demands included a shop committee, a nine-hour day, abolition of the piece- work system,
pay increases, restoration of their jobs, and impartial treatment when the strike was resolved. “One of the
principal causes of the workers’ discontent was the attitude of the supervisors,” Danker asserts, and further,
that these workers were “uniting in protest with immigrant workers across the nation who were demanding
not just a decent living, but decent treatment as well.” 49 From the outset of the strike, Eben Draper
adamantly refused to negotiate with the strikers because of their connection to the IWW.
Strikers outside the Draper Main Office
Hopedale, singing and haranguing strikebreakers as they made their way through town on electric
streetcars. On April 1, nearly 1,000 people turned out to march after a meeting at Driving Park Hall. “The
parade was sensational and a great surprise to the residents of Milford and Hopedale, who generally
doubted so many would be out.” 50 A strike committee formed with representatives from the Italian,
American, Armenian, and Polish communities. As in Lawrence, it was common for children and their
mothers to march at the head of the line in the daily parades. Many of the marchers wore small red flags with
the words, “Don’t scab in Hopedale,” on them. 51 Italian and Armenian bands accompanied the crowds to
the Draper factory. The town of Hopedale, however, responded quickly by invoking a by-law which prohibited
parading without a license. After that, marchers were stopped by special police at the border between the two
towns and ordered to turn around.
Eben Draper had little trouble connecting the Hopedale strike to Lawrence. In a letter addressed to local
papers and later published in his company’s newsletter, he briefly described the IWW influence and tactics
in Lawrence. Draper wrote, “Soon after the end of the strike in Lawrence, men who had been affiliated with
that movement began to come to Milford, where there was a large settlement of Italians, and began to preach
the doctrines of the IWW. . .” 52 Evidently he was not aware of the existence of socialist and anarchist
workers’ circles in Milford before 1912.
There was violence early on as an unidentified person shot at a streetcar entering the neighboring town of
Hopkinton. 53 A Draper executive on his way home from work was hit in the leg and Milford officials called for
help from surrounding police departments. The specials arrived from communities all over central and
eastern Massachusetts and were housed in the Draper offices and were “accorded all manner of luxury,”
according to a newspaper report. 54 Strike-breakers also were recruited and housed in Hopedale under the
watchful eye of police and Draper Company officials.
During the month of April, employees at two Milford firms, Greene Brothers and Lapworth Manufacturing,
were persuaded to walk off their jobs in sympathy by Coldwell. All were young women, the majority of Italian
descent. They joined the parade of several hundred Draper strikers through town and did not present any
demands of their own employers until several days later.
Greene Bros. and Lapworth employees asked for the abolition of the practice of “learners” working for the
first three weeks on the job without pay, improvements in sanitary conditions, and raises. They picketed daily
and used physical force to keep strike-breakers from crossing their lines. Seven police officers were
assigned to keep the area secure but “through a reluctance to use extreme force on women, a small riot took
place and a large squad of reserves had to be rushed to the scene before order was restored. . . About 150
girls were involved in the fight” 55 The companies began bringing non-striking employees in to work by truck.
Though Palmira Merolini was identified in a news report as the leader of the women’s strike, she did not
work at either company. Merolini, born in Italy in 1888, immigrated with her parents to Milford around 1892. In
1913, she lived with her widowed mother in the Plains section of Milford and was active in the workers’
struggle. Literate in both English and Italian, she served as secretary to the Draper strike committee and
accompanied that group during a visit to Boston where they met with state officials attempting to mediate the
strike. Merolini spoke at mass meetings and served as translator for visiting speakers. Merolini also
chaperoned the strikers’ children when they were sent to Woonsocket and Providence. 56 Jennie Calitri
Paglia remembered her as “the lady in red” and as a “firebrand.” Paglia was among the children Merolini led
in parade through the streets of Milford during the strike. 57
The end of April saw increased violence as special officers shot and killed Emilio Bacchiocchi. The
incident occurred in the woods between Milford and Hopedale. The Boston Daily Globe reported two
versions of events. The first was provided by a Hopedale official who claimed that a small group of pickets,
Bacchiocchi among them, threw stones at strike-breakers on their way to the Draper factory. To protect the
workers, special police fired shots in the air over the heads of the attackers. “Some of the strikers must have
been armed and have shot at the Hopedale specials, is the Hopedale contention, even if the dead man was
unarmed.” The strikers’ version was presented by Coldwell who denied that any of the pickets were armed
and contended that the specials had leapt out from behind a shed and opened fire as the men ran away. 58
That afternoon, Coldwell was arrested for violating the law against unlicensed parading in Hopedale and
inciting a riot in Milford. He was released on bail several hours later.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Milford as Bacchiocchi’s body was brought to Sacred Heart
church for the funeral Mass. Afterwards, the body was placed in a hearse drawn by four white horses to be
taken to the cemetery for burial. Immediately following the hearse was the slain striker’s four-year-old son,
carrying a sign in Italian reading “This is the son of the assassinated one.” More than 800 men representing
various Italian societies from the region came next. Behind them were two small girls dressed all in white
representing angels of peace and mortality leading 700 women and girls. The remaining onlookers fell in
behind the adult Italian band with the line stretching a mile through the streets. The crowd was estimated at
No charges were brought against the specials. In response, three Milford police officers, all of Italian
descent, turned in their badges and resigned from the force. 60 Bacchiocchi’s murder hardened the resolve
on both sides of the Draper strike.
Arturo Giovannitti arrived several days after the funeral and attempted to lead a group of 400 strikers and
their children to Hopedale. State Police and Boston specials blocked the group at the town line. Giovannitti,
along with Caleb Howard and Coldwell, were allowed to pass through the police lines but were immediately
arrested upon crossing into Hopedale. Giovannitti’s case was heard first thing the next morning and he was
found guilty of participating in a parade and fined ten dollars. 61
On May 3, word reached Milford that Big Bill Haywood and Joseph Ettor were on their way to take charge of
the strike. Though Haywood never showed up, Ettor did, and addressed a mass meeting during a
thunderstorm. He denounced the police for failing to make any arrests in the Bacchiocchi death declaring, “It
was not the IWW that killed Bacchiocchi but the Hopedale officers.” He urged them to remain unified as “a
sure way to win the fight.” 62
The state board of arbitration also arrived in Milford at this juncture hoping to begin mediation. Strikers
were not in inclined to meet with Draper management but there was little hope of that occurring regardless.
Eben Draper left town that day to spend two weeks at Hot Springs, Virginia. 63
Milford women took to the streets to demonstrate solidarity and dissuade strike-breakers from travelling
into Hopedale. Maria Recchia, a 40-year-old mother of six, was arrested for picking up a stone to throw at
one such worker. Two police officers grabbed her arm before it was actually thrown and hauled her before a
judge. There was a great outcry in the community when it was learned that Recchia was forbidden from
having her two-week-old nursing infant in jail. The situation was rectified and neighbors brought the baby to
Recchia in her cell. 64
Groups of women, armed with brooms and sticks, gathered at the streetcar barn to stop strike-breakers
coming in from nearby towns. Perhaps recognizing the futility of such action, they escalated their efforts by
jumping onto the cars themselves, and refused to pay any fare. They rode into Hopedale “hooting” the entire
way and were immediately returned to Milford on the next car. 65 Several days later, male strikers completely
prevented a streetcar from going through town. After stopping the car, they demanded that all passengers get
off. After determining who among the crowd were Draper strike-breakers, the men let everyone else back on
and sent the scabs on their way on foot. 66
In what seems like an unnecessary act, a circular addressed to the women of the Plains district appeared
late in May. Written in Italian and addressed to “Our Wives and Sisters,” it read, “Why do you remain in bed or
why do you not follow us in battle? Imitate your sisters in Paterson who follow their husbands and brothers in
the hard battling. So do you tomorrow, Saturday morning at 6 am in Lincoln Square with your children. Wives,
our companions in pain and misery, follow us,” and was signed “A Group of Husbands.” About 50 women
and girls gathered on Main Street the next morning to jeer strike-breakers on their way to the Draper plant
with some jumping onto the cars and riding them into Hopedale. 67
Consiglia Bernadino was arrested for throwing a rock at a streetcar and found guilty. She was sentenced
to three months in the county workhouse. She appealed and was let go on a $500 bond. 68 Adrianna
Sanchioni, Ersal Monti, and Elizabeth Sabatucci were arrested for disturbing the peace. Arresting officers
testified that the trio was shouting “scab” and waving their arms as streetcars left for Hopedale. The judge in
the case “arraigned the women severely for their action railing, spitting, and brawling, instead of staying at
home where they belong.” According to a report, “the prisoners laughed as they were sentenced and openly
declared they would pay no fine.” 69
The town of Milford was at its breaking point. Selectman debated taking off early and late streetcars.
Merchants in town attempted to negotiate a settlement, to no avail. Eben Draper remained committed to his
original position of refusing to negotiate. A committee, including Bacchiocchi’s widow and Palmira Merolini,
traveled to the State House in an attempt to get the current governor involved. They were not successful.
Several by-laws were unearthed in Milford prohibiting disorder and “illegal occupancy of sidewalks” and
public pressure was exerted to enforce them. The acting clerk of courts circulated a petition to secure the
appointments of 25 to 35 more police officers. 70 Still, the strike dragged on. Several days later, the
cancellation of the workman’s morning streetcar was announced. 71
Despite being offered what was presented as an increase in wages, the Greene Brothers strikers refused
to return to work. Theresa Ferrante and Angie Sanclemente, representing their co-workers, met with
management and went over the figures offered, demonstrating how no raise was actually on the table. In
addition to demanding more money, the committee also asked for better stock to work on and more
considerate treatment. 72
As the strike entered its third month, the situation worsened for the strikers. The Draper factory had no
trouble filling their spots and even built housing for the strike-breakers. Eben Draper remained committed to
his original position not to negotiate. More children were sent away and many strikers also moved on to find
other employment. Though buoyed by a visit from Gurley Flynn in late June, it was too late to have much effect
on the outcome. By early July, the Draper strike was over and workers were forced to reapply for their
positions. In addition to not winning any concessions from the company, they were assessed $1.00 a week
by the IWW local to help pay off strike debts.
As we celebrate the centennial of Bread and Roses, it is important not to envision it as a singular event
but rather as a part of a much larger pattern of American labor activism during the early 20th century. The
Lawrence victory resulted from the synergy of complementary forces, including a labor organization
committed to egalitarian principles, local ethnic societies with national and international ties, and a strike
force of fiercely determined workers.
Lawrence’s immigrant women took to the streets with their grievances, unconstrained by American ideals
of feminine propriety. They were fighters refusing to back down, putting themselves and their families at risk
as they stood defiant in the face of their employers. Sending their children away was an astonishing act of
bravery given the potential consequences. Their activism evoked a repressive and often violent response
from the police and militia, which in turn generated much publicity from an incredulous press. After the
settlement, noteworthy in itself, the imprisonment of Ettor and Giovannitti kept the Lawrence story alive in
labor halls across the Commonwealth for months.
Workers in nearby communities seized the opportunity to demand wage increases and better conditions.
People with no access to power through standard channels realized that they could improve their lives
through creative public protest. Despite linguistic and cultural differences, there was solidarity to be found in
their status as workers.
The IWW, unlike mainstream unions, recognized the value of women on the picket line and encouraged
their participation. From Greek women in Barre rushing the trains to Italian women in Milford assailing
streetcars and scabs, the Massachusetts mill workers adopted the fierce stance of their Lawrence sisters.
Just as whole families found work in the mills and factories, so too did they attempt to find justice on the
streets. Wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters picketed and paraded, cooked and sang, were beaten,
arrested, and shot alongside their male counterparts giving lie to the claim that they were not worthy of union
representation. Though their names are not as recognizable as such leaders as Flynn or activist Sanger, the
Massachusetts mill women contributed in no small way to American labor reform.
1 Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Chicago, 1969), 234.
2 Michael Miller Topp, The Transnationalism of the Italian-American Left: The Lawrence Strike of 1912 and
the Italian Chamber of Labor of New York City Journal of American Ethnic History, 17 (Fall, 1997), 39-63.
3 Ardis Cameron, Radicals of the Worst Sort: Laboring Women in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1860-1912
(Urbana, 1993), 33.
4 See, for instance, Jennifer Guglielmo Living the Revolution: Italian Women’s Resistance and Radicalism
in New York City 1880-1945 (Chapel Hill, 2010).
5 Mary Marcy. The Battle for Bread in Lawrence. The International Socialist Review, 12 ( March,1912) 538.
6 Linda Sternberg. Women Workers and the 1912 Textile Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, unpublished
manuscript, Lawrence Public Library.
7 Cameron, Radicals, 126.
8 Dubofsky, We Shall Be All, 250.
9 Woman organizer, Boston Daily Globe 1/21/1912, 3.
10 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The Rebel Girl, An Autobiography: My First Life, 1906-1926 (New York: 1955) 132-
11 Cameron, Radicals, 33
12 Cameron, Radicals.
13 Chas. B. Neill, Report on Strike of Textile Workers in Lawrence Mass. in 1912 (Washington, DC 1912) 42.
14 William Cahn, Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike, (New York 1980) 150.
15 Cameron, Radicals, 140.
16 Applauds Foss; Appointment of Mrs. Evans, Boston Daily Globe, June 14, 1911, 16.
17 Sternberg, Women Workers, 59
18 To Send None Away Boston Daily Globe, February 28, 1912 , 2.
19 Sternberg, Women Workers, 64.
20 Women are Awakening, The Industrial Worker, 7/25/1912, 5.
21 Bayonets Disperse Women, The New York Times, February 22, 1912, 1.
22 Judge Mahoney Laments Solidarity, March 2, 1912, 5.
23 Police Clubs Keep Lawrence Waifs In The New York Times February 25, 1912, 2.
25 I Bimbi di Lawrence a Filadelfia, Il Proletario, March 15, 1912, 2.
26 Carmella Teoli Testifies About the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike, History Matters, http://historymatters.
27 Police Say Women Led Lawrence Mob The New York Times, March 2, 1912, 6.
28 Wants Crusade Like Wendell Phillips, Boston Daily Globe, August 21, 1912, 11.
29 Quit Work, Hurry Out, The Worcester Telegram, March 12, 10.
30 Quit Suddenly at South Barre, Boston Daily Globe, March 12, 1912, 12.
32 Rifles and Shot Guns are Rushed to Barre by Automobile Load, The Evening Gazette, March 18, 1912, 1;
Negotiations Off at Barre, Boston Daily Globe March 18, 1912,16.
33 March 22, 1912, 1
34 Annual Report of the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration (Boston, 1913) 45.
35 Rifles and Shot Guns are Rushed to Barre by the Automobile Load, The Evening Gazette, March 18,
36 Women Lead in Riot at Barre, Boston Daily Globe, March 17, 1912, 1.
37 Wild Riots at Barre, The Evening Gazette, March 16, 1912, 1.
38 Mill Gates Will Open, The Evening Gazette, March 22, 1912, 1.
39 Gingham Mills Shut Down, The New York Times, March 23, 1912, 7.
40 No Move to Open Mills, Boston Daily Globe, March 26, 1912, 5.
41 Men and Boys, Boston Daily Globe, March 29, 1912, 10.
42 Wire Cloth Strike Ends, Boston Daily Globe, April 16, 1912, 15.
43 Pulled Woman’s Hair, Boston Daily Globe, May 31, 1912, 6.
44 Trying to Close Plant, Boston Daily Globe, May 17, 1912, 13.
45 Clinton Strike Rioters Quelled, Boston Daily Globe, June 4, 1912, 8.
46 Consul Visits Clinton, Boston Daily Globe, June 6, 1912, 5.
47 Many of these efforts were replicated 15 years later on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti
48 Paul Averich. Anarchist Voices (Princeton: 1995), 96.
49 Anita Danker, The Hopedale Strike of 1913: The Unmaking of an Industrial Utopia in New England’s
Disharmony: The Consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Doug Reynolds and Katheryn Viens, editors,
50 Demonstration by Strikers, Boston Daily Globe, April 1, 1913, 1.
51 Citizenship Not the Issue, Boston Daily Globe, April 5, 1913, 3.
52 We Ask A Careful Consideration Cotton Chats, Draper Company (Hopedale, 1913).
53 Shoot at Street Car. Boston Daily Globe, April 11, 1913, 1.
54 Demands Rejected by Draper Company, Boston Daily Globe, April 4, 1913, 1.
55 Strike scrapbook Milford Gazette, April 25, 1913, Hopedale Public Library.
56 Merolini married Antonio Boni, a chef, around 1915 and together they ran a restaurant in the North End of
Boston. In another connection to the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Nicola Sacco’s alibi was that he was at Boni’s
restaurant when the murder he was charged with was committed. Palmira worked with the defense lawyers
for Sacco, translating letters and propaganda to and from Italy.
57 Avrich, Anarchist Voices 97.
58 Strike Tragedy Probed, Boston Daily Globe April 25, 1913, 5.
59 Escort Fully a Mile Long, Boston Daily Globe, April 25, 1913, 5.
60 Inquest Held Today on Death of Bacchiocchi, The Milford Daily News, April 30, 1913, 3.
61 Giovannitti, Coldwell and Howard Jailed at Hopedale This Morning, The Milford Daily News, May 31, 1913,
62 Ettor Talks in Thunderstorm Boston Daily Globe, May 7, 1913, 13.
64 Patrol Picketing Still On; Woman is Arrested, The Milford Daily News, April 24, 1913, 1.
65 Children to be Sent from Town Boston Daily Globe, May 25, 1913, 14.
66 Strikers Stop Car, Push Passengers Off, and Hold Back Draper Workers, The Milford Daily News, May 23,
67 Several Heads Smashed in Wildest Strike Riot, The Milford Daily News, May 24, 1913, 1.
68 Circulate Petition for More Police for Milford. Children Went Sunday, The Milford Daily News, May 26,
69 Ex-Governor Draper Says IWW Conducts Strike to Aid in Socialist Propaganda, The Milford Daily News,
May 27, 1913, 1.
70 Circulate Petition for More Police for Milford: Children Went Sunday, The Milford Daily News, May 26, 1913,
71 Strike Picket Stone Worker on Way to Shop; Officers Search Another for Weapon in Vain, The Milford Daily
News, May 29, 1913, 1.
Wake of Bread and Roses, 1912-1913
Anne F. Mattina and Domenique Ciavattone
Chronology of the Strike
Milford Gazette articles on the strike
The response of the Draper Company
The Unmaking of an Industrial Utopia
Draper Menu HOME