watershed 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 mill gates.
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
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
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
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 Lawrence.
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)
those working at 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
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
streets of Milford and 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
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
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 5,000. 59
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
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 (
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) 132-133.
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:
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, 1912, 14.
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, 1993, 84.
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, 1.
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, 1913, 1.
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, 1913, 1.
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, 1.
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
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