God & Country: Public Memory and the 1912 Bread & Roses Strike in Lawrence

God & Country: Public Memory and the 1912 Bread & Roses Strike in Lawrence

Local opponents of the strike, upset about the influence of the IWW in Lawrence, organized a massive demonstration in the fall to try to drive the IWW out of Lawrence for good. Lead by Fr. O’Reilly, the “God and Country” parade received support from local businesses, churches, and the mills. Downtown was draped in red, white and blue on Columbus Day, October 13, 1912, when an estimated 30,000 people participated in the parade, with many thousands more in attendance.

It largely succeeded. Under intense social pressure, combined with the economic pressure of blacklisting, and the real threat of violence, workers were forced to choose, and local IWW membership dropped dramatically.

For decades to come local memory of 1912 was dominated by the “God and Country” version of events: 1) that the IWW were outside agitators and godless “communists” who had duped the new immigrant millworkers; 2) that the patriotic citizens of Lawrence had saved the city via the “God and Country” parade; and 3) that the strike itself, and participation in it, was shameful. And so it was the “God and Country” parade that was commemorated through the decades, even reenacted at the 50th anniversary of the strike in 1962, while the strike remained a repressed memory, spoken of in hushed tones, if at all.

Only in the 1970s did this begin to change. Local historians, aided by an artist and a journalist from New York, took a fresh look at Lawrence in 1912. What resulted was a new, more favorable interpretation of the strike, which celebrated the strikers’ struggle and achievement, and downplayed the IWW’s radical politics. The strike has generally been portrayed in a positive light and as a source of local pride since the 1980s.

Prepared by:
Jim Beauchesne
Visitor Services Supervisor, Lawrence Heritage State Park