By Mary Ellen Mitchell
When we first started Lydia’s house we had a category of volunteer that we called “Bread and Roses.” Meridith came up with it, with the thought that we needed a place for people that would bring both practical and nice things to the guests. A few months back I cleaned out the old volunteer folder and got rid of that job, thinking “well that never panned out.” And then I paused and reconsidered… actually it did, surprisingly well with one person, Anne.
The term Bread and Roses—a Catholic Worker Favorite—has a storied history. It started in a poem, moved into a suffragists’ speech about what women were fighting for with the vote, and then came as the rallying cry of striking workers at a textile mill in 1912. Young girls, tired of poor working conditions, carried signs “We want bread and roses too.”
Judy Collins wrote a tribute to the marchers
Small art and love and beauty
Their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for
But we fight for roses too
As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
For the rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
There are few people I can think of that exemplify the spirit of this rallying cry or the term “Bread and Roses” more than Anne. Of course, Anne has never been a textile worker, even if she is an accomplished seamstress. But what she understands is that people need both the basic and the beautiful. Life cannot be lived with only bread, though if she had to choose one food only, I imagine bread it would be! Lord knows, Anne and brought plenty of bread to Lydia’s house over her 8 year tenure. But it’s the roses she’ll be remembered for. There are literal flowers, growing all around the garden that she paid for at 2005 mills. And there are the feminine touches that created the unique charism of Lydia’s house, mostly the combined efforts of her and Meridith- the banners, the badges, the cakes, the table cloths and the screen printed t-shirts.
Anne holds the unique ability to see the need for roses but not forget the bread. Never one to dismiss the basic needs of each human, she might (literally) be sewing an intricate merit badge while examining a puss filled growth, all in the Lydia’s House living room after she cooked dinner. Moving quickly from practical to beautiful and back. Who among us can claim such a foot in two worlds? For the staff she provided all the furniture in our office building, and then also bought season tickets to plays and fun drinks to fill the fridge. For my children, there was sun protective swim wear coupled with a trampoline in her backyard. For our guests, carefully crafted gender reveal cakes followed by advocacy for pain management in the delivery room. Anne provided the first major donation for our affordable housing building and then created custom cocktails themed for the edifice to be served at subsequent fundraisers (mutual ade anyone?). On both extremes extravagance; on both extremes an acknowledgment that a small group of committed people can save the world, but that said saving comes in both the daily and the grand. As a popular Catholic Worker quote goes, “Everybody wants to start a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.” Anne was here for both the dishes and the revolution.