Art and Song to inspire working women

Women at the Wheel


As a first generation Italian American woman, story telling holds a compelling place in my DNA. Stories handed down from one generation to the next, defied geographical separation to nurture continuity of identity and purpose.

“I added Dottie Jones to this series of 13 women because of what she has accomplished in her continuous fight for social justice and especially her work with sexual harassment legislation. How one person can tirelessly go after making things right is a legacy that needed to be in my series. My hope is that her spirit is reflected in this painting!”

Dottie Jones, 2017, Encaustic, oil paint, brass tube, marble state seal of Michigan,1966 UAW Member pin on sheet metal, 15”x 14” x 3 ¼,” by Pat Benincasa

“I had to include Genora Dollinger in my series Women At The Wheel, because I so admire her lifelong commitment to fight for labor, human rights, peace and for her role as one of the foremothers of the women’s liberation movement. People often think that courage is acting with out fear. As I look at Genora’s life, I see her courageously taking action, in spite of fear because for her, anything else would be capitulation. ”

Genora Dollinger, Encaustic, paint and steel pipe on sheet metal, 12.5” x 18” x 3.5,” 2014 by Pat Benincasa

For more information about the artist and to view more of her work you can visit:


Painting by May Stevens, inspired by a quote from Lucy Parsons, on a poster from the Images of Labor poster series.
“We are the slaves of slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men.”
Lucy Parsons (1853 – 1942), a woman of color and a working-class revolutionary, was the wife of Albert Parsons, one of four anarchists executed in 1887 for inciting the Haymarket Riot. Parsons wrote and lectured extensively in an effort not only to clear her husband’s name, but to spread the principles of socialism to American workers.
One of two women invited to speak at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, Parsons urged the fledgling organization to concentrate its efforts on organizing women workers, particularly those employed in the textile industry.
Images from the Images of Labor Collection, Bread and Roses, artist May Stevens.
“A Working Woman” by Yuri Bosko
It’s just one of many images of women at work in “Women in Soviet Art” at the Museum of Russian Art, featuring paintings made between 1948 and 1991. Granted equal rights with men in the 1918 Soviet Constitution, women helped to rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II and joined the workforce in droves throughout the 20th century, helping transform the Soviet Union into a world superpower (all while keeping things running at home, of course).
The artist Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones painted this in 1912, shortly after the notorious Triangle Fire, and it was reproduced in a poster series from the New York State Department of Labor in the 1980s.
Around the time “Shopgirls” was being painted, 154 workers, mostly young women, died in the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of 1911 in New York City.
Poster published by the New York State Department of Labor in the 1980s, photograph of poster by Teddy Fung.
Art Spiegelman


Music became a formidable tool for women who used it to raise spirits and rally union members during strikes and while organizing.

Union Maid, lyrics written by Woody Guthrie

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come ’round
She always stood her ground.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.
This union maid was wise to the tricks of company spies,
She couldn’t be fooled by a company stool, she’d always organize the guys.
She always got her way when she struck for better pay.
She’d show her card to the National Guard
And this is what she’d say
You gals who want to be free, just take a tip from me;
Get you a man who’s a union man and join the ladies’ auxiliary.
Married life ain’t hard when you got a union card,
A union man has a happy life when he’s got a union wife.

Cotton Mill Girls - Hedy West

It’s hard times, Cotton Mill Girls,
Hard times, Cotton Mill Girls
It’s hard times, Cotton Mill Girls, hard times everywhere
I worked in a cotton mill all of my life
Ain’t got nothing but this Barlow knife
It’s hard times Cotton Mill Girls, It’s hard times everywhere
In 1915 we heard it said
Move to the country and get ahead
It’s hard times Cotton Mill Girls, It’s hard times everywhere
Us kids worked 14 hours a day
For 13 cents of measly pay
It’s hard times Cotton Mill Girls, It’s hard times everywhere
When I die don’t buy me at all
Just hang me up on the spinning room wall
Pickle my bones in alcohol, it’s hard times everywhere


The world today’s in mourning
O’er the death of Mother Jones;
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes.
This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land;
She fought for right and justice,
She took a noble stand.
O’er the hills and through the valley
In ev’ry mining town;
Mother Jones was ready to help them,
She never turned them down.
On front with the striking miners
She always could be found;
And received a hearty welcome
In ev’ry mining town.
She was fearless of every danger,
She hated that which was wrong;
She never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone.
This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land;
While the hard-working miners,
They miss her guiding hand.
May the miners all work together
To carry out her plan;
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

I am a Union Woman - Lyrics: Aunt Molly Jackson

I am a union woman
Just as brave as I can be.
I do not like the bosses
And the bosses don’t like me.
Join the N.M.U. Come join the N.M.U.(3)
I was raised in Kentucky.
In Kentucky borned and bred.
And when I joined the union,
They called me a Russian red.
This song was originally posted on
Join the N.M.U. Come join the N.M.U.
When my husband asked the boss for a job,
This is the words he said:
“Bill Jackson, I can’t work you, sir,
Your wife’s a Rooshian red.”
Come join the N.M.U. Join the N.M.U.
If you want to join a union
As strong as one can be
Join the dear old NMU
And come along with me.
If you want to join a union
Step in and come along.
We’ll all be glad to have you,
We’re many thousand strong.
This song was originally posted on
Come join the N.M.U. Join the N.M.U.
We are many thousand strong,
And I am glad to say,
We are getting stronger
And stronger every day.
If you want to get your freedom
And gain your liberty,
Join the dear old CIO(4)
Also the ILD.(5)
Join the N.M.U. Come join the N.M.U.
Just join the dear old ILD
And come along with me.
The workers are all protected
By the dear old ILD.
Join the N.M.U. Come join the N.M.U.
The bosses ride the big fine white horse
While we walk in the mud.
Their flag’s the old red, white and blue
And ours is dipped in blood.

Which Side Are You On? A Song by Florence Patton Reece

Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
My daddy was a miner
And I’m a miner’s son
And I’ll stick with the union
Till every battle’s won
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair
Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize

Bread and Roses - a song by James Oppenheim

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we. fight for, but we fight for roses, too.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.

The Rebel Girl - Lyrics: Joe Hill

There are women of many descriptions
In this queer world, as everyone knows,
Some are living in beautiful mansions,
And are wearing the finest of clothes
There are blue blooded queens and princesses
Who have charms made of diamonds and pearl;
But the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl.
To the working class she’s a precious pearl.
She brings courage, pride and joy
To the fighting Rebel Boy.
We’ve had girls before, but we need some more
In the Industrial Workers of the World.
For it’s great to fight for freedom
With a Rebel Girl.
Yes, her hands may be hardened from labor,
And her dress may not be very fine;
But a heart in her bosom is beating
That is true to her class and her kind.
And the grafters in terror are trembling
When her spite and defiance she’ll hurl;
For the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl

We Were There - A Song by Bev Grant © Bev Grant 1997

We have ploughed and we have planted. We have gathered into barns.
Done the same work as the men with babies in our arms.
But you won’t find our stories in most history books you read.
We were there . We’re still here, fighting for the things we need.
We were there in the factories, we were there in the mills,
We were there in the mines, and came home to fix the meals.
We were there on the picket lines. We raised our voices loud.
It makes me proud, just knowing we were there.
From the textile mills in Lawrence to the sweat shops in New York,
From the fields in California where our children had to work,
We fought to make a living bread and roses was our cry.
Though they jailed and beat our bodies our spirit never died.
Repeat chorus
We were Polish, We were Irish, We were African and Jew
Italian and Latina, Chinese and Russian, too
They tried to use our differences to split us all apart
But the pain we felt together touched the bottom of our hearts.
Repeat chorus
We are teachers, we are doctors, We are cooks and engineers.
Letter carriers, truck drivers, conductors and cashiers.
We operate machinery, We fly the big airplanes.
And we help to build our unions. We got struggle in our veins.
Repeat chorus 2x

Fifty-Nine Cents - Lyrics: Fred Small

High school days dreams come easy and free,
When you’re a working woman watcha gonna be?
A senator, a surgeon – aim for the heights,
But the guidance office says, lower your sights,
To fifty-nine cents to every man’s dollar,
Fifty-nine cents, it’s a low down deal,
Fifty-nine cents makes a grown woman hollar,
They give you a diploma, It’s the paycheck they steal.
She’s off to college, the elite kind,
To polish her manners, sharpen her mind,
Honors in English, letter in Lacrosse,
Teaches her to type for her favorite boss.
This song was originally posted on
Junior executive on her way up,
Special assistant to the man at the top.
She’s on in a million and all that she’s found,
Was her own secretary now to order around, at…
This song was originally posted on
But the word is being procesed in the typing pool;
A working woman ain’t nobody’s fool.
She’s telling the boss on Secretary’s Day,
“You can keep the flowers, buddy, give me a raise more than…
To fifty-nine cents to every man’s dollar,
Fifty-nine cents, it’s a low down deal,
Fifty-nine cents makes a grown woman hollar,
“You can keep your flowers, buddy, give us a raise!”

Ballad of a Working Mother - Lyrics: Marilyn Major

My kids were only babies,
when their Daddy went away.
So I hung up my apron and
went out to work for pay.
They put me on the night-shift,
working on a big machine;
That was the last of normal life,
my kids and I have seen.
Oh, I am a working mother,
working hard to earn my way,
In the fact’ry through the long dark night,
I sleep near half the day,
They say I should be happy,
that my pay – it ain’t too bad.
They forget I am the only parent,
that my kids have ever had.
I hired a baby sitter,
she made near as much as me.
She watched the television,
while my babies they ran free.
Well, I finally found a good one,
and she treated them just fine;
but it hurt to see them give her,
all the love that should be mine.
As the years went by I learned my job,
and half the men’s jobs too.
They liked to let me use their tools,
just to see what I could do.
They’d pat me on the fanny,
and they’d tell me I was cute;
for a decent job with equal pay,
that was sure some substitute.
I went to see the foreman,
and I told him of my skills,
I knew if I could get that job,
It would help to pay my bills,
Well the foreman, he said honey,
we just can’t do that you see;
that job is for a working man
who has a family.