Mill owners and city leaders hired men to foment trouble and even planted dynamite in an attempt to discredit strikers. Lawrence’s simmering cauldron finally bubbled over on January 29, when a mob of strikers attacked a streetcar carrying workers who didn’t honor the picket line. That afternoon, as police battled strikers, an errant gunshot struck and killed Anna LoPizzo. The following day, 18-year-old John Ramey died after being stabbed in the shoulder by a soldier’s bayonet.
With the city on a hair trigger, striking families sent 119 of their children out of harm’s way to Manhattan on February 10 to live with relatives or, in some cases, complete strangers who could provide food and a safe shelter. A cheering crowd of 5,000 greeted the children at Grand Central Terminal, and after a second trainload arrived from Lawrence the following week, the children paraded down Fifth Avenue. The “children’s exodus” proved to be a publicity coup for the strikers, and Lawrence authorities intended to halt it. When families brought another 46 children bound for Philadelphia to the city’s train station on February 24, the city marshal ordered them to disperse. When defiant mothers still tried to get their children aboard the train and resisted the authorities, police dragged them by the hair, beat them with clubs and arrested them as their horrified children looked on in tears.
The national reaction was visceral and marked a turning point in the Bread and Roses Strike. President Taft asked his attorney general to investigate, and Congress began a hearing on the strike on March 2. Striking workers, including children who dropped out of school at age 14 or younger to work in the factories, described the brutal working conditions and poor pay inside the Lawrence mills. A third of mill workers, whose life expectancy was less than 40 years, died within a decade of taking their jobs. If death didn’t come slowly through respiratory infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis from inhaling dust and lint, it could come swiftly in workplace accidents that took lives and limbs. Fourteen-year-old Carmela Teoli shocked lawmakers by recounting how a mill machine had torn off her scalp and left her hospitalized for seven months. The Strike That Shook America - History in the Headlines