Dear Commons Community,
March 25th is the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city and caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent immigrant Jewish and Italian women in their teens and early twenties. Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.
While safety conditions surely improved after the fire, the nature of the piece work with young women being driven to sew as many articles (shirts, blouses, pants, etc.) continued for decades. My mother, Philomena, and my aunt, Zina, told stories when I was a child of what it was like to work in these conditions, not stopping for anything to sew as many pieces as possible in order to make a decent wage.
There will be a number of services commemorating the 100th Anniversary. At the CUNY Graduate Center, there is an all-day program with speakers retelling the story of the fire and its victims. The NY Times has a website dedicated to the event.