Remembering the Triangle Fire, 100 Years Later

March 25th, 2011 by Sarah Laleman Ward

Today marks a sad but important day in history: the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located near Washington Square, and 100 years ago today a fire broke out on the 9th floor of the factory, killing 146 young immigrant workers, most of them women. This tragedy brought to light issues of labor rights, workplace safety and women’s rights and marked the beginnings of several important reforms in these areas.

Watch a video, Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

One of the worst things about this disaster is that it was preventable. Workers were essentially trapped in a burning building because exit doors to stairways had been locked and fire escapes that had not been maintained collapsed. Many workers jumped to their deaths in an attempt to escape the flames.

The following photos are from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University:

Fire fighters from Ladder Company 20 arrived at the Triangle Waist Company minutes after the alarm was sounded and sprayed water at the burning Asch Building hoping that the dampening mist, too weak to put out the fire by the time it reached the top floors, would cool the panicked workers who had been forced to window ledges by extreme heat, smoke, flames and blocked exits. Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

You have probably noticed the posters and information hung up in the 3rd floor bridges around Hunter from the Women & Gender Studies classes. They highlight not only the events that took place at the Triangle factory, but other violations of workers’ rights that are present today. Stop on your way to class and take a look – it’s worth a few minutes of your time.

The flimsy fire escape ladder descended close to the building forcing those fleeing to struggle through flames and past warped iron window shutters stuck open across their path. Sections of ladder which ended two stories above the ground, twisted and collapsed under the weight of workers trying to escape the fire killing many who had chosen it as their lifeline. Photographer: unknown, 1911

If you’d like to learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, we have several resources on the topic. A quick search in CUNY+ for “triangle shirtwaist” came up with 6 books and one fairly comprehensive web resource about the fire. Additionally, a bunch of New York news outlets have coverage of the anniversary events and information about the disaster, including The Daily News and WNYC. I’d also suggest looking into areas such as workplace safety and labor rights. This disaster was a catalyst for reform but unfortunately, these problems are still with us today. The faces of the workers may have changed, but many of the problems are still the same.

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One Response to “Remembering the Triangle Fire, 100 Years Later”

  1. lorelai Says:

    Speaking of fires, is there a reason why the library is always so cold? The air-conditioning is on today. Meanwhile, it’s 40 degrees outside.

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