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:
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.
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.