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					Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


Life in the Shop
By Clara Lemlich
Lemlich, executive board member of Local 25, sparked the 1909 walkout of
shirtwaist makers with her call for a strike. This piece was first published in
the New York Evening Journal, November 28, 1909.
First let me tell you something about the way we work and what we
are paid. There are two kinds of work - regular, that is salary work,
and piecework. The regular work pays about $6 a week and the girls
have to be at their machines at 7 o'clock in the morning and they stay
at them until 8 o'clock at night, with just one-half hour for lunch in
that time.
The shops. Well, there is just one row of machines that the daylight
ever gets to - that is the front row, nearest the window. The girls at all
the other rows of machines back in the shops have to work by
gaslight, by day as well as by night. Oh, yes, the shops keep the work
going at night, too.
The bosses in the shops are hardly what you would call educated men,
and the girls to them are part of the machines they are running. They
yell at the girls and they "call them down" even worse than I imagine
the Negro slaves were in the South.
There are no dressing rooms for the girls in the shops. They have to
hang up their hats and coats - such as they are - on hooks along the
walls. Sometimes a girl has a new hat. It never is much to look at
because it never costs more than 50 cents, that means that we have
gone for weeks on two-cent lunches - dry cake and nothing else.
The shops are unsanitary - that's the word that is generally used, but
there ought to be a worse one used. Whenever we tear or damage any
of the goods we sew on, or whenever it is found damaged after we are
through with it, whether we have done it or not, we are charged for
the piece and sometimes for a whole yard of the material.
At the beginning of every slow season, $2 is deducted from our
salaries. We have never been able to find out what this is for.
Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial
Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977)
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail
for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


Eyewitness at the Triangle
By William Shepherd
The nation learned of the horrible fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company
through the eyewitness account of a United Press reporter who happened to
be in Washington Square on March 25, 1911. He phoned in details while
watching the tragedy unfold. At the other end of the telephone, young Roy
Howard telegraphed Shepherd's story to the nation's newspapers. This
document first published in the Milwaukee Journal, March 27, 1911.
I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke
issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building
before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy
visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound--a more
horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a
speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.
Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead. Sixty-two thud-deads. I
call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to
me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to
watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.
The first ten thud-deads shocked me. I looked up-saw that there were
scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were
beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come
down, and something within me-something that I didn't know was
there-steeled me.
I even watched one girl falling. Waving her arms, trying to keep her
body upright until the very instant she struck the sidewalk, she was
trying to balance herself. Then came the thud--then a silent, unmoving
pile of clothing and twisted, broken limbs.
As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the
building. . . . I looked up to the seventh floor. There was a living
picture in each window-four screaming heads of girls waving their
arms.
"Call the firemen," they screamed-scores of them. "Get a ladder," cried
others. They were all as alive and whole and sound as were we who
stood on the sidewalk. I couldn't help thinking of that. We cried to
them not to jump. We heard the siren of a fire engine in the distance.
The other sirens sounded from several directions.
"Here they come," we yelled. "Don't jump; stay there."
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold
her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those
above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill;
others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and
again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing
onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air.
Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together,
but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the
windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.
The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and,
while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot
down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the
grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before
they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. The
thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there.
It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have
been heard all over the city.
I had counted ten. Then my dulled senses began to work
automatically. I noticed things that it had not occurred to me before to
notice. Little details that the first shock had blinded me to. I looked up
to see whether those above watched those who fell. I noticed that they
did; they watched them every inch of the way down and probably
heard the roaring thuds that we heard.
As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A
young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out,
deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool
and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her
drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that.
They were as unresisting as if he were helping them onto a streetcar
instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death
awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.
Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the
window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about
him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her.
But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat
fluttered upward-the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore
tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.
Thud-dead, thud-dead-together they went into eternity. I saw his face
before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He
had done his best.
We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls
were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave
enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had
given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first
in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud-dead came first.
The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth
floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces
disappeared from the window. But now the crowd was enormous,
though all this had occurred in less than seven minutes, the start of
the fire and the thuds and deaths.
I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen
before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor
girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed
in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it
seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a
shower, burning, smoking-flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing
upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by
fire.
The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side
of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches,
suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them
on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them.
On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went
about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead
girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no.
54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who
came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least
fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told
me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the
building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of
dead girls. . . .
The floods of water from the firemen's hose that ran into the gutter
were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead
bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I
remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls
had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions
in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer.
Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial
Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977), pp.
188-193
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail
for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet



What is to be Done?
By Martha Bensley Breure
While the city mourned and searched for causes of the tragedy, garment
workers buried their dead. First published in Life and Labor, May 1911.
Well, the fire is over, the girls are dead, and as I write, the procession
in honor of the unidentified dead is moving by under my windows. Now
what is going to be done about it?
Harris and Blanck, the Triangle Company, have offered to pay one
week's wages to the families of the dead girls--as though it were
summer and they are giving them a vacation! Three days after the fire
they inserted in the trade papers this notice:
NOTICE, THE TRIANGLE WAIST CO. beg to notify their customers that
they are in good working order. HEADQUARTERS now at 9-11
University Place.
The day after they were installed in their new quarters, the Building
Department of New York City discovered that 9-11 University Place
was not even fireproof, and that the firm had already blocked the exit
to the one fire escape by two rows of sewing machines.
And still as I write the mourning procession moves past in the rain. For
two hours they have been going steadily by and the end is not yet in
sight. There have been no carriages, no imposing marshals on
horseback; just thousands and thousands of working men and women
carrying the banners of their trades through the long three-mile tramp
in the rain. Never have I seen a military pageant or triumphant ovation
so impressive; for it is not because 146 workers were killed in the
Triangle shop-not altogether. It is because every year there are
50,000 working men and women killed in the United States-136 a day;
almost as many as happened to be killed together on the 25th of
March; and because slowly, very slowly, it is dawning on these
thousands on thousands that such things do not have to be!
It is four hours later and the last of the procession has just passed.
Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial
Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977), pp.
194-195
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail
for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.


We Have Found You Wanting
By Rose Schneiderman
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


Addressing the same audience [a memorial meeting held in the Metropolitan
Opera House on April 2, 1911], Schneiderman (1866-1972), organizer for the
ILGWU and the Women's Trade Union League read the handwriting on the
wall. First published in The Survey, April 8, 1911.
I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk
good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we
have found you wanting.
The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its
instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are
today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the
high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and
the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the
minute they catch on fire.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every
week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers.
Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is
so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one
job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a
couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by
way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only
way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the
strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us--warning that we
must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back
of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when
we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood
has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working
people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is
by a strong working-class movement.
Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial
Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977), pp.
196-197
The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail
for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.


Blame Shifted On All Sides For Fire Horror
New York Times, March 28, 1911, p. 1.
City, country, and state officials were involved yesterday in the
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


discussion of responsibility for the conditions existing in the ten-story
loft building at University Place and Green Street, where Saturday
evening's fire cost 142 lives, the latest victim dying in a hospital
yesterday. Responsibility for the inadequate fire escape facilities was
charged directly to the Building Department. In its defense Borough
President McAneny issued a statement last night. He held that the
Department was in no way to blame for the disaster and there was not
the slightest grounds for accusing Supt. Miller. The efforts to hold him
responsible he characterized as "outrageously unfair." Mr. McAneny
said the plans for the Washington Place building were filed eleven
years ago and were accepted as complying with the law. This fact
urged, contended that its Inspectors never had time to look at
buildings except those in process of construction, and that several of
its small force of Inspectors were grossly incompetent. District
Attorney Whitman engaged two engineers yesterday to examine the
building with a special view of determining official culpability, and their
report will be ready when the April Grand Jury begins the
investigation. Certain paragraphs in the State labor law were quoted
by District Attorney Whitman to show that responsibility for proper fire
protection in factories, especially in the matter of fire escapes,
devolved upon the State Labor Commission. But State Labor
Commissioner's Williams refused to accept this interpretation pointing
to the fact that a decision of the Appellate Division in 1903 settled the
fact that the Building Department has complete control over fire
escapes in New York City.
At Albany plans are being made for legislation that will settle this
issue. One proposed bill provides that the State Labor Commissioner
have control of fire escapes in New York City as in other parts of the
State, and the other would vest full control in the Fire Department, as
recommended by Chief Croker.
The Legislature is also to be asked to name a committee to investigate
the fire. The last report of the State Labor Department on the Asch
Building was to the effect that the stairway conditions made it
impracticable to change the doors so that they would open outward
that such a change would really increase instead of lessen the fire
danger. The same report held that the Triangle Waist Company's plant
was not overcrowded. The total of employes then at work, however,
was only 400,while on Saturday it had grown to over 600.
Investigations continued yesterday under the auspices of four different
city departments. Fire Marshal Beers had the waist company's owners,
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Document Packet


the building's owner, and thirteen others before him in an investigation
to determine the exact cause of the fire's origin. His conclusion was
that there was no explosion; that a lighted match thrown into waste
near oil cans, or into clippings under cutting table No. 2, on the
Greene Street side of the eighth floor, started the conflagration. In
answer to evidence that no smoking was permitted, he declared he
had many cigarette cases, picked up near the spot of the fire's origin,
and could prove that smoking was constantly indulged in.
Fire Chief Croker, dissenting from evidence furnished the Fire Marshal
that the doors within the factory were not locked, declared his men to
chop their way through them to gain entrance, and if not locked they
were at least closed so firmly that only an axe could affect a passage
through them. At the loft building itself the fire lines were withdrawn,
except for a guard on the sidewalk immediately surrounding it. Crowds
of morbidly curious people flocked in from all directions, blocking
traffic in Washington Square East, and in Washington Place, Waverley
Place, and Greene Streets.

				
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