Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Buena

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					The Triangle Shirtwaist
Company Fire
– March 25, 1911
Anthony Fitzpatrick
Vice-President of Professional Development Services
The American Institute for History Education
                Disclaimer
This presentation incorporates a great deal of material
from the online resources provided by Cornell
University at http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/triangle

All other original material is the property of the
American Institute of History Education.
It was a mild Spring day . . .
On Saturday, March 25,
1911. That afternoon as
several hundred garment
workers prepared to head
home after a long day of
work at the Triangle
Shirtwaist Company in
Manhattan a cry of
“FIRE” rang out . . .
But the story begins
before March 25th . . .
The Gilded
Age
The time period from the
late 1870s until the early
1900s was a time of great
industrial development
and economic prosperity
in the United States.
Everyone, however, did
not share in that
prosperity
The term “Gilded Age” was

coined by Mark Twain in a book

where he and his co-author

poked fun at a society where

men cared only about money.

The men represented a culture

that appeared gleaming with

prosperity, but was rotten

beneath the veneer of gold.
The uprising of 20,000
             The garment manufacturing
             industry in New York City was
             one of those areas where workers
             were not the beneficiaries of
             prosperity. Overcrowding, poor
             ventilation and dangerous
             machinery made their work
             extremely hazardous. The
             workers demanded
             improvements in pay and
             working conditions. In
             November of 1909, members of
             local 25 of the International
             Ladies Garment Workers Union
             went on strike.
Why strike?
        The strike was called in
        support of the workers of
        the Triangle Shirtwaist
        Company and the Leirson
        Company.

        (a shirtwaist was a
        woman’s blouse and a
        fashion necessity for
        women in the late 1800s
        and early 1900s.
Clara Lemlick
         While the union membership
         didn’t originally support a strike,
         when Clara interrupted Samuel
         Gompers with these words –
         opinions changed:
         “I am tired of listening to
         speakers who talk in general
         terms. What we are here for is to
         decide whether or not we shall
         strike. I am a working girl, one
         of those striking against
         intolerable conditions . . . I offer
         a resolution that a general strike
         be declared – NOW!
The Protest
        Response from the union
        crowd was tremendous. Over
        20,000 workers left their
        shops and joined the pickets.
        Women protesters were
        beaten by police and thugs
        hired by factory owners. The
        many who were arrested
        quickly returned to the picket
        lines when they were released.
         Support Mounts!
National labor and feminist leaders such as Samuel
Gompers and Lillian Wald spoke in support of the
strike. Even millionaire JP Morgan’s daughter Anne
and President Taft’s daughter Helen sided with the
workers. A spirit of unity spread throughout New York
City’s garment factories and when a general strike was
called in the Fall of 1909. over 20,000 workers (4/5 of
them women) joined the picket lines. What had once
been a strike limited to 2 companies grew into the first
large scale strike of women workers in US History.
            The RESULT
The women won a 52 hour work week.

Employers promised to provide supplies.

Equal division of work in slack seasons that would
hopefully prevent bosses from firing during slow times.

SAFETY CONDITIONS WERE NOT IMPROVED
AS PART OF THE AGREEMENT
  A return to the Triangle Shirtwaist
               Company
The Triangle Shirtwaist
Company was located on the 8th,
9th, and 10th floors of the Asch
Building located just off
Washington Square in lower
Manhattan. The Asch Building
was a new “fireproof” building
and considered to be one of the
safest in the city.
                             FIRE
It was 4:45 pm on Saturday
March 25, 1911. That is when
the cry of “FIRE” rang across
the 8th floor sewing room.
Aided by barrels of sewing oil
and scraps of cloth, the fire
quickly spread. There was no
equipment to put out the fire.
Workers ran to the stairwells
and elevators trying to escape.
The Fire Spreads
          The fire quickly spread to the 9th
          floor. Workers discovered that
          one of the 9th floor doors was
          locked. Nineteen bodies were
          found piled against that locked
          door. Other exit doors were
          built to open inward because
          there was no room in the
          stairwells for the doors to open
          outward. The press of bodies
          kept them closed.
             The Fire Escape
The only fire escape was
located on the courtyard
side of the building. It
proved inadequate and as
a result of being
overburdened, collapsed.
Many were sent over 85
feet to their deaths.
The Elevator
        The only working elevator made
        several trips to the 8th floor to
        rescue as many people as
        possible. Many workers tried to
        slide down the elevator cables to
        safety. Most of them died.
        Elevator operator Joseph Zito
        reported coins falling through
        the slats of the elevator ceiling
        and blood dripping on the last
        passengers who made it to safety.
                      Desperation
Workers on the 8th and 9th
floors quickly discovered they
had only two choices – burn to
death or jump from the
windows. Many chose to jump.
An eyewitness reported thinking
that bundles of cloth were being
thrown out to save the stock,
until one bundle turned in the
air and he saw that it was a girl
who had jumped.
Let’s examine
some of the
materials
concerning
these events
The fire department
arrived soon after
the alarm was raised.
However, they were
unable to help those
who were trapped.
Their ladders only
reached the 6th floor
and their hoses were
unable to reach the
top floors.
        Extinguished
The fire department was able to
contain the fire quickly. Within 40
minutes of the outbreak, the fire was
put out. In that same time, 146
people lost their lives. Most of the
victims were women and teenaged
girls.
The Asch
Building WAS
fireproof …
Its contents were not.
The March of 400,000
            On April 5, 1911 dawned
            a dreary and wet day. It
            was on that day that
            400,000 men and women
            took to the streets of New
            York City to participate in
            the funeral procession for
            7 workers whose remains
            were not identified.
The Progressive Era (1900s-1920s)
 The Progressive Era encompassed a wide arena of
 opportunities to improve the conditions under which
 American society functioned. A common thread that
 bound progressives together was a belief that people
 were not chained to the past and need not be
 imprisoned by their circumstances. With assistance
 from a reform-minded and active government, people
 were capable of bettering their individual conditions
 and thus, elevating social progress.
Public outcry leads to reform -
 Meetings were held by many
 organizations to decry working
 conditions. The tone for change
 was set at a gathering on April 2 by
 Rose Schneiderman, a leader of
 the 1909 Triangle Strike.


                                Doc 4
Unity
    Union organizers worked
    to assist those workers and
    their families who had
    been impacted by the fire.

    Working in unison, the
    relief agencies raised over
    $30,000 for the cause.
The Factory Investigation Commission
   The Factory Investigation
   Commission was
   appointed within a month
   of the fire to investigate
   working and safety
   conditions. Commission
   members included Francis
   Perkins, a witness to the
   fire.
        Results of Reform Efforts
Better fire escapes to be installed
Minimum number of exits per floor
Fireproof stairwells
Automatic sprinkler system
Mandatory fire drills
Exit doors to open outward
Fireproof waste receptacles
All elevator shafts to be enclosed
Installation of fire alarms
Authority given to Fire Marshal to supervise adequacy of exits
Authority also given to supervise fire drills.
Increased number of labor inspectors
Impacted issues of child labor.
“March 25,1911 is the
day the New Deal began”
Francis Perkins
US Secretary of Labor 1933-1945
What happened to the Owners?
                Max Blanck and Isaac
                Harris received a $10,000
                insurance settlement and
                re-opened the business in
                a new location one week
                after the fire. Upon
                inspection of the new
                factory that first week, exit
                doors were found to be
                blocked.
  Owners brought to Trial
Blanck and Harris
were brought to
trial. They were
tried for negligence
concerning whether
the knew the doors
in the original
factory had been
locked.
They were acquitted
of all charges.
                    Huh?
Judge Thomas C.T. Crain informed the jury that the
key to the case was whether the defendants knew the
door was locked:
If so, was it locked under circumstances, importing
knowledge on the part of these defendants that it was
locked? Is so, and margaret Schwartz died because she
was unable to pass through, would she have lived if the
door had not been locked?
On December 27,1911, the jury acquitted both
defendants of manslaughter
One Jury Member said . . .
“I believed the door was locked at the time of
the fire. But we couldn’t find them guilty
unless we believed the KNEW the door was
locked.”
Another member of the all-male jury remarked
that the women – whom they did not believe
were as intelligent as those in other
occupations – probably panicked, causing their
deaths.
 And the factory workers?

Families of 23 deceased
workers filed civil suits against
Blanck and Harris. On
march 11, 1913 – Blanck and
Harris settled the cases. The
families received $75 for each
of those lost lives.
How do we make
connections to today?
What else have we learned using this event as a
case study for the Progressive Era?

				
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