Back to the factory.
On March 25th 1911, a horrific fire killed 146 factory workers in New York City at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on Greene Street and Washington Place. Never heard about it? I’m ashamed to admit that neither had I but I’m glad somebody told me about it. When I learned about it in fashion school, a friend studying museum education was learning about it, as well as another friend studying law. It was the 9/11 of it’s time and the aftermath had broad implications that effected women’s rights, worker’s rights, legal testimony, and factory conditions.
It was likely started when a cigarette fell into a scrap bin of fabric and ignited, but in an “effort” to stop theft and maintain efficiency, the managers had locked the women in the room. When the fire started, the foreman split with the keys, so most of the young, Italian and Jewish immigrants jumped to their death from the ninth floor or died of smoke inhalation.
I won’t rehash what you can easily find on Wikipedia or post gruesome pictures.. I’ll just say that we forget very quickly despite the fact that we have directly benefitted from the changes brought about from this tragedy. I easily romanticize this era and envision wasp-waisted women with big buns in their hair and black, leather booties on their feet, speedily pedaling on treadle sewing machines with wispy, fresh cotton fabric flying around. It totally wasn’t like that.
For further reading, watching and looking:
Here’s a poem about it too.