Friday, March 25, 2011

The Triangle fire

On March 25, 1911, one hundred years ago today, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York. The fire resulted in the deaths of 146 workers.

The factory was a sweatshop of the sort common during those years (and still persisting to this day) in which workers worked long hours for low pay in terrible working conditions. The fire started on the upper floors of the ten-story building. Among the factors contributing to the loss of so many lives were a locked door to a stairwell; a fire escape that collapsed; oily floors that caused the fire to spread quickly; the factory owners kept the doors locked, supposedly to keep workers from leaving early or stealing, though more pointedly to try to keep union organizers out of the building. Fire department ladders reached only to the sixth floor. Many of the workers who died leaped from the upper floors, rather than be burned alive.

The fire and its aftermath led, in time, to major improvements in laws affecting work safety and fire safety, in New York and elsewhere in the United States. Much of this came as a result of a concerted push by the organized labor movement.

A good website about the Triangle fire is here, in the website of Cornell University. It includes a history of the fire and subsequent events, news reports about the fire, accounts by survivors, a list of names of the identified victims of the fire, some general historical background, resources for further research, and a lot of other information.

Walking through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poems, edited by poet Julia Stein, was published this year by CC Marimbo in Berkeley, California. The collection, which features 21 poems by nine poets, is a powerful gathering of voices speaking about a terrible moment in history. * Ordering information for the anthology can be found in Julia Stein's blog California Writer, here.

Also in her blog, here, Stein gives a rundown of public events in California (mostly in the Los Angeles area, as nearly as I can tell) in commemoration of the fire. A number of the events have taken place by now, though a few are still ahead.

I've reviewed the anthology Walking through a River of Fire in my blog A Burning Patience, here.

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