Images from the 101st Commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Hi F&F,

Today is the 101st anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. On Friday I attended the annual commemoration event sponsored by Workers United.  Today the honoring of the dead continues with CHALK; a public art project to honor the victims of the fire. Volunteers will inscribe in chalk the names and ages of the victims in front of their former homes. Most of the victims lived in Manhattan, but Brooklyn lost a few of its own daughters in the historic fire and their names will be written on the sidewalks of our streets. If you come upon one today; please pause and pay your respects.

The Past:  On Saturday, March 25, 1911 a fast-moving fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.   The factory occupied the top 3 floors of the 10 story Asch Building located in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Image of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25 - 1911.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The factory employed nearly 500 people to make women’s blouses; called a shirtwaist at that time.  The workers were mostly young women; immigrants; from places like Russia, Italy, Austria and Romania.

Tragically, 146 people died in the fire. They died because doors were locked or awkwardly opened inward.  They died because; elevators and the fire escape were poorly maintained.  They died because the fire ladders were to short and the safety nets did not hold.  They died because profits came before people. They died and America failed on that day.

The Asch Building, the site of the Triange Shirtwaist Factory is now called the Brown Building. It is a part of New York University.

The Present: The horror of what occurred 101 years ago is remembered today as the pivotal moment in the struggle for workers’ rights and the growth of labor unions.  Additionally, many of the laws regarding factory safety, fire safety, and building construction in New York were initiated in response to the findings of the Factory Investigation Commission that convened in the aftermath of the fire.

146 bearers prepare to carry a shirtwaist banner representing each of dead.

The mourners in black

There has been a lot of progress, but unsafe conditions and unjust practices continue in America and in other parts of the world.  Just last year, 29 workers were killed and many more were injured in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh.   The stairwells and exits were locked.

At this year’s commemoration ceremony, and as is usual during these types of events, there were many speeches given by politicians and union leaders; yet the most affecting speech was from a worker.  She gave a firsthand account of her employment at a linen laundry located on Long Island.  Through a translator, she spoke of long hours of grueling work without opportunities for bathroom breaks or rest periods.   She spoke of unreasonable productivity quotas; requiring each worker to process 100 or more pounds of laundry in a single shift. It was common for workers to regularly put in extra hours just to keep up and keep employed, yet they were not paid for the extra hours. She told of how attempts to confront management were met with harassment, suspensions or termination. She no longer works there, but is committed to continue the fight to improve conditions.  Her pledge was met with cheers and applause from the crowd.

Comptroller John Liu is the son of immigrants and garment workers

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn urged the audience to keep up the efforts to encourage companies to act responsibly

The NYC Labor Chorus performed rousing songs of solidarity

The Future: There had been a lull and general complacency regarding the issues of workers’ rights. A reexamination of the challenges facing workers, in America and abroad is experiencing resurgence.  The use of social media has spread word of the struggles and efforts of workers.  As an example, the struggles of the Egyptian labor movement to energize and propel that country’s democratic movement was followed by millions; aided by YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The same can be said of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Also, a positive announcement was made at the commemoration event. Philip Van Heusen (PVH), (parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen, IZOD, ARROW, and Bass) has signed an agreement to underwrite a 2 year program that will initiate reforms in the garment industry in Bangladesh.  The program will impact building regulations, fire safety standards and create review committees, health and safety training programs and worker complaint processes. It is a good first step, but it won’t come to fruition unless at least 2 other large brands sign on-board to participate in this initiative.  Some of the brands that should/could participate include: GAP, Wrangler Jeans, JC Penny, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch and Osh Kosh B’Gosh.

It was an eerie sight to see the fire ladder slowly ascend and fall short of its mark.

The names were called out by the ancestors of the victims and local school children

The bell was rung after each name

Armbands of lace as a reminder that exits were locked to prevent workers from stealing bits of lace

I’m hoping and praying that these companies step up and do the right thing. In support of this initiative, I have signed the petition sponsored by the Labor Rights Organization; to encourage other apparel companies to join with PVH. I hope you will consider taking action to ensure that the Triangle tragedy and the saddening current events become a thing of the distant past. Click HERE to sign the petition.

Red flowers were added to commemorate those who died in factory fires over the year. Let's hope there won't be any red flowers next year.



About atreegrowsinbklyn

I’m an analog girl living in a digital world. I’m happy except when I’m sad. I’m serious, smart and sophisticated except when I’m silly, obtuse and crude. I’m ambitious and disciplined; except when I’m apathetic and self indulgent. I‘m thoughtful, generous and honest; except when I’m insensitive, cheap and lying. I’m grateful; I’m grateful; I am grateful.
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13 Responses to Images from the 101st Commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

  1. Northern Narratives says:

    Great post.

  2. eof737 says:

    It was a horrific event and I’m glad that NYC remembers those who lost their lives in the fire and the need to ensure that all buildings are up to code. Plus, we need to continue the fight to improve working conditions everywhere.TY for sharing this.

  3. Touch2Touch says:

    How heartening to know that the fire and the victims are remembered. To see what a moving ceremony of remembrance commemorates it. And a heartfelt thank-you to you, Tree, for documenting it so beautifully for those of us far away.

    • This was the first time I’ve been able to attend the event. I’m so glad that I did. It was very moving and informative. I never know if what I am interested in will be of interest to others. I appreciate your comments. I’m glad that I decided to share the experience on the blog.

  4. Your blog on the Triangle fire is a fitting tribute to those who died there. A friend told me about your posting. I was eager to read it. As a young man, I taught in the building which was the setting of the fire. In those days it was called the School of Commerce. I was arrested by the slide in your blog which shows the street sights (Greene St. and Washington Pl.) . The room I taught in is at the corner at the top level. I will always remember the formal and graceful parade of Romanesque Italianate windows; now a beautiful monument to those who died there.

    • Dear Don,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I do hope that the photos brought back some happy memories.

      I didn’t know that the building had been a place of learning before NYU took possession of it. It seems to me that the building as a place of education; a place shaping young minds; is sort of a living tribute to the young lives and the human potential consumed by the fire.

      Again, thank you for the thoughtful comments.

      Adrienne (ATreeGrowsinBklyn)

      • Your blog was sent to me by my neighbor touch2touch. She had told me about it. It looks to me like a format. My blog is in the same format. It’s address is The Bridge of dementia.

        By the way, when I taught in the Triangle Building it building WAS part of NYU; back then, it was called the School of Commerce. It was renamed, I think in the eighties. I remember being there when the university closed down after the Kent State tragedy just days before the final exams. Some of the students occupied the building from which our pay checks were issued. John Lindsay was the mayor then.

        • I’m glad and grateful that Touch felt the post was worthy of sharing with a friend.

          Don, you are correct; my little patch of the blogosphere is on WordPress. I will be sure to visit your site; since we are, virtually, neighbors.

          Thanks for clarifying the facts about your connection to the building and the school.


  5. Pingback: The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire « Sue Ann Porter

  6. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he in fact ordered me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about
    this topic here on your website.

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