Today is the 106th anniversary (March 25, 1911) of the fire at the Triangle Waist (often ‘Shirtwaist’) Company in New York City in which 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – died. Most of these workers were young Jewish and Italian immigrant women. “Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a then-common practice to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and to [ostensibly] reduce theft – many of the workers who could not escape from the burning building simply jumped from the high windows.” The owners of the factory were prosecuted for the fire but won an acquittal, “thanks to the exceptionally effective representation of legendary attorney Max Steuer” (Steve Lubet).
There is a wonderful website with primary and secondary sources and sundry helpful stuff about this industrial disaster at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Professor Marcia L. McCormick has written a related article well worth your time: “Consensus, Dissensus, and Enforcement: Legal Protection of Working Women from the Time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to Today,” available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
“The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy mobilized the labor movement and progressive reformers, and provided part of the political will to enact significant protective health and safety legislation for workers. And while the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire has been cited in legal literature as an important event in the movement for workplace safety standards, however, the gendered nature of the tragedy and its place in the development of laws protecting women as women, rather than as beneficiaries of laws protecting all workers, has not been as fully explored. This contribution to the New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy's symposium issue dedicated to the 100-year anniversary of the fire seeks to do that.”
“Rose Schneiderman, a garment worker and union organizer, works next to the large pile of material that makes up her day’s assignment. Her experience in sweatshops together with her middle and upper class contacts in the Women’s Trade Union League enabled her to bridge class lines, at least temporarily, and helped stabilize relationships that provided social, political, and economic support during the shirtwaist strike and later.” (Photographer: unknown, ca. 1900)