Beyond Place and Ethnicity: The Uses of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, by Paula E. Hyman

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory just before closing time on Saturday evening. One hundred forty-six employees, almost all of them young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, lost their lives.[1] Unable to escape through the one unlocked door, the narrow staircase, and the inadequate elevators, many chose to jump to their deaths from the eighth and ninth floors; others succumbed to smoke inhalation and were incinerated in the factory itself. “The morgue is full of our victims,” shrieked the headline of the Forverts on March 26th; “the whole Jewish quarter is in mourning.”[2] All of New York's daily papers were filled in the days following the fire with poignant stories of the young women who became flaming torches as they fell to the sidewalks below the Asch Building. The Triangle Fire shook the residents of the Lower East Side, some of whom lost loved ones in the disaster and most of whom realized that they too were vulnerable as poor immigrant workers.

From the beginning, however, the meaning of the fire was contested and universalized; it was not bound by the victims' ethnic communities or by their gender. The question of who “owns” the history of the fire has elicited different responses over time. The memory and continued commemorations of the Triangle Fire have continued precisely because of the universalizing interpretations brought to the fire by labor activists and historians, fiction and essay writers, poets, and filmmakers. In the past fifteen years, feminists, scholars and activists alike, have restored gender as an important feature of the story. Because this horrible event speaks to multiple constituencies, it is remembered as an American event when so many other tragedies have been rather quickly forgotten.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was an integral part of the imagined community of the Lower East Side not primarily because of its geographical location; it stood on the margins of the Lower East Side, in the Washington Square area, in a building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene streets. It played a major role in the immigrant Jewish consciousness because most of its five hundred workers lived on the Lower East Side and because it had been, in the year and a half before the fire, a focal point of the efforts to unionize the ladies’ garment industry, which employed so many immigrant Jewish workers. Incidentally, the strike did not bring unionization to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company; its workers had to return to the shop without a union contract (in large part because the system of internal contracting made the company resistant to unionization).[3]

The fire captured the imagination of the immigrant Jewish community, though with less emphasis on the female gender of the vast majority of victims than one might expect (and no mention of Italian workers who perished). When the Forverts printed studio photographs of twenty of the victims on March 27th, only four of them were men, and the paper did not comment on the disproportionate number of women among the dead.[4] Morris Rosenfeld, the sweatshop poet, published an emotional poem on the first page of the Forverts four days after the fire. Damning the rich and “the system,” he memorialized the dead in specifically Jewish terms: “Now let us light the holy candles / And mark the sorrow / of Jewish masses in darkness and poverty / This is our funeral / These our graves / Our children … “[5] Similarly, the paper evoked a Jewish disaster, the Kishinev pogrom, to describe the scenes of mourning at the morgue, reminiscent of “the Kishinev cemetery after the slaughter.”[6] It recounted human interest stories, of girl who had been planning weddings and had funerals instead, of individual women who had not been identified days after their deaths.[7] The fire also entered popular immigrant Yiddish culture through a song written by J. M. Rumshisky in 1911, “‘Mamenyu’ or Mourning for the Triangle Fire Victims” its lyrics, about an orphan boy on the one hand and a mother mourning her dead daughter on the other, surprisingly make no explicit reference to the Triangle Fire itself.[8] A tkhine, a Yiddish prayer written for a largely female audience, published in a 1916 collection of such prayers by the Hebrew Publishing Company and republished at least once, was dedicated to those who died in fires and was understood to refer to the Triangle Fire.[9]

However, the public funeral held on April 5th for the (then) eight unidentified victims of the fire revealed the fact that the memorialization was not left to the immigrant Jewish (or immigrant Italian) community alone, even though the leaflets of the labor movement calling on “fellow Workers” to join the funeral procession were written in Yiddish and Italian as well as English.[10] With the passage of time the memory of the fire has been borne primarily by organized workers and recently by working-class feminists as well.

Labor activist and social reformers took charge of bringing the lessons of the fire to the larger civic community. The ILGWU and Women's Trades Union League (WTUL), the cross-class women's association of wealthy reformers and workers, used the fire to argue for heightened safety regulations and greater concern for the conditions of workers in general. The vigorous presence of the WTUL and of female labor activists, especially Rose Schneiderman, brought gender visually into the communal response, but labor women and their supporters did not focus specifically on women's concerns. Instead, while acknowledging the special vulnerability of women, they stressed the need to protect all workers from the potentially hazardous environment of the shops.[11] Only at one meeting was the issue of gender highlighted. A rally sponsored on March 31st by the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League presented women's suffrage as a necessity for ensuring workers' rights. Women had died because they were not able to act politically. A banner on the platform pronounced, “We demand for all women the right to protect themselves.” In her speech, Dr. Anna Shaw, a well-known suffragist, turned to the men in the audience and proclaimed, “If you are incompetent, then in the name of Heaven, stand aside and let us try.”[12]

The day after the fire, the WTUL convened the first protest meeting of labor and civic leaders; the meeting resulted in the formation of a committee, headed by Rabbi Stephen Wise, to draft new safety legislation.[13] Members of the Joint Relief Committee and the Red Cross conducted studies, which they subsequently published, on the economic needs of the fire’s victims.[14] On April 2nd, the WTUL succeeded in bringing together at the Metropolitan Opera House persons from every neighborhood of New York City, from the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side, as well as clergy of every religious affiliation. Jacob Schiff, then the treasurer of the New York chapter of the Red Cross, presided, and the meeting adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a Bureau of Fire Prevention and more extensive safety regulations.[15] The New York City Fire Department and the fire extinguishing industry also weighed in, calling for mandatory use of automatic sprinklers. The General Fire Extinguisher Company even issued a special edition of its Automatic Sprinkler Bulletin, dedicated to the Triangle Fire and entitled “The Life Hazard of Fireproof Buildings and Its Cure.”[16]

Responding to the public concern over the loss of life, New York City newspapers condemned the poor formulation and enforcement of safety regulations for workers far more often than they pointed to the culpability of the owners.[17] They called for legislation mandating the installation of new fire-fighting equipment. The socialist press was less concerned with safety regulations developed within a capitalist system than in labeling the consequences of the fire a crime. After the two owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory were found not guilty of manslaughter in a December 1911 trial, the International Socialist Review printed an article entitled “God Did It” that reported: “A New York Jury composed of capitalistic cockroaches has absolved Harris and Blanck of the murder of 147 [sic] young workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25,1911.”[18]

As Arthur Goren has pointed out, the fact that there were different groups vying for ownership of the public commemoration of the Triangle Fire became evident when funeral plans were made for its unidentified victims. Orthodox Jewish circles challenged the decision of Local 25 of the Waistmakers union, the WTUL, and the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish socialist group, to hold a silent march as part of the public funeral because they feared the politicization of a religious ritual. Political figures also sought to ban a “labor parade.” Christian clergy, along with political leaders, opposed burial in a Jewish cemetery. In the end, the march took place with two distinct groups—downtown immigrant Jewish unions and uptown labor, socialist and women's suffrage leaders—converging from two different directions. The victims were buried in an ecumenical ceremony in the non-sectarian Evergreen cemetery in Brooklyn.[19]

It was the labor movement that ultimately assumed ownership of the memory of the fire by adopting the incident as a potent symbol of the need for the unionization and political mobilization of workers. It was the labor movement that committed itself to the annual commemoration of the fire, a ritual that continues to this day.[20] For many labor activists, the fire was a transforming event that brought home to them the critical necessity of their work. David Dubinsky, later president of the ILGWU, attributed his life-long commitment to the labor movement to the fire, and Fannia Cohn, a prominent labor activist, wrote that “it was the Triangle fire that decided my life's course.”[21] Elizabeth Hasanovitz, too, who heard about the Triangle Fire while still in Russia, describes the moment of silence in her shop on March 25, 1914, as well as the union-sponsored memorial that evening as an important lesson in her political education.[22] As historian Annelise Orleck summed up the impact of the fire on women labor activists, “The fire and the factory investigations that followed left an imprint on the women that recast their political priorities and cemented their relations with one another.”[23]

For the labor movement, the fire was first and foremost an issue of class, not of ethnicity or of gender—an issue that exposed the true nature of capitalism. At the April 2 Carnegie Hall meeting, Rose Schneiderman indicted American society and its laws:

We have tried you good people of the public—and we have found you wanting … The strong hand of the law beats us back when we rise—back into the conditions that make life unbearable … I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. And the only way is through a strong working-class movement.[24]

Some twenty years later, Fannia Cohn referred to the Triangle Fire to send the same message. In an article that appeared in 1934 in the ILGWU's paper Justice, she wrote,

The best memorial for our martyrs of the Triangle Fire and the many others who sacrifice their health and very lives in their effort to build our Union, is a resolve to continue our efforts to have the workers more strongly united in the economic and political fields, coupled with a workers' education movement that would help to create a new environment lending itself to fundamental political, social and economic changes dictated by working class needs.[25]

In their commemorations of the fire, labor leaders continued to invoke the issue of worker safety. At the fiftieth anniversary commemoration in 1961, representatives of the ILGWU, the New York City Fire Department, and New York University (which by then owned the building), as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins and twelve elderly survivors of the fire, joined to honor the victims. David Dubinsky, president of the ILGWU, addressed the audience of five hundred, calling for Governor Nelson Rockefeller's veto of the Albert-Folmer bill recently passed by the state legislature. That bill, which he called an outrage and which the ILGWU journal Justice labeled the “Firetrap Bill,” would have delayed for more than a year the implementation of legislation requiring new fire safety measures that had been endorsed by the New York City Fire Commissioner.[26] The ILGWU has also frequently sponsored exhibitions to mark the anniversary of the fire.[27] Finally, the labor movement was responsible for the two plaques that are affixed to the Asch building, now renamed the Brown Building. The first was placed by the ILGWU itself in 1961, the second, by the National Park Service in 1991, launching its Labor History National Historical Landmark theme.[28] In 1994, the New York State Department of Labor distributed a commemorative flyer that attributed its own founding to the Triangle Fire.[29]

With the recognition of the fire as a universal symbol of worker exploitation, the specific ethnic dimensions of the fire have been lost. The ILGWU flyer for a rally to be held on the anniversary of the Triangle Fire in 1994 used the 1911 incident as an opportunity to protest contemporary fires in Asian factories. Reflecting its current constituency, the ILGWU printed its text in English and Spanish.[30] U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich invoked the fire in a similar manner in 1996 when he placed a public service announcement entitled “No Sweat” on the Internet. Referring explicitly to the “needless” deaths of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the announcement focused on laborers in California working in similar conditions and illustrated its call for consumers to boycott sweatshop products. The Internet site showed a picture of an Asian-American woman worker.[31] With the rise of feminism, women's labor and feminist organizations have recently participated actively in the commemoration of the fire. In 1990, for example, N.O.W., the New York City Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom were among the organizers of the annual ritual.[32]

As the Triangle Fire became an American, rather than an
American, rather than an American Jewish story, it attracted the attention of
writers and filmmakers. In the multicultural environment of
late-twentieth-century America, the fire points to the common experience of
American workers of diverse ethnic origins and religious backgrounds, Chris
Llewellyn introduces her book of poems on the fire with an author's note that
the Triangle Factory's workers, nearly all of whom were female, were “primarily
Russian or Italian, although twelve nationalities were known to be 'on the books.'''[33]
For two authors of recent children's books on the fire, the story offers a
reassuring message—that even tragedies have a positive impact on American life.
Zachary Kent concludes his rather lurid nonfiction account of the fire,
illustrated with photographs and stressing the inadequacy of safety regulations
at the time, with the statement that “[F]rom the ashes of the tragic Triangle
fire came help for millions of United States laborers today.”[34]
Similarly, Holly Littlefield’s fictional Fire at the Triangle Factory
includes an afterword that notes that “it became clear to many people that the
laws needed to be changed.”[35]
At the center of her story she places a specifically American theme, the
ability of Americans to transcend differences. The young heroines of the tale
are a Jew and a Catholic whose difference is framed more in terms of religion
than ethnicity and whose friendship contributes to their survival.

Similar messages pervade the television docudrama “The
Triangle Factory Fire Scandal,” broadcast in 1979.[36]
In the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory of the filmmakers, Jewish and Italian
workers are one big, happy family, equally (if erroneously) represented among
the labor force, They not only work side by side but they converse and joke, in
English, of course, and attend each other's parties. Although all are recent immigrants
who share aspirations for success in America, the conflict between the Old
World and the New is presented only in a Jewish context, perhaps because the
producers as well as the directors of the film seem to have been Jews or
perhaps because of the influence of the film The Jazz Singer. Sonya, a
Jewish worker, who has previously declared, “We can dream, we can be anything
we want,” later laments, “My father doesn't understand about America.”
Although several of the main characters die in the fire—one romantically
involved couple with the sh'ma (the Jewish affirmation of faith) on
their lips—the film ends on an upbeat note. Life goes on, notes a heading, and
the spiffily dressed survivors jauntily proceed to the Easter parade (which
took place only weeks after the fire). Nor did the victims die in vain, for the
film concludes by noting that in the wake of the fire the ILGWU gained support
and strength, new safety standards were put in place, and a state commission of
labor was established.

The Discovery Channel Online has produced a web site
entitled “The Great Triangle Fire” which is less fanciful than the television
docudrama but which assesses its impact in similar terms. After recounting the
story of the horror, the narrative concludes with the “profound impact” of the
Triangle Fire on “fire safety and labor laws” and on American politics in
general. The author of the text, freelance writer Thomas Bedell, asserts that
Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of labor, “witnessed the
tragedy [and] claimed the seeds of the New Deal sprouted from the Triangle
Fire's ashes.” In a section called “Tragedy Repeats Itself,” the site also
includes descriptions of factory fires of the late twentieth century.[37]

I learned just how much the fire has been universalized and incorporated into American legend when a Yale undergraduate working in the library told me that his high school marching band, in Annapolis, Maryland, had named itself the Tilden Triangle Fire Band, Why? To contrast a political tragedy—Tilden's failure to attain the presidency in 1876 despite winning the popular vote—with a real, personal tragedy, the fire. The teenagers had the good sense to see the two tragedies in different terms.

Recent poetry evoked by the Triangle Fire also builds on the universal elements of the event. Robert Pinsky, America's poet laureate, incorporates the Triangle Fire, “the infamous blaze,” into his poem “Shirt,” a meditation on the many words necessary to describe a shirt and its making(s). Although the fire is the centerpiece of the poem, its victims lack all ethnicity. Only contemporary workers figure as ethnic beings in the poem—Korean and Malaysian sweatshop workers in the first stanza and “a Black/Lady in South Carolina” named Irma, toward the end.[38]

Several contemporary female labor poets have focused on the Triangle Fire as a powerful marker of injustice, bringing gender and clas together as the double sources of women workers' oppression.[39] Their poetry is explicitly political. Chris Llewellyn, who, as mentioned, wrote an entire book of poems on the Triangle Fire, encountered the incident when she was doing research for International Women's Day in 1978.[40] Her book, Fragments from the Fire, which won the Walt Whitman Award for 1986, presents the experience through the eyes of the working-class women who were its victims, as do the other female poets, This poetry reflects the ongoing working-class appropriation of the Triangle Fire as well as the rediscovery of its gendered dimensions. As Janet Zandy, who has identified a phenomenon she has labeled “fire poetry,” notes, “The Triangle Fire seems to tap a collective memory of class oppression and injustice—especially for women. What is distinctive about the 'fire poetry' is that most of the contemporary writers do not work in the garment trade, nor are they from New York City nor of the same race or ethnicity as the workers. What the writers have in common is gender and class, a connection to other female workers, and a call to tell the story so it won't be forgotten … This event … becomes through memory and language and history a catalyst for breaking silence and recovering working-class identity.”[41]

When poets tell the story, history takes second place to artistic or ideological considerations. All of the poets, including Pinsky, ignore some of the factual evidence, claiming variously that there were no fire escapes or that all the doors of the factory were locked. These inaccuracies serve as another example of the disjuncture of history and memory.

Despite the popular lack of concern with historical accuracy in literary reflections on the fire, historians have also preserved, and shaped, the memory of the fire for several communities of students and scholars. The scholarly memory of the fire has mirrored the original constituencies touched by the event: Historians of labor, the garment industry, immigrant Jewry, and women have explored the fire and its significance or mentioned it in passing in their work.[42] All historians who have studied the fire have focused on the victimization of workers in the age of unregulated capitalism and on the fire's impact in mobilizing immigrant workers, including women, on behalf of the union movement in the garment industry. Although the Jewishness of the majority of the victims is acknowledged, to general historians it is an incidental attribute, of no great interest.

For American historians who are sensitive to the multi-ethnic and class dimensions of their field, the fire is an American story, indeed one of the most dramatic in American history. With contemporary emphasis on social, labor, and women's history, the Triangle fire has been integrated into the narrative of American history. For example, The Way We Lived: Essays and Documents in American Social History, a 1988 collection, includes in its second volume a reference related to the fire. (On the other hand, an older textbook on American labor history, Labor in America, which focuses on institutional and political change in the labor movement from the top down, does not mention the Triangle Fire at all).[43] A recent documentary sourcebook for college students, entitled The Triangle Strike and Fire, points out that the Triangle strike and fire “are key events in various approaches to U.S. history: women's studies, labor history, cultural studies, and ethnic studies. The Triangle Strike and Fire is an appropriate supplement for courses related to the areas listed above, as well as survey courses and courses in Twentieth-Century U.S. and the Progressive era.”[44] Despite the nod to ethnic studies, none of the documents in the book is drawn from a Yiddish or Italian source. Further, the collection of sources appears to address directly only issues in labor history and the role of reformers in improving the conditions of workers.

Labor historians, concerned with the lessons of the fire for contemporary working conditions in the garment industry, have pioneered disseminating material about the fire to students. The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives of Cornell University, in cooperation with UNITE (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, the successor union forged from the merger of the ILGWU and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers), has prepared a multi-page web site that contains textual and visual documents, such as newspaper coverage of the fire and the subsequent investigation, oral histories, photographs, and political cartoons, as well as a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary sources on sweatshops, the fire, and the labor movement. Its target audience is high school students who might seek to write a term paper on the incident. Such a site, with its Concern for contextualization and its attention to how documents must be used in research, asserts that knowledge about the fire is central to an understanding of the experience of the American working class and of the growth of the American labor movement.[45]

Most surprising is the range of contemporary references to the fire in unlikely places, for example, in a publication on causality in industrial accidents, which highlighted the fire as its central example, and in recent articles in journals of law and building safety.[46] Nor did I expect to find a 1997 essay by Stephen Jay Gould in Natural History that reflects extensively on the fire in a consideration of the misapplication of principles of biological evolution by social Darwinists.[47] Beginning with the personal—his office in the Brown Building and the fact that his grandmother worked in a garment factory in New York City in 1911 (but luckily not the Triangle Factory)—Gould proceeds to use the fire to illustrate how social Darwinists, in arguing that social inequality was natural and inevitable, succeeded in preventing the “regulation of industry to insure better working conditions for laborers.”[48]

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire has long moved beyond the confines of the Lower East Side and its Jewish community. It is an event in American history—its memory and commemoration carried on by those who feel a close connection to its victims because they presume to share the most important aspect of their experience: their class or their gender or both. Ironically, at the end of the twentieth century it is not primarily Jews, for the most part comfortably settled in the middle class, who remember the travails of their working-class immigrant forbears. For American Jews, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is no longer a central evocative symbol. American Jews are far removed from their working-class past, and the Lower East Side they seek to remember is suffused with nostalgia, but not with pain. It is the mythic launching pad for success, not the site of suffering. In the category of twentieth-century horrors that American Jews do remember and commemorate, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire can be only a footnote.

[1] Twenty men were among the victims of the fire. See Janet Zandy, “Fire Poetry on the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of March 25, 1911,” College Literature 24, no. 3 (October 1997): 33. [return to article]

[2] Forverts, March 26, 1911, p. 1. [return to article]

[3] On the female activists involved in the unionization drive, see Annelise Or1eck, Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics, 1900–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995). [return to article]

[4] Forverts, March 27, 1911, p. l. [return to article]

[5] As printed in Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1962), pp. 145–146. A member of the ILGWU and the editor of Justice, Stein wrote what remains the only comprehensive study of the fire and its aftermath. [return to article]

[6] Forverts, March 27,1911, p. 5. [return to article]

[7] Ibid., p. 1; Forverts, March 28, 1911, p. 1, and March 30, 1911, p. 8. [return to article]

[8] Poster for the song, in my possession. See also Mark Slobin, Tenement Songs: The Popular Music of the ]ewish Immigrants (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), pp. 134–135. The song title was (mis)translated as “Including an Elegy to the Triangle Fire Victims.” [return to article]

[9] Yitzhok Shloyme Meyer, “Material and Notices: American Tekhines” [Yiddish], YIVO Bleter 39 (1955): 272–274. [return to article]

[10] Arthur Aryeh Goren, “Sacred and Secular: The Place of Public Funerals in the Immigrant Life of American Jews,” Jewish History 8, no. 1–2 (1994): 284–286. Subsequently, one of the eight was identified by a family member. The leaflet is reproduced in Justice, March 15, 1961, p. l. [return to article]

[11] Rose Schneiderman (1882–1972) was a prominent Jewish labor leader who became president of the WTUL and the only woman on the Labor Advisory Board of Franklin Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration. See her autobiography, All for One (with Lucy Goldthwaite) (New York: Paul S. Erikson, 1967), and Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire, On the WTUL and Schneiderman's involvement, see Nancy Schrom Dye, As Equals and as Sisters: Feminism, Unionism, and the Women's Trade Union League of New York (New York: Columbia University Pres, 1980), and Elizabeth Anne Payne, Reform, Labor, and Feminism: Margaret Dreier Robins and the Women's Trade Union League (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988). See also  Diane Kirby, “'The Wage Earning Woman and the State': The National Women's Trade Union League and Protective Labor Legislation, 1903–1923,” Labor History 28, no. 1 (1978): 54–74. [return to article]

[12] Stein, Triangle Fire, pp. 138–139. The other speakers were Meyer London and Morris Hillquit. [return to article]

[13] Ibid., pp. 135–136. [return to article]

[14] See, for example, Elizabeth Dutcher, “Budget of the Triangle Fire Victims,” Life and Labor 2 (September 1912); Report of the Joint Relief Committee, January 12, 1913, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[15] Report of the Joint Relief Committee, pp. 142–143; ILGWU News—History 1910–1911, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[16] Automatic Sprinkler Bulletin, Special Edition on the Triangle Fire, 1911, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[17] “Murdered by Incompetent Government,” editorial, New York World, March 27, 1911; New York Daily Tribune, March 27, March 29, April 3, 1911; New York Herald, March 27, 1911. [return to article]

[18] Phillips Russell, International Socialist Review 12, no. 8 (February 1912): 472–473. An earlier article in the same journal, 11, no. 11 (May 1911): 666–673, was entitled “The Murder of the Shirt Waist Makers.” [return to article]

[19] Goren, “Sacred and Secular,” pp, 284–286; Stein, Triangle Fire, p. 156. [return to article]

[20] For a recent commemoration,  see New York Times, March 26, 1998. [return to article]

[21] As cited in Gerald Sorin, A Time for Building: The Third Migration (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 130, and his The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), p. 85. On Fannia Cohn, see Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire. [return to article]

[22] Elizabeth Hasanovitz, One of Them: Chapters from a Passionate Autobiography (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1918), pp. 213–223. [return to article]

[23] Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire, p. 130. [return to article]

[24] New York Times, April 3, 1911. Cited in Stein, Triangle Fire, pp. 144–141. Ironically, Schneiderman became an important figure in the cross-class Women’s Trade Union League. [return to article]

[25] Fannia Cohn, “Triangle Memory Lives Again,” Justice, April 1934, p. 13. [return to article]

[26] New York Times, March 26,1961, pp. 1, 66; Justice, April 1, 1961, pp. 1; article, by Esther Peterson, Assistant to the Secretary of Labor, RWDSU Record, March 26, 1961. [return to article]

[27] For example, flyers for ILGWU exhibits in 1986 and 1992, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[28] Deborah E. Bernhardt, in CRM—National Park Service, vol. 17, pp. 33–34; Labor's Heritage, 6, no. 4 (Spring 1995): 41. [return to article]

[29] “The Triangle Fire Tragedy Forged the New York State Department of Labor,” Flyer, March 1994, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[30] Flyer, March 1994, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[31] “No Sweat: Help End Sweatshop Conditions for American Workers”:, [no longer available online] [return to article]

[32] Flyer, Tamiment Library, NYU. [return to article]

[33]Chris Llewellyn, Fragments from the Fire (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987), p. vii. [return to article]

[34] Zachary Kent, The Story of the Triangle Factory Fire (Chicago: Children's Press, 1989), p.31. [return to article]

[35] Holly Littlefield, Fire at the Triangle Factory (Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1996). [return to article]

[36] The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal, directed by Mel Stuart, released in 1979 and broadcast on ABC, National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, New York City. [return to article]

[37] Discovery Channel Online, “The Great Triangle Fire”: 012/world/history/trianglefire/weblinks.html [no longer available online] [return to article]

[38] Robert Pinsky, The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966–1996 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), pp. 84–85. The poem was first published in 1990. [return to article]

[39] Janet Zandy, “The Fire Poems,” Women's Studies Quarterly 1 and 2 (1995): 169–170, followed by Carol Tarlen's poem “Sisters in the Flames,” pp. 171–172, and Safiya Henderson-Holmes's poem “rituals of spring,” pp. 173–177. For a longer analysis of the fire poetry, see Janet Zandy, “Fire Poetry,” pp. 33–54. [return to article]

[40] Service Employees Union 3, no. 1 (February/March 1989); Llewellyn, Fragments from the Fire. [return to article]

[41] Zandy, “Fire Poems,” p. 170. [return to article]

[42] See, for example, Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976); Sorin, A Time for Building; Alice Kessler-Harris, “Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union,” Labor History 17 (Winter 1976): 5–23; Susan Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990); Orleck, Common Sense; Melvyn Dubofsky, When Workers Organize (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968); Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1977); Meredith Tax, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880–1917 (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1980); Sara Eisenstein, Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses: Working Class Women's Consciousness in the United States, 1890 to the First World War (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983); Joan M. Jensen and Sue Davidson, eds., A Needle, a Bobbin, a Strike: Women Needleworkers in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984); Carolyn Daniel McCreesh, Women in the Campaign to Organize Garment Workers, 1880–1917 (New York: Garland Press, 1985); Payne, Reform, Labor, and Feminism; and Noralee Frankel and Nancy S. Dye, eds., Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1991). [return to article]

[43] Frederick M. Binder and David M. Reimers, eds., The Way We Lived: Essays and Documents in American Social History (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1988). The 4th edition of Labor in America: A History (Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson), by Foster Rhea Dulles and Melvyn Dubofsky, was published in 1984. [return to article]

[44] Promotional leaflet distributed by Harcourt Brace for John F. McClymer's new book, The Triangle Strike and Fire (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997). [return to article]

[45] “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,” Kheel Center, Cornell University: A smaller web site has been prepared by the Encyclopedia Britannica. See “Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire,” Women in American History by Encyclopedia Britannica [page no longer online] [return to article]

[46] Arthur F. McEvoy, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911: Social Change, Industrial Accidents, and the Evolution of Commonsense Causality (Chicago: American 11.11 Association, 1994); “Building Codes and Life Safety,” Building Renovation (Winter 1994): 43–46; Mary Galvin, “The New Fire Triangle: Putting the Prosecutor on the Team,” Police Chief 97, no. 12 (December 1990): 50; Marcia Chambers, “Lessons from the Triangle Factory Fire,” National Law Journal 12, no. 38 (May 28,1990): 13. [return to article]

[47] Stephen Jay Gould, “A Tale of Two Worksites,” Natural History 106, no. 9 (October 1997): 18,20,22,29,62,64–68. [return to article]

[48] Ibid., p. 67. [return to article]

From Remembering the Lower East Side, Edited by Hasia R. Diner, Jeffrey Shandler, Beth S. Wenger (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000)

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Beyond Place and Ethnicity: The Uses of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, by Paula E. Hyman." (Viewed on September 23, 2023) <>.


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