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Rose Schneiderman And The Triangle Fire Essay

, Research Paper A Review of the Essay “Rose Schneiderman and the Triangle Fire” Reported by Leslie Regina Goodson The American History Illustrated, published in July of 1981, featured an essay by Bonnie Mitelman. The essay expounds on the tragedy of a horrific fire at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 and the impetus it had on a union activist, Rose Schneiderman.

, Research Paper

A Review of the Essay

“Rose Schneiderman and the Triangle Fire”

Reported by Leslie Regina Goodson

The American History Illustrated, published in July of 1981, featured an essay by Bonnie Mitelman. The essay expounds on the tragedy of a horrific fire at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 and the impetus it had on a union activist, Rose Schneiderman. Ms. Mitelman emphasizes the altering change such a tragedy can have on an individual, a small community, a society, and nation.

The Triangle Waist Company was one of the largest shirtwaist manufacturers at the time of the fire. Located in the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building in Greenwich Village, it usually employed 900 workers. On the day of the fire, only between 500 to 600 workers were there. When the fire was out, 146 were dead. Each death was avoidable.

Minutes of a Women’s Trade Union League meeting held a day after the Triangle Waist Company fire refers to the public indifference to the deplorable working conditions and the pleas for safety reform. One irony of the fire was that a massive strike of garment workers had taken place during the winter of 1909-1910. The reason for the strike was grievous working conditions faced by garment workers. The thousands of women and young girls striking were asking for safety and sanitary reforms in the industry’s workplaces. The result of the strike had been a shorter workweek equaling 52 hours, minimal increases wages, and some safety reforms. However, the instrument that would have given the workers the power to enforce the promised changes was denied them when the strike did not result in the recognition of their union. Prior to the Triangle Waist Company fire the public refused to see a responsibility for the exploitation of immigrant labor and saw striking workers anarchists. This began to change after the fire. The 146 dead made the establishment begin to see striking workers as human beings seeking their rights.

The Triangle Waist Company fire was not the first waistmaker’s fire. Three months before the Triangle Waist Company fire, 25 working women were killed during a destructive fire in Newark, New Jersey. Garment worker reform activist, Theresa Serber Malkiel, went before the Women’s Trade Union League to encourage action to prevent another tragedy such as this. She blamed the greed and negligence of owners and public authorities for the fire. An investigation was begun in cooperation with other trade unions supportive of garment workers.

Max Blank had appealed to the Women Trade Union League during the strike, pleading to have the young girls return to work. He explained that he had a business reputation to uphold and promised the League that he would make all necessary improvements immediately. Because he was such a large manufacturer and was trusted by the League, the girls returned to work. True to Mrs. Malkiel declaration of owners’ greed and negligence, none of the improvements were made.

The Triangle Waist Company had obvious fire violations, but up until the fire there was no one who could or would do anything to enforce them. The doors leading to the outside opened inwardly instead of out and remained locked during business hours. Law required three staircases, but there were only two for the workers at the Triangle Waist Company. Though the Asch Building was reported to be fireproof and showed very little signs of the devastating fire that took place, it had wooden window frames, floors, and trim that fueled the fire.

Amazingly, the Triangle Waist Company was not the only dangerous shirtwaist factory or even the most dangerous shirtwaist manufacturer workplace. Files kept by the Women’s Trade Union League report complaints made by workers describing factories with “locked doors, no fire escapes, and barred windows.” A report from the New York Times told of 14 factories without fire escapes. The article also reported that 99% of the factories investigated in New York had serious fire hazards.

The vast majority of the employees were young girls that were Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Many speaking limited English, only adding to their panic once the fire broke out. The effect of the fire and lost of so many young Jewish women created a “determination and dedication” to reform. And, had changed the socialist rhetoric to a life and death struggle for the community.

The details of the tragedy define what the 1909-1910 strikers meant by “safety and sanitary reform.” Around quitting time, approximately 4:45 p.m., on March 25, 1911 the fire reportedly broke out. Pay envelopes had been handed out to the workers and the workers had begun to leave their work stations. The fire began small, but attempts to put it out failed. The fire jumped from debris pile to debris pile, eating up the fabric used in making the shirtwaists. The workers began to rush to the stairways and elevators. Some made it down the eight flights of stairs, though at least one door leading to the staircase was locked. Some workers made it down the elevators. Some even successfully jumped down elevator shafts once the elevators stopped working. The workers were hindered by the exits that were either locked or blocked and windows that were rusted shut. Only one door was open at the time the workers were trying to escape. Many workers were left trapped behind the mob of escaping co-workers or between the long work tables.

When the fire department reached the Asch Building, the ladder truck was of no use, having a ladder that only reached to the seventh floor. Once the firemen had successfully connected their hoses, the entire eighth floor was aflame. The firemen enlisted spectators to assist in holding the safety nets so that the workers that were escaping to the ledge of the building could jump to safety. However, the jump was from too far up and victim after victim plunged to their deaths, ripping either the fabric of the nets or the grips of those holding the nets.

A haunting scene took place at one of the windows and was reported by a newsman who was a witness. He told of watching a young man help a girl through the window. The young man held her away from the building and then let her drop. He repeated this with two other young women without any resistance from the girls. The reporter likened his actions to a gentleman helping a girl onto a streetcar. The last girl the reporter witnessed being added, put her arms around the young man and kissed him. He repeated the action of dropping the willing girl to her death. Then he, too, dropped to his. His actions saved them from a terrible death by fire. In a sad and peculiar way, the young man’s actions were chivalrous.

Windows that were sealed shut by rust daunted the workers who attempted escape by way of the fire escape. However, they eventually were able to release the window openings from the metallic freeze. The misfortune of this group was that the fire escape ended on the second floor and into an airshaft that ran between the Asch Building and its neighbor. With more and more of the terrified workers climbing out onto the fire escape, but not able to make it pass those already trapped at the end of the fire escape, the combined weight caused the whole thing to collapse, hurling many more to their deaths.

Two fortunate survivors were the owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. They had escaped to the roof, along with a lucky few. The two men were initially charged with first and second-degree manslaughter, but were acquitted of the charges. They collected a sizeable insurance settle as a result of the fire. Ms. Mitelman’s essay refers to Leon Stein’s book’s, The Triangle Fire, and how it depicts the situation with Blanck and Harris and the dead young Jewish girls as “the subtle psychological and sociological implications of the powerful against the oppressed, and of the Westernized, German-Jewish immigrants against those still living their old-world Eastern European heritage.”

Once the fire was out and the building could be entered, scorched skeletons were found still at sewing machines. Bodies were burned to bare bones and many bodies were unidentifiable. Loved ones searched through the bodies for days trying to find a way to identify there mother, daughters, wives, or sisters. Some victims could be identified by the name on the pay envelopes found stuffed into pockets and stockings.

The Women’s Trade Union League met the day after the fire and were joined by 20 other organized groups. They took action forming relief committees to aid family victims through the Red Cross. They agreed to broaden their investigation of fire hazards. They called on their fellow workers to act as inspectors and report safety violations to the proper authorities and to the League. A mandate for the city was drawn up for compulsory fire drills, fireproof exits, unlocked doors, fire alarms, automatic sprinkler systems, and regular inspections. They were able to get the legislature to form the Bureaus of Fire Protection.

The city of New York held a funeral for the dead that remained unclaimed. The Women’s Trade Union League had voted to participate in the public funeral procession and 12,000 members marched from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon.

Among those 12,000 union members was Rose Schneiderman. She had been involved with the Women’s Trade Union League, the winter strike of 1910, and she herself was an immigrant worker. Like so many others, she was filled with regret and anguish for the tragic loss of life. She realized how the deaths could have been avoided had the public and private sectors recognized the message the 20,000 striking workers had spoke of the previous winter. The fiery deaths raised her own awareness of her responsibility to fight for industrial reform and triggered a realization in Ms. Schneiderman that nothing and no one would help the working women but a strong union. This was the vital strength and bond that had failed to materialize after the previous strike. Six weeks after the fire, on May 2, 1911, Ms. Schneider used her persuasive way with words to gain support from wealthy New Yorkers, and to change the opinion of the public to the side of the labor movement. With these changes, civic, religious, and labor leaders were now able to move forward and organize groups in support of the needed safety reforms within the garment industry. Her audience and supporters included the governor of New York, prestigious clergy from the Jewish and Christian persuasions, and family members from the wealthiest of our country’s families.

Her speech could have been about fellowship because there she was at a collaborative mass-meeting being held at the Metropolitan Opera House, but she was true to all the dead of the Triangle Waist Company. She pointed out that this was not the first time these girls had cried out for help, but had been ignored by public. She asked if their charity would stop at the dollar being donated for the dead and would the public allow their officials to continue to oppress those working for reform. She used the sadness of the event and the picture of persecution it illustrated to change history. The result was widespread support for unions and formation of regulatory bodies such as the New York State Factory Investigating Commission and the New York Citizen’s Committee on Safety. Her call for action brought about change that took years, but had a lasting affect that reached all across our nation then and for decades to come.

Ms. Mitelman eloquently brings forth in her essay how the tragic fiery deaths of those unfortunate workers cemented the fellowship of the Eastern European community, encouraged cooperation among unions, brought about awareness and support from a blind populace, safety in the work place and support for union recognition.

A Review of the Essay

“Rose Schneiderman and the Triangle Fire” by Bonnie Mitelman

Reported by Leslie Regina Goodson

The American History Illustrated, published in July of 1981, featured an essay by Bonnie Mitelman. The essay expounds on the tragedy of a horrific fire at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 and the impetus it had on a union activist, Rose Schneiderman. Ms. Mitelman emphasizes the altering change such a tragedy can have on an individual, a small community, a society, and nation.

The Triangle Waist Company was one of the largest shirtwaist manufacturers at the time of the fire. Located in the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building in Greenwich Village, it usually employed 900 workers. On the day of the fire, only between 500 to 600 workers were there. When the fire was out, 146 were dead. Each death was avoidable.

Minutes of a Women’s Trade Union League meeting held a day after the Triangle Waist Company fire refers to the public indifference to the deplorable working conditions and the pleas for safety reform. One irony of the fire was that a massive strike of garment workers had taken place during the winter of 1909-1910. The reason for the strike was grievous working conditions faced by garment workers. The thousands of women and young girls striking were asking for safety and sanitary reforms in the industry’s workplaces. The result of the strike had been a shorter workweek equaling 52 hours, minimal increases wages, and some safety reforms. However, the instrument that would have given the workers the power to enforce the promised changes was denied them when the strike did not result in the recognition of their union. Prior to the Triangle Waist Company fire the public refused to see a responsibility for the exploitation of immigrant labor and saw striking workers anarchists. This began to change after the fire. The 146 dead made the establishment begin to see striking workers as human beings seeking their rights.

The Triangle Waist Company fire was not the first waistmaker’s fire. Three months before the Triangle Waist Company fire, 25 working women were killed during a destructive fire in Newark, New Jersey. Garment worker reform activist, Theresa Serber Malkiel, went before the Women’s Trade Union League to encourage action to prevent another tragedy such as this. She blamed the greed and negligence of owners and public authorities for the fire. An investigation was begun in cooperation with other trade unions supportive of garment workers.

Max Blank had appealed to the Women Trade Union League during the strike, pleading to have the young girls return to work. He explained that he had a business reputation to uphold and promised the League that he would make all necessary improvements immediately. Because he was such a large manufacturer and was trusted by the League, the girls returned to work. True to Mrs. Malkiel declaration of owners’ greed and negligence, none of the improvements were made.

The Triangle Waist Company had obvious fire violations, but up until the fire there was no one who could or would do anything to enforce them. The doors leading to the outside opened inwardly instead of out and remained locked during business hours. Law required three staircases, but there were only two for the workers at the Triangle Waist Company. Though the Asch Building was reported to be fireproof and showed very little signs of the devastating fire that took place, it had wooden window frames, floors, and trim that fueled the fire.

Amazingly, the Triangle Waist Company was not the only dangerous shirtwaist factory or even the most dangerous shirtwaist manufacturer workplace. Files kept by the Women’s Trade Union League report complaints made by workers describing factories with “locked doors, no fire escapes, and barred windows.” A report from the New York Times told of 14 factories without fire escapes. The article also reported that 99% of the factories investigated in New York had serious fire hazards.

The vast majority of the employees were young girls that were Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Many speaking limited English, only adding to their panic once the fire broke out. The effect of the fire and lost of so many young Jewish women created a “determination and dedication” to reform. And, had changed the socialist rhetoric to a life and death struggle for the community.

The details of the tragedy define what the 1909-1910 strikers meant by “safety and sanitary reform.” Around quitting time, approximately 4:45 p.m., on March 25, 1911 the fire reportedly broke out. Pay envelopes had been handed out to the workers and the workers had begun to leave their work stations. The fire began small, but attempts to put it out failed. The fire jumped from debris pile to debris pile, eating up the fabric used in making the shirtwaists. The workers began to rush to the stairways and elevators. Some made it down the eight flights of stairs, though at least one door leading to the staircase was locked. Some workers made it down the elevators. Some even successfully jumped down elevator shafts once the elevators stopped working. The workers were hindered by the exits that were either locked or blocked and windows that were rusted shut. Only one door was open at the time the workers were trying to escape. Many workers were left trapped behind the mob of escaping co-workers or between the long work tables.

When the fire department reached the Asch Building, the ladder truck was of no use, having a ladder that only reached to the seventh floor. Once the firemen had successfully connected their hoses, the entire eighth floor was aflame. The firemen enlisted spectators to assist in holding the safety nets so that the workers that were escaping to the ledge of the building could jump to safety. However, the jump was from too far up and victim after victim plunged to their deaths, ripping either the fabric of the nets or the grips of those holding the nets.

A haunting scene took place at one of the windows and was reported by a newsman who was a witness. He told of watching a young man help a girl through the window. The young man held her away from the building and then let her drop. He repeated this with two other young women without any resistance from the girls. The reporter likened his actions to a gentleman helping a girl onto a streetcar. The last girl the reporter witnessed being added, put her arms around the young man and kissed him. He repeated the action of dropping the willing girl to her death. Then he, too, dropped to his. His actions saved them from a terrible death by fire. In a sad and peculiar way, the young man’s actions were chivalrous.

Windows that were sealed shut by rust daunted the workers who attempted escape by way of the fire escape. However, they eventually were able to release the window openings from the metallic freeze. The misfortune of this group was that the fire escape ended on the second floor and into an airshaft that ran between the Asch Building and its neighbor. With more and more of the terrified workers climbing out onto the fire escape, but not able to make it pass those already trapped at the end of the fire escape, the combined weight caused the whole thing to collapse, hurling many more to their deaths.

Two fortunate survivors were the owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. They had escaped to the roof, along with a lucky few. The two men were initially charged with first and second-degree manslaughter, but were acquitted of the charges. They collected a sizeable insurance settle as a result of the fire. Ms. Mitelman’s essay refers to Leon Stein’s book’s, The Triangle Fire, and how it depicts the situation with Blanck and Harris and the dead young Jewish girls as “the subtle psychological and sociological implications of the powerful against the oppressed, and of the Westernized, German-Jewish immigrants against those still living their old-world Eastern European heritage.”

Once the fire was out and the building could be entered, scorched skeletons were found still at sewing machines. Bodies were burned to bare bones and many bodies were unidentifiable. Loved ones searched through the bodies for days trying to find a way to identify there mother, daughters, wives, or sisters. Some victims could be identified by the name on the pay envelopes found stuffed into pockets and stockings.

The Women’s Trade Union League met the day after the fire and were joined by 20 other organized groups. They took action forming relief committees to aid family victims through the Red Cross. They agreed to broaden their investigation of fire hazards. They called on their fellow workers to act as inspectors and report safety violations to the proper authorities and to the League. A mandate for the city was drawn up for compulsory fire drills, fireproof exits, unlocked doors, fire alarms, automatic sprinkler systems, and regular inspections. They were able to get the legislature to form the Bureaus of Fire Protection.

The city of New York held a funeral for the dead that remained unclaimed. The Women’s Trade Union League had voted to participate in the public funeral procession and 12,000 members marched from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon.

Among those 12,000 union members was Rose Schneiderman. She had been involved with the Women’s Trade Union League, the winter strike of 1910, and she herself was an immigrant worker. Like so many others, she was filled with regret and anguish for the tragic loss of life. She realized how the deaths could have been avoided had the public and private sectors recognized the message the 20,000 striking workers had spoke of the previous winter. The fiery deaths raised her own awareness of her responsibility to fight for industrial reform and triggered a realization in Ms. Schneiderman that nothing and no one would help the working women but a strong union. This was the vital strength and bond that had failed to materialize after the previous strike. Six weeks after the fire, on May 2, 1911, Ms. Schneider used her persuasive way with words to gain support from wealthy New Yorkers, and to change the opinion of the public to the side of the labor movement. With these changes, civic, religious, and labor leaders were now able to move forward and organize groups in support of the needed safety reforms within the garment industry. Her audience and supporters included the governor of New York, prestigious clergy from the Jewish and Christian persuasions, and family members from the wealthiest of our country’s families.

Her speech could have been about fellowship because there she was at a collaborative mass-meeting being held at the Metropolitan Opera House, but she was true to all the dead of the Triangle Waist Company. She pointed out that this was not the first time these girls had cried out for help, but had been ignored by public. She asked if their charity would stop at the dollar being donated for the dead and would the public allow their officials to continue to oppress those working for reform. She used the sadness of the event and the picture of persecution it illustrated to change history. The result was widespread support for unions and formation of regulatory bodies such as the New York State Factory Investigating Commission and the New York Citizen’s Committee on Safety. Her call for action brought about change that took years, but had a lasting affect that reached all across our nation then and for decades to come.

Ms. Mitelman eloquently brings forth in her essay how the tragic fiery deaths of those unfortunate workers cemented the fellowship of the Eastern European community, encouraged cooperation among unions, brought about awareness and support from a blind populace, safety in the work place and support for union recognition.

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