tv Remembering the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire CSPAN September 4, 2017 5:58pm-7:19pm EDT
visit our website c-span.org/history. preview upcoming programs and watch college lectures, museum tours, archival films, and more. american history tv at c-span.org/history. american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend featuring museum tours, archival films, and programs on the presidency, the civil war, and more. here's a clip from a recent program. >> when his father dies in 1857, willie takes over supporting the family. he doesn't, apparently, ride for the pony express, but he is working as a lad to keep his mother and sisters alive. when the national civil war comes, willie joins the -- first he joins an informal group of
what were known as red legs. jayhawkers. these are kansasians as he admits in his autobiography who feels the kansasans picked on them. to cross into missouri and get their revenge. so he's in an informal j jayhawking kansas regiment fighting in missouri. then in 1864 he joins the kansas seventh which is the notorious jayhawking regimen. if you were a missourian and i said kansas seventh, you would know what that meant even probably today. and they had such a bad reputation for what they were carrying out in missouri that they got sent away from the kansas/missouri border. he did see some service in the south and by the end of the war, he's back in st. louis. well, what did buffalo bill's
childhood in bleeding kansas and in his youth as a jayhawker in the civil war mean to him? >> you can watch this and other american history programs on our website where all our video is archived. that's c-span.org/history. in 1911, the triangle shirtways factory in new york caught fire and 146 workers died 37 mostly women and immigrants. this was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the united states. members of the remember the triangle fire coalition spoke about the event's history, memory, and relevance to today. it's an hour and 15 minutes. >> welcome. welcome to the triangle factory fire in american memory, a conversation between historians and activists. you may notice there's cameras. we are being filmed by c-span,
so we're going to open up the conversation later. if you want to be part of the discussion, please step to the microphone so you can be heard. i am rob linne. i am out of delphi university. i am a founding member of the remember the triangle fire coalition and a co-author with my colleague andy sosin of the factory fire. i will briefly introduce my colleagues on the panel and they will have more time to tell you about themselves and their work shortly. all of us are are membmembers o remember the triangle fire coalition which you'll hear more about as we discuss. and we are all committed to keeping the memory of the victims alive and visible. we began as part of a team organizing a citywide commemoration for the centennial of the tragedy in 2011. this commemoration rapidly spread from a citywide commemoration in new york to a national and international
commemorations around the world. we are educators, activists, and historians. briefly, dr. mary anne trasciatti is from hofstra university as well as president of the remember the triangle fire coalition which we are finding is no small task. rose imperato is a founding member of the remember the triangle fire coalition and is with murphy institute of labor studies with cuny here in new york. dr. andy sosin a founding member of the coalition and a co-author with others of the new york city triangle factory fire. as members of an organization dedicated to memorializing an event that many diverse constituencies hold dear, we are very aware that context is everything. so our discussion today is not so much focused on parse events
on that day, but on examining the movements, the art, the rhetoric, and the continued conflicts that have rippled out from that moment in a time a little over a hundred years ago. the site of the infamous triangle factory fire continues to serve the city and the nation as a living memorial. the memory of the triangle fire has been continually renewed and utilized as a touch stone in american history, american politics, and american culture. even after 100 years, the fire has not lost its resonance. its power to evoke strong feelings of sadness and anger but also of hope. perhaps the most consequenti consequentially, the triangle fire has not lost its relevance. which we will have more to say about contemporary political discourse, i'm sure. that the triangle factory fire is still a potent symbol has been the result of persistent
efforts on the part of many. activists, unionists, artists, politicians, historians, educators, and citizens. to preserve the memory of this moment in history both as an affirmation of the individual dignity of each worker and as a usable past in the ongoing discourse surrounding labor issues in the u.s. and abroad. the meaning of the fire has been contested since the beginning. the year before the main street fire in new jersey killed dozens of young women in an unsafe new jersey factory. but their horrific deaths were not noticed enough to facilitate change. the triangle fire would be different. played out in new york, a city where labor voice was rising and women were fighting to be counted. a city with dozens of competing newspapers. the morning after the tragedy, blazing newspaper headlines told the story of the mostly jewish and italian young women who perished the day before. the images were graphic and the
rhetoric piercing. one paper shouted, how long will the workers permit themselves to be burned as well as enslaved in their shops.blamed the owners w escaped the building while other human beings who piled up profits for them died in burned, crushed, mutilated heaps. the meaning of the fire, however, was contested from the beginning. city leaders were anxious about a further uprising and did not want the victims to become martyrs. gainer announced the unidentified bodies would be interred in evergreen cemetery in brooklyn far away from lower manhattan to avoid protest. so the unions organized a mass funeral procession through lower manhattan. thousands marched as hundreds of thousands lined the streets under low clouds and constant rain. when the silent marchers reached washington square, in sight of
the factory building, one reporter noted a long drawn out heart piercing cry. the mingling of thousands of voices. sort of a human thunder in the elemental storm. a cry that was perhaps the most impre impressive show of human grief ever in the city. this cry for grief was for once turned to action. called the tragedy the fire that changed america. and perkins maintained years later that the new deal actually began on the day of the fire. indeed, reformers and unionists seized the tragedy as a touch to stone for labor organizing. unionship in new york swelled and a vast culture of unionism was born. traditionally anti-union tammany hall became a driver of progressive change and surprisingly created a model for
the national new deal reforms to follow as well as the workplace standards we all expect today. and yet as the century progressed, memory of this pivotal moment has often waned. our history books, hollywood films, and mass culture in general tend to feature the accomplishments of very important white men, so the story was largely lost to time save the yearly commemorations and family members. the 50th anniversary of the fire did see a resurgence of interest as leon stein published his work on the fire. newspaper articles were written and survivors were interviewed. the decades between the 50th and 100th anniversary, of course, witnessed the rapid decline of labor and the story faded even more from collective memory in the city and abroad. as the centennial approached, i surveyed school textbooks and found cursory treatment of the
fire and the changes that rippled out. there may be a few paragraphs in a u.s. history book. the same that was given to the slocum fire. they were both tragedies that happened and that was the end of the story. over the years what i would ask entering university students, i teach student who is are going to be english teachers and social studies teachers about their knowledge of the tragedy. few could raise their hand and they had a vague awareness. the story simply was not central to american culture any longer. now when i ask students entering this generation, the majority of students raised their hand and they know something about the triangle fire which is very encouraging. david vonn drali's important work in the general press published in 2003 perhaps led to resurgence of interest that continued to this day. inspired by his work, artists began the public movement chalk.
the chalk project brings people out into the city every march 25th to chalk the names of triangle fire victims on the stoops where they live. this powerful act of naming the victims in a similar spirit of the vietnam memorial has inspired new ways of looking at the tragedy and the ways in which we memorialize the victims. my only personal experiences with the chalk project are the most profound. i often go with middle school classes. and it's always a little tricky taking students out into the city, but they become very serious as they chalk the names and they become public teachers. people walk by and they see these kids who are not from the neighborhood. why are you chalking up my stoop? and the students then tell the story about the triangle fire and they feel like they're public historians, public teachers. and they never forget it. teachers who i worked with when the kids see them later, they always talk about the chalk project.
remember when we chalked the names. my colleagues and i will discuss this dynamic more as the discussion unfolds, but i want to emphasize the chalk project to all of the efforts that have followed. i know it's cliche to say a small group of people can make great change, but this simple project with chalk has sparked so much political activism that i feel a truth in the sentiment first hand. just in the last few years, there's been so much creative output. many plays about the fire have produced. quilts have been sewn. novels have been written. school curricula have been crafted. and much political discourse is framed by the triangle factory fire. and the activists who followed through on making things better. my niece recently sent me a play bill for a triangle fire play performed at the local high school in suburban houston. and mary anne recently got back from a street naming in italy for joseph zito.
so we find that this story is once again central in our collective conscience and bringing people together across the country and overseas to work together for change. i can start preaching at this point. i tend to. so before i start preaching too much, i will turn over to my colleague professor mary anne trasciatti of hofstra university. thank you. [ applause ] >> thanks, rob. and thank you, everyone, for being here today. so i'm going to begin with a question that i ask myself and then hopefully answer or at least begin to answer in this presentation. it's a question i certainly won't answer and it's a bigger question and i've started writing about it and think about it far too often. but that's -- it's an important question. and the question is, why does the memory of triangle stick? why this and not some other
things? that is a rhetorical question. what is there about triangle that moves people that maybe doesn't happen with other events? other issues. in the u.s. i'm sure you know, so many efforts are made to ignore temporary labor struggles and labor history. so what is there about the story of triangle that makes it so affecting and i use that word to get an affect. i mean, people feel something about this story. so what makes it so affecting for those who come into contact with it both at the time and now? and so here are just a few thoughts that i had in answer to that question. and i appreciate, you know, anything you might add later about why you're here, what you know, and what you think. so first of all, it's a rich narrative, right? this is a story that can be told in a variety of ways. it can be framed. i'm a communications scholar. framing is an important concept to us. the story can be framed in a lot
of ways. one way it can't be framed which is advantageous for memory in the u.s. is a story of radical labor organizing or activism. the girls of triangle -- clara who led the uprising in 1926 became a communist. and in fact, the union that she helped to build wanted to deny her a pension because she was a communist. but in 1909 and 1911 she wasn't. the girls at triangle weren't radicals. so that part of the story does not have to be effaced. these are innocents. that's an advantage. the story is not a story of radicalism. it is, however, a story of migration, right? these are people who came here from italy, from russia, from other places. for work, for a better life. however you want to frame the story of migration. this is in part a story of migration. we in the coalition don't tell it that way.
although we are embarking on a project, a colleague and i are embarking on a project to map memorials to the victims -- i don't want to use that word to the triangle dead in italy. which is in part to reframe the story as a story of migration. there are memorials in italy in sicily, for example, all 24 of the triangle dead from that region have been memorialized with street plaques and other kinds of images. so it is in part a story of migration. it's also a story about new york city. the fashion capital of the world. a destination of immigrants from everywhere. it's a story about washington square, right? which is the meeting place for all kinds of people. and in particular it was in 1911. it's a story about worker struggles for better wages and safer working conditions. and by workers with regard to the story of triangle, i mean here particularly although not
exclusively women workers. the term workers tends to be jendergendered when we speak ab. if you ask people to think of a worker particularly in labor studyings, they would imagine a guy. but triangle is about women workers. that's the story we tend to tell in the coalition. we tend to begin the story with a struggle by women workers two years prior to triangle which you may know as the uprising of the 20,000. actually began with a walkout at triangle. it involved mostly jewish women workers. and they were led by clara lenlik. this was not a popular move when it began. and part of the reason is because the women who were striking, who were outdoors asking for better wages and safer working conditions were in
public space unchaperoned. right? how dare young women advertise that they work with their bodies in public space. so analogies were made between striking women workers and prostitutes. they are both, in a sense, streetwalkers. right? advertising the use of their bodies as a way to make money. and so they were treated very hostilely. clara had several ribs broken. they were arrested, thrown into jail. and the prostitutes in the prison cells said, wow, you guys are getting treated worse than we do and we make more money than you do. so there were all kinds of linkages that were made. it was only the presence of middle class women dressed well and, you know, untouchable, so to speak, that helped to stem the violence. so that strike was both a success and a failure. the strike succeeded, it brought the union is to sharpen safety measures but failed to bring those the to triangle. the owners held out and resisted. so without a union and without
enforceable laws to protect workers, the factory system was a tragedy waiting to happen at triangle and, indeed, it did happen. and when it happened, it was very visible. and that's, i think, the second answer that i have for why this event is so important. there were other fires in new york city. and i've actually, you know, read other accounts of people watching them from washington square park. there was a fire right before triangle that was deadly and awful. but it was largely invisible so no one saw it. that was in newark. there were other workplace deaths at the time. horrific accidents in mining, railroads, timber, meat packing, you name it. okay? but triangle was visible. in fact, not just visible, it engaged the full sensorium of new york workers. it was audible and smellable as
well. so new yorkers, middle class new yorkers, affluent new yorkers weren't used to having their senses assaulted. of course workers were. the loud sounds, the injuries. the smells, the sights. but well healed new yorkers were not. so they saw smoke, women's bodies plunging out the window and exploding on the ground. they heard fire bells, screams, and of course the iconic thud, dead, thud, dead, thud, dead reported by william sheppard. they smelled smoke. they smelled wet, burned stuff. and although horrific as this sounds, i suspect they smelled charred flesh, human flesh. so this was a material rhetoric, right? it acted on the whole person. the mind as well as the body. and it said to people, listen and act. the visibility of triangle,
though perhaps not the other sensory reaches were expanded in the repertoire. looking at the women, illustrations of the disaster, some of these were quite macabre. very accusatory. and they still retain the power to move us. and these images, this language was reported in english language papers but also italian language newspapers and yiddish newspapers. we are still in the early research on the newspapers but one thing we know is, for example, the language of triangle is a little bit different when reported by the italians. this wasn't a tragedy. it was a crime. okay? it was a very, very explicit indictment of the system. in fact, triangle became so
resonant that it is now in italy synonymous with the international woman's day. in fact, it was only in 1987 that historians published the finding that the fire actually didn't happen on march 8th. it happened on march 25th. and in 19 -- so that -- and what did italians do since they're really good at reworking anything for their advantage? well, it's even better that it's not a historically accurate story. it's a legend and it's even better to build a holiday on a legend, right? but this is how powerful these images were. and so what else? well, the rituals that rob mentioned. workers mourned their own. they performed their grief, their solidarity, and determination to seek justice. the funerals went on for days. the roots crisscrossed each other. leon stein reports some people got loss, they had no idea which
funeral procession they were marching in. the largest was also a political demonstration. it was a union-led procession. the women in the union really fought for this for the unidentified victims. there were originally seven unidentified victims. 100,000 people marched with no banners save for we mourn our loss. no slogans, no songs, no nothing. there were estimated 400,000 total participants. the hundred thousands, the others watching them enduring the rain. this must have been a powerful experience. a somatic experience. feeling the rain, hearing the silence, watching the hearses go by. and for us, these images are haunting. and the ritual of marching for triangle continued after this procession. suffragettes marched and began the ritual of marching past the triangle building and they would
be loud and rowdy, they got to triangle, silence. until they passed the building again. so revered, so sanctified with husband sp -- was this spot. we march from union score to washington square and green. the meaning is to invoke the spirit of the ancestors. that was annie's idea. they do haunt us. they do look like the garments made by triangle workers. but they're empty space. like the empty caskets. they can't be filled. these are lives that can't be brought back. and they're symbolic, but they're also material. right? they are things that we can see and touch. and the names make them non-h non-alagorical. we honor the particularity of the triangle story. the 146 dead. josito, the elevator boy. the politicians, activists who
worked to change the system as much as they could. clara, francis, william, mary, rose, robert, al, angela, the list goes on and on. and the story of triangle, though, is not merely sel self-referntial. this is another triangle. if you think about the coverage of bangladesh with the factory fire. and so that didactic potential of the fire is important i think and another reason why the memory continues. i will turn it other to my colleague andy sosin to talk about that. [ applause ] >> now comes the show and tell portion. hi. just press the enter key. i'm andy sosin.
i was a teacher educator for most of my career and a new york city school teacher when i started and trained as a historian. so this is very important to me. and i am delighted to be here. thank you for coming. these two books that we're showing you, one of them is organizing the curriculum perspectives on teaching the u.s. labor movement. and then the other one is the new york city triangle factory fire. these are the books that we collaborated on. i collaborated on this one with rob linne and others. and we edited a series of essays about teaching labor studies in the public schools, basically, the high schools. and so for this book, we collected essays that showed how labor studies was being avoided,
submerged, belittled, you name the thing that keeps students from understanding what labor is and from protecting their own interests in the corporate society. and that's what's happened to teaching about labor in the american schools. so this book got us started on finding curricula that were labor friendly and helping teachers manage to insert labor into their curriculum in order to prepare their students for what was going to be most of their lives. so during that time, we met ruth
sirgle who began the chalk project and became founding members of the remember the triangle fire coalition in order to make the centennial of the triangle fire an event that people would remember, that would enter american memory and keep the memory of the triangle fire and its victims and its import for all workers alive. so we worked on this book which is the new york city triangle factory fire which i am inordinately proud of because it is the largest collection of contemporaneous photographs that tell the story of the triangle fire and the immigrants who worked at the triangle waste
company through the new deal to just up to the present day, up to the centennial. it was published before the centennial in february of 2011. and so it doesn't include the centennial. but it is the largest collection of photographs in print that tell the story. at the same time we worked with the producers of the hbo documentary triangle remembering the fire which if you haven't seen i highly recommend it. hbo brings it back every so often. and their method was to find descendents of both survivors and victims and interview them about the import that the triangle fire has had to their
families. and it's a riveting documentary because it shows that the triangle fire has had effects on people even through the generations. and not necessarily because of what came out of it but just to family members, just to people who were associated with those people who passed. another book that i want to bring to your attention is see you in the streets. this is newly published and this is ruth sirgle's memoir about establishing the coalition and about the -- about how an activist goes about establishing and getting people on board and making things happen and it's highly -- you know, i like it. it's entertaining, but it's also
a good handbook almost for activists. but i wanted to bring that to your attention. going back, rob mentioned leon stein. they reissued his book at the centennial. it was published in 1961. leon stein was the editor of the news letter for the international ladies garment workers union. and when he did the research for this book, he was working on his own academic career. but this -- the publication of this book actually linked what had happened and how the fire, all the tragic happenstances and the system of worker exploitation, basically, how
that all came to happen in the fire. okay? and it doesn't really -- it handles the fact that out of the fire, the activists were so ensensed and so conscious stricken and the public was so conscious stricken that there was action and a new idea, basically, that unions and unionization wasn't bad for the country. and out of that, when francis perkins said the new deal was born on march 25th, 1911, what she meant was that there was a government -- there was a change in government and government took -- started to take responsibility. i mean, before that unions were illegal. they were organizations in restraint of trade.
and they were considered conspiracies. so the idea that collective bargaining and the wagner act which was named for robert wagner who was a state -- head of the state senate during the factory investigating commission that followed the triangle fire, the fact that he wrote the new deal legislation really embodied what had happened was a change of philosophy in government. and that government took responsibility for industrial relations. the 2003 publication of david vonn drali's book "triangle: the fire that changed america" was really important in making the triangle fire a -- an event that
drew people in the early 2000s before the centennial. and it caught the interest of one of our co-authors, lee benen who was a distant relatives of one of the victims of the fire. and brought us to ruth sirgle -- brought ruth sirgle to triangle commemoration and then brought us into that fold. so this is -- it's a journalistic account, but it is really a -- i'm struggling for the word. it's a good read. it is good journalism plus it is good research. okay? it wasn't perfect research, but it was very good research. so i highly recommend this book also as a foundation to
understand why triangle -- he calls it the fire that changed america. it really was because out of triangle came the new york state laws, over 30 new york state laws were passed after triangle based on the findings of the factory investigating commission and plus workers compensation insurance, they date that law. the new york labor department dates its strength and funding to the new york fire. the new york city fire department and fire departments across the country got better equipment and more modern equipment and more funding because of the triangle fire. so there were a lot of systematic changes that came out of the triangle fire. but my purpose here is to talk about kids.
okay? these are the kids who come every year, we work with the uft and we get kids, we give out little plastic fire hats and we get kids whose teachers are interested enough to get kids involved. they often get involved with chalking like the middle schoolers at the bottom who came to the commemoration, you know, and come every year generally to walk with shirt waists. that's a big attraction. we give them the shirt waist fl flags that we have created. and they come with their posters and they listen to the speeches and some of them write songs and perform. i mean, it's been really gratifying to have kids involved in the annual commemoration which takes place at or around march 25th at the site of the
fire. and the fire department comes and they raise their ladder, the actual ladder company that responded to the fire comes every year and raises its ladder to the sixth floor which was the floor -- that was as far as the ladder reached in 1911. it reached the sixth floor only. the workers were trapped on the ninth floor. it was really no help. and they would jump into the nets and the nets would collapse. so it was a tragedy all around, but from that, the fire department grew in strength. but in talking about the kids, i want to talk about, you know, what are we trying to teach the kids? this is one of those illustrations that i took from our book because this was published in newspapers all around. you know, there were more than 30 newspapers in new york city at the time. i mean, you know, it's -- my
father was a newspaper printer. so it's a sad story when all these newspapers are dying the way they are now. and turning to just on the web presence. but this is what we're trying to show them. and as we fight for $15 and as we look at the right to organize and right to workers being pushed now, it's a very scary situation. so what's out there for teachers? and what's out there for young people to read about? i highlight this book because flesh and blood so cheap was one of the ways they talked about and i highlight this book just as an example there's a lot of illustrations. easy print. you know, but this book is what we -- it's a resource.
okay? it's a nonfiction, of course. it's -- i'm blocking the word. but there are so many good illustrations interesting to young people. there are many of these, you know? this one the triangle factory. so you'll find these in school libraries. and if they don't have these, then you can ask for them. another is the triangle fire. and it's also, you know, at -- it tells the story, print is large, vocabulary is controlled,
but it's a way of sharing an individual work. here's another school library edition from spotlight on history. i brought junior scholastic. okay? because junior scholastic is e used in classrooms. here they did a play. you know? it's a readers theater on the triangle fire. one of my favorites recently is "brave girl." it's about clara lenlik and the shirt waist factory. i want to highlight an illustration here. and i like this one because it's revolt of the girls. okay? but this was not usual in new
york at the time. they did -- the fact that women were striking as part of a union was not a usual thing. women were supposed to b in the home. the women's trade union league was founded by middle class women to help working women be able to raise their families have a high enough wage to not have to work. so it's sort of an interesting -- i brought another book. you know, mary anne mentioned that all over they were labor conditions were terrible. this is about the newsies. so around the same period of time. the early 1900s, the newsies were, you know, their child labor was not unheard -- you know, not unusual.
but these newsies were on strike. so here's another one. two other resources for you. immigrant kids. russell friedman wrote good biographies as well of eleanor roosevelt, franklin roosevelt. and kids on strike also very good resources. there's fiction. lots of fiction. okay? for young people. fire at the triangle factory. liddie is about a spinner in one of the mills in vermont. dreamland by kevin baker and other -- alice hoffman just
wrote one that mentioned the triangle fire. and then this one happens to be out of print, but it's really fabulous. we shall not be moved about the 1909 strike. you can find it but it's out of print. and marching to a different drummer. this one is portraits, you know, school biographies, short biographies. you can use a lot of these things. this might be the play that they put on. the triangle factory fire project in houston. right? so you can get these materials. and we list our resources for teaching about the unions, labor history, and triangle fire on our website. and that's why i gave you brochures because it has the website listed. it's remember the triangle fire.org. thank you. [ applause ]
>> i'm going to stay seated. would you mind staying up there to hit the -- i'm rose imperato. i'm very happy everybody's here. i have to say, i've heard the story, obviously, of triangle for years and years and yet when i heard mary anne describe it, i felt my stomach tightening. i mean, it's that visceral still. hearing you talk about the ladder only reaching to the sixth floor while the girls were trying to escape flames on the ninth floor, it gets me every single time. i want to start off with the word intersectionality and the reason is at the women's march in d.c. earlier this year, i was holding a poster that had that word intersectionality and another supportive, inspiring statement by now they created the poster. as i was walking in the march,
an amused onlooker shouted out, what's that mean. i was sort of swept up in the crowd and emotion. so i sort of smiled and said come on and find out, join us kind of thing. my husband said later on that you should said to him it means your concerns are my concerns. because at least that would have peaked his interest and maybe he would have stepped in. i don't know the rest of the story there, but when you look at this photo here, these are people, volunteers 146 who on the day that we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the fire, it was, like, 10 degree windchill. it was awful out but it was sun ny. they carried a shirt waist. the names are on there. and they're listed on the front of the sashes and then the age they were when they died.
their concerns, their meaning people who died in the fire, are our concerns. it's evidenced because when you see people hold these, they feel connected. as mary anne said, they can't inhabit the space, but the activists do hold the space. and as a feminist but also a labor activist, labor has been a dirty word for so long that the idea this is actually a teachable moment, that people can connect with the girls, with the workers, oh. i just turned around my sign here and rose gianelli was only 15 years old when she died in the fire. another was only 17 years old. oh. and these students, they say i'm 17. i could have been there. i could have -- i have a part-time job. maybe i would have been working in this factory. their resonance is deep. their concerns are our concerns. that leads me to the final piece and then we'll open up for questions which is our efforts to memorialize. you can go to the next slide.
thanks, andy. we have among our group a quilter and she just felt that she needed to do something that was going to reach students, was going to be a calling card for this that perhaps even the black and white images from 100 years ago wouldn't be as effective doing. so what she did was she got the images that she could, there were only a few of the 146 and then in others she sketched out from family photos that really couldn't be replicated which she believed to be as close to a rendering. and then she took images that were poems, these right up here are lists of the names of those who died and their ages and you'll see that scattered throughout. some union slogans at the time. and this has traveled around the country. it was on display at st. john the divine cathedral in new york city for a couple of months last year or the year before.
and you can hit the next slide. this is a companion quilt then following the plaza disaster in 2013 in which 1100 workers were killed, garment workers. and these activists now the bangladeshi activists have been in touch with us. the activists of the remember the triangle fire coalition and some of the members in new york city that are accentuating the fact that this issue that happened at triangle is still salient. unfortunately safety is being eroded in the country today and around the world we've exported a lot of those same problems. so our efforts, you can go to the next slide. to go beyond a plaque that a lot of students walk by at nyu campus which is where the building still exists that the workers worked in in 1911 is to build a true public art
memorial. we held an international competition over 30 countries are represented. 200 entries. and a jury of really incredible artists picked a winning design. and the winning design was then altered some to fit nyu's safety regulations. that they didn't want a good chunk of the building covered with the art. so we could use the corner and wrapping around the side at the bottom. so there will be text to tell the story and then there will be the names of all 146 who died. and it's not enough. you know, the living memorials, all the things that andy held up that we are doing that writers are doing, that playwrights are doing, that puppeteers, all of it. the chalk that happens every year. helps to bring it out so that labor can be talked about. and young people get it. i went into a school at -- during the time of the centennial commemoration. it was a middle school in the
bronx. and the entire -- they had a whole day where every single student in the school was tasked with creating something. they made posters. they made little dioramas of the building and showed the workers with some flames. i mean -- and they get it. they really get it. there's just this -- they understand what oppression means. they could talk about oppression theory in a second because it just resonates for them what's fair and what's not fair. and these girls went to work and their only crime was showing up that day. so there is something that the triangle fire still presents to us as a challenge , as inspiration, as hope as we reflect on the tragedy. lest not we forget, it could happen again. we're in tough times right now. so it is a really powerful teaching tool that we have found. and we're doing our best to not only keep the story alive, to help it to find relevance in today, and their concerns are our concerns. i really do believe that. and we're very glad that you're
here. we'll open up for questions now. thanks. [ applause ] >> i have a question for you. at one point you gave us an aside. you talked about the victims and said yo i don't want to call th victims. can you talk about that? >> yeah. i've had this conversation with ruth who also tries to stay away from the word victims. for me it's that i try to -- i mean, i feel very strongly. so when we're building this memorial -- this sounds like a digression about a digression, but it's not. when we're building this memorial, we're very aware that we're memorializing something in labor history. but we're naming 146 people, 129 of whom were women, immigrant women will almost unpronounceable names for some people. so we're well aware that this is a subversive thing to have a
monument in a city that has 150 historical representations of people and public art, five of whom are women, to have this thing who names all these women with foreign names at a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, et cetera. that's a really anti-immigrant sentiment. we're always interested in the coalition and keeping these women from becoming all lo gories. and if you call them victims, their life is reduced to the story of what happened to them at triangle. they were strivers, migrants. some of them weren't. they were born here. they were children, they were mothers. so i refrain from that because then it becomes an identity, a subject position for them and it limits who they were. so that's my reason. a very rhetorical reason. they died at triangle but they were not victims. they were but they were so much
more. >> i want to follow up a little on that as an educator. i work with university students and younger students. i think you see a theme running throughout our discussion about naming people and telling their stories. and that has been one of the most important lessons we've learned in the education realm. you can think about traditional education. we have the old plaque that's on the triangle factory building and the textbooks that i reviewed early on and they had a few paragraphs of the triangle fire and they talked about the 146 people who died horrific deaths. it doesn't tend to stick with them. a lot of the university students who would come to my class, they didn't really remember that from high school. it's been amazing that this ethos has come together and so much of the work that's gone on around the triangle fire, that there is a story that we want to tell about the labor movement and women's movement, but
especially for young people to get to those bigger stories, we're not going to forget the people. individuals. and we name them. so when we have a relative of one of the victims come talk to young people and maybe show a picture of their relative and tell the story about what they like to do, what they were going to do that weekend, the students really relate to them and then they feel a connection, which brings -- another example is the hbo film. i encourage you to watch the hbo film. and for one thing it really shifts a way that a lot of the historical documentaries are done. you're not going to see -- i don't think there's any talking heads of historians -- maybe one. michael hirsch. but most of the people they decided to interview were family
members of the women of the fire. they were able to tell their stories. and i think it does a much better job than -- there's also a pbs documentary, the more traditional. i've compared the two with students and it really is fascinating to see how the students analyze, you know, this historical, do we tell the historical context of this group of people who died or what's the difference when we talk about individuals. another thing that we're finding that works really well in terms of education in young people is to have them make connections to what's going on today and to tell -- again, not to just say that there are people having struggles in bangladesh or upstate new york, farm workers, but to hear from individual people and their lives. often they're young people themselves. students can make that
connection. segueing into child labor or their particular jobs. what is it like to work in a fast food restaurant if you're a high school student. those kinds of connections work very well. the other thing that i think triangle fire brought out for a lot of us, triangle fire brought out for a lot of us educators, when we go to talk, it can be younger people, older people. we always try to have a relative. we're finding a multigenerational aspect of the triangle fire commemorations has been alight bulb for a lot of us in education. and the last thing that we try to end with is action that can be art, as we've talked about but to have students involved in activism what's going on with our farm workers in the state and moving on with that. we study the past without that next step with young people,
there's often the understating of what's the connection. >> i have one quick thing since this is taped for c-span, i feel like i have to get it right. when i mentioned two names of the victims, one of the names i was right, secelia, 17 years ol. i was looking for the name rose. rosy was the most common first name of the 146 when you looked through and i picked out the wrong last name. it was rosie grosso who was 16 when she died. i don't know what i said on the tape but just getting it right there. >> questions? >> good morning. thank you so much. this is just really a wonderful presentation. and i'm particularly glad that i'm here at 8:30 in the morning. because labor history and women
trade unionists are not always features at the berkshire women's history conference. so i'm delighted that you're here. but also really interested -- i think it comes to your intersection nalty point, rose, that have you gotten much response from -- or how is the material -- i mean you're all using it and i know this is a huge issue in new york. but are the unions picking up outside of -- the steelworkers or the ironworkers, the building trades, trying to use this material -- or using the story of the triangle and do you see it being used in feminist studies classes, feminist history, women's history in, you know, outside of the labor cornell murphy center kinds of places. do you see it? and is that something that you're working on? >> i can -- i'm sure other
people could contribute. just so far as the first part of your question, this past july i was invited -- well, twice actually. san francisco does labor fest every summer where the whole city is alive. i think it niece the month of july. with events related to labor, activism, history, et cetera. two times i've been invited out there. once to talk about the memorial project and the centennial as it was coming up and then last summer to give a talk about triangle in the context of workplace safety today. and then also to help fill in the gaps in a labor history walking tour -- no, i'm sorry. a history walking tour that emphasized particularly italians in san francisco. so to link what i knew about triangle and what i knew generally about italian activism in the labor movement and in communities. so san francisco is really interested in the triangle fire. we also have a friend of the
coalition who does chalking out in san francisco as well. and long island. not typically thought of as abba bastian of activism but behave. i've given several talks in long island to women's groups and the women's committee of the central labor council on long island. >> and i can add to that that for a short period of time i was the operations manager for the coalition. now it's a totally volunteer organization. and i would go through the e-mails that would come in from students around the country. and we were formed in 2008, so a couple of years before the 100th anniversary in 2011 and i didn't hear much from students in e-mail. in recent years since the centennial, many many students from around the country sending in things saying, for my national history project i want
to use some quotes from your website or can you send me some material that can help me to understand the life of one of the people who died in the fire and what her life was like. so the students tell me -- it's a tip-off that it is being taught and it is spreading because we're seeing that. and our web page has a lot of hits on it. just little things like that help us to know -- >> i would answer that as well, rose, just with the web page, we have on the rememberthetrianglefire.org web page, that's the address up there. we have a resources page and and education page. there are two drop-down menus. if you go to resources, that has -- it's sort of an resource
that we put it everything that we knew about that was films, videos, literature, poetry, it link to robert pin ski's shirt poem. lots of books of poetry. >> so much more. >> all sorts of resources but the links are pretty accurate still. all of the adult literature is on the resources page. and then the education page is for young people's juvenile literature, ya literature and for student projects. and we've worked on a number of national history day projects with students. so some of their projects are linked to our resources page.
i would recommend an nalise at dartmouth who is doing work on labor and feminine studies and also -- oh god. >> i do think that there is -- i notice how few panels there are here on women and work. and that's just an observation. not on evaluation. it is true. but there was an event at the new york historical society called sweat equity. and it was funded in part by a bequest from the estate of jean appleton, who is the daughter of david due bin ski, the president of the iwgau for years. and a colleague, the woman who made the quilts contacted us, me, and said there's nothing about triangle in this day long conference on women in the garment industry in new york. there's nothing on the triangle
fire. so we called them or wrote to them and said, hey, it would be a really good idea if you had something on triangle. and they said oh my gosh, you're right. so we went and they included us. but we had to nudge them a little bit. so it's not always self evident. but it happened. >> we try, especially the teachers unions, that seems to be a good site for this. and we have had some success -- i know that teacher unions are under attack. they're seeing that the successful teacher unions are the ones involved in community wide social justice union so the chicago teachers. as that's happening, i have had more discussion with nicer teachers here in new york about widening their perspective about what is our union about and widening it to the community issues. that's where triangle, that we could fit in some of that conversation. you had a conversation?
>> yes. hi, thank you. that was really interesting. so you guys all seem to be educators and you talk about educating students from, you know, middle school, you showed some real little kid books up through the university level. how does the story of triangle change as you -- how does it change from when you're teaching about this fire, this deadly fire to kirnd garters, to middle schoolers and high school and university level. how much depth do you get into it? does that make sense? >> sure. >> how gory does it get? >> i'll touch on it briefly and rob and mary anne as more on the classroom aspect. the students and teacher that query us for information, they're all right self selecting. they want to know more about a -- a second grade class wrote
a song and they wanted to know the lyric to "solidarity." they're looking for the piece of the puz thal is most interesting to them because it is fairly gory and scary to talk about being locked in, because doors, locked. they didn't want the labor organizers come in and they didn't want the girls stealing fabric scraps. they couldn't get out. things were not maintained. the sprinklers were not maintained. the fire escape was not maint n maintain maintained. it was horrific. i had an exchange with a parent who said their high school daughter had a difficult time with the documentary that was shown by pbs. it is tough. it's a tough story. but the books that andy has held up, i've look through some of them and they handle it well, dealing with the friendships between the italian and the jewish girls and get into it at the angle that students from any
age could deal with. it's a really good point because i have come up against it. >> they also tell about the world of work, okay? it's really interesting. for young children i hold up this page of "brave girl." here clara is sitting with the sewing machines and the cutters and the pressers behind her. and it says as the weeks grind by, krar cla ra makes friends w the other factory girls. at lunch they share stories and secrets as if they were in school where they belong. so it's a really interesting take on what's -- you know, how relatable this is. in "fire at the triangle factor factory", it's not really about the fire itself. the girls are caught in the fire but one girl is jewish and the
other one is italian and they're making friends across boundaries. her father said don't go there, don't be friends, you know. so they help get, you know, one helps the other after the fire get home. it's that kind of thing. but when you get into the more middle school range, then it becomes really -- it's visceral. it's gory. it's, you know, you get to see children who are wearing -- i got involved with sashes. you know, we do sashes for the shirtwaist flags that we carry as a way of, you know, showing solidarity as emblems. but they wore sashes. they all wore sashes. you saw the 1909 strikers. they all wore sashes. they wore sashes at the
metropolitan opera house after the fire because they were in mourning. it was -- sashes were a -- here there the picket line strikers of 1909. same idea. but this gets sort of gory because it uses the contemporaneous cartoons that showed up -- you know, there was a lot of -- photography was very young and very hard to do. i mean, the news photographs that we see now, the black and whites, they're all very grainy. so the photographs that we collected for this book, we collected them -- basically the library of congress had a number of photographs. but photographs leike this, a view of the air shaft. one of the things about the triangle factory, one of the --
it was a modern factory. it wasn't a sweat shopper say. it was a factory building. it was ten floors high. it had huge ceilings and 240 sewing machines at tables that were bolted together. and stairs that were not maintained. you know, the building went up in 1900 and in 1911 it had not been maintained. the fire equipment, the pails had not been maintained. there was no water pressure. so you get to see that and the -- >> we have one more question. >> i'll take the question. >> i want to ask something real quick. two things i want to talk about. maybe you're wondering about the appropriateness? yeah, we're finding more and more recently that there's always a big idea of protecting children and we have probably been a little too
overprotective. the new york jewish museum has programs for third grader to come. they don't go to all levels of the museum but they learn about the holocaust. it's sometimes not as graphic or as in detail and it's the same with the fire. there's kindergartners and first graders,graders that could start studying. they study the abstract issues. kids are very into fairness. like if you pass out pizza, every slice of pizza better be the same. they enter the conversation with everything better be fair. in new york state apples are part of the curriculum for first graders and they talk about everything about apples, where they ground. but one of my colleagues asked the teacher, what about who picks the apples and there was a resistance. why would we talk about who
picks the apples. there are those kinds of ways, even though the curriculum leaves out work, you can use that. for the older kids, one entryway is clothing. a lot of middle school and teenage kids are into clothing. you can bring in the conversation with clothing. i'm sorry. wanted to get to your question, yes. >> thanks a lot for the presentation. i have a question, and this i guess relates more to the intersectionality issue. how do you teach this particular issue and address race, especially in labor history and -- i mean, it's arguable that these images were so affecting because they weren't predominantly women of color. and the emerging labor codes that came about reflected this
message, right, that certain workers don't belong, you know, they're not statutorily laborers. they are, you know -- they don't deserve labor protections. and i mean not only that, but they also reinstitutionalized the private public distinction so that domestic work is not recognized. >> great question. and so it's a thorny issue and yet, i mean there are ways around it. i think one of the flaws with the way we tell the story -- that's why i bring up framing. if you start it with 1909 -- the uprising of the 20,000 and then the triangle fire. some of the girls who died weren't here in 1909. if you were here less than a year, you weren't on the picket line. it leaves people out. open up the frames. one of the way to get to
intersectionality is to tell this story as migration. this is who was migrating primarily at the time. this we have been successful at . and we have -- rose was one of the organizers. we did an event at the museum of chinese and america and governor cuomo funded that. the museum contacted me saying, can we do an event here. and we did it with asian women who were organizers of the chinatown garment strike. what does triangle mean to you, right? there are opportunities there to collaborate with latino women. i have relatives who were italians who worked primarily with latinos because they came to the u.s. after world war ii. then it became chinese. i think if we reframe the story
to be about migration, then we can open up the possibilities for who migrated later to become part of the needle trades or whatever industries now they're working in. when we did an event at the health center, joel, my partner and i were up in albany to met with sheldon silver before his fall from grace about funding the memorial. and we met the executive director of the health system who is african-american. come. we're all about safety. we're in your neighborhood. we had balance drivers for the fire. i thought seriously how do we frame this discussion for an audience of primarily latinos and african-americans and caribbean americans. and so one of the things that we talked about was it's kind of a high class problem to be working at triangle in 1911, believe it or not, because these were jobs that people of color couldn't
get. that opened up the discussion. there was a black man who worked at triangle, an engineer work in the basement. he's not usually brought into the discussion. he then we think was enlisted to help -- perhaps worked in the elevators. we brought up his story. but we always up many of you in this room wouldn't have been allowed in this union had triangle been unionized at all. i'm really starting to hammer at us for 1909 to 1911, it leaves a lot of people out. >> i actually tried to use black women as strikebreakers in 1909 and i was just looking in some of the books. i saw it recently. there was a woman who was one of the founders of the naacp who urged the black women not to allow themselves to be used as
strikebreakers. >> but even then, i mean with all due respect, even that to me is a little disturbing. then it becomes -- they almost broke our strike but we talked sense -- that's not a personal -- >> i'm just saying -- >> it's a problem with 1909 to 1911. if your role in 1909 was possibly a strikebreaker, then that marginalizes you in the story. it's like, you know -- so i think again for me, the answer is moving beyond 1909 to 1911. open it up. >> i just had a thought. it sort of rips a little bit off of what you were saying. when i went to hear occupy wall street talk to task the labor movement about not being creative stuff saying look, you have to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. you've got david brooks referencing the triangle fire as he's making his arrangements
means that there's some way that we can reach a broad spectrum of people to tell the story and then use it. there's something there. the nugget there that reaches people. calpona uses the triangle when he goes around to talking about walmart. she talks about triangle and considers us a sisterhood. thank you for that question. >> if you give me that contact, there's a woman who wrote an essay on the yuan rale and ou the outpouring of grief was the merging of the understanding of the jews as white as help to solidify that. if you're interested in that, we've been in contact. it's an interesting approach that you might want to read. >> thanks for stepping up to the hike. >> it's really a sort of sad and shameful that the union movement
was so prejudiced and segregated. but it was segregated also by ethnicity. >> so two things. one is, one thing i think may be a hook for students is the way -- child labor is legal in the this country until the 1930s. they pass the laws in the state and they're struck down or not. one of the ways they got children out of the fact t factories is because of the schooling. and it was something that families often resisted because they needed to labor power. >> sure. >> but the other thing that i think is significant is the ways in which -- i mean this whole notion of who's white, who's not. the language that's used to describe jews and italians in this time period is that they are not american. not just that they're immigrants but they're not like us, white
native morning protestants. in the story of who successfully immigrated or not if we don't talk about the level of discrimination and prejudice to these women. you can gloss over how they were viewed too. so that was just my thought >> i think you can. >> right. >> you're right. >> not just class. it was ethnicity as well. nonenglish speakers. >> what we would talk about is ethnicity. they refer to the jewish race or the alpine race and they used a language -- [ inaudible ] >> right. >> by the way, let us know if you see triangle related acti activities in kentucky or your various states. we hear about a lot of them but we miss some. so let us knowf