Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
The 101st Commemoration of the Triangle Fire takes place today at Washington Place & Greene Street
The 101st Commemoration of the Triangle Fire takes place today at Washington Place & Greene Street

The 101st Commemoration of the Triangle Fire takes place today at Washington Place & Greene Street

This Sunday, March 25, marks the 101st Anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The 1911 fire took the lives of 146 workers, mostly immigrant women, inspiring the young labor movement and precipitating new worker safety regulations across the country.

The shirtwaist is a high-necked blouse.

The shirtwaist is a high-necked blouse.

The Triangle Waist Company was located at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in Greenwich Village. They made shirtwaists, a ready to wear, high-necked, button-down blouse very popular with working women in the late 19thand early 20th centuries.  The building, then called the Asch Building after one of its developers Joseph Asch, was completed in 1901. The building, according to the 2003 NYC landmark designation report, was built as a “modern loft structure with a skeleton from of iron and steel protected by terra-cotta fireproofing, passenger and freight elevators, and electric power for lights and machinery.” The building was considered fire-proof. But while the building survived the fire with little structural damage, unfortunately, it was not built to help protect the occupants of a building during a fire. The fire escape was never fully completed and it collapsed as workers rushed to escape. Locked stairwell doors sent many crowding to the elevator. It ran as long as it could, bringing workers to safety. Fire trucks arrived, but their ladders only reached the 6th floor, but the building, like many of the new loft buildings, reached ten stories. The building, now an NYU-owned science building called the Brown Building, was designated as a New York City Landmark in 2003, as much for the building’s connection with the history of the Triangle Fire as its architectural attributes. You can read more about the history of the building and the fire in the designation report on GVSHP’s resources page.

Many Triangle workers jumped to their deaths to escape the fire, heat, and smoke. Image courtesy of the Kheel Center.

Many Triangle workers jumped to their deaths to escape the fire, heat, and smoke. Image courtesy of the Kheel Center.

There are many events today and in the coming weeks that memorialize those lost in the fire and explore the lessons the fire can still teach us today. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is an organization working to establish a permanent memorial to those who died in the fire, so that their sacrifice will never be forgotten; to organize annual remembrance activities each March 25th, on the anniversary of the fire; and to encourage activism by and for workers around the world, so as to honor and continue the spirit of social conscience that arose from the ashes of the Triangle. Check out their calendar for events. And be sure to stop by the official commemoration ceremony led by Workers United (SEIU) from noon to 1:00 pm today on the corner of Washington and Greene Streets.

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Sheryl
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Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.

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