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The Triangle Fire A Brief History with Documents



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Bedford/St. Martin's
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In 1911, a fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City claimed the lives of 146 workers, mainly young immigrant women, who either leaped to their deaths or were trapped in the blaze by locked doors and inadequate fire escapes. The tragedy brought national attention to the unsafe working conditions, long hours, and low pay that had prompted a national garment workers' strike a year before. Jo Ann Argersinger's volume examines the context, trajectory, and impact of this Progressive Era event. An introduction explores the demands industrialization placed upon urban working women, their fight to unionize, and the Triangle fire's significance in the greater scope of labor reform. Documents from newspaper reports to the personal stories of labor agitators and fire survivors continue the story, giving voice to the "girl strikers," their enemies and upper-class allies in the effort to reform the garment industry, and the public outrage that followed the fire. Document headnotes, a chronology, questions for consideration, a selected bibliography, and an index enrich students' understanding of this historical moment.

Author Biography

Jo Ann E. Argersinger (Ph.D. George Washington University) is a professor of history at Southern Illinois University, where she teaches courses on World War II, the Cold War, and labor in the United States, specifically women and work. She is the author of Making the Amalgamated: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Baltimore Clothing Industry (1999) and Toward a New Deal in Baltimore: People and Government in the Great Depression (1988) and coauthored Twentieth-Century America: A Social and Political History (2005) and The American Journey (1998, 2001, 2004). She is currently working on a study entitled "Citizenship and Contested Visions of Democracy, 1930-1950."

Table of Contents



List of Illustrations




Fashioning a New Industry: "The Shirtwaist Kings" and the Factory System

Working "Girls" in the Garment Industry

Triangle and the "Uprising of Twenty Thousand"

"Fire!": The Triangle Tragedy

"The Day it Rained Children": Grief, Outrage, and Reform

The Trial: 146 Dead but "Nobody Guilty"

Epilogue: The "Fire that Lit the Nation"





The Triangle Waist Company in the Asch Building

1. Arthur E. McFarlane, Fire and the Skyscraper: The Problem of Protecting Workers in New York’s Tower Factories, September 1911

2. Regularity of Employment in the Women’s Ready-to-Wear Garment Industries, October 1915

3. Pearl Goodman and Elsa Ueland, The Shirtwaist Trade, December 1910


The Sewing Girls at Work and Play

4. Rose Cohen, Out of the Shadow

5. Sadie Frowne, The Story of a Sweatshop Girl, September 1902

6. Clara Lemlich, Life in the Shop


The "Great Uprising" – The Shirtwaist Strike, 1909-1910

7. The New York Times, Arrest Strikers for Being Assaulted, November 1909

8. The Survey, Strike of the Lady Shirtwaist Makers, November 1909

9. Constance D. Leupp, The Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike, December 1909

10. The New York Times, Girl Strikers Tell the Rich their Woes, December 1909

11. Allan L. Benson, Women in a Labor War: How the Working girls of New York East Side Have Learned to Use Men’s Weapons in a Struggle for Better Conditions, April 1910

12. The New York Times, Church to the Aid of Girl Strikers, December 1909

13. The New York Times, Mrs. Belmont on Girl’s Bond, December 1909

14. The New York Times, Pickets from Prison are Guests of Honor, December 1909

15. Mary Brown Sumner, The Spirit of the Strikers, January 1910

16. William Mailly, The Working Girls’ Strike, December 1909

17. The Uprising of the Twenty Thousands (Dedicated to the Waistmakers of 1909), 1910


The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire - March 25, 1911

18. The New York World, The Triangle Fire, March 1911

19. Chicago Daily Tribune, New York Fire Kills 148, March 1911

20. The New York Times, Partners’ Account of the Disaster, March 1911

21. Rosey Safran, The Washington Place Fire, April 1911


Grief and Outrage

22. The New York Times, Sad All-Day March to Morgue Gates, March 1911

23. The New York Times, Doors Were Locked Say Rescued Girls, March 1911

24. The New York Times, Faint in a Frenzy over Tales of Fire, March 1911

25. The New York Times, Mass Meeting Calls for New Fire Laws, April 1911

26. The New York Times, 120,000 Pay Tribute to the Fire Victims, April 1911

27. Martha Bensley Bruere, The Triangle Fire


Investigations and Reform

28. Report of the Red Cross, Emergency Relief after the Washington Place Fire: New York, March 25, 1911, 1912

29. Elizabeth Dutcher, Budgets of the Triangle Fire Victims, September 1912

30. The New York Times, Many Now Tell of Fire Traps, March 1911

31. State of New York, Preliminary Report of the Factory Investigating Commission, 1912, Volume III, 1912

32. Alfred A. Smith, Up to Now: An Autobiography, 1929


The Trial of the Triangle Owners

33. The Outlook, Indictments in the Asch Fire Case, April 1911

34. The New York Times, Enraged Women Mob Triangle Waist Men, 1937

35. Chicago Daily Tribune, What the Grave Covers, September 1913

36. The New York Times, Settle Triangle Fire Suits, March 1914



A Chronology of Key Events in the History of the Triangle Fire (1901-2001)

Questions for Consideration

Selected Bibliography

Relevant Websites



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