On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers lost their lives on the Lower East Side of New York City, most of whom were recent immigrant Jewish women aged 16-23. On March 13, 2011, my friend (and AJWS alumna) Roz Plotzker and I attended the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) commemoration of the fire, where three modern women leaders were honored: Ruth J. Abram, a co-founder of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Kate Frucher, a leader in the founding of the Americorps National Service Program, and Lynn Sherr, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist with ABC News.
The JWA’s mission is to uncover, chronicle, and transmit to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish women. Superficially, the New York City Fire Museum was a great venue, we sang a Debbie Friedman song, and many of the attendees looked how I hope to look when I’m an older stylish Jewish woman.
More importantly, we took the time to remember the workers at the factory, who sometimes worked as much as 75 hours a week with no days off, and who either burned or jumped to their death. As one speaker pointed out, it is not inevitable that tragedy leads to real social change, and it is important to celebrate the fact that this tragedy contributed to a campaign for safer working conditions that we are lucky enough to take for granted. However, with many corporations still exploiting workers and the decline of organized labor, it’s obvious that this fight is not over.
How are you commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire?
Here are some events happening in New York:
Official Centennial Commemoration, organized by Workers United/SEUI
When: Friday, March 25th 11:00am (music and procession), 12:00pm (speakers and ceremony)
Where: Former home of the Triangle Waist Company: corner of Washington Place and Greene Street
(one block east of Washington Square Park)
A Lower East Side Shul Remembers
Where: Stanton Street Shul
When: Saturday, March 26th, 10:00am to 12:00pm
A Walking Tour Through Time
Where: Meet-up location provided upon reservation.
When: Sunday, March 27th 10:30am to 12:30pm
More information: This event is free. However, reservations are required. Call (212) 475-9585 ext. 35 for reservations.
Birds on Fire: A Theater for the City Production
What: Portraying the lives of four unknown victims of the fire.
When: Thursdays through Sundays until April 10th
Where: Theater for the City
Tickets and more information: Click here.
What: Each year on the March 25 anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, volunteers fan out across the city to inscribe in chalk the names and ages of the victims in front of their former homes. A flier is posted with more information on the fire and how it galvanized the fight for social justice for all.