Labor Day Throwback: A Fire That Changed America

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, one of the deadliest in US history, killed 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged 16 to 23. Even the corrupt Tammany Hall politicians understood that reforms were necessary, investigated the catastrophe and inspected other factories, leading to unprecedented regulations of worker conditions that eventually spread nationwide and inspired the New Deal itself.

FDR Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (the first woman Cabinet member in U.S. history): “The New Deal began on March 25, 1911, the day the Triangle Factory burned. We banded ourselves together, moved by a sense of stricken guilt to prevent this from ever happening again. “


Labor Day Throwback: A Working Girl

Clara_Lemlich_1910“I am a working girl. One of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike. Now.” — Clara Lemlich (Cooper Union rally, 11/22/1909)

The next morning 20,000 garment workers joined the picket lines, the largest strike of women in the history of the United States. It was one of the early great strikes of the modern labor movement, and the resulting settlement with factory owners marked a step forward in labor power.


The Golden Door

Seems like a fitting time to remember Emma Lazarus, the poet who authored our nation’s greatest promise:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”