Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Women had to burn first": Lessons from the Triangle Fire

The American Dream was a myth to the women who worked in the New York City shirtwaist factories in the early 20th century.

Most of them immigrants, they were subjected to long hours, poor pay and unsafe working conditions. All in the name of progress. The women were forced to work at the impossibly rapid pace of the factories' new electrical sewing machines.

Despite barely being able to put food on the table, living in cramped quarters and sending what little money they could of their pathetic earnings to their families back in their native countries, these women went on strike and rallied for unions. Some changes were made, but not many.

It took a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that killed 146 people, mostly women, sparked by the greed, inhumanity and ignorance of the industrial age, to motivate legislation to improve the lives of women who worked in shirtwaist factories.

This is their story. Thank you PBS.

Watch Triangle Fire on PBS. See more from American Experience.


  1. I have always been fascinated by this event in history. Thanks for the video.

  2. It's amazing that it always seems to take a terrible accident to draw attention to something that was already horrific to begin with. Thanks for the video. Gods bless that PBS.

  3. A Beer - I was thinking about that as I watched it. I'm not sure if people were just ignorant to the current horror and the potential greater horror or if they were aware and just didn't care until increased public consciousness demanded change. You're very welcome. I'm so glad PBS American Experience films are online and can be embedded.

  4. The video doesn't work for me, so I read up some more on this and ..there are no words for this sort of thing, really. Worst part is this still happens - if not in Canada, then in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh. I hope it doesn't take another tragedy for them to sort their sht out.

  5. icyhighs - I thought about this too. Have we really learned a lesson, or do we just not care that we're pretty much doing the same thing now in other parts of the world? It's very sad and I also wonder will bring on change there.

  6. It's sad that greed comes first so often and it takes a terrible tragedy before anything changes.