And you can see where I'll be making personal appearances by going to www.booktour.com
And I can’t get them out of my mind.
Who were they?
They and 141 others died on March 25, 1911, in the Shirtwaist Triangle Factory fire which broke out on the ninth floor of the Asch Building in New York City. Many were Jewish, most were women, most were immigrants, some were as young as 12 or 13 and working 60-72 hours a week. There was no escape for them. The flammable fabric which hung throughout the building quickly ignited. The tissue paper patterns scattered throughout the floor fueled the blaze. With only a few buckets of water scattered here and there, it was impossible to contain the flames. It was the end of their shift, and the girls must have been tired and numb—too fatigued to quickly realize the danger.
Those who found their way through the smoke, fought their way through the press of terrified co-workers, and made it to the exits found one stairwell already smoke-filled and full of flames. The other was locked. The single outside fire escape twisted under the weight of those fleeing and quickly collapsed. Some stumbled to the elevator shaft and fell down it to their deaths. Sixty-two women chose not to be roasted alive and instead they jumped to their deaths as a large crowd of observers watched in shock.
Those who survived were plagued with guilt. The owners were eventually found not guilty, and each dead girl was valued at $75 when the death benefits were paid.
I have blouses that cost more than that.
One of those watching the terrible tragedy was Frances Perkins. The event caused her to become a lifelong advocate for workers and eventually she took a position as Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In the aftermath, Local 25 of the ILGWU (the garment workers’ union) protested the unsafe working conditions that led to the disaster. The union formed bonds with reformers and politicians that would last for decades to come, as they worked together to change factory conditions.
To hear an interview with the granddaughter of the last survivor of the fire, Rose Freedman, go to http://www.npr.org/programs/watc/features/2001/010325.triangle.html
Today, when you celebrate Labor Day, take a moment to consider the clothes you wear, where they are made, who made them, and under what conditions. Then take a moment from your busy life to say a prayer for the souls who perished in New York City’s largest industrial calamity. I do not always agree with Union labor. But I honor the progress they’ve made for all workers, the good they’ve done overall in our society, and I especially hold in reverence the strides they’ve made to protect the powerless, such as the girls who died in the Shirtwaist Triangle Fire.