Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day 2008--A Launch and a Remembrance

Today is Labor Day, and a significant day for me because it’s the official release date for my scrapbooking mystery Paper, Scissors, Death. You can read or download an excerpt booklet by visiting

You can order your copy by going to
My blog tour dates will be up on my website soon.
I should be excited and delighted, and I am, but because today is Labor Day, I woke up thinking about Della, Rose, Josie, Yetta, Anna, Frances, and Josephina.

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

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.
So it was that the sacrifices of those young women who died so needlessly have created a society where a girl like me could work hourly wage jobs safely, until the day came when I would be able to tackle my dream job and write a book. So I guess it isn't silly after all that Della, Rose, Josie, Yetta, Anna, Frances, and Josephina are on my mind. I really owe them one day a year, don't you think?


ruth said...

I have been reading all about the Triangle Fire for many years. I have read novels and articles and knew all about it.Thanks for this great and interesting post today. I appreciate it greatly. Amazing. I have a book at home which I cherish relating the personal experience of a survivior.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Wow. I highly recommend the NPR interview. What's the name of the book?

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks Joanna for reminding us, not only of the Triangle Fire but of exploited workers everywhere.

Betty Hechtman said...

I tried to post a comment earlie, but it wouldn't work. First, congratulations on the release of your book. You sound so organized. Secondly, the part about the Triangle Fire was interesting and appropriate to the day.

Teagan Oliver said...

This is an extremely powerful post and one that brought tears to my eyes. I've known about the Shirtwaist Triangle Factory fire for years. I wasn't aware of how much it played a role in the institution of Labor Day. I also work a retail job, management but hourly and I can not imagine the devastation that happened that day. I can't tell you how many times I have routinely evacuated the building for emergency and non-emergency reasons and found myself as one of the last in the building because I refuse to go until all my employees are out. You have made me stop and think and for a moment... grieve. Thank you.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


When I taught college, the young women often told me they didn't value the women's rights movement. They didn't feel discriminated against. I always thought, "You don't value what you don't understand." Our lives are better today because others have made sacrifices. Some willingly. Some unknowingly. All of substance, often forgotten or unknown or unheralded. I've worked hourly jobs, once even being paid half-time rather than time-and-a-half for more than 40 hours. (A class action suit was later brought, and I think I got a check for $50 or so. Hah!) So, as I wrote, I woke up thinking about those poor girls, supporting their families, with no other options, and I counted my multiple blessings.