Archive for March 22, 2011


This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  In the past week or so, I have thought a lot about this anniversary and about writing a post about its importance in labor history.  But then, I saw Kathy Newman’s post on Working-Class Perspectives and knew right away that I didn’t have to say much….she said it all.

Or almost all.  I have to add that it seems today that with so much backlash against unions, that we are forgetting the good unions did, and still do, and have yet to do.  I won’t talk politics here, except that to say, if we lose unions, we may lose fire escapes.  And then, we may lose even more.  And as human beings, we can’t afford to lose more. You may connect the metaphors.

Of course, this would not be a literary blog if I didn’t mention the Triangle Fire in literature.  Janet Zandy and Nicholas Coles, editors of the anthology, American Working-Class Literature explain, “More than a single tragic event, isolated in the past, the Triangle Fire has also inspired contemporary poets, writing independently of each other, to return to the 1911 newspaper accounts, photographs, court testimonies, artifacts, survivors’ stories, and even the still-standing building to re-create the event for a new generation of readers. ”  You can read Mary Fell’s work about the Triangle Fire here.  Chris Llewellyn’s Fragments from the Fire is also a great book.   Of course, these are not the only two poets to write about this tragic event.  If you want to read more about the fire in poetry, Zandy’s excellent article, “An Essay About Triangle Fire Poetry” is found here.

Fiction writers have also ventured into the world of the Triangle Fire.  Katharine Weber, whose grandmother finished button holes for the Triangle Company, wrote Triangle, a novel that explores the story of the last survivor of the infamous fire.  This past year, I also finished two young adult books, Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch and Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, which were excellent reads.

This Friday, if you can, take a minute at 4:45 pm, the time when the fire first sparked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and think, as Kathy Newman asks us, “What are we doing to protect the vulnerable workers of today?”