Today marks the 111th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an 18-minute inferno that killed 146 workers – mostly Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls – in what remains one of the worst industrial tragedies in American history. The source of the disaster has long eluded labor experts and historians, but a recent development has led to the likely culprit of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Uncovered.
A book published this week, “Talking to the Girls,” includes essays on the event and its contemporary relevance by activists, scholars and family members of the Triangle workers. One of the contributors is Martin Abramowitz, 81, who fears his father – Isidore, a cutter on the factory floor – might have been the one who accidentally started the blaze.
The fire marshal concluded that someone tossed a match or cigarette butt into Isidore’s scrap bin before it was completely extinguished. Isidore spilled a pail of water on it, but it was too late. “Regardless of whether or not it was his ash, I’m haunted by the fact that he must have been haunted for his entire life,” Abramowitz said in a recent interview.
Frances Perkins, a social worker who witnessed the fire and later became U.S. Secretary of Labor, famously said: “The New Deal began on March 25, 1911.” As for Abramowitz, he is a board member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, a nonprofit that is raising money for a $3 million memorial. “I owe that to ‘the girls,’ in the name of my father,” he said.
Worker safety and health committees can make a huge impact on avoiding tragedies like this one from ever happening again. To learn more about how you can organize a committe, contact us for training and technical support.