Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial


More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

1911 cartoon from a New York paper shows the owners dressed in dollar bills, holding shut the door that barred the safe exit of so many women during the fire. Courtesy UMKC Famous Trials site; New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.

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2 Responses to Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

  1. [...] This post is adapted with permission from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. [...]

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  2. salon says:

    Also watched the *New York* documentary series recently which had the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, including photographs and film footage. I didn’t realize till I watched it that so many young women jumped out the windows to their death.

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