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.
- From Cornell University’s Institute for Labor Relations, a site the features writings of some of the victims, headlines of the times, and several other documents suitable for classroom use or in building a Documents-based Question for an AP class.
- From the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the home of the Douglas Linder’s “Famous Trials” page, the story of the trial of the owners of the company (they were acquitted). This site is rich in information and images, a real gold mine for in-class slide presentations and student projects.
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.