Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Shirtwaist Strike & Other Strikes

  • International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Local 25 was formed in 1906. The leaders included shirtwaist maker, organizer, and activist Clara Lemlich, top row third from left who struggled to organize shirtwaist makers in the Triangle Waist Company and Leiserson Shirtwaist Company.
  • Samuel Gompers and other political activists and labor leaders addressed Shirtwaist workers at Cooper Union November 22, 1909. Gompers noted the terrible working conditions, long hours and poor wages. He urged workers to consider the impact of a strike in light of the loss of pay when they were already financially fragile. Many wondered if women were up to the hardships a strike entails including police brutality against those on the picket lines.
  • After 2 hours of presentations during the November 22, 1909 Cooper Union meeting, Clara Lemlich interrupted Jacob Panken and asked to be allowed to speak. She had already been beaten by police and arrested 17 times while on strike for nearly three months. Tired of long speeches urging caution, and worried that both momentum and support was being lost, Lemlich recounted in Yiddish the intolerable conditions in the shops and called for a general strike. The response was immediate, and affirmative. On November 23, more than 15,000 shirtwaist makers walked out of 500 factories, effectively bringing production to a halt. Within the first two days of the strike, more than 70 small shops agreed to the union's demands.
  • Shirtwaist workers, 85% of whom were female and between the ages of 16 and 25, cast a strongly-affirmative ballot when asked if they support a general strike.
  • Clara Lemlich, a skilled draper and member of International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Local 25, encouraged interested shirtwaist makers to meet secretly with the union and the Women's Trade Union League to discuss workers’ needs and the union’s goals. Despite the risks, many went on strike in September, 1909. In an attempt to satisfy some workers, Triangle owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris formed the “Triangle Employees Benevolent Association” a company union, and installed relatives as officers. They also announced that any employee who supported 'another union' would be fired.
  • Women raise their hands, pledging to support the shirtwaist strike and walk the picket lines for its success. This action brought risks of violence from police and hired thugs, as well as putting the women in conflict with judges, lawyers, employers, and sometimes with their families and other workers.
  • “Leaders of the Heroic Waistmakers’ Strike in 1909, Executive Board, Local 25, 1909-1910.” Shirtwaist makers walked out of their shops on strike and marched to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union headquarters in Clinton Hall. Every meeting room, office and hallway was filled with strikers and strike supporters speaking English, Italian, Yiddish and a host of other languages. The overflow gathered outside the building ready for action.
  • The Women’s Trade Union League was formed in 1903 to support women's participation in unions and to improve their living and working conditions by improving wages, access to education, ending night work for women and eliminating child labor. Membership was open to all women who supported trade unionism, whether or not they were members of a union. Rose Schneiderman and other members of the Women’s Trade Union League helped organize shirtwaist strikers at Clinton Hall, enrolled strikers in Local 25, raised money for strike benefits, and helped organize strikers by shop, each with representatives to gather information and keep strikers informed.
  • Pauline Newman, a Russian immigrant, began working at the Triangle factory in 1903 when she was thirteen years old. Finding that many of her co-workers could not read, she organized an evening study group where they also discussed labor issues and politics. Newman was active in the shirtwaist strike and the Women’s Trade Union League. She became a union organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and director of the ILGWU Health Center.
  • During the first days of the shirtwaist strike, men and women carry signs that read “Strike… 30,000 Shirt Waist Makers… Higher Wages and Shorter Hours.” Demands for shorter hours, better pay, and closed shops were met with scorn by the Triangle Waist Company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who felt that recognizing the union and agreeing to collective bargaining would limit the owners' ability to run a profitable business as they saw fit.
  • Women shirtwaist strikers picket on Wooster Street. During their bitter cold morning and evening shifts, they called out to strike breakers to join the union and earn better wages in a safer workplace. They were regularly abused by hired thugs and beaten and arrested by police officers. Some fathers and brothers who supported the strike were reluctant to allow participation in such an 'unladylike,' public and dangerous defiance of authority.
  • Women shirtwaist strikers join the throng demanding an end to the subcontracting system, a 52 hour work week with unpaid overtime limited to 2 hours per day, and an end to wage deductions for supplies and electricity.
  • Shirtwaist strikers gathering outside Beethoven Hall where they will attend a meeting.
  • Shirtwaist strikers “Going out for Better Conditions” march through cold winter streets, waving and cheering, demonstrating courage and tenacity that surprised and impressed many who saw or read about their struggle.
  • As a garment worker and member of the New York Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) executive board, Rose Schneiderman worked to focus wealthy women’s attention on labor issues during the shirtwaist strike, when many put primary emphasis on women’s rights and suffrage. Hoping to boost respectability of the strikers and diminish the likelihood of picket line violence, Schneiderman also helped arrange for these elite women to join factory picketers.
  • A mass meeting of shirtwaist strikers and their supporters at Rutgers Square, December 4, 1909.
  • International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 25 began the strike with $10 in their treasury. A special edition of the city's Socialist paper, The New York Call, told the story of the strike in English, Italian and Yiddish. Copies were donated to local 25 by the publisher and sold by union members to raise money for strike expenses.
  • During the holiday shopping season, strikers act as newsies selling The New York Call, a socialist newspaper, to raise funds for striking shirtwaist makers.
  • Shirtwaist makers march to City Hall to protest abuse by police. During peaceful picketing, shirtwaist makers were subject to insults, intimidation and physical assault by hired thugs and police officers who took direction, in part, from waist company owners.
  • On December 4, 1909, 1000 striking shirtwaist workers marched to City Hall to bring attention to unethical treatment and violent abuse of striking workers.
  • Mary Dreier, Ida Rauh, Helen Marot, Rena Borky, Yetta Raff and Mary Effers link arms in mutual support during their December 4, 1909 march to City Hall demanding their right to picket be honored, respectful treatment, and an immediate end to police violence against picketing strikers.
  • Striking shirtwaist makers and their supporters fill the streets as they march to City Hall.
  • Shirtwaist strikers march in snow and cold with many encouraging onlookers.
  • Shirtwaist strikers march in snowy streets, often without warm clothes or sturdy shoes.
  • Shirtwaist workers turned to middle and upper class allies, including members of the Women's Trade Union League, for assistance during the strike asking for support on the picket lines, bail for those arrested, and financial support for strikers without resources for daily living. Carola Woerishoffer, a young, wealthy graduate of Bryn Mawr College, bought houses and then, waiting in the Jefferson Market Court, offered the deeds as security for a striker’s release. This affiliation was not without ambivalence. Allies were typically wealthy, white Christians who did not necessarily understand Yiddish or Italian, nor did they all hold the cultural and religious practices of the immigrants in high regard.
  • Unprincipled owners hired scabs, police, thugs, and prostitutes to disrupt orderly picketing. Arrested strikers were taken to Jefferson Market Prison for booking. The Women's Trade Union League was successful raising funds to pay fines and bail but, as punishment for opposing the authority of police, judges, and company owners, some women were sentenced to time in the workhouse on Blackwell's Island.
  • Women who were arrested on the picket lines and sent to Blackwell’s Island wear “Workhouse Prisoner” signs claiming their service with pride, and were cheered by other strikers and supporters.
  • A Yiddish and English language sign in a shop window asks people to “Help the garment workers in their fight for bread and freedom.”
  • January 2, 1910, the Women’s Trade Union League, the Political Equity League, New York’s Liberal Club, and the Socialist Women’s Committee sponsored a meeting for shirtwaist strikers and their supporters at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the courage of strikers who had been arrested, and to raise funds for bail, fines, and strike pay.
  • Four women strikers wear signs that say “Picket, Ladies Tailors Strikers” as they march in the cold streets. The smallest garment shops could not withstand the idle period and negotiated concessions with the union during the first two weeks of the strike. Larger shop owners formed the Association of Waist and Dress Manufacturers of New York, countered claims of poor working conditions and low wages, resolved to operate open shops, and signed “no surrender” agreements.
  • The shirtwaist strike ended February 15, 1910. In September of the same year, Louis Brandeis mediated an agreement between factory owners and union leaders. Known as the Protocol of Peace, it attempted to reduce conflict between garment factory owners and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, providing mechanisms to address worker grievances and promote arbitration.
  • A rally at Union Square draws a large crowd, some of whom hold placards. Its central location offers the possibility of pulling in passersby.
  • Men gather during the Great Revolt of 1910. Many reported they gained courage from the women’s shirtwaist maker’s strike.
  • Feminist and labor activist Rose Pastor Stokes (room corner, gesturing) and others meet to discuss a strike.
Sweatshop conditions in the early 1900's