Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


What is to be Done?

By Martha Bensley Bruere

While the city mourned and searched for causes of the tragedy, garment workers buried their dead. First published in Life and Labor, May 1911.

Well, the fire is over, the girls are dead, and as I write, the procession in honor of the unidentified dead is moving by under my windows. Now what is going to be done about it?

Harris and Blanck, the Triangle Company, have offered to pay one week's wages to the families of the dead girls--as though it were summer and they are giving them a vacation! Three days after the fire they inserted in the trade papers this notice:

NOTICE, THE TRIANGLE WAIST CO. beg to notify their customers that they are in good working order. HEADQUARTERS now at 9-11 University Place.

The day after they were installed in their new quarters, the Building Department of New York City discovered that 9-11 University Place was not even fireproof, and that the firm had already blocked the exit to the one fire escape by two rows of sewing machines.

And still as I write the mourning procession moves past in the rain. For two hours they have been going steadily by and the end is not yet in sight. There have been no carriages, no imposing marshals on horseback; just thousands and thousands of working men and women carrying the banners of their trades through the long three-mile tramp in the rain. Never have I seen a military pageant or triumphant ovation so impressive; for it is not because 146 workers were killed in the Triangle shop-not altogether. It is because every year there are 50,000 working men and women killed in the United States-136 a day; almost as many as happened to be killed together on the 25th of March; and because slowly, very slowly, it is dawning on these thousands on thousands that such things do not have to be!

It is four hours later and the last of the procession has just passed.

Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977), pp. 194-195

The Kheel Center would like to thank Mrs. Miriam Stein and Barbara Ismail for granting permission to use selections from the late Leon Stein's book.

Political cartoon depicting a victim of the fire and a question asking is anyone to be punished for this?