March 25, 2010
Ninety-nine years ago today, on March 25, 1911 New York experienced a tragic industrial disaster that sparked a major reform of America’s labor laws. Women would work long hours in sweatshops with the windows and doors locked. 99 years ago today a fire broke out and spread quickly among the scraps of fabric at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, killing 146 garment workers, many of them young Jewish women my age or younger.
The building is now owned by NYU and is known as the Brown Building of Science. It is attached to NYU’s Silver Center where I have had many a class. Almost 100 years later we still remember and are thankful that we young women have the opportunity to study in that building in a safe environment instead of being forced to work in a sweat shop.
The images taken at the fire are heart wrenching, it is a disaster that could have easily been prevented with stricter labor laws. It was the greatest work place tragedy New York had seen before 9/11.
99 years later we still honor their memory and the women who took to the streets afterward, striking and marching, demanding the change that enables me, the great granddaughter of Jewish Russian and Polish immigrants, to pursue anything I want in life in 2010. Every year a flower is laid on the ground outside the building for each woman who died in the fire. Each of the 146 flowers are labeled with the woman’s name and age that it represents, reminding us to never forget.