It was a calm spring day on the 25th of March in New York City. People were buzzing around, as usual, sticking their noses in others’ businesses, and clearing the way for more chaos in the rich, sumptuous city. However, this all changed when disaster struck. A small fire had started in the rag bin on the eighth floor of the ever-famous Asch building, which became one of the most destructive fires known to American history. The fire destroyed the lives of many immigrant women and children, whose dreams depended on their work in this very building.
The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire was significant in the American history because it led to the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which helped ensure the safety and equal rights of the workers and passed laws to ban child labor, which significantly changed requirements in factories.
Not many precautions were taken beforehand in preparation for situations such as this catastrophic fire.
Due to the lack of maintenance of the fire extinguisher and rusted valves the manager was unable to immediately control the fire. Even the firefighters were not able to help because the ladders that they had brought only went to the seventh floor. The company’s abnormal procedure for preventing robberies was locking the doors to the stairwells, which created additional trouble for the innocent civilians in the building to escape. The flimsy emergency fire exits also collapsed under the weight of all the workers, leaving people no option but to jump off the burning building or die in the scorching fire.
The neglect of our nation and the bosses of the factories, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, led to the demise of many loyal workers of the factory.
The conditions in the factory did not help the situation whatsoever. The problem was that the bosses were extremely sexist; women were not given equal pay or rights during this period of time in most places, as they were considered inferior to men, who always filled in the more important, positions. Women, on the other hand, were left with all the tiresome manual work.”The bosses in the shops are not what you would call educated men” (Marrin, 73), Clara Lemlich stated in the book Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin. This gives us insight on how women in that time period felt about the men. The book also goes on to describe the horrible conditions that these poor people endured: “…time was money· thus bosses sped up clocks at lunchtime to steal a few extra work minutes. Workers said bosses who charged for things that they used every day in the factory, were one- cent-souls· Failure to work fast enough, or to produce enough, brought instant dismissal, as did work that did not meet the owner’s high standards,”(Marrin, 73-74). From this first-hand account, the persecution of women is clearly seen. These non-ideal conditions were unfair, showing the only advantage to men who never once considered what these women were going through.
Another big problem was child labor; kids(especially teenagers) worked the same vigorous hours as all the other women. Unfortunately, there were no proper laws as of yet against child labor. Kids from ages 9 and up worked at least 10 hours per day if employed, and this was extremely harmful to them. If this were to happen in today’s society, it would be considered illegal, and parents would sue heavily against the employer of such conditions. Regrettably, parents back then would encourage kids to go to work because it was a requirement for many to survive in society. After a certain age, most poor families would be forced to enforce this way of living, because every penny counted. This was another issue that was disregarded by all higher authorities until the fire shed light on how all these kids were treated. Even though extreme precautions weren’t taken, the exposure caused by this fire led to people taking a stand against child labor, creating the safe environment that we have today for youths in America.
But change did not just sprout from nowhere; someone had to take responsibility. Mary Ware Dennett wrote in the Women’s Journal on April 1, 1911 that,”Over and over again we suffragists insist that women are citizens and should be equally responsible with men, but a frightful shock like this makes us know it as we never knew it before…men who allow 700 women to sit back to back, wedged in such close rows between machines that quick exit is an impossibility; a ten-story building with no outside fire escapes . . . with iron gates shutting off the staircase, and cigarette-smoking allowed in the midst of inflammable materials. And we claim in no uncertain voice that the time has come when women should have the one efficient tool with which to make for themselves decent and safe working conditions the ballot”(Cullen-DuPont par.7). This view eventually was taken by many, shifting change in society and paving way for not only better working conditions, but equal rights for women as well. The Triangle Fire Organizations like ILGWU(The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union) aided in the establishment of many safety and child labor laws.
With this, you can clearly tell that working conditions of the building was truly an important factor that contributed to the trapping of the many blameless workers in the building. Some other factors on which light was shed upon by this event included the child labor, extreme conditions for work, and no proper maintenance. Furthermore, if certain precautions had been taken and executed properly, then there may have been no fire at all in the first place. The fire gave many the rage needed to stand up and fight for their cause giving us all the regulations we have today in order to make sure that we are in a safe environment, the various strikes that took place over the years were a part of the reason why we are able to have the organizations that help us reach this cause.
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