One hundred years ago today a great tragedy hit New York City. On March 25th, 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company took the lives of 146 workers. The fire occurred minutes before they were all to go home after their long work week. The flames did their damage in a very short time, just 18 minutes of chaos. The cause? A careless tossing of a cigarette onto a pile of cotton scraps. But one of the saddest things about the fire wasn’t just the large amount of lives taken that day, or the completely avoidable cause but that the victims were mostly all young women in their teens, and some even younger. The youngest?
She was just 11-years-old, working in the factory before strong child labor laws came into effect (with some of the strongest legislation beginning in 1916). Almost all of the people who died that day were women and girls, almost all were teenagers with just a few that were in their 20s. They were mostly new immigrants to the country from countries such as Italy, Russia and Germany. And these young ladies, they had no chance of survival, because the managers of the plant locked the girls in the factory so that they couldn’t try to escape during their shift.
Many jumped to their death from trying to escape from the flames by jumping out the windows nine floors up. Others jumped down the elevator shafts while many perished from the fire itself. The one good thing about the events of that day? That there were moves to make sure this would never, ever, happen again. Our own Danielle Sullivan looked at how this day changed history and how the lessons learned helps our kids today. If only the cost of the lesson wasn’t so high.