Alice Hoffman: Remembering Labor's Martyred Heroes

Roundup: Talking About History

[Alice Hoffman is a novelist of more than 25 books, most recently "The Red Garden." In October, Scribners will publish her novel "The Dovekeepers." Her grandfather, Chaim Klurfeld, was a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.]

The Triangle fire, a garment factory blaze that killed 146 people 100 years ago this week, was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the fall of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet despite the fire's place in history, many Americans know nothing about it.

Those who died in the March 25, 1911, fire were mostly young Jewish and Italian women and girls, new immigrants who risked their safety in horrendous sweatshop conditions making women's garments. Foremen frequently locked workers into their workrooms to make certain they didn't take breaks or pilfer cloth; this ensured that for many trapped inside, there was virtually no escape when the blaze began.

The victims either burned alive or leapt from window ledges, some with their hair and clothes on fire as they fell to the sidewalk below. Most of the dead were women, but almost 30 were men. One of the young men was seen kissing a woman at the window before they both jumped to their deaths....

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