|Some of the 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company|
fire lay on the streets of New York's Lower East Side,
March 25, 1911.
(International Ladies' Garment Workers's Union)
The New York City police soon began arresting strikers—labeling some of them “street walkers,” which was literally true, since they were carrying picket signs up and down the sidewalks. Judges fined them and sentenced some of the activists to labor camps.
Other doors only opened inward and were blocked by the stampede of workers struggling to escape. The ladders of the city’s fire engines could not reach high enough to save the employees. As a result, workers burned or they jumped to their deaths. Experts later concluded that the fire was likely caused by a cigarette dropped on a pile of “cut aways” or scraps of cloth that had been accumulating for almost three months.
News of the fire spread quickly, catalyzing public opinion, and energizing a broad coalition of unlikely allies. It included immigrants, muckraking journalists, clergy, unionists, socialites, and socialists. Rose Schneiderman, an immigrant worker, socialist, and fiery union organizer, found common cause with Anne Morgan, the daughter of Wall Street chieftain J.P. Morgan.
Frances Perkins, a former settlement house worker who was at the time a researcher and lobbyist for the Consumers League (and who later became Franklin Roosevelt’s trailblazing secretary of labor) joined hands with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise to demand reform.