You Owe a Big Thanks to the Dead Ladies of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
Not to be ironic or anything but the next time you stay at work super late, consider lighting a candle in memory of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 who made it perfectly legal for you to take off after eight hours.
My favorite part about history is getting to talk to people about it and regaling them with fun and crazy tales from the past. Everyone I know loves this. People just like, knock down my door clutching a notebook and pen, and pull up a beanbag chair while I rant about what a creep Alexander Hamilton was or how sweeteners can turn deadly like in the Great Molasses Spill.
Just kidding. This never happens. People typically ignore my calls and deny all hangs, so really the only person I talk to history about is my basset hound, and that's mostly because we snuggle every night and she's too lazy to go into the other room. It's fine. Don't feel sorry for me, I have a great life and I don't need your pity. If you're going to feel sorry for anybody, it should be the workers who died in the Triangle Fire.
If you don't know about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, you probably should for many reasons:
1. it is a gruesome tale.
2. it was a crucial moment for labor code and fire safety.
3. I'm a morbid person and I think it's super interesting.
There are other reasons, but I don't want everyone to die from boredom. You're welcome.
So one hundred years ago today, some jerk threw a cigarette butt into a basket of scraps from shirts, and the seventh floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught on fire. Good thing there were no fire extinguishers, zero emergency plans, and one of the two stairways out was locked to prevent theft. The other was engulfed in flames.
The freight elevator was clogged with bodies in no time, and the single fire escape collapsed to the street below, killing everybody on it. People – most of them immigrant women – had no other choice than to jump out the window and die on the sidewalk in front of a massive crowd. Total bummer.
Sorry to be a buzz kill, but the whole thing was fucked. A hundred and forty-six workers died. This really kicked fire safety into gear, and people actually started checking buildings to make sure the conditions were safe. I'm sure fat cats were still greasing the palms of the inspectors, but you can't win them all.
The Triangle Fire also led to better working conditions, so people couldn't be locked in their jobs anymore. I used to teach preschool, and if I wasn't allowed out of that black hole to wash the boogers and puke off my pants after I put in my solid eight, I would have killed myself. No question. All the Xanax and wine I can swallow, and we're outta here.
Look. It's not like I even know anybody who works in a factory. Yes, I do live in Bushwick, but I try to steer clear of poor people and immigrants; it's nothing personal, I just get grossed out real easy. Most of the kids I know have cushy jobs that involve "graphic design" and "marketing," which I understand to mean they're sitting on Gchat all day and enjoying the benefits of having a trust fund.
That's all fine and well – it's not like I'm busting my hump over a sewing machine or anything. I just think it's good to know how we got our eight hour day and "safe" work environments.
You can say I'm boring all you want, I hear it a million times a day. I don't care what anybody thinks as long as my basset hound likes this anyway. And if snoring and taking up my entire bed with her long torso is any indication, then I will assume she does. Another job, happily accomplished. And in eight hours or less. Thanks Triangle Shirtwaist factory workers!
Read more of Jenny Pacillo's trenchant social commentary on Motherboard.