On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top three floors of what is now known as the Brown Building, located at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in the Lower East Side. At the time, the top floors — which now house New York University’s Center for Developmental Genetics — were occupied by the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which produced women’s blouses and employed mostly teenaged immigrant girls, many of whom did not speak English. The fire broke out at 4:45pm, and by the time it was put out 18 minutes later, 146 people had already perished.
The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company was one of the most significant workplace tragedies in New York City history. Claustrophobic and unsafe working conditions, created by greed and corruption in politics, were commonplace during the early 20th century. The fire served as a call to arms to fight for the rights of factory workers and immigrants.
Today, the effects of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire are still felt as people continue to champion the rights of women, workers and immigrants around the country. This year marks the 107th anniversary of the tragedy, In commemoration of the day, various events will be held throughout the city to raise awareness of the causes the incident inspired.
10. Official Commemoration of the 107th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Every year, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition organizes events to commemorate the tragic fire and bring awareness to the underserved needs of workers today. This year’s commemoration takes place in partnership with Workers United/ SEIU (ILGWU) and will feature a raising of the ladder, the calling of the names and the laying of the flowers. The ceremony will unfold at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street on March 23 from 11:30am to 1pm.
Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition’s mission is to educate the public about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire through on-going projects, educational outreach, and social media sites. The group also serves as a resource for organizations fighting for workers’ rights. In 2013, the coalition launched a design competition calling for proposals for a permanent art memorial. The winning design chosen for The Triangle Fire Memorial was designed by Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman, and will become a permanent fixture of the Brown Building where the fire occurred.
9. Triangle Shirtwaist Memorial Quilt Exhibit at Evergreen’s Cemetery
Throughout March, Evergreen’s Cemetery will host an exhibit featuring the Triangle Fire Memorial Quilt, which was created by Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition board member Robin Berson. Berson’s work will be on display in the cemetery‘s office lobby until March 31.
Open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4pm, and Saturday from 9am to 1pm., the lobby is best accessed from Bushwick Avenue. On March 23 at 2:30pm, there will also be a wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery’s Triangle Fire tomb of the unknown.
Every year since 2004, volunteers working with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and artist and coalition founder Ruth Sergel write the names of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire victims in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the victims’ former homes. CHALK is an especially moving memorial since it wouldn’t exist without compassionate New Yorkers going out and showing that they still care about the fire victims and the movement for worker’s rights.
If you are interested in participating in this temporary but poignant crowdsourced memorial, you can contact Ms. Sergel at [email protected] You can see a video about the chalk project on her website here.
7. Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial Bike Ride
Image via Five Boroughs Bicycle Club Facebook
Many victims of the factory fire lived in the tenement houses of the Lower East Side, but others also commuted from Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. One victim even lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. To honor all the victims of the fire, the Five Borough Bike Bicycle Club is hosting a bike ride through the Bronx and Brooklyn to the site of the fire.
Along the way, riders starting in the Bronx will stop at the former homes of fire victims in that borough and East Harlem, and riders starting in Brooklyn will stop at residences in Red Hook, Brownsville, and Bushwick. All riders will then come together at a home in the East Village and ride as one group to the former site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, where the ride will conclude at 4:45pm, the time the infamous fire broke out in 1911.
The bicycle ride will take place March 25 at 12pm to 5pm. If you would like to participate, RSVP at [email protected]
6. Triangle Fire: See You in the Streets
Protesters mourning the loss of Triangle Factory victims. Image via U.S. National Archives
In honor of the immigrant workers who lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition founder Ruth Sergel and Cornell Professor Nick Salvatore will lead a presentation and discussion about the tragic incident and how Lower East Side Jewish and Italian immigrants lived and worked together in 1911. Sergel and Salvatore will also discuss the many commemoration efforts of the coalition and how their memorials not only honor those of the past, but also empower workers and activists of the present.
The event, which is sponsored by the Cornell Jewish Studies Program, Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations; the Center for Jewish History, and the American Jewish Historical Society, will take place on March 26 at 6:30pm to 8pm, at the Center for Jewish History. You can purchase tickets here.
5. Stanton Street Shul Kiddush
The Stanton Street Shul, a historic Orthodox congregation in the Lower East Side, invites the public to participate in a traditional Kiddush, or blessing, to mark the Yahrtzeit, or anniversary, of the death of the 146 victims of the fire. The congregation recognizes that many of the immigrant victims of the fire lived near the Shul.
Today, the Shul continues to support the defense of immigrant rights and the rights of poor people who, like those victims of the fire, still struggle to make a living. The kiddush will take place on Saturday, March 24 at 11:45am to 12:35 pm.
4. Legends of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Tour
On March 25, author and licensed New York City Sightseeing Guide Kevin C. Fitzpatrick will lead the Legends of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Tour, which will take guests to the site of the tragedy, the homes of fire victims, two landmarked FDNY firehouses, as well as other local landmarks related to the fire.
Along the way, guests will learn about New York City’s garment trade and fire department, architecture and development and how they all relate to the fire at the factory. You can purchase tickets for the event here.
3. Triangle Fire Memorial Association Memorial and Awards Ceremony
On Sunday, March 25 at 2pm, The Triangle Fire Memorial Association, Inc. — an extension of the informal Triangle Survivors Group originally formed in 1955 — will hold its Triangle Fire Anniversary Memorial Ceremony at the CNL Center at Christ the King High School, located at 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, Queens.
The event will honor the 146 victims of the tragic fire and 2018 awardees, including Paola Corso, author of award winning works on steelworkers and garment workers, Sondra E. McGill, the Triangle Fire Memorial Association Curator, Dr. Adrienne Andi Sosin, a “Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition” activist, among others. Find more information here.
1. Triangle Fire Lecture at Seton Hall Law School
On March 21 from 4pm to 6pm, a Triangle Fire lecture by Abbie Gorin, J.D., co-sponsored by the Columbian Society and the Women’s Law Group, will take place at the Seton Hall Law School, located at 1190 Raymond Blvd. in Newark, New Jersey. Those interested in attending should e-mail Abbie Gorin at [email protected]
Read more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire here, and also check out The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: 100th Anniversary Ceremony.