On March 25, 1911 a tragic fire struck the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, where many young immigrants worked under horrendous conditions. Three companion books tell the story of this workplace disaster and how it changed working conditions in the United States for the better.
“Threads and Flames” by Esther Friesner, 2010, 390 pages, Viking, grades 6-9.
In 1910, Raisa leaves her home in a Jewish shetl in Poland and travels to America to find her sister and make a new home in the land of opportunities. Tracking down her sister in the heart of New York City proves to be difficult than Raisa imagined. In the meantime, she makes friends, finds a home, and gets a sewing job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where working conditions are bleak. On March 25, 1911, a spark ignites cloth and paper, and soon the factory is ablaze with many workers unable to escape. This historical fiction novel tells the story of this deadly event in New York City, through the eyes of a young woman who manages to survive. Many factual details about the fire and the life of an immigrant in the early 1900’s are interwoven among the story, bringing Raisa and her family and friends to life.
“Uprising” by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2007, 346 pages, Simon & Schuster, grades 6-8.
Life in New York City during the early 1900’s is told through the eyes of three young women, an Italian immigrant, a Russian immigrant, and a wealthy American. Although these women live very different lives, they are brought together through a key event in America’s economic history, the garment worker’s strike. Yetta leads the strike, Bella participates as a worker, and Jane leaves her privileged life to join the strike as a supporter. The women’s friendship carries them through difficult times including poverty, hunger, and poor working conditions. Through their connections to each other, the friends are all at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, the day of one of the worst workplace disasters in the history of America. The fire, and the laws created after the fire, changed the lives of these women and the workplace for many future workers.
A companion text to both of the previous fiction novels is the nonfiction book:
“Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” by Albert Marrin, 2011, 163 pages, Knopf, grades 6-9.
In this factual book, the author begins by describing New York City in the early 1900’s. As a time of transition from the agricultural age to the industrial age, the city experienced a boom of immigrants, especially Russian Jews and Italian Catholics. Young girls from these families filled the clothing industry sweatshops, working long hours for little pay in dangerous circumstances. Rich factory owners squeezed every ounce of work from people who were more like slaves than employees. Looked doors, ineffective fire escapes, no water supply all contributed to the tragic death of 149 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Stunned by the tragic deaths of workers who burned to death or leaped from skyscraper windows to their death, reform efforts led to a change in laws requiring workplace safety, shorter hours, and fair wages. Many of the working conditions in place today can be contributed to the reforms put into place following this devastating fire. Those who died at the Triangle Fire did not die in vain.