On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames. The factory was crowded. The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside. One hundred forty-six people—mostly women—perished; it was one of the most lethal workplace fires in American history until September 11, 2001.
But the story of the fire is not the story of one accidental moment in time. It is a story of immigration and hard work to make it in a new country, as Italians and Jews and others traveled to America to find a better life. It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet. It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster. And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today.
With Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin has crafted a gripping, nuanced, and poignant account of one of America's defining tragedies.
Published to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the 1911 fire that erupted in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, this powerful chronicle examines the circumstances surrounding the disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 146 workers, mostly young Italian and Jewish women. Though America represented opportunity for immigrants escaping religious persecution, disease, and natural disaster, New York City was sharply divided between the elite and those who, Marrin modestly writes, "lived more simply." B&w photographs and illustrations reveal immigrant families' impoverished living environments, while testimonials describe the "humiliating" work rules and unsafe conditions of factories like Triangle ("Slavery holds nothing worse," expressed one worker). Despite workers' efforts to organize, it took a preventable disaster to enact real change. Marrin (Years of Dust) mines eyewitness accounts of flaming bodies, and also imagines a victim's horrific internal monologue: "If I jump, my family will have a body to identify and bury, but if I stay in this room, there will be nothing left." A concluding description of a Bangladeshi garment factory fire in 2010 offers contemporary parallels. Marrin's message that protecting human dignity is our shared responsibility is vitally resonant. Ages 10 up.