In the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Tragedy, Echoes of 9/11

Forward Magazine - - FOREGROUND - By Talya Zax ●

In New York City, you are al­ways walk­ing past a story.

A beam­ing stranger on the sub­way. A build­ing go­ing up or com­ing down. A com­mem­o­ra­tive sign: the site of Man­hat­tan’s slave mar­ket; the site of a bat­tle; the site of a fire.

For a long time, the com­poser Ju­lia Wolfe of­ten walked past the site of the old Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fac­tory, the Brown Build­ing by Wash­ing­ton Square Park where 146 work­ers were killed in a 1911 fire. Un­til 9/11, this was the most fa­tal work­place tragedy in Amer­i­can his­tory. There was the street to which some jumped to their deaths, pre­fer­ring that fate to burn­ing; the still-stand­ing build­ing, now owned by New York Uni­ver­sity, the same school at which Wolfe di­rects the mu­sic com­po­si­tion pro­gram. And there was a small plaque out­side, posted by the In­ter­na­tional Ladies’ Gar­ment Work­ers’ Union, not­ing the fire’s legacy: “Out of their mar­tyr­dom came new con­cepts of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and la­bor leg­is­la­tion that helped make Amer­i­can work­ing con­di­tions the finest in the world.”

The ways in which those con­di­tions still fall short have con­sis­tently in­ter­ested Wolfe, a 2016 re­cip­i­ent of the MacArthur

GETTY IM­AGES

AF­TER THE FIRE: Peo­ple line up to iden­tify the bod­ies of vic­tims of the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fac­tory fire.

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