Migrant Workers Perish in Factory

January 1st, 1911 — February 2nd, 1913

United States

Activism & Resistance Gender & Sexuality Labor & Economy

On March 25, 1911, a fire raged through the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City and took the lives of 146 garment workers, the majority of whom were young Italian and European Jewish immigrant women.

Now one of the most famed industrial disasters of the twentieth century, the fire called significant attention to frighteningly poor or absent workplace safety standards in the garment industry. Only two years prior, under the leadership of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), more than 20,000 female garment workers staged a mass strike for better wages and working conditions in the city under the slogan, “We’d rather starve quick than starve slow.” In the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the ILGWU and other women’s labor groups helped create another swell of labor activism focused on the shirtwaist trade. This activism ultimately led to improved worker contracts and new worker protection laws.