Remembering labor’s martyred heroes


The Triangle fire, a garment factory blaze that killed 146 people 100 years ago this week, was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the fall of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet despite the fire’s place in history, many Americans know nothing about it.

Those who died in the March 25, 1911, fire were mostly young Jewish and Italian women and girls, new immigrants who risked their safety in horrendous sweatshop conditions making women’s garments. Foremen frequently locked workers into their workrooms to make certain they didn’t take breaks or pilfer cloth; this ensured that for many trapped inside, there was virtually no escape when the blaze began.

The victims either burned alive or leapt from window ledges, some with their hair and clothes on fire as they fell to the sidewalk below. Most of the dead were women, but almost 30 were men. One of the young men was seen kissing a woman at the window before they both jumped to their deaths.


Witnesses reported that best friends looped their arms around each other’s waists, jumping en masse, holding tight to one another as they leapt. Those who escaped reported the terror of being locked in by their bosses, watching in horror as their sisters and mothers and best friends fell through the air like cinders.

That same day, bodies were set out on the bloody sidewalk, a mere block from Washington Square Park, so that mothers could search for their missing daughters. The owners of the factory managed to avoid the flames by fleeing to the roof. When brought to court, they escaped criminal action. The families of the dead were sent $75 apiece for their lost daughters. That was all their lives were worth.

And yet the events of that day were a turning point for labor activism. The fire helped to fuel a new labor movement, and it energized the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which demanded and got significant improvements in the way workers were treated and the conditions in which they worked.

I believe that how we remember and honor our lost heroes defines who we are as a nation. When we forget, we falter — and we often forget. We’ve forgotten much about our grandparents, immigrants from worlds so oppressive they were willing to work for low wages under wretched conditions, all for a chance at their own version of the American dream.

We need to remember that a national tragedy is made up of individuals — men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives — people who were loved and mourned and who deserve to be remembered. We don’t want to make this mistake again, anymore than we want to treat workers who are newly arrived as if they were anything less than true Americans.

If we remember our fallen heroes, if we know them by name, maybe then we can remember the dream we still share with those who follow the journey our grandparents made.


In memory of those who were lost in the Triangle fire:

Lizzie Adler (24),,?Anna Altman (16),?Annina Ardito (25),?Rose Bassino (31),?Vincenza Benanti (22),,?Yetta Berger (18),?Essie Bernstein (19),?Jacob Bernstein (35),?Morris Bernstein (19),?Gussie Bierman (22),?Vincenza Billota (16),?Abraham Binovitz (30),?Rosie Brenman (23),?Sarah Brenman (17),?Ida Brodsky (15),?Sarah Brodsky (21),?Ada Brooks (18),?Laura Brunetti (17),? Josephine Cammarata* (18), Francesca Caputo (17),?Josephine Carlisi (31),?Albina Caruso (20),?Annie Ciminello (36),?Rosina Cirrito (18),?Anna Cohen (25),?Annie Colletti (30),?Sarah Cooper (16),?Michelina Cordiano (25),?Bessie Dashefsky (25),?Josie Del Castillo (21),?Clara Dockman (19),?Kalman Donick (24),?Celia Esenberg (17),? Dora Evans* (18), ?Rebecca Feibisch (17),?Yetta Fichtenholtz (18),?Daisy Lopez Fitze (26),?Mary Floresta (26),? Max Florin* (23), ? Jenne Franco (17),?Rose Friedman (18), Diana Gerjuoy (18), Masha Gerstein (17),?Catherine Giannattasio (22),?Celia Gitlin (17),?Esther Goldstein (20),?Lena Goldstein (22),?Mary Goldstein (18),?Yetta Goldstein (20),?Rosie Grasso (16),?Bertha Greb (25),?Rachel Grossman (17),?Mary Herman (40),?Esther Hochfeld (21),?Fannie Hollander (18),?Pauline Horowitz (19),?Ida Jukofsky (19),?Ida Kanowitz (18),?Tessie Kaplan (18),? Beckie Kessler (19),?Jacob Klein (23),? Beckie Koppelman (16),?Bertha Kula (19),?Tillie Kupferschmidt (16),?Benjamin Kurtz (19),?Annie L’Abbate (16),?Fannie Lansner (21),?Maria Giuseppa (Tortorelli), Lauletti* (33),? Jennie Lederman (21),?Max Lehrer (18),?Sam Lehrer (19),?Kate Leone (14),? Mary Leventhal (22),?Jennie Levin (19),?Pauline Levine (19),?Nettie Liebowitz (25),?Rose Liermark (19),?Bettina Maiale (18),?Frances Maiale (21),?Catherine Maltese (39),?Lucia Maltese (20),?Rosaria Maltese (14),?Maria Manaria (27),?Rose Mankofsky (22),?Rose Mehl (15),?Yetta Meyers (19),?Gaetana Midolo (16),?Annie Miller (16),?Beckie Neubauer (19),?Annie Nicholas (18),?Michelina Nicolosi (21),?Sadie Nussbaum (18),?Julia Oberstein (19),?Rose Oringer (19),?Becky Ostrovsky (20),?Annie Pack (18),?Providenza Panno (43),?Antonietta Pasqualicchio (16),?Ida Pearl (20),?Jennie Pildescu (18),?Vincenza Pinelli (30),?Emilia Prato (21),? Concetta Prestifilippo* (18), ?Becky Reines (19),? Fannie Rosen* (21), ?Israel Rosen (17),?Julia Rosen (35),?Louis (Loeb), Rosen (33),?Yetta Rosenbaum (22),?Jennie Rosenberg (21),?Gussie Rosenfeld (22),?Nettie Rosenthal (21),?Emma Rothstein (22),?Theodore Rotner (22),?Sarah Sabasowitz (17),?Santina Salemi (24),?Sarafina Saracino (25),?Teresina Saracino (20),?Gussie Schiffman (18),?Theresa Schmidt (32),?Ethel Schneider (20),?Violet (Velye), Schochet (21),?Golda Schpunt (19),?Margaret Schwartz (24),?Jacob Seltzer (33),?Rosie Shapiro (17),?Ben Sklover (25),?Rose Sorkin (18),?Annie Starr (30),?Jennie Stein (18),?Jennie Stellino (16),?Jennie Stiglitz (22),?Sam Taback (20),?Clotilde Terranova (22),?Isabella Tortorelli (17), ?Meyer Utal (23),?Catherine Uzzo (22),?Frieda Velakofsky (20),?Bessie Viviano (15),?Rosie Weiner (20),?Sarah Weintraub (17),?Tessie Weisner (21),?Dora Welfowitz (21),?Bertha Wendorff (18),?Joseph Wilson (21),?Sonia Wisotsky (17)

Spellings are those used by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. The names bearing asterisks were until recently listed as unknown victims. Researcher Michael Hirsch identifed the six after an exhaustive search of records and documents from the time.

Alice Hoffman is a novelist of more than 25 books, most recently “The Red Garden.” In October, Scribners will publish her novel “The Dovekeepers.” Her grandfather, Chaim Klurfeld, was a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.