the triangle shirtwaist fire

Bread and Roses

An internet rabbithole, as they go.

Not long ago I watched the film Pride (set largely in 1984 Wales), and there was a scene where the community hall broke into the song Bread and Roses.  I was on a plane, otherwise I’d probably have googled it.

I was looking at some labor history links today after looking at some titles on Scribd and came across this by the Labor Education Service from the University of Minnesota: there again, Bread and Roses (1912, far from Wales).

So now, reading the lyrics and looking up the strike and the song both, this is how we get the name Rose Schneiderman - who coined the phrase that was turned into a slogan, poem and song.

All of this to say that I was moved by a speech from Rose herself, in the wake of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  Thank you wikipedia for that.  And now perhaps I ought to find more to read of hers, but that is the beauty of internet rabbitholes, there is always more to read:

“I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.

We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

—Rose Schneiderman

phoenixyfriend  asked:

Since you're the one that seems to be spearheading the Jewish Howard Stark headcanon thing (and thank you, for that), would you say that his conversation with Peggy in the recently released sneak peak supports that? His comments on religion and social class being barriers to getting to a higher place in society and all that?

Oh my God, he is Jewish!!

Haha, sorry. Thanks for the ask, that’s the first time I’ve seen the clip. 616 Howard was born into money—he didn’t start his fortune. Apparently MCU Howard Stark’s origin is very different from 616 Howard’s, so some of the assumptions I made in my first post aren’t accurate. 

Let’s break it down:

  • “My mother sewed shirtwaists for a factory”: for most Americans, the term “shirtwaist” evokes images of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 people. The majority of the women working there were Jewish or Italian. The shirtwaist industry was primarily Jewish. I’ll quote Wikipedia here: “The New York shirtwaist strike of 1909…was a labor strike primarily involving Jewish women working in New York shirtwaist factories.”
  • At the time, 50% of the women working in the garment industry were Jewish. Again, Wikipedia: “In the production of shirtwaists in particular, the workforce was nearly all Jewish women.
  • “The press of the day often referred to the garment industry as ‘a Jewish problem.’ The owners were almost exclusively Jewish, as were the majority of the workers.” (source)
  • he grew up on the Lower East Side: this was a very ethnically diverse neighborhood in the 1910s, but it has always been associated primarily (and very strongly) with the Jewish community. Very strongly. I’m from NYC, and I can tell you that our public schools teach the Lower East Side as a Jewish neighborhood. The Lower East Side is home to some of the most important Jewish cultural signifiers in America. 
  • It was also known as Little Germany for a period, and since, realistically, the only other possible ethnicity for Howard is German, that’s worth examining. However, and this is from Wikipedia, “The neighborhood’s ethnic cohesion began to decline in the late 19th century from the population dynamics of non-German immigrants settling in the area.” In 1904, over a decade before Howard was born, a steamboat chartered by the local Lutheran Church sank, killing about 1,021 of its 1,300 passengers. This greatly accelerated the, at that time rapid, decline of the German population on the Lower East Side. 97 Orchard Street, a major tenement museum and a staple of any public school student’s field trips, apparently serves as a good indicator for ”the neighborhood’s majority ethnic group,” and in 1870 residents of the building were 55% German. By 1910, 100% of residents were Yiddish speaking, meaning they were at least ethnically Jewish. (source)
  • Statistically speaking, the most likely ethnicity for someone born in 1918 on the Lower East Side was Ashkenazi.
  • There’s a ceiling for certain types of people based on how much money your parents have”: The construction of this sentence is interesting. When he’s talking about “certain types of people,” he’s not referring to growing up poor. He’s saying that other poor Americans can get somewhere on their own, but that there’re “certain types of people” who need more than their ingenuity, who can’t just jump into the American dream. That he had to lie to move past his “type.”
  • Your social class, your religion, your sex!” Social class is too vague a term, I’m not going to get into it. He says “sex” at the end very pointedly, indicating that Peggy should agree with him. But why bring up religion? When did religion come into this conversation? It was always there. From the moment he said he grew up on the Lower East Side, Peggy knew what that meant.
  • “The only way to break through that ceiling sometimes is to lie, so that’s my natural instinct: to lie." This one is almost self-explanatory. Why has Howard’s ethnic background never come up? Because he’s Jewish, and he doesn’t tell people that because if he did, his life would be 100x more difficult. Of course, in the context of this scene he’s justifying a very specific lie to Peggy, but he began the conversation with his origins, and he’s still referring to that here. He’s saying, “how did I get past that ceiling for ‘certain types of people?’ I lied about it.” What did he lie about? Not about having money. Not about coming from nothing. Those would be unnecessary and extremely convoluted lies. He lied about his type. And what could his type be, that he had to lie about it? 

If you’re curious about what I’ve written previously, here are the other posts: (basic info) and (the Anna Jarvis scene)


Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in a garment factory in Greenwich Village causing the death of 146 people, mostly young women from New York’s immigrant communities. The catastrophe served as a galvanizing moment for the labor movement and provided the impetus for improved fire-safety regulations in factories across the city.

Frederick Hugh Smyth.  Triangle Waist Co. Factory Fire, Washington Place & Greene Street. 1911. New-York Historical Society.

Nostalgia Filter

For those who think of the “good old days” in America, you should remember EVERY generation sees those “good old days” as different periods and in a different light.

As part of those “good old days” you might want to look into…

Anti-Chinese immigration laws
Mixed race marriage laws
Homosexuality as a mental illness/felony
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Henry Clay Frick
Robber Barons
Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall
Sundown towns
The Pullman Strike
The Ludlow Massacre
The Memorial Day Massacre
The Homestead Strike
The Haymarket Riot
No unemployment pay
No pensions
No social security
No welfare
No food stamps
No health insurance
No overtime
The Panic of 1873
The Panic of 1893
Native American Boarding Schools
The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1919-20
Yellow Fever in New Orleans
Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”
The photographs of Jacob Riis
In 1900 18%of all American workers were under the age of 16
Children as young as 3 working in food production
Boys as young as 8 working 10 hour shifts underground in coal mines
Girls as young as 6 working 12 hour shifts in textile mills
No food safety standards
No water safety standards
Women and people of color denied the right to vote
Poorhouses and work farms
No workplace safety
The Dustbowl
The Great Depression
Internment Camps
No vaccinations
No antibiotics
Anti-Catholic/Papist bias
The Tuskegee Experiment
Jim Crow laws
Eugenics movement
The Bonus Army
Johnstown Flood
Iroquois Theater Fire
Coconut Grove Fire

And that’s just a bit, and that’s just American. There’s tragedy,corruption, Misery and all the trappings everywhere.
The “good old days ” look better when you’re not going through them. Bad goes with good. You can’t go back All you can do is try to fix NOW

History is the greatest demonstration of direct action’s potential. It has been the essential element of organised protest by ordinary people. Remember, safety regulations did not drop from the heavens after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, they were fought for by hundreds of thousands of women who struck before and afterwards. The Second New Deal did not burst like Athena from Roosevelt’s skull, it was crafted under pressure from ever increasing wildcat strikes. And neither did the Voting Rights Act nor the fall of Jim Crow leap from Johnson’s benevolent heart, decades of resistance necessitated it. We forget this because the ideology of the vote tells us that elected leaders are the true agents of history, that as normal people we can only hope to influence them. The truth is that the politician is merely the notary of history, that it is normal people, working together, who make change.

Jewish-American Heritage Month

Today is the beginning of May, the Jewish American Heritage Month, and it’s also May Day, which in some countries is a celebration of workers and labor activism. In honor of these two days, I’m going to introduce you to some of my favorite Jewish American women activists.

(L-R: Clara Lemlich, Rose Schneiderman, and Pauline Newman; bottom: The Uprising of 20,000, a strike organized by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which all three women were involved in)

Clara Lemlich (1886-1982) Lemlich was born in the Ukraine. As a child, she secretly ran errands and wrote letters for her neighbors in order to earn money for Russian books, against her parents’ wishes. She became a Socialist while in the Ukraine, and moved to the United States with her family following a 1903 pogram in Kishinev. In New York, she worked in the garment industry and was elected to the ILGWU executive board at the age of 22.

Lemlich was known for her bravery. Famously, in 1909 gangsters attacked picketers and broke three of her ribs. She remained on the picket line. Later that same year, when (male) leaders of the socialist movement spent most of a meeting speaking about general actions that should be taken, Lemlich was lifted onto the stage by her fellow female workers, where she pledged herself to the movement and rallied the crowd into immediately approving a motion to strike. This strike became the Uprising of the 20,000.

Because of her union activities, Lemlich was blacklisted from the garment industry. She worked for suffrage, although she frequently clashed with upper-class suffragettes and preferred to work with other working-class women. She married in 1913 and was a mother of three, and frequently organized housewives to her various causes. She worked for the Communist Party, the United Council of Working Class Women, the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs, the Unemployed Councils, and allied with Sojourners for Truth. Her final social campaign was waged from the Jewish Home for the Aged, in LA, where she persuaded the management of the Home to join the United Farm Workers’ boycott and assisted farmers in their organizing. She was then in her mid-eighties, and she died at the age of 96.

Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972) Schneiderman was born in Russian Poland, just north of the city of Chelm. Her parents sent her to cheder, against tradition, when she was a child. When she was eight years old her family immigrated to the United States, and she was forced to drop out of school at age thirteen in order to support her family. She was a capmaker, and she quickly became involved in the union movement.

Standing at 4 feet, 9 inches tall, with flaming red hair, Schneiderman was famous for her passionate speeches, which she delivered across the country, daily, on street corners and in lecture halls, in English as well as Yiddish. Two of her most famous speeches were her August 2, 1911 address in which, following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, she lambasted middle and upper class feminists for failing to prioritize labor activism, and a 1912 speech in which she declared that “What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist–the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” This last line became a popular slogan and protest song.

Schneiderman was president of the Women’s Trade Union League, worked with the ILGUW, helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, and in 1920 launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate on the Labor Party ticket. She became close with the Roosevelts and helped to shape New Deal labor legislation, and in the 30s and 40s she also worked tirelessly in an attempt to bring Jewish refugees from Europe to the United States. Albert Einsteen wrote in praise of her, saying “It must be a source of deep gratification to you to be making so important a contribution to rescuing our persecuted fellow Jews from their calamitous peril…We have no other means of self-defense than our solidarity.”

Schneiderman was in a long-term relationship with fellow WTUL activist Maud Swartz for over twenty years, until Swartz’s death in 1937. Schneiderman herself continued to live in New York City her entire life, until her own death in 1972 at the age of 90.

Pauline Newman (1887-1986) Newman was born in Lithuania. As a child she persuaded her father, a teacher at a cheder, to sit in on her classes, which was the only way she could learn to read and write. She learned Hebrew and Yiddish. At the age of nine, following her father’s death, the family moved to New York and Newman began working in the factory. She worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where she became a socialist at the age of fifteen. She was twenty when she lead her first rent strike in 1908, and a year later she organized 40,000 in a labor strike, which at the time was the largest strike ever organized by American women.

Newman worked with the ILGWU, the WTUL, and the Factory Investigation Commission, and although she never lost her skill for street-level organizing, she was also a skilled lobbyist. She also became the director of the ILGWU’s Union Health Center, the first of its kind, and served in that position for sixty years. Like Schneiderman, she worked for women’s suffrage and with the Roosevelts concerning labor legislation.

Newman was famous for wearing her hair short and often wearing men’s clothes, unlike her more reserved colleagues. She met Frieda Miller, an instructor at Bryn Mawr, in 1918, and wrote a letter to Schneiderman expressing her admiration but ambivalence about whether she should pursue the relationships; Schneiderman, who confessed that she herself was often uncertain about her own romantic life, urged Newman to “grasp at the possibility of joy.” Newman and Miller lived together publicly from 1923 to Miller’s death in 1974. Newman herself passed away in 1986 at the age of 98.