Monday, March 28, 2011

Extra! Extra! Read All About It: The 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire

Katie gives us an up close and personal look at a ripped from the headlines topic:

There are some landmarks in American history that get lost in the shuffle when shoved between wars and gold rushes and civil rights. We memorize the dates of these events just like all the others, but the context--the bigger picture--is never quite there. 

The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in March of 1911, though heartbreaking, always fell into this category for me. What was the story behind these nameless women that lived on in my history books alongside Abraham Lincoln and Rosa Parks? Was this just a way of passing the time between the Reconstruction and World War I? Or was there something more there? 

As the 100th anniversary of this event draws near, I decided to pick up Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and get to the bottom of this mystery. A fictional account of the events leading up to March 25, 1911, this story follows three teenage girls--Bella, Jane, and Yetta--each making their own way in New York City when theirs paths cross at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strike. Richly drawn, these three young women take us along on their adventures and bring to life the major issues in our country at that time--immigration, women’s rights, and the labor movement. They force the reader to look at what was is many ways a dark time in our history, all the while easily winning the us over with the genuineness of their friendship as well as their optimism and strength in what are quite often bleak circumstances.

If you remember your history right, you know that this is not a story with a happy ending (and Haddix doesn’t sugar coat it), but once you meet Bella, Jane, and Yetta you will never again find yourself wondering at the importance of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The women there embodied all the struggles our nation was facing as it entered the 20th century. And one hundred years later, these girls deserve to be remembered for their courage and sacrifice. 

For another look at this moment in history, you can also check out Threads and Flames by Esther M. Friesner--the story of thirteen-year-old Raisa who leaves her Polish shtetl for America to join her older sister and goes to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

And while we’re on the topic, this is a wonderful online resource made available by Cornell University, especially if you’re interested in reading first hand accounts of that tragic day (see the section titled: Testimonials).

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