The Shirtwaist Strike and Triangle Fire Workshop
John McClymer (Assumption College)
“I know histhry isn't thrue, Hinnessy, because it ain't like what I see ivry day in Halsted Sthreet. If any wan comes along with a histhry iv Greece or Rome that'll show me th' people fightin', gettin' dhrunk, makin' love, gettin' married, owin' th' grocery man an' bein' without hard-coal, I'll believe they was a Greece or Rome, but not befure.” — Finley Peter Dunne, Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902)
Many of our students share Mr. Dooley's skepticism about history, albeit few express it with Dunne's pith and wit. History, as they have been taught it, is a matter of bits of information, bullet points, and other lists. They may have memorized the terms of Pinckney's Treaty but they have not, in all likelihood, considered in what ways George Washington was "the indispensable man" among the founders. Washington does not exist in their minds as a person. He is a set of data points. And, as more and more studies show, most historical facts slip out of memory within months. In short, they do not believe history is true.
In addition to stating the challenge, Finley Peter Dunne also can help us shape an answer. We can involve students in the lives of real people, people fighting, people making love, people hard pressed to put food on the table, people getting furious with politicians, people hating their bosses. And students can identify with these people, can find their stories fascinating.
We can do this even in this age of frameworks and state-developed competency testing. What we need are stories. The story of the Triangle Fire, of the shirtwaist strike that preceded it, and of its aftermath is the stuff of high drama. The cast of characters includes heroes, villains, noted political figures, and uncounted ordinary folk who behaved in extraordinary ways.
Ninth-floor work area of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory immediately after the fire. The factory occupied the eight, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building in lower Manhattan. Most of those who died worked on the ninth floor.
TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST WORKERS
–They look unremarkable.
–Most, as you can see, were young women. The majority were Jews from Russia and other parts of eastern Europe; a significant minority were Italian immigrants from Sicily, Naples, and other places south of Rome. There was only a handful of “American” workers.
–The Triangle Fire happened 101 years ago.–More than 140 people, most of them young immigrant women, died.
–Three years later World War I began.
–Tens of millions − men, women, and children − died. The “guns of August” were just a beginning.
–Tens of millions more would die in World War II.
–Millions more would die in purges, concentration camps, and other killing fields from the Gulag to the Balkans to Sudan to Cambodia.
–Yet we have not forgotten the Triangle Fire.
–Why do we still remember? Why was the centennial in March of last year a major event, and not only in NYC? Our workshop today will explore this question.
In addition to being a tragedy, the fire was a turning point. New York adopted a series of laws designed to protect workers that numerous other states quickly copied. Even more importantly, perhaps, New York machine politicians and progressive reformers made common cause for the first time. The result was "urban liberalism," exemplified in the careers of Al Smith as governor of New York, of Robert Wagner as U.S. Senator from New York, and of Franklin D. Roosevelt as governor and then as president. Frances Perkins, who directed the New York Factory Investigating Commission co-chaired by Smith and Wagner, who served in Smith's administration, and who was FDR's Secretary of Labor, exemplified the other side of this new political partnership. Perkins later maintained that the New Deal began on the day of the fire. She was one of the thousands who gathered outside the Asch Building and watched the horrors unfold.
The goals of this tutorial are to introduce some of the materials about the fire and to explore some of the ways students and teachers can use them. Perhaps the first step is to show students a shirtwaist. It was part of the standard daytime attire for women at the beginning of the twentieth century. Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl, often portrayed his models wearing a shirtwaist. Here is his "The Debutante." Most were not so ornate since so-called "working girls" also wore shirtwaists.
I like to start with two eyewitness accounts. Each is very powerful and serves to get students involved in the story. In all likelihood too much of their previous exposure to history in school has focused upon factual information. Here the emphasis is upon the drama of the events, upon the story.
1. The following account is by a United Press Service reporter who chanced to be walking by when the Triangle Fire broke out. He telephoned in this account, which then appeared in hundreds of newspapers on March 26 and March 27, 1911.
Eyewitness at the Triangle
by William G. Shepherd
I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound--a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.
Thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead. Sixty-two thud—deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.
The first ten thud—deads shocked me. I looked up—saw that there were scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come down, and something within me—something that I didn't know was there—steeled me.
I even watched one girl falling. Waving her arms, trying to keep her body upright until the very instant she struck the sidewalk, she was trying to balance herself. Then came the thud--then a silent, unmoving pile of clothing and twisted, broken limbs.
As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the building. . . . I looked up to the seventh [actually ninth] floor. There was a living picture in each window—four screaming heads of girls waving their arms.
"Call the firemen," they screamed—scores of them. "Get a ladder," cried others. They were all as alive and whole and sound as were we who stood on the sidewalk. I couldn't help thinking of that. We cried to them not to jump. We heard the siren of a fire engine in the distance. The other sirens sounded from several directions.
"Here they come," we yelled. "Don't jump; stay there."
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.
The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.
I had counted ten. Then my dulled senses began to work automatically. I noticed things that it had not occurred to me before to notice. Little details that the first shock had blinded me to. I looked up to see whether those above watched those who fell. I noticed that they did; they watched them every inch of the way down and probably heard the roaring thuds that we heard.
As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if her were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.
Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward—the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.
Thud—dead, thud—dead—together they went into eternity. I saw his face before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He had done his best.
We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud—dead came first.
The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces disappeared from the window. But now the crowd was enormous, though all this had occurred in less than seven minutes, the start of the fire and the thuds and deaths.
I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking—flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire.
The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches, suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them.
On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh [ninth] floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .
The floods of water from the firemen's hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer.
2. John Sloan, the noted American painter and one of the founders of the "Ashcan School," was the art editor of the radical monthly, The Masses. He lived within blocks of the Asch Building and, like thousands of others, rushed to the scene. "The Real Triangle" is one of several cartoons he drew in response to the fire. He wrote in his diary on March 26, 1911: "After breakfast I got at a cartoon idea in regards to the frightful fire of last evening in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A black triangle each side marked ('Rent,' 'Interest,' 'Profit') death on one side, a fat capitalist on the other and the charred body of a girl in the center." The previous evening he had noted: "Over one hundred and forty shirtwaist workers were burned to death in the Triangle Factory. These girls made the successful strike of the last year!"
The Strike and the Strikers:
The fire victims were not anonymous, even though few knew their names. They were the strikers, the workers who had gone out in the so-called "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," the strike that led to the founding of the first industrial union with a predominantly female membership, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). The strike had dragged on for months. Most of the employers had settled with the union, but a few had successfully held out. These were the biggest firms and included Triangle. Workers in other factories had Saturday afternoons off as part of the new contract. Triangle workers put in a full day on Saturday, a fact that led many contemporaries to point out that, had Triangle recognized the union, no one would have been in the Asch Building that afternoon.–So, to understand the impact the fire had on their contemporaries we have to appreciate the impact of the strike.–Below is a photograph of the funeral procession of those victims who could not be identified. It started at the scene of the fire, which abutted Washington Square and the NYU campus in Greenwich Village, and continued on to Brooklyn where the burials took place. Hundreds of thousands turned out in a pouring rain to pay their respects.–It took two hours for the procession to pass through the Washington Square Arch.–To find a comparable outpouring of grief, we might have to go back to the journey of Lincoln’s body from Washington to Springfield.
The strike had succeeded for the most part. Most of the shirtwaist industry was unionized. Tens of thousands of workers joined the union. Wages went up, even in non-union factories. Working conditions, by and large, did not improve. But many of the petty tyrannies bosses had exercised, such as fining workers for being late when the elevators were running slow, ended.
A key ingredient in this success was the support of assorted "Allies." Activists in the suffrage crusade, such as Mrs. Alva Belmont, reputedly the second wealthiest woman in America, offered financial support. J.P. Morgan's daughter Anne was another wealthy ally. The most important allies were members of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). Mary and Margaret Dreier, daughters of a well-to-do Brooklyn merchant, founded the League as a way of combatting the "social evil," as prostitution was then routinely called. Most prostitutes, they pointed out, were driven to a life of sin by economic necessity. There were simply not enough jobs for women that paid a decent wage. Unions, the Dreiers concluded, were a major part of the answer. So they organized the WTUL. Most league members were upper and upper-middle class women longing to make a difference in the world. A few were working class activists.
When the "Uprising" began, the League found the opportunity it had been seeking. Local #25, the body that called the strike, had about 100 members and about $10 in its treasury. Suddenly tens of thousands of workers went on strike against hundreds of companies. How was the union to enroll all of these new members? How was it to negotiate contracts with hundreds of employers? How was it to rent halls to hold meetings? How was it to get its side of the story out to the public? League members proved invaluable in helping the union find the answers. They wrote press releases, leased halls, drew up contracts, kept track of membership, and advanced money. League members also went out on the picket lines where they got themselves arrested just like the strikers.
As a result, the strike was a rare moment of sorority. Rich women and poor, WASP and immigrant, Jew and gentile, Republicans and Democrats and Socialists, all with the exception of African Americans joined hands. Nothing like it had ever happened before.
There are several good contemporary accounts of the strike, by sympathetic women journalists and others, available on line.
- Constance D. Leupp, "THE SHIRTWAIST MAKERS' STRIKE," The Survey December 18, 1909 — one of the fullest accounts and one of the most accurate; Leupp described the beginnings of the strike, the stirring speech given by Clara Lemlich that led to the vote to strike, the "rules" for pickets intended to prevent the arrests of strikers, and the union's demands.
- A Yiddish View of the Strike, from the Women and Social Movements, Alexander Street Press; translated from the Yiddish by Scott Eckers. Here is another account of the meeting that led to the calling of the strike, this time by someone who spoke Yiddish. There are accounts of the problems picketers encountered, and much else about the strike.
- Mary Van Kleeck, "The Shirtwaist Strike and Its Significance," unpublished lecture, 1910, Mary Van Kleeck Papers, Box 29, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass. — most analytical account; surveys overall conditions in the industry, course of the strike, and its larger significance.
You can break your class into teams and ask them to report on these accounts.
- What can you determine about your author? How does that influence the way you read her account?
- Who was her audience? How did that influence the way she put her account together?
- What did she hope to accomplish?
After the reports you can lead a class discussion comparing the various accounts.
There are also some contemporary newspaper accounts available. These are not always as sympathetic and contain information sympathetic women often left out of their accounts. The Times did not support the strikers, but its reporting was generally reliable. The Call, in contrast, was very supportive of the strikers if somewhat suspicious of some of the wealthier "allies."
- "Waist Strike On; 18,000 Women Out," New York Times, Nov. 24, 1909
- "Girl Strikers Riot; Quelled By Police," New York Times, Nov. 27, 1909
- "Girl Strikers Go To The City Hall," New York Times, Dec. 4, 1909
- "Waist Strike Pickets Parade Through Shop District in Autos," New York Call, Dec. 22, 1909 [This was the socialist paper.]
Again you can break the class into groups.
- How did the Times report the beginning of the strike? What can we learn from this account that we could not learn from the Leupp, Van Kleeck, and Forverts accounts?
- What do you make of the "riot"? How does it comport with the "rules" for pickets quoted by Leupp?
- The march on City Hall provided an opportunity for the strikers to publicize what they claimed was police brutality and favoritism. What specifically did they object to? What kind of response did they get from the Mayor?
- As with the march on City Hall, the auto parade down Fifth Avenue was intended to publicize the strikers' grievances against the police as well as the bosses. It also was intended to help the union raise money. What sorts of difficulties were the remaining strikers encountering?
Once the reports are given you have the opportunity to sum up the story of the "Uprising."
If you have time, I strongly recommend that you use one or both of these brief autobiographical accounts.
Two Working Girls in Their Own Words
- Sadie Frowne — "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl," Independent 54 (Sept. 25, 1902); Sadie was almost seventeen when this article appeared. My students, especially the women, identify with her quite strongly. She was studious, hard-working, and brave. She was also very interested in clothes, loved dancing, had a steady boyfriend, went to night school, belonged to a union, and was determined to have some "pleasure." If you want to pursue the commercialized culture of dance halls, amusement parks, and movies emerging in the early 1900s, see my "What Sadie Knew: The Immigrant 'Working Girl' and the Emerging Demotic Culture," an on-line version of a chapter from my The Birth of Modern America (2005).
- Rose Schneiderman — "A Cap Maker's Story," Independent 58 (March 20, 1905); like Sadie Frowne, Rose Schneiderman was a Jewish immigrant. She was born in Czarist Russia in 1882. My students deeply admire her but find her harder than Sadie Frowne to identify with. She too was studious, hard-working, and brave. She was not interested in fashion, dancing, boyfriends, or pleasure. She lived for unionism and for, at this point in her life, socialism. In 1905 she joined the Women's Trade Union League, became a full-time union organizer, raised money for the shirtwaist strike, played a major role in the aftermath of the Fire, joined Al Smith's and then FDR's administrations and, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, taught her everything she knew about trade unionism.
What emerge from these accounts are not only the difficulties young immigrant women faced but also their sheer grit and their determination to, as Charles Dickens put it, be the heroes of their own lives.
Some Contemporary Images
The "working girl" was a major preoccupation of pre-WWI American culture. See the video "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl" at the American Social History Project at CUNY. This runs for 30 minutes.
Here are some contemporary images:
John Sloan's "The Return from Toil" occasioned some criticism among his fellow radicals who complained that he made his working girls too happy. Socialist realism called for them to be miserable as befit their exploited station in life. Sloan was a fervent radical but no ideologue. He described his subjects as "a bevy of boisterous girls with plenty of energy left after a hard day's work." (John Sloan, New York Etchings (Dover, 1978)). Click on the image for a much larger version. Sloan later turned the drawing into an etching. It shows even more young women, all with arms locked, about to cross a street as a policeman tries to get them to allow other pedestrians to pass. Sloan's work reminds us, as does Sadie Frowne's autobiographical account, that young working women wanted some enjoyment out of life.
Strikingly different is Jacob Epstein's "Intensely Serious." It is one of the illustrations he did, at age twenty-two, for Hutchins Hapgood's The Spirit of the Ghetto (1902). Hapgood was one of several WASPs who attempted to explain the Jewish community of the Lower East Side of New York to so-called Old Stock Americans. Hapgood was impressed not only with the poverty, overcrowding, and squalor he encountered but also with the intellectual seriousness, artistic vitality, and ambition of the community's residents. Epstein, a native New Yorker whose parents were Polish Jews, took his commission and went off to Paris to study. In 1905 he moved to London and became a British citizen as well as one of the leading sculptors of the first half of the twentieth century. He ultimately became Sir Jacob Epstein. His "Working Girls Returning Home," also done for The Spirit of the Ghetto, is more along the lines that Sloan's radical comrades had in mind.
It is tempting to imagine "Intensely Serious" as a portrait of Rose Schneiderman and to imagine Sadie Frowne as one of Sloan's "bevy of boisterous girls." Fortunately, there is a portrait of Schneiderman at work at a sewing machine. In it she does not look all that intensely serious. A portrait of Clara Lemlich, one of the union leaders, on the other hand, does present us with someone who, despite her half smile, looks very serious indeed.
One major resource is the Triangle Factory Fire site at the Kheel Center, Cornell University. This offers a good narrative of the fire, including descriptions of working conditions, and of its aftermath. It also includes a rich array of relevant documents including newspaper stories, first-hand accounts of the fire, excerpts from the New York Factory Investigating Commission Reports, and the transcript of the trial for manslaughter of the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. This site affords several ways of approaching the fire.
- The fire itself — what happened, why? In addition to the New York Times account of the fire, students can consult the testimony before the Factory Investigating Commission of Edward Croker, Chief of the New York City Fire Department. The newspaper story will tell them what happened once the fire started; Croker sought to explain why the fire got out of control, why his department could not contain it, and what changes in the fire and building codes he thought needed.
- The Factory Investigating Commission (scroll down to "Reports") — how did it see its mandate? who were some of the key witnesses? how did the key players like Smith, Wagner, and Perkins define reform? This is an especially interesting approach because it discloses what Frances Perkins always maintained was the real beginning of the New Deal. Initially, reformers were extremely pessimistic about the Commission. As loyal members of Tammany Hall, both Smith and Wagner were experienced and skilled opponents of reform. Instead of killing reform ideas, however, they championed them. In the process, they repositioned Tammany into an advocate of measures aimed at helping workers. Other urban political machines then followed suit. In this context, you may wish to listen to the twenty minute audio file of a Frances Perkins' lecture on the fire on the Kheel Center site. She says of the Commission, "as I have thought of it afterwards, [it] seems in some way to have paid the debt society owed to those children, those young people who lost their lives in the Triangle Fire. It's their contribution to the people of New York that we have this really magnificent series of legislative acts to protect and improve the administration of the law regarding the protection of work people in the City of - in the State of New York."
- The trial — students find this very dramatic. Who should be held responsible for the horrible loss of life? NYC District Attorney indicted the factory owners on a single count of manslaughter. Under New York law, this was the most serious charge he could have brought in the case. The crime was violating a provision of the NY code that required that all doors in the factory be unlocked. Dozens of victims were found piled against a locked door on the ninth floor. But the crime itself was punishable only by a $25 fine. However, under the law, if someone died as a direct result of a misdemeanor, then the person responsible could be charged with manslaughter. As a result, the burden of proof entailed first showing that the door was locked at the orders of the owners. The defense suggested someone inadvertently locked it in the panic. Next the prosecution had to prove that a specific individual (in this case, Margaret Schwartz) died because the door was locked. The latter came down to the testimony of a single witness, Kate Alterman, who herself escaped from the fire and who saw her friend literally go up in flames as she tried to open the locked door. The cross-examination of this witness helped make defense attorney Max Steuer one of the most famous defense lawyers in the country. In the end the jury found the defendents not guilty. You can stage the testimony of Kate Alterman in class. The New York Times account of the beginning of the trial affords a vivid description of the continuing rage on the Lower East Side. This too can lend itself to class re-enactment.
Douglas Linder's Famous Trials site at the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law includes the Triangle Fire Trial. There is an introductory essay by Linder, excerpts from the trial, and news accounts among other resources.
There is a collection of photographs at the New Deal Network, taken from the Franklin Roosevelt Library. I have reproduced several below. The first shows a policeman looking up as he stands among several bodies of victims who jumped from the ninth floor ledge. The other two were taken at the improvised morgue set up on an empty pier. The large number of dead made it impossible to use the regular morgue. A huge crowd rushed to the pier, all trying to view the bodies. Police managed to maintain order and allowed small numbers at a time to view the remains for the purpose of identifying the dead. Use with the New York Times account of "Scenes at the Morgue." It is both chilling and harrowing.
What the sites at Cornell and Famous Trials fail to capture is the anguish and outrage occasioned by the fire.
Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co.
One way to begin to gauge the emotional impact is via Morris Rosenfeld's poem, published four days after the fire in the Jewish Daily Forward. It occupied the entire first page. This is a translation taken from Leon Stein's classic The Triangle Fire and is from the History Matters site at George Mason University. My students respond very strongly to this poem. One told me that he had never before understood how powerful a poem could be. As with the William G. Shepherd account of witnessing the fire, this abundantly repays reading aloud.
The New York Call, the city's English language socialist newspaper, reacted very vociferously.
"Faint in a Frenzy Over Tales of Fire," New York Times, March 30, 1911 is an account of an angry meeting on the Lower East Side. The header drew upon the wave of grief that swept the hall during a silent prayer for the dead. One girl began to sob. "In an instant a woman further back in the hall sobbed, too. The sounds acted on the throng like an electric current. There were sounds of convulsive weeping throughout the hall and then a woman screamed." The tension in the hall "snapped like a broken wire. Cry after cry rang through the hall. Men and women sprang to their feet, wailing out their grief." "In the hall women fell, fainting in the midst of companions too excited to do more than gaze on them as they toppled from their feet to crumple up on the floor. It was a though an old-time Southern camp meeting had been overtaken with religious fervor." Despite the reporter's effort to distance himself from the events at the meeting, his account still makes powerful reading.
William Randolph Hearst's Evening Journal front page, three days after the fine
There is also Rose Schneiderman's speech at the Metropolitan Opera House on April 3, 1911. This was the meeting called to defuse anger on the Lower East Side that led to the creation of the New York Factory Investigating Commission. Despite her anger at "you good people of the public" and at "public officials," Schneiderman worked as an investigator for the Commission and then in Al Smith's and then FDR's administrations. The full story of the meeting, according to the New York Times, is here.
Here then is the story. It remains to connect it to the main narrative of your course(s) and to whatever frameworks you are obliged to meet. Here is what Connecticut says about high school social science courses:
American History — This required course should emphasize 20th/21st century events with review of earlier events where necessary to provide appropriate background and context.
Civics — The half-year required course should go beyond the organization and structure of government to emphasize applications to local, state and national issues.
This translates into the following:
Standard 1: Content Knowledge
Knowledge of concepts, themes, and information from history and social studies is necessary to promote understanding of our nation and our world.
Standard 2: History/Social Studies Literacy
Competence in literacy, inquiry and research skills is necessary to analyze, evaluate and present history and social studies information
Standard 3: Civic Engagement
Civic competence in analyzing historical issues and current problems requires the synthesis of information, skills, and perspective.
It would be an exercise in tedium to go through the specifics, but we can note certain salient points.
- The Triangle Fire led to major changes in the ways American politics worked:
- New York State's adoption of numerous regulatory codes designed to protect workers' health and safety signalled a decisive step towards what we can call the regulatory state. Most other states outside of the South adopted similar measures.
- The alliance forged between Progressive reformers and Tammany Hall "pols" proved lasting and gave rise to what historians call "urban liberalism," the basic set of ideas and policies that underlay the New Deal and the Great Society.
- The story of the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," of the Triangle Fire, of the trial of Blanck and Harris, and of the Factory Commission sheds light on many other key developments in 20th and 21st century America.
- Class warfare (I know; we need a more neutral term)
- Women's movements
- The strong emphasis upon analyzing primary sources of diverse sorts calls for investigating some, at least, events in some depth. Students cannot become critical readers of evidence unless and until they gain a working familiarity with the contexts in which these sources were produced. This requires a serious commitment to spending time on a topic.
- In a similar vein, we all find that it is much easier to read critically if we care about the story we are investigating. Affect is not the enemy of analysis; it is its enabler.