Both my maternal and fraternal grandmothers were among the scores of eastern European immigrants who worked in sweatshops during the early part of the last century. My maternal grandmother, who in an afternoon could stitch up a fashionable dress out of remnants she bought in S. Klein's basement, told stories of the boss who turned back clocks to lengthen the work day and other cruelties she endured for mere pennies until conditions improved with the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. But before the ILGWU, there was . . . nothing. And because there was nothing, 146 mostly Jewish women aged 16-23 lost their lives when on March 25, 1911 they were trapped by a fire that swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory at 29 Washington Place in New York City.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the fire, the Forward, the venerable nationally focused Jewish newspaper, has published a special section for its March 25 issue. The section features the first-ever translations of the Jewish Daily Forward’s original Yiddish coverage of the event, including the front page of March 25, 1911, the day of the fire, stories about the heroes of the fire, and Editor Abe Cahan’s editorials about the tragedy. Find the Forward's special section here.
The Forward also sponsored a poetry contest, and the English and Yiddish winning poems are published in the special issue. The winner of the English poem is Zackary Sholem Berger of Baltimore, Md, and the winner of the Yiddish section is Alec (“Leyzer”) Burko of New York City. Read the English winner here and the Yiddish winner here.