Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Welcome to this month's reading group selection.  David Von Drehle mentions The Melting Pot, a play by Israel Zangwill, that premiered on Broadway in 1908.  At that time theater was accessible to a broad section of the public, not the exclusive domain it has become over the decades.  Zangwill carried a hopeful message that America was a place where old hatreds and prejudices were pointless, and that in this new country immigrants would find a more open society.  I suppose the reference was more an ironic one for Von Drehle, as he notes the racial and ethnic hatreds were on display everywhere, and at best Zangwill's play helped persons forget for a moment how deep these divides ran.  Nevertheless, "the melting pot" made its way into the American lexicon, even if New York could best be describing as a boiling cauldron in the early twentieth century.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America takes a broad view of events that led up the notorious fire, noting the growing strength of trade unions, the suffragette movement and Socialist Party in New York.  Traditional Tammany Hall politics were in danger, and factory owners had to form associations of their own to battle the unions.  At the center of his narrative is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, owned and operated by Harris and Blanck, who epitomized the unscrupulous garment industry of the day.  They fought tooth and nail against union attempts in their factories, and thanks to friendly city officials, did not have to meet basic fire and safety regulations in their factory located in the upper floors of the Asch Building at Washington Place.

What follows is a very engaging narrative that captures the spirit of the era, leading the reader through the events that led up the the worst factory fire in New York history and how this fire shaped American labor history.  You can browse past comments, but please post your comments on the book here.


  1. Jefferson Market Courthouse (now library) in Greenwich Village, NYC:



    This was the building which housed prisoners or which conducted trials for some of the litigants mentioned in our book. Years later, I spent many an hour reading and studying in this gem of a building. I also enjoyed the weekly lectures or movies this branch presented. Many of the other patrons were village freaks, some of whom were retired old socialists and other malcontents.

    A real cool building that still attracts a crowd of interesting NYC characters.

  2. A roster of victims is shown in the end of the book which reveals that several girls were 16 or under. The first question I had in reading the book was ''why weren't the compulsory education laws enforced?'' NYS's compulsory education law was enacted in 1874 and children up to age 16 were required to attend school full time. Much to my surprise I learned that exceptions were made for those working full time. I suppose in those days the exceptions could be readily obtained, especially in view of the political corruption created by the Tammany machine. This is likely where there were so many young and vulnerable girls working in those hazardous condition at Shirtwaist.

  3. The fire in New Jersey which should have alarmed enough people as to the perilous conditions and disaster that was to follow:


    ''Four months before 146 sweatshop workers perished in a gruesome fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in Manhattan, another devastating blaze occurred in another unsafe garment factory — this one in Newark.

    It happened 100 years ago, on Nov. 26, 1910, in a building on the corner of Orange Street and High Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). It is still considered the worst fire in Newark history.

    Like the tragedy at the Triangle plant, the factory happened to be run by Jews and a great many of the victims were Jewish women and girls.''

  4. It is hard to even imagine this time, as it seems safety and health regulations were simply ignored. There was the short piece on the "dumbbell apartment building," in which many of these workers lived,


    where there "air shafts" because trash bins and the fire escapes became extensions of the apartments.

    Obviously, in a city like New York it was very difficult to maintain such regulations with the steady flow of immigrants, cramming into these apartments and factories, but it doesn't seem like much effort was made to even maintain a minimum of safety and health regulations, much less monitor child labor.

    Von Drehle paints and appalling picture.

  5. I wonder if they had city garbage pick-ups in those days. Can't imagine why they would dump garbage in those air shafts. It's living among the garbage.

    The floor plan in your link looks like three railroad buildings in a row with the air shafts in between.

    I live in a walk-up built in 1890. Each apartment is half-railroad, and we have air shafts between bedroom and bathroom. If it were not for the air shafts, there would be no bedroom or bathroom windows.

  6. They had some city garbage pickups but they still had horse drawn carriages for transport, garbage hauling, and salvage. Horses were still in use up to the early 60s. As a kid in Brooklyn, I remember picking up an occasional horse shoe for good luck! But back in the 1890s and early 1900s there were tons of horsey poopoo on the streets and it left a big stench.

    Other sanitary problems:


    From what I've read, there were sanitation districts since the Civil War years but no general Department of Sanitation until 1929. It must have smelled quite bad back then.

  7. Trippler, when did they make the Jefferson Market building into a branch library? I've always considered the building one of my favorites. What style of architecture is it? In 1960 some people called it the old Women's TOOMBS, the female version of the infamous NY jail.

    I always used the NYU SCAF library or the library at NY LAW SCHOOL on Churh and Worth.

    The stench of NY in the summer was awful,garbage was dumped in the streets, collections were poor. People smelled to high heave because of poor hygiene and infrequent bathing, the smell of slaughter houses, factories, cigar making, delicatessens, etc all combined and the conditions on the Lower East Side were inhumane. Fires were frequent and sometimes came from combustions of materials. Life was short and unhealthy.

    I met and spoke to a lot of old timers in both Washington Square and Union Square--0ldsters from the twenties and thirtie--socialists, anarchists, union organizers, mostly first generation Jews and Italians who had vivid memories of Sacco/Vanzetti and bomb throwers. I regret I never wrote any of this down.

    I have histories of Tamany and a history of the Village and I'll pull them out and look at them.

  8. I'll review chapter one and post more tomorrow. If I find a good weather day, maybe I'll take a bus over to the NY and go to the Village and see if they're still playing chess in the Square and see if they'll let me up to tenth floor--and go over to Green Street.

  9. Jefferson Market ~ yes, it is truly a grand building that well deserves its designation as a historical landmark. It ceased to be a jailhouse in 1945 but was empty for a few years. Don't know exactly when it was converted to a library but am so very glad it was done as it is also one of my all time favorite buildings.

    There are several videos which show how wonderful it is:


  10. I have never been shy about expressing my love and admiration for beauty. Because of this, I enjoyed ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Greek poems and art work which idealize it. Further, I have enjoyed works written in Spain and England both before and during the Renaissance which also idealize beauty. And I have enjoyed Chinese and Japanese arts of those times which do the same. In recent centuries, many artists have made similar idealizations. One such portrayal was the Gibson girl:






    In these idealizations, she portrayed as being strong, dynamic, beautiful, determined. Yet, she could be a bit dreamy and, at times, just a bit isolated. But what makes this picture significant for us in the present reading is the fact that many garments worn by the Gibson girl were created at the shirtwaist factory. It was this idealization that gave many of those employees their livelihood. Ironically, it also led to the death of many as well.

  11. Robert, you confirmed what I was thinking earlier today -- that the Jefferson Market building was a women's prison at one time. I was visiting an aunt, uncle and cousin during the 1960s. They lived on West 13th St. We took a walk and I was told about the building having been a prison. I was about 12 and was taken by this idea. I think the building had a haunted look at the time. I don't know if it was used for anything then.

  12. This page has some good photos and history of the building. It was the Women's House of Detention from about 1932-??. There is also some information here about the protests against the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1909.

    About the House of Detention: "From their stylish deco aerie, female inmates would regale passersby on busy 6th Avenue with obscene gestures and shouted curses until this obscenity in turn was demolished in 1974."


  13. Here's another NYPL page with the Jefferson Market building's history. The Library branch opened in 1967.


  14. Funny what Robert mentions because a few nights ago I was watching Discovery I think but a slight maybe of Nat Geo and it was a series about Nasty Cities or Stinking Cities but the first show was 14th century London and the second was 19th century New York.Both were very disturbing but both were eye opening and not the kind of place one would want to live.

  15. I've read that the final shots of Breakfast at Tiffany's were shot across the street from a Woman's prison in NYCity and that there were cat calls from said prison during the final alley and Cab scene

  16. I'm glsd they didn't open the branch until 1967, because by then I was crosstown at NY Law School.

    My caretaker's forebearers came here from Italy in 1907 as a firect result of the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906.

  17. I'll watch for Breakfast at Tiffany's and watch for the scene.

  18. Early on in the book it reviews the dangers of being a union organizer and the uncertanties of retaining employment in general. Aside from no safety features in the garment industry, there was no job security at all.

    Does anyone remember the head of the ILGWU in the sixties--he used to run the city leaders ragged when the contracts came up. He drove Wagner and Lidsey mad.

  19. How did all those immigrants communicate?

    I grew up in a place where there were immigrants who never learned English--Polish, Slovak, Slovene, Serbs, Germans, Italians, Russians---but everyone seemed to make out in the end. It was interesting in part because they all detested each other, but worked together in the mines very well. The first generation seemed to pit aside their parents disputes and we (I was among them)got along OK--we just had to keep our respective parents away fro each other. All would be well until the weekend, when a lot of them went out and got drunk--then all hell broke loose!!! I imagine it was the same in 1910. We all somehow made it through.

  20. ''all detested each other''

    Interesting point which reminds me of a master's thesis I read at City College's library many moons ago. The student did some research into garment worker's unions and discovered that these institutions collaborated with garment companies in hiring and assigning positions based on race.

    While the immigrants we read of in von Drehle are White Europeans, NYC experienced a large wave of ''immigrants'' of Blacks from the South and Puerto Ricans. In order to save a few bucks, garment companies hired women from these groups as they could pay them less than they paid White women. The unions made sure that White women were assigned hirer paid jobs in mending or constructing cloaks and minks. They also insured that non-White women were assigned the far cheaper paying job of mending men's underwear. Further, Black women were assigned positions as supervisor or union rep for Puerto Ricans while PR women were assigned similar positions among Blacks. This often created communication problems which led to much employee discord with some quitting their jobs. This further insured that others from those social groups and could be hired with the lowest wages possible. It took several decades before unions finally decided to treat all employees equally.

  21. What time period, what years were covered by the study? In the 50's and 60's I remember the great distrust between blacks and Puerto Rican people. There used to be a truism which held that the current immigrants were always looked down on by the immigrant group which preceded them. The last groupm in were always accused of taking jobs away from the preceding groups. In NY, Puerto Ricans were at the bottom rung of the ladder and theNegro was a step above them, pressing ong on their hands, trying to force them off the ladder.

    In the early case I spoke about, it was the fifties and the Irish and the Welsh always looked down at the Italiansand Eastern European, who, like in themasters thesis, always got the lowest paying positions. Women worked in the silk mills and flour mills--if their husbands would so allow--It was a very different world---with many different cultures. I remember there were three or four Christmas dates to accomodate the different calendars and different orthodox and Polish and Russian customers. Polish Christmas is still very much celebrated here, especially in the Churches--Roman Catholic Churhes here were and are Ethnic based. There's Polish churches, German Churches, Irish Curhes

  22. Aside from the above, there's Russian Orthodox, The Polish National Church, and an Eastern Orthodox Church not associated with the Russian Orthodox Church.

    My Church (Im Roman Catholic) is an Italian Church,with an Irish pastor and a heavy Hispanic set of parishoners, which provides an authotized Latin Mass and an English mass and a Spanish mass--the priest who says the Latin Mass is straight from Estonia.

  23. The area has become very tolerat in past fifty years. But I imagine it was very much like NY in the early part of the century. Immigration to here stopped to a great extent for obvious reasons during World War II

  24. Enjoying all the reminisces here. I have only been a visitor in New York, and can only vaguely remember the area around Greenwich Village, although I remember seeing the rows of "dumbbell apartments" in what I believe remains the Italian quarter.

    What was interesting to me was how the Jews in the garment industry were split into owners and labor. I suppose it was question of who came first to America and was able to move up the rungs of the social ladder more quickly. At the Triangle Waist Company you see all the distinctions of class and gender represented.

    I suppose for persons like Harris and Blanck, Zangwill's play held true, but for persons like Clara Lemlich the idea of a "melting pot" must have been a sick joke.

    Here's a link to a documentary on Lemlich,


    who figures heavily in this book.

  25. Not too many Catholics in Estonia. It is predominantly a Protestant country, as a result of the many years under German and Swedish rule.

  26. It's great being able to get American Experience on the Internet,


  27. ''What time period, what years were covered by the study? ''

    The master's thesis was written about conditions starting in the 1920s and going into the 30s. Puerto Rican scholar Carmen Teresa Whalen has written and lectured extensively on this subject. She may be reached at the following site:


  28. ''Does anyone remember the head of the ILGWU in the sixties--he used to run the city leaders ragged when the contracts came up. He drove Wagner and Lidsey mad. ''

    Ah! Now I remember - it was David Dubinsky:


    I kept thinking it was socialist Gus Tyler who ran Jewish-socialist-anarchist radio station WEVD but knew that it just couldn't be right. The station was founded by those involved in the ''Jewish Daily Forward'' which was mentioned by von Drehle on page 31. Its reportage dealt with issues of social justice and the need for political reform. Then, it became almost exclusively an apology piece for zionism and its fan base declined. Because of that the station went bankrupt and was sold. Tyler and Dubinsky worked together for many years.

  29. Remember this?



    and this satirical gem that nearly killed me with laughter:


  30. Good evening: Thanks for the reminder of David Dubinski and of the Jewish newspaper The Daily Forward. The rest of your post also reminded me of the "Uptown Jews" vs the "Downtown Jews."

  31. The great wave of immigration between 1880 and the era of the Triangle tragedy produced two specific type of Jewish immigrants who were antagonistic to one another, but in spite the antagonisms, the one group always financially aided the other.

    The dichotomy was thus: The German Jew arrived and seemed better educated, more commercially adept,and brought money. Thry started small businesses and became what is known even now as "Uptown Jews." The Eastern European Jew arrived penniless, with little skills, little education and entered the factories like the Triangle. 50% of their population was women (a high percentage statistically).

    Uptown Jews resented Downtown Jews and looked down on them as embarrasments, but organized drives to aid them financially and helped them get educated. Downtown Jews spoke primarily in Yiddish--Uptown Jews, in German.

    Jewish American history is fascinating because it shows how both groups developed in NY and created Labor Unions and Industries and became Reformers, Socialists and Democrats--and men like Justice Brandeis and women like Belle Moscowitz and supported opposed Zionism and founded The Jewish Daily Forward which published in Yiddish.

    The two groups' mutual antagonism resulted in an almost symbiotic relationship, producing moe good than ill.

    See: COMING TO AMERICA by Roger Daniels (second edition) especially pages 223 to 232.

  32. Trippler: Carmen Teresa Whalen? Now that's straight from Meltin Pot America--Carmen Teresa is Spanish/Italian--never Irish/Scottish, which is the name Whalen---I'M of Scottish Parents. The Scottish spelling of the name is WHELAN.The Irish spell it WHALEN. Both pronounce it the same way, because in the language of Robert Burns, an "e" followed by a consonant and the followed by an "a" reverses the pronunciation of the two vowels--so its not pronounced WHEELAN as one would think, but WhAlEn. Scottish (ERSE) is a weird liguistic form of speech.

  33. Whoops: I came on too early....I'll be back later today. It's 9:00 AM where I'm at.

  34. Early night. Have a good holiday.

  35. Error report : Justice Brandeis was not from New York. Sorry for the error.

  36. ''Scottish (ERSE) is a weird liguistic form of speech. ''

    I guess that explains why it's ''Fare-weel ourrr ancient glorrry ...
    Such a parrrcel of rrrrrouges forrr a nation ...''

    and this:


    Doric call centre.

  37. Poor Jane's almanac meander:


    Poor Jane was Ben Franklin's sister who lived a life of deprivation and squalor. Alas, the sad story was re-echoed in Triangle and in current news headlines.

  38. My parents were from Fifeshire, Scotland. The residents spoke the language of Burns, which more particularly was Lallands, or Doric, or Aberdeen, which are largelly interchangeable. Erse in particulare (whose rules I mentioned) is a highland gaelic and very rare--but the same rule applies in the Aberdeen are and in Doric.

    My mother did not speak English as such, but spoke in fluent Lallands, or Doric. I still think in that language or dialect--which has all but died out by now.

    Almost nonbody speaks or understands erse these days,not even me.

  39. The Scottish languages all pretty much went out with the Treaty of Union and the Highland Clearances which followed. What an awful time that must have been for Scots. Thank goodness Queen Victoria had a soft spot for Scotland, helping to restore some balance in the Empire.

  40. What strikes me the most about the Triangle Waist Factory is the division among Jews, and how this apparently was ethnically driven to some degree. Blanck and Harris were apparently German Jews, and maintained a tight family control over the operations, whereas most of the labor was Eastern European Jew, which had come in the second wave of immigration and found themselves with the short end of the stick.

    Von Drehle mentions that the garment industry in the Pale of Russia had pretty much been Jewish, so in many ways it was a natural fit, but here were the women expected to shoulder much of the work, while their brothers more often than not got a crack at college and bettering their lives in America. The lawyer who would eventually defend Blanck and Harris was one such example.

    Disappointed in the way Von Drehle starts with Clara Lemlich, then tells so little more about her. I suppose she would be the subject of another book in itself, but I think Von Drehle could have done a better job of weaving her into the action.

  41. One last comment on old Scottish Highlander talk ~

    Bounci TV used to broadcast its shinty games (shinty is Scottish field hockey) in old Gaelic:



    BBC also had a channel which broadcasts Welsh football in Cymru.

    I have watched Spanish football's Liga broadcasts its matches in Catalá or in Euskatel or other regional languages.

  42. Tammany Hall ~

    Recall our earlier reading of Ackerman re TH corruption.

    One would have thought TH had changed for the better and lived up to its professed reform. It should have helped the down trodden rather than wealthy elites such as Triangle's owners. Instead, it chose to send thugs* as strike breakers and this set back reform by many years.

    * in old New York parlance male thugs were called B'Hoys, females as G'Hals

  43. Von Drehle spends a lot of time on Tammany Hall, but his descriptions don't rise much above character sketches. It was interesting the way Frances Perkins chose to work with TH to get reform bills through the NY state legislature, as it wasn't enough to assemble a panel of experts.

    The book is essentially divided into three parts. The first part sets the stage by describing the political climate in New York leading up the fire. The second part deals with the fire itself, relying heavily on Leon Stein's interviews with survivors long after the event. The third part explores the aftermath, shifting between the reform legislation that Frances Perkins spearheaded in the NY state legislature and the trial of Harris and Blanck.

    I suppose we can take the first part first, as Von Drehle explores the battle between capital and labor and how TH took the side of capital. Clara Lemlich figures heavily into the first part. Here's more on Clara,


  44. "Workers were docked for arriving a few minutes late, talking, missing Sunday shifts, or taking too long in the rest room. The normal 56-hour week might stretch to 70 hours without overtime pay. The pay was below poverty rates, and work during the slack season was assigned preferentially. Workers had to pay for their own sewing needles. Some had to rent the chairs they sat on and pay for the electricity of their sewing machines."

    This comment from the link above jumped out at me. Essentially, the workers were treated as contract labor. It amazes me how Harris and Blanck used every angle to reap the most money they could from their operation. One can see how any attempt to organize labor would be a major setback in their operation.

  45. TH ''character sketches''

    "... political activity in the Jewish community ... was growing more intense every year. Tammany leaders recognized this and tried to win over the new immigrants'.'' (eg, breadlines, protectionism) {p 30} But instead of favoring these newly arrived people, they sided with the capitalists.

    Seems to me TH could have done better by partnering with these immigrants in the garment industry. It would have saved a lot of money in that they would not need to pay off the cops and the b'hoys, they would have profited from the business dealings made by the garment workers and industries, and they would have silenced the reformists who criticized them so much in the Progressive era. Further, with a few safety measures, their workers would have been healthier and had higher productivity which leads to greater profits. I guess the capitalists must have given them a few good bribes.

  46. It seems that once Tammany recounted the votes, they decided "reform" wasn't such a bad thing to stand behind, but as Al Smith pointed out to Frances Perkins, there were some heavy hitters who stood in the way of reform, both literally and figuratively.

    But, I think the danger is looking at this purely in capitalist v. labor terms. As Von Drehle pointed out, the garment union lost a lot of support over the socialists digging in their heels. Americans are willing to sympathize with the plight of the workers as long as it doesn't become too radical.

  47. What fascinated me the most in the early chapters was how the city's leading ladies teamed up with the women garment workers in promoting their rights during the strike. Women suffrage and workers' rights worked hand in hand for a brief while until the Socialist Party began to downplay the role of the Colony Club, according to Von Drehle. Of course, when you are J.P. Morgan's daughter, you can't very well call for a revolution in government. Seems Ann Morgan caused him enough headaches as it was.

  48. ''the danger is looking at this purely in capitalist v. labor terms''

    You are correct. I read further and the narrative points out that TH was staunchly Catholic which suggests that its interest in these unfortunate Jewish workers was a matter of convenience at best. It was the Catholic vote they were after and perhaps they were aware that Europeans of this religion were or would be sent to their districts.

  49. But after the disastrous fire took place, everybody was looking to blame everybody else. Tammany was so shaken by public reaction and demand for reform that it promoted two pols within its ranks in order to create some legislative reform. These were:

    Robert F Wagner:


    and, Alfred E Smith:


    In fact, TH found that reform was now more than convenient or just a matter of a sales pitch. It definitely was to its advantage.

    I enjoyed the writer's brief paragraphs on these two reformers as they grew up on the streets of NYC and did not have the privileged type of life that so many others had. Through hard work and dedication they worked their way up the ranks and emerged as champions of reform. Of course, being a grad of City College, I was especially proud of the Senior Wagner whose son was mayor of NYC when I was in my youth. My dad (being a FDR Democrat) readily voted for him in those days.

  50. The Consumer's League of New York City:


    ''The Consumer's League of New York City was formed in 1891 as a result of a report made in 1890 by Alice Woodbridge, secretary of the Working Women's Society, the forerunner of the Women's Trade Union League. This report enumerated the deplorable working conditions and long hours under which women engaged in the retail trade had to work ... Reports and agitations of the league were probably more influential in the field of legislation than in any other way and effected the passage, enforcement, and defense of laws having to do with safety, sanitation, night work, maximum hours, child labor, minimum wages, social security, and fair employment practices.''

  51. Another group that led the demand for reform was the Citizen's Union.

    from wiki:

    Citizens Union is one of the United States' first good government groups. Founded in 1897 as a political party, the group was reconstituted in 1908 as a non-partisan member organization with the broad mission of serving "as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good".

    Citizens Union was founded by New York City citizens concerned about the growing influence of the Democratic Party political machine Tammany Hall. The organization helped to elect New York's first reform Mayor, Seth Low, in 1901. Today, Citizens Union continues to act as a government watchdog organization, with campaigns that focus on voting rights and poll workers, campaign finance reform and government accountability.

  52. Interesting discussion. I'm going to read the LEMICH LINK before I rejoin the discussion. I enjoy early labor history and the Progressive Era. I ran across a short biography of Big Tim Sullivan on the Kindle and I'll read the sammple tomorrow. Right now I'm finishing up reading THE ABACUS AND THE CROSS in real paper HARDCOVER. If I can complrtr it, it will be the first real book I've read in close to two years. I needed a bookmark to read , to keep each line straight and to get from line to line, but my speed and comprehension seem a tad slow, but maybe 70% normal. I'll let you guys know shortly.

    Right now i'm in the middle of a thunderstorm--so I better get off and read someabout Big Tim Sullivan--be back tomorrow.

  53. Of course, the first part of the 20th century was a wild and crazy era. You saw socialism growing rapidly in Europe, and no doubt there was this great fear it would spread to the US. I think this sparked a lot of the hatred toward the new immigrants, as Americans saw socialism as "imported" through the unruly workers. There was a golden opportunity there in New York for The Colony Club to get together with the Garment Workers, but to read Von Drehle the Socialists scotched it by politicizing it.

    As long as it remained exclusively a labor issue, the garment workers had the sympathy of the city, but as soon as it became a political issue they lost it. I'll have to read more as I'm not convinced Von Drehle is telling the whole story here. He paints in very broad strokes.

  54. The fear of Socialism and then of communism far predates the 1900's. The RR Strike and the Haymarket riot are better markers. Both events involved labor advocates and agitators and the issue even then was the right to organize. Anarchists also got involved and the whole thing degenerated into a political issue, complete with real fears of a Socialistic takeover of Ameriuca. The American fear of Socialism has been inbred into American society ever since--and even know we are rearguing Collective Barganing, Unionization and accusing people of being atheistic, Godless Socialists out to destry the American way of life.

    We always feared and hated immigrants--because they took jobs from American labor and because they were the Socialists we all feard. The good that emerged from the fire was the emergence of a movement which took 25 years to achieve its goals.

  55. I had hoped for a better explanation of the massive garment strike which predated the Triangle Fire. Getting 10 to 40,000 garment workers to walk out of the factories was a very substantial feat. Yet, Von Drehle seemed to treat it more like a spur of the moment decision which the Socialists and Colony Club tried to cash in on for their own political gain.

    There wasn't really much about unions per se in his book. He provided some fodder, talked about what a rough and tumble place it was in New York at the time, made it clear who the bad guys were and presented Clara Lemlich like a patron saint of garment workers, but little or no discussion where this came from. He spent much more time describing the Machiavellian world of Tammany Hall.

    Union history is tough, I guess. Hard to get a handle on all the attempts to organize labor, all its failures as well as successes. The Haymarket book was much better in this regard, as it also dealt with a specific incident, but James Green spent much more time discussing the labor movement and how the riot unfolded. Von Drehle, being a reporter, seems more interested in juicy stories.

  56. Gintaras,April 24th.
    I did write a little bit about the separated entities of Russian Jews from German Jews, several years ago at escape from elba, specifically to weezo who was on some project, but I think that the material I posted for her in History/World History went right over her head as she didn't have the patience for it at the moment because of the project that she was into.

    I was a little afraid that she was perceiving Jews categorically, apparently unaware that they have very definite cultural differences in Europe because of location and the nature of their interaction with the predominant European culture varying geographically. Thus, there was a reason, vis a vis the Triangle Factory Fire , that the employers were German Jews while the employees were from a number of cultures including German Jews and Russian Jews.

    They arrived in the U.S. with these differences and in particular at different times.

    I used an example, which came most quickly to mind, of my own hometown which was also Golda Meir's.
    German Jews arrived from Western Europe, in an earlier wave of migration, where they had represented a commercially astute community, urbane and involved in business both manufacturing as suppliers of both materials and finished goods,and in provender. They arrived in the American Middle West before the Civil War; in the neighborhood where Golda Meir was born, their shops were the frontage on the main thoroughfare from South to North, crossing the major avenue that seemed to rush toward the Lake front past professional offices, the financial district, the fashionable emporiums of ladies clothing but a few blocks south of the Journal Press. For Third Street to attain that cross walk,it had to pass through a valley of breweries belching unpleasant odors or gases produced day and night.

    As your streetcar(later replaced by buses)climbed back up the hill, it returned to what later would become "the inner city". For the time being, Jews had arrived from German ports just in time to knock out Uniforms for the Union Army.
    And here is the contrast, in the time-line. The Russian Jews came with the beginning of a new century, following pogrom and the coming Revolutions; and they were directly the opposite from the earlier German Jewish arrival. Instead of coming from an urbane experience, they shared nothing of the kind in common,they were rural dwellers living far from other inhabitants; and as I read as recently as this last week, some unable to leave for America in this era were condemned to Siberia where they would have nearly starved and had to be extremely inventive to have any cuisine whatsoever. What they did come up with were quite troublesome work to combine in what were more the nature of "snacks" than hearty meals. Their improvisations became eventually memorable as those special treats that allowed them to survive hard times.

    The German Jews of Third Street turned their backs and totally ignored the bearded new arrivals who dressed in black caftans,boots, and wide-brimmed round fur hats(and kept their side-locks). They were left to fend for themselves and locate further toward the Western reaches of the city, closer to what was referred to as Uptown.Their language variation and customs were entirely different;yet, gradually they made inroads into the downtown area along the river with slaughter-houses and tanneries. They attended entirely different temples and synagogues; and, I am told it took considerable decades for the German Jews, who had moved residentially to tne Lakeshore suburbs, to accept the notion of "mixed marriages".

    Personally, I think the girls who had arrived in New York and organized for better labor conditions, caught on to their new environment and dressed very nicely.

  57. Interesting that the books I've found so far on the 1909 garment workers' strike are aimed at young adults:

    We Shall Not Be Moved: The Women's Factory Strike of 1909 by Joan Dash

    We Stand As One: The International Ladies Garment Workers Strike, New York, 1909 by Laura Edge

    That's very good, but would nice to find a more comprehensive book on the ILGWU.

  58. Here's another one by Susan Glenn, which looks more comprehensive,

    Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation

    published by Cornell Univ. Press

  59. Trippler,April 22,2011
    "The station was founded by those involved in the ''Jewish Daily Forward''.

    Forward, which in Yiddish starts with a "v"(and several other combined vowels)was founded by Isaac Bashevis Singer upon his arrival from Warsaw. His brother preferred not to accompany him and I.B. Singer stoically departed without his brother who loved the urbanity of Warsaw. They were both writers but I.B. had honed his sensibilities by committing to posterity his memories and investigations of Hasidic kabbalism; to such a degree that he foresaw things that were to come to pass. He left Europe with great sadness at failing to arouse his brother's awareness.

    I read his work for several years before going to New York; and, then, as he got older and older, suddenly he put in an appearance in the Midwest when I had been back there awhile. I arrived at the Jewish Community Center and found the auditorium packed; chiefly with ladies from the North Shore suburbs, one of whom was very important both in terms of real estate and her decisiveness whenever she determined what was needed and went after it. She kept me at more than arm's length. I had heard however, that discussions of literary Singer's particular "metier" had reached her ears and that she strongly disapproved. I am not at all certain how she had come to that conclusion; was this a recommendation of one or another conservative rabbi? The authority of rebbes with their keen readings is somewhere between swept away with enthusiasm and grim silence. Thus it was totally stange that Fanny was here; except that it would be just as strange if she did not appear, and perhaps one ought just write it off that she was expected to be there among the other ladies: in her appropriate position.
    I sat at the back, in the last available seats, immediately after entering the room. Singer began his discourse. I found it entirely rapturous, the stimulating connections and states of mind induced by his imparting what he
    had studied and contemplated for decades upon decades before he was running a newspaper and had the time to write at great length recreating the aura of a mostly forgotten time recorded in his collection of short novels.

    During the exiting of the auditorium, one noticeably heard the admission of some, if not total, confusion among the ladies now checking with each other if they were not the only one who hadn't a clue what the very old man was talking about.
    Somewhat later on, I heard that Fanny likewise had felt that way but she had noticeably changed in her demeanor and had now thrown herself into further good works removing Jews from Russia,giving them dwellings and providing them lessons at the J.C.C. Succinctly, they were being taught to be Jews, as they had not been while in the Soviet Union. And they were last seen from my kitchen window above the empty lot where they took to sun-bathing in those black bathing suits that I think that they brought with them when they arrived on the Great Lakes.

  60. Nice anecdotes, maddie, but we are trying to maintain a discussion on The Triangle Fire in this book forum. If you want to share your sidewalk observations and other book notes, please do so in one of the meander forums. I can also provide a forum on Singer if you like. Thank you.

  61. I have some books which mention the strike, but I don't remember in what detail. I'll look for them. What you need for this discussion is a history of Labor Relations between, say 1880 and 1910, with an emphasis on Immigration into New York City--maybe a sectional history involving THE VILLAGE. I'll take a look in my library tomorrow--i'll need to dig for the books I want, but its worth the effort. I'll get back to you. Emma Goldman books might help some.

  62. The relationship between the two Jewish communities is a socialogical roblem wrapped around a religious problem, encapsulated in ethnicity. Its a problem or situation close to unique involving New York City at a time of slowly evolving coalitions advocating labor unions and womens suffrage among a people split by class distinction and religious distinctions and rivalries. their common religios background split them instead of uniting them in the same way Christianity was split between Catholic and Protestant Irish---(Boston being the prime example)

  63. Not mentioned is that previous Jewish immigrants had pretty much shed their religion, and tried to amalgamate themselves into American society. Whereas the huge Jewish immigration at the turn of the century, which came largely from Eastern Europe, brought their Orthodox Judaism with them and women were expected to carry much of the financial load in the household, which is why you saw so many women working in the garment industry. Von Drehle mentions this in passing, but doesn't go into any depth.

  64. It would have added much to the book if the writer dealt with NYC's old style Sefardic community in how it handled all the impoverished incoming groups. This was the second oldest grouping in the City (the Dutch were first) and it enjoyed considerable prosperity. For example, it created Jews Hospital (now Mt Sinai) and other philanthropical organizations which predate the Henry Street Settlement. I believe they helped in educating people, job placements, food distribution, and medical assistance.

  65. If I remember my early New Amstedam history, the Dutch allowed the Jews to practice heir religion only if they did so in private. Thus, restrictions in NY were much the same for non-state religons as in the other colonies. Freedom of religon was either forbidden or highly restricted.

    But we really should concentrate on conditions in the late 1800's and early 1900's--not the 1660's.
    The Dutch Reformed Church was the official Church in early New Amsterdam...other faiths were barely tolerated. The Colony was operated as an adjunct of the Dutch West India Company wgich in yurn answered to the Director Generals in Holland

  66. Keep in mind that aside from the Jewish, there was an influx of otherwise non integrated Italians--a spurt in their immigration came about in 1906=1907 after Vesuvius erupted. They were entering the garment trades also and a number of them died in the Triangle Fire and were union organizers and agitators

  67. ~ religion ~

    Peter Stuyvesant did impose restrictions on Jews so that they were only allowed to congregate for religious purposes in private homes. A few years after his death a congregation was founded in lower Manhattan.

    However, my question above was regarding Sefardic Jewish relief efforts in the 1890s-1910s up to the time of the Triangle disaster. I'm up to about page 230 in the book and have not seen this subject addressed by the author. I suggest that this is a shortcoming that lessens the book's historical value.

  68. It may lessen the value of the book, but he couldn't possibly cover every aspect. Its a history of a fire, not a history of 20th century Judaism

  69. No one is suggesting that it is. However, the book discusses laborites, feminists, German relief agencies, settlement houses, the immigrants, politicians, and just about every social group that was impacted in some way by those events. It therefore behooves the author to discuss, at least in part, the founders and facilitators of these groups and what impact they had or failed to have.

  70. Thats a question of the author's judgement as to whether those contributions were related to the events covered. Its also a question of editing. It may be unfortunate but it doesn't go the essence of the book. Many other cultural, religous and ethic groups went with litlle or no coverage.

  71. Judaism is central to Von Drehle's story, since the Triangle Waist Company was owned an operated by Jewish family and hired predominantly Jewish immigrant labor. Von Drehle spends a lot of time in the early chapters noting the split not only in the Jewish community, mentioning the differing European backgrounds, but also the gender split within the Orthodox homes, from which much of the women labor came. He also noted that this was an extension of the Jewish garment business in Germany and Eastern Europe from which these immigrants came.

    Of course, it is a very complex issue, and he barely scratches the surface, which is why I provided links to other books which dealt specifically with Jewish immigration at the turn of the century.

    The fire safety issues came later in the book when Von Drehle noted the efforts of Frances Perkins to make stricter fire and safety codes in New York that would be enforced.

  72. Its a difficult proposition to decipher. While Jewish immigration and issues certainly were of upmost importance in the industry, I can't help but believe that conditions were any better in sweatshops held by Italians and housed by Italians employees. The fire and the deaths which occured had nothing to do with nationality or religon, so I can more easily accept the lack of depth here, although I agree it would have made for a much better book if he author went into more depth on the subject than he did.

  73. '' Judaism is central to Von Drehle's story ... it is a very complex issue, and he barely scratches the surface''

    Exactly. And it is no sin to point out what omissions there (if any).

    You may recall our previous reading of Bob Dylan - the author discussed his origins, those who influenced him, his impact on others. But, as I pointed out, he failed to note Murray Kaufman's role in facilitating this. A glaring omission, indeed.

  74. HAPPY MAY DAY to all!

    Today is International Labour Day (Labour spelled European style).

    Interesting how there was such a divergence of people who initially aligned themselves with the garment workers:

    ''women of widely different social ranks joined forces in a common cause which, though directly for the betterment of one element, is for the ultimate political advancement of all ... the support given to the waist-makers by women of prominence is unprecedented''.

    p 77

    Unfortunately, this diversity proved too unsettling for all and the alliance soon fell apart. Because of that the garment workers did not get the protection they needed that could have avoided the fire disaster.

    Today, being International Labour Day people throughout the world are reminded that despite our diverse backgrounds, we all have a common interest in promoting fairness and equity in the work place. The shame being that the USA does not participate in this as they do in Europe and elsewhere.

  75. the fire escape that failed:



    The Asch building was advertised as ''fire proof''. Indeed, it remained largely structurally sound despite the horrendous fire. But the fire escape failed. One is forced to wonder how many lives could have been spared if it had not been for this failure.

  76. Jdaism played a part in Dylan's life and it is appropriate to bring it up.

    Judaism had nothing to do, per se with the fire. These people died and would have died whether they or their building owners were Afgans. Neglect and lack of safety caused their death--not their ethnic or relious background....

    We will have to disagree here, although I do agree he might have made more room for background

  77. I'll be back tomorrow. Have a good day. Happy May Day....

  78. ''disagree''

    That's what forums are for: independent thinking leads to greater enlightenment.

  79. Von Drehle wants us to view the fire in a bigger light. His book is not just about the fire, but how it tore apart a community, impacted the city, and "sparked" tougher fire and safety regulation. He also shows some of the faces in the community, even gives us the mini-histories of some of the workers, most of whom were Jewish immigrants, tracing back their lives to Eastern Europe, noting the pogroms in the Ukraine and other places, from which they fled. All kinds of associations being made here, but like a reporter looking for headlines, doesn't go too deep.

    He talks about the Italian workers, but he describes their situation as more transient than that of the Jewish workers. The Italians apparently were migrant workers for the most part, saving as much money as they could to return to Italy and restart their lives there. Of course, many (if not most) of these Italians remained in New York and rebuilt their lives there.

    The focus is on the Jewish labor situation, and he describes it well enough to peak one's interest in what it was like for Jews in New York at this time, noting the divisions that existed within the community.

    We can also discuss the Women's Suffrage movement, as Von Drehle spends time discussing the Colony Club and how it tried to ally the lady garment workers in their cause.

  80. Here's some images of the Colony Club,


  81. Good posts, Gintaras. We can discuss the life styles of the Jewish peoples in New Yotk and labor conditions in general, along with the Suffrage movement. We might add a thread on the political situation.

  82. I added a copy of Lower East Side Memories, by Hasia Diner, to the post Hard Times,


    Should give us more valuable insights into that time.

  83. Max Steuer who defended the Triangle owners:



    A tough and clever lawyer who successfully defended the Triangle owners.

  84. Its past 10 PM where I'm at... I'll look at your links, Trippler,tomorrow....

    I've been up for the most part sine last night. Its been a long, long day.

  85. Darn. I just lost a long post ...

    I purchased Triangle for my I-Pad, and read about the first half on the trip home. Have really enjoyed it. I wasn't expecting to, based on some of the comments here, but I have found it to be fascinating even if it's not deep in its coverage.

    I will try to post more on it tomorrow.

  86. wELCOME avrds: In spite of adverse commments and criticisms, the book is well written and very informative. I like histories like these--written in a light way, journalistic in a sense. When I first read it it lead me to read two or three other books of that era--so it served as a catalyst for further education. We need more books like this. Serious academic studies are all too often dull, turgid and boring. This type of eriting brings reality to life as itwas in 1911. I ended up reading about Belle Moskowitz, Al Smith, Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt and a few books on immigration and the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village between 1900 and 1920.

    Join in, we need your views.

    P.S. : I am reading real hardcovered books again--I finished two small histories--not very much, but it demonstrates my return to normality.

  87. That doesn't mean i'm normal--just that i'm reading

  88. Robert, I tried to post quite a few comments on the book last night, but they disappeared -- I guess I've been gone too long. It didn't recognize me.

    I too like the general feel of the place and time he achieves with the book -- particularly the implications of class and "race" (in the terms of the time) are fascinating.

    And it's interesting to see the conflicts not only between labor (particularly the labor of young women) and management, but also of the traditional NYC politics vs. the rise of progressivism in NY.

    And the way they integrated society women into the strikes to discourage widespread arrests.

    I was appalled, as the author intended, by how easy it was to hire a thug or two to beat up a young woman (or in that one case, a man) and leave them for near dead on the street. Talk about timely! And the use of prostitutes to downgrade the view of women generally.

    I personally like more academic books and miss footnotes in this one, but am totally enjoying it. I'll try to read more tonight and hopefully will have more coherent comments to make.

  89. And yes, I have noticed how far you have come in your typing as well! Your vision must be nearly back. CONGRATULATIONS! It gives us all hope to see you doing so well and recovering so quickly.

  90. Thank you.

    Getting better was the greatest adventure of my life, the most intriguing series of events I ever went through. Positive thoughts led to positive actions, which led to positive results. I would lie someday to write an article on how I got better so others might benefit in their quest to get well in spite of seeeminly insurmountable obstacles.

  91. Eugene V Debs and New York Evening Call:


    from wiki:

    The Call's opposition to United States involvement in the First World War resulted in it being prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Like most of the American socialist and radical movement, The Call was attacked during the Red Scare. Its offices were raided and wrecked in 1919, and The Call did not have its second-class mailing privileges restored until June, 1921. Norman Thomas became editor of the newspaper at that time, but it went out of business in 1923.

  92. The Whyos:


    The Whyos

    The Whyos, a collection of the various post-Civil War street gangs of New York, was the cities dominant street gang during the late 19th century. The gang controlled most of Manhattan from late 1860s until the early 1890s, when the Monk Eastman Gang defeated the last of the Whyos. The name came from the gang’s cry, which sounded like a bird or owl calling, "Why-oh!"


    Consisting largely of criminals ranging from pickpockets to murderers, the Whyos were formed from what remained of the old Five Points street gangs following the NYPD campaigns against gang activity, particularly in 1866-1868. Originally forming from members of the Chichesters, the gang soon began absorbing other former rivals and soon dominated New York's Forth Ward, an Irish slum notorious for its crime, by the early 1870s.

    The Whyos had several leaders, but longest were Danny Lyons (arrested for the murder of gangster Joseph Quinn, his girlfriend ("Pretty" Kitty McGown) lover) and Danny Driscoll (hanged at Tombs Prison for the death of Beezy Garrity during a gunfight with rival Five Points gangster Johnny McCarthy).

    The members were predominantly Irish, but unlike the Irish gangs of the past, victimized anyone - not just Englishmen. Driscoll and Lyons eventually decreed that in order to be a real Whyo, the person must have killed at least once. They were so powerful that most of the other gangs at the time had to ask their permission to operate.

  93. Whyos (continued):

    Early years

    The headquarters shifted many times through the years: "Dry Dollar" Sullivan’s Chrystie Street saloon, a churchyard at Park and Mott Streets and its original headquarters the notorious Bowery dive known as The Morgue. The tavern was the scene of at least 100 violent murders in its early years, as hour long gunfights between drunken gang members would frequently occur.

    During the 1870s, the gang would include some of the most notorious gangsters of the era including Red Rocks Farrell, Slops McConnolly, "Big" Josh Hines, Hoggy Walsh, Piker Ryan, Dorsey Doyle, Bull Hurley, Fig McGerald, and Googy Corcoran.

    Many of the gangsters were some of the first to use present day methods that would later be adopted by rival gangs and eventually organized crime organizations in the early twentieth century. One notable example is Josh Hines, often seen wearing a pair of pistols, would regularly arrive at illegal gambling dens and faro games demanding a percentage of the nights profits from the owners. While being questioned by a police detective regarding the extortion activities, possibly when several owners complained, Hines was aid to have replied "Those guys must be nuts ! Don't I always leave 'em somethin' ? All I want is me fair share."

    Another prominent member, "Dandy" John Dolan, is noted for inventing several unique gang weapons including a set of shoes in which pieces of an ax blade were embedded and a copper eye gouger (worn on the thumb), first used in a robbery in the summer of 1875. As he attempted to rob a local jewelry store, the owner James H. Noe attempted to stop Dolan and was beaten with an iron crowbar. Dolan then proceeded to use the eye gouger on Noe, taking them with him. Often showing them off to friends, the eyes were found in Dolan's possession while being interrogated by Police Detective Joseph M. Dorsey. He would eventually be convicted of murder and hanged at Tombs Prison on April 21, 1876.

  94. Rise to power

    The Whyos, at their peak by the late 1870s and early 1880s, were led by Mike McGloin who began moving the gang into extortion, prostitution, and murder for hire (although this had been practiced earlier by members such as "Big" Josh Hines, "Dandy" John Dolan, and Piker Ryan). McGloin also implemented one requirement for perspective members to commit at least one murder stating in 1883 "A guy ain't tough until he has knocked his man out !".

    Aside from committing many crimes, the Whyos also offered specific criminal services for a price. The following list was found on Piker Ryan when he was arrested by the NYPD in 1884.

    Punching $2
    Both eyes blacked $4
    Nose and jaw broke $10
    Jacked out (knocked out with a blackjack) $15
    Ear chewed off $15
    Leg or arm broke $19
    Shot in the leg $19
    Stab $25
    "Doing the big job" (murder) $100 and up

    In 1884, McGloin was arrested for the murder of saloon owner Louis Hanier and hanged at Tombs Prison on March 8 of that year. Danny Driscoll and Danny Lyons would eventually jointly lead the gang by 1887, however they would both be executed in 1888 for separate murders and hanged on January 23 and August 21 respectively.


    With the deaths of Driscoll and Lyons, the gang never regained its former status as its members were eventually imprisoned or killed. As the Eastman and Five Points gangs came to prominence in the mid-1890s, many gangs began working with Tammany Hall providing considerable political protection. However, the Whyos continued their violent activities ending in their last great battle between fellow Whyos as members Denver Hop and English Charley began fighting over shares of a recent robbery. As they began shooting at each other, a major gunfight involving at least 20 other members began. No one was injured however, as all had been intoxicated, as the press reported the Morgue's owner had felt the gangs had been silly to think they would hit anything after drinking his liquor. The last of the Whyos would eventually be broken up by the Monk Eastman Gang, who would maintain control over Manhattan for the next decade.

    The Whyos were featured, although in a fictionalized version, in Elizibeth Gaffney's 2005 novel Metropolis.

  95. Darn ~ forgot to mention above that the Whyos were the thugs hired by Triangle's owners to harass picketing workers. They were ruthless and, as the narrative tells us, were efficient in causing much harm to and intimidating potential strikers. On top of all that, the crooked cops and judges were on their side so that they escaped prosecution.

  96. Seems these gangs grew out of the New York Draft Riots. Von Drehle pretty much just treated them as hooligans in his book, didn't explore their origins. Figured they were just the "dogs" for Tammany Hall.

  97. Trippler: Did some of your information come from THE GANGS OF NEW YORK and/or FIVE POINTS?

  98. Gintaras, that's interesting. How would they have made that leap into anti-union thuggery? Is it some sort of racist motivation?

    And the Gangs of New York. I'd forgotten about that book, too. I think I'm getting to the point that I'm forgetting more than I once knew.

  99. Trip charted the Whyos back to the 1860s, so I just figured this particular gang grew out of the Draft Riots. Tammany Hall has Irish roots, so it seems the two fit each other like a glove.

  100. For the life of me, I cannot find the article that was the precise source of those notes on the Whyos. Several other articles all say the same thing. And yes, most were of Irish origin whose roots go back to the Civil War with a few like the Bowery Boys going back to the 1840s.

  101. Ah, got it:


  102. Always good to know the source so you can evaluate the information accordingly.

  103. Thanks Trippler. I read THE GANGS OF NEW YORK years ago, so I know of that particular gang (and others)

    Thugs were used for decades to break union organizations. By the time of Triangle, the practice go back to anti-Catholic agitation as far back as the 1840's. It was more anti Catholic than a racial thing or ethnic thing, though it was definitley anti Irish, based on the upsurg of Irish immigration arising out of the Irish Potato Famine.

    I'm sure there are other examples--before the 1840's, but thats where my memory goes back to.

  104. I'm confused as usual, and not sure how to go back through the e-book to check on this.

    Weren't the women they attacked Jewish? And from Trippler's posts the gangs were Irish, so I'm assuming they were Catholic.

    Were the gangs formed initially to fight back against Catholic violence and then sort of morphed into more general street gang thuggery?

    And somewhere in that history the Pinkertons were formed. Maybe as a counter to using street gangs to do management's dirty work?

  105. Trippler knows, but I'll try and look it up. It's somewhere in the front of the book. I'll let you know

  106. That are of Manhattan was controlled by Irish-Catholic gangs. The West Side or what was later called Hell's Kitchen were controlled by Irish Protestant gangs. There weren't Jewish gangs per se but there were Jewish thugs hired as hit men or front men. This is why the girls were attacked by those no-goods.

  107. errata = meant to say ''that area'' of Manhattan

  108. Avrds: I think it mattered not what the nationality of the thug or the victim was or their religon. Gangs and thugs were out for hire and the guiding thing in the Lemlich case was that she was a union organizer. These people were out for hire and woulk kill their own for about $100 a pop. I don't dispute the thugs here were from the Whyo's operating then, but it was merely incidental to life in NY.

    Two good books on the subject are: THE GANGS OF NEW YORK and SATAN'S CIRCUS (which gives a price list for various assignments--like leg reaking, etc to murder)

  109. sorrry--in my last post it should read "leg breaking"

  110. Thanks Robert and Trippler. I'll keep reading!

  111. Good evening: Tomorrow I'll review chapter two and maybe get some stuff together on Union organizing. I'm yet to dig out my books on The Village and on Tammany Hall. I dread pulling that section out of my library since its in an awkward spot requiring me to get way dow on my stomach and get to the second shelf and then get behind that shelf, because my books are double shelved. Wish me luck and good diggins!!!

  112. They had an interesting segment on Travel Channel yesterday on New York tenements, noting one that was made into an immigrant museum,


  113. I haven't been to the Tenement Museum but some of my friends have. One of them told me it was warm and stuffy (they went on a day last fall when I was taking a state test at a public school a few blocks from it). From the pics on the website, it looks worth a visit for those old-fashioned interior design. I think the basic structure is like the walk-up I live in.

  114. But the tenement museum building was built in 1863 --about 30 years before my building went up. Guess we have a little more ventilation.

  115. As I understand it, the rooms are designed to picture how immigrants lived at the turn of the century. The rooms that were shown on Travel Channel featured a typical Irish, Jewish and Italian apartment from that time, replete with peeling paint, a "sweat shop," and a kitchen table laid out for Shiva.

  116. Having lived in one of those buildings when I was 18-19 on Stanton at Ave B, not sure I'd want to revisit all of that ... But Marti it looks like June 6 is the day to go.

  117. That has been one of the interesting things about the book -- you really get a sense of the "interior" of the Triangle building, and how the work was laid out. It was interesting that the actual "safety" and cleanliness features helped fuel the fires by concentrating all the paper and cloth in bins.

    But this is where I wish I had footnotes so I can find out how he knows what he knows. Hopefully there will be endnotes to read (or I'll find my hard copy so I can flip back and forth). I will say that reading on the IPad is very easy on the eye.

  118. what chapter is the description in?

  119. Cornell University used to have a site for Trials and I remember the book has notes which refer to the setup on the floors, citing the trial transcript. The Stein book may have descriptions ands sources. I'll look at it tomorrow.

  120. Hi, Robert.

    The chapter/s I was thinking about (5 & 6 maybe?) was on the fire when he walks through the building describing how the cutting and sewing tables were laid out (and the men doing the cutting), where the bathrooms were in the one floor that had to be redone for sanitation but that otherwise was a big open area, and even where the administration offices were.

    He also talks about the young women who ran the cuffs and other completed pieces up and down floors to add them to the sewing stacks. In spite of the horrific story of the fire (which kept reminding me of what it must have been like in some ways in the world trade center), I felt like I got a pretty good mental picture of the building and its operations.

    Some of his insight must have been from the papers and testimony at the time. He says there was a lot of interest in the fire -- at least to begin with, and I'm sure there were good details available to him from the big papers. Some of the personal stories are also fascinating, but again I'm always wondering how a writer knows that. (Like in a bio when the subject walks into a room, checks himself in a mirror, and fixes his hat -- I always want to know how the author knows that...!).

    Once I get more comfortable with the e-book format I'm sure I'll figure out how to go back and forth to check his sources. Right now I'm just reading along.

  121. I have the kindle version. The notes are at the end, starting at the 68% point of the book. They aren't linked. I should go back and look at the notes while we are still discussing here.

    A lot of ebooks have the notes linked in the text so you can read them as you go and click the back button to get back to the text.

  122. Thanks, Marti. That helps! I just toggled to them ... I still wish there were real footnotes so you can check when you are reading, but this is better than nothing! Now I'll have to see if I can toggle back to where I was. I must be near the end if the notes start at 68%.

  123. It is one of my life goals to write a screed on the necessity and proper desinating of notes in non-fiction boooks. All footnotes need be numbered and when reached by the reader, contain an explanation, an expansion of information. They should be placed at the bottom of the page, never at the end of the book.

    I detest the method of noting by the authorof this book.

    My proposed essay would be appropriately boring and shall be a sort of a literary field or unified theory, much like Eienstein's Unified field theory.

    I'm a dedicated footnote reader: I read every footnote in every book I read.

    A famous historian once said that footnotes were necessay to rest the eyes of the reader and to save him from the utter boredom of what he was reading or to stimuate his thoughts. He once inerted a footnote which he informed the reader, was merely to divert him from the boredom of the text....noe thats a truly profound thought in itself.

  124. Good morning, Robert. I look forward to your essay, with footnotes of course! Could become a cult favorite.

    This is where we need whiskey priest and teddy to chime in because I think it was Nabokov who wrote an entire book of mostly footnotes....

    My understanding is the Chicago style of footnotes became popular with historians because a small superscript number doesn't interfere with the story, but you still have the sources right there. I don't even mind if they are printed as endnotes. This is one of the disadvantages of becoming academically trained in history -- you get very picky about all of this. But my guess is publishers want the story to flow and they probably feel like footnotes look intimidating.

    I will say Von Drehle is a good story teller.

  125. the economist Stiglitz just recently wrote a non fiction book on economics without notes or index...he ought to be drummed out of the corps. Ironic, isn't it that Stiglitz comes out of the Chicago school of economics (The tricle down theory of Hazlitt and Von Mises)

  126. where did he old style (numbered notes with note at the bottom of the page come from)

  127. Here's a book for us Robert:


    I find them tedious to work with and sometimes crazy making, but they are, alas, essential if you want to document your research for your readers.

    I've tried to run down a couple quotes or facts for my own work, and sometimes find it's one book or article quoting another, rather than leading to a real source. Very frustrating.

  128. Thanks for thhe link. I'll go there after I return home from B&N.

    I share your frustration, but they also stimulate me. I have, like you, been driven crazy tracking them down.

    I'll be back tomorrow--have a good day.

  129. Avrds:
    I have buy that book. It has footnotes--numbered and on the bottom of the page. I'll get it when my ship comes in on May 18...thanks

  130. You are welcome! I have it on my list, too, even without a ship on the horizon.

    In the meantime, here's a preview (footnotes and all):


  131. Avrds, I don't know where you bought your ebook, but epub format uses page numbers (even though they don't correspond with the paper books) and Amazon uses locations and percentages. I like the percentage (got used to it). With your ipad you can use various apps for purchasing from different sources, including Amazon, Apple ibooks, probably the Nook books from B&N and other ebook stores. Ipad isn't allowing Sony store app (which is also epub format.

    I like to read footnotes that add something to our understanding of the text. Sources are important, but if that's all there is in the footnote, I don't always read them. Bottom of the page is best. I do like the ebook footnotes when we can go to them with a click.

  132. Amazon kindle books have recently started including page numbers to correspond with existing paper books. They aren't always there, however, and my Triangle edition (purchased after they started this) doesn't have page numbers.

  133. Marti, I have Kindle for IPad which I downloaded so that I could download the book. My "copy" of Triangle doesn't have page numbers either but I'm sort of getting used to the system. As I said earlier, it's a great way to read if you have trouble with small print. I'm zooming through it. Will finish it this p.m..

  134. There is a post that links the full text of the Leon Stein book, which used interviews with survivors to piece together the story of the fire, much of which Von Drehle uses,


    The post also has a link to the Cornell Univ. database.

    What makes it confusing is that Stein wrote his book some 50 years after the event, and Von Drehle interlaces it with his description of the fire, which he pretty much tells in "real time." I assume this was his primary text in his description. Seems that much of this information was either suppressed or the defending lawyer was able to cast sufficient doubt on it during the trial, especially when it came to the locked door.

  135. The stein book is in B&N in a fiftieth anniversary edition (of its publication). I'll look at it tomorrow.

  136. It sounds like the lawyer really feared that one witness and so did a number on her. Say that part again. Now say it again. Even von Drehle doubts she could have told it in such a dramatic fashion on her own, which seems a bit patronizing on his part.

    But I still thought this was a great, quick read (thank you Kindle) and found his idea of the fire that changed America an interesting one. (Oh, that we could change so quickly as all these book titles suggest.)

    His argument as I understand it was that the fire mobilized leading progressive thinkers to fight back on behalf of fire safety and worker safety generally. And that was the rise of the liberal urban coalition that formed the basis for FDR's administration and liberal politics today. That may be simplified, but sounds good to me.

  137. I also found it interesting that the 54 hour day (is that right?) was resisted because of the interests of the candy maker, who gave big campaign donations to keep labor rules the way they were. The more things change the more they stay the same etc.

  138. Twas the start of the mantra that continues to this day, that any reduction in hours or increase in pay would bring about the demise of American Capitalism. Any introduction of any regulation would mean the small businessmen would face financial disaster---sond familiar? Its all those Socialist agitators!!!

  139. I was reading up on stuff from the two books I cited earlier. The WHYO's were last heard of in 1896. Big Tim Sullivan, who subsequently became Tammany Chief, was elected to the Assembly in 1888 with their support on a rival ticket. Later he owned three bars in the area where he lived (Five Points). Croker brought him into Tammany. He was not above hiring thugs to do his dirty work. Tammany fielded 90,000 workers on a typical election day. A formidable force indeed.

    Although the connection between the fire and the New Deal may be inirect and inoccuous, teo threads are very direct--Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt.

    It took the next 25 years to get to the Wagner Act and to get a 40 hour week on the road.

  140. I thought my first post above was lost, but it is now up--so if you read both posts and are confused, I apologize.

  141. Good notes above^.

    re ''54 hour day'' ~ I think that's a reference to 54 hour week.

    It turns out that while the Whyos were dissolved by Big Tim, he continued his life of crime and corruption with thugs who originated in that group of trouble boys.

  142. The trial judge appeared to be too kind to the defense in the trial by excluding testimony of people jumping to their deaths. It would seem to me that this was relevant by revealing just how desperate the situation was when the door was locked and the fire escape collapsed. Somehow the judge thought otherwise. Further, the judge allowed the defense lawyer to seemingly badger the witnesses with irrelevant questions and with insinuations such as the idea that the girls were called together to rehearse their story before heading to trial.

  143. Seemed like the judge also had a past experience that made him side with the defendants. Really unfair when you think of it.

  144. Yes, that's what I meant -- 54 hour week. Even the worst of them couldn't have squeezed 54 hour days out of workers, although I'm sure they would have tried if they could.

  145. ''I'm sure they would have tried if they could''

    You're not kidding! And how sad it is that capitalists are doing the same things today by exporting jobs such as shoe manufacturing to Third World countries while forcing employees to work all hours of the day.

  146. And in Maine they are trying to roll back child labor laws so they can work longer hours. Something is rotten in Denmark....

  147. Sullivan then took control of Max Eastman's gang (Jewish in nature) and he also controlled Paul Kelly's boys---(Italian in composition, sine Kelly wasItalian (Vascelli, I believe)

    Thems were the days----The Irish, Italians and the Jews, all controlling pieces of NY--but with Big Tim in control of all. It's quite a history--all surrounding the Lower East Side, Five Points and the Bowery--and Greenwich Village.

  148. As Sullivan increased his power, Croker lost his, giving way to Nixon, then to Murphy, but with Sullivan exercising the real power in spite of them all--even Seth Low, the product of Republican machine

  149. It sure sounds like Sullivan had a decline as steep as his climb and died an very unusual death.

  150. Live by the "fist," Die by the "fist," or something to that effect.

  151. There is a commonly held idea that when in trial a defendant is entitled to a jury of one's peers. Yet, this concept does not appear in the US Constitution. Instead, it comes from the Magna Charta and the Anglo-Saxon common law. The actual right one has in regard to the makeup of a jury is that it be representative of a cross section of one's community. Defense attorney Steuer succeeded in getting the jury stacked with business people rather than rank and file types. These folks were more disposed towards the defense's side. Further, the judge's charge to the jury was unfairly in their favor as he based the possibility of a guilty verdict upon the notion that the defendants knew whether the fire door had been locked. Legal court observers were highly puzzled as to how the judge could make such a charge. Frankly, I am inclined to think he got the verdict that he wanted.

    It turned out that Judge Crain was a Tammany hack. He had a history of bureaucratic incompetence and he later resigned from the judgeship in disgrace.

  152. Crime does pay all too often as the defendants later made an insurance claim for $ 1 million with Steuer again as counselor. He won that case with just as much ease.

    As tragic as this terrible incident was, it did force Tammany to reform. The NY Democrats evolved into a people's party as progressives now emerged in its leadership. Al Smith and Bob Wagner led the way for FDR's emergence as US President, unions were galvanized, laws favorable to workers such as less work hours and greater job safety were enacted, the suffrage movement was stimulated, and the street gangs would eventually die out. NYC became a safer place to live and work as the Triangle tragedy was, indeed, the fire that changed America.

  153. Tammay never really reformed in any sense. It influence varied over the next fifty years, ening its real influence only with the resignation of Carmine Desapio in the 1960's.

    my computer is glitching. I'll be back tomorrow

  154. Just discovered a very short book called Prohibition on the North Jersey Shore: Gangsters on Vacation. I'm not buying (too short for the money), but the first chapter is free to read online -- starts out with gangs in NYC, lower east side and what author calls tenderloin (midtown west or hell's kitchen):


    I love the cover on the book.

  155. Matthew Linderoth is author of book noted in my last post.

  156. ''Tammay never really reformed in any sense.''

    Can't agree with that one. Yes, it remained an example of machine politics, bled the Big City for more money over the next few decades, and may have exerted undue influence. But, unlike the past, at least its pols did good for the public in building up parks, creating municipal programs that alleviated poverty and promoting quality of life (one thing that immediately comes to mind is municipal softball where my uncle played in the Spanish Harlem league - heck of a player, by the way), ending housing discrimination, expanding rent control, improving the city schools, improving the city civil service, and just making it a better city for all of its citizens. Yes, Carmine De Sapio was a crook and spent some time in prison for a comparatively petty matter. But many people liked him (including me!) because he did lots of good things in his very long life including promoting political careers for minorities.


    Here is an obit of De Sapio:


    Can you honestly tell me he was a bad guy?

  157. Sounds to me that Tammany just shuffled its base of support in the wake of the Triangle Fire, drawing more and more on the labor vote, by doling out favors, just as it always did. Not that it was all bad, but the style of politics remained the same.

    Frances Perkins figured out rather quickly that if she was going to get anything through the New York legislature, she had to work with Tammany whether she liked it or not. I thought Von Drehle provided some very interesting anecdotes in this regard, especially those of Al Smith.

  158. And that she couldn't count on FDR.

  159. Tammany remained Tammany even in "reform" sfter the fire.Charles Murphy decided accepting cash for bribes was dangerous---so he developed a practice in which he would hire experts in construction and then demand builders hire them as "consultants" so when the contractor paid a consultant, it was a legitimate fee--not a bribe. Tammany brought in millions over the years. When Tim Sullivan died, he did so with an estate in the millions. Al Smith called him his mentor. Smith was originally a loyal Tammany man, opposing the repeal of the 54 hour legislation. He then changed--but Tammany didn't---and for all the "good" these guys did, rhey took more than they gave. Varmine Desapio was nothing more than a high class, very powerful thief, who, thank God, was the last of the powerful Grand Sachems of Tammany--thogh he was convicted on minor charges, no dobt exists that he deserved mor than he got in terms of years in jail.

    All these guys put on really great shows of taking care of their "people in the steet." They paid for their generous good deeds with monry stolen through graft and payoffs and stealing public funds. You couln't lay a brick in NYC without greasing some thug employed, indirectly by Tammany--and that persisted well into the 1960's under Desapio

  160. error: Desapio's first name above is "Carmine" not "Varmine."

  161. Vermin Desperado?

    I wish I had the time to commit to reading Caro's bio of Robt. Moses -- maybe next year.

    Just looked up Caro's information on wiki and it says he has one more LBJ bio (on his presidency) coming next year. Now that's a book worth waiting for if that's true.

  162. ~ Vermin Desperado ~

    I'm afraid my friend RW is being just a bit uncharitable towards Carmine DeSapio. Honest now, he was no worse than Dailey in Chicago, James Curley in Boston, or Tom Pendergast in KC. And he did so much good that even his sworn enemies had nice things to say about him when he died!

  163. It's like Robert said, if they expected to stay in power they had to do "good things," but that didn't change the nature of their politics. Dailey's "housing projects" were tremendously self-serving with bloated construction costs so that everyone got a take. It was nice that they also provided badly needed housing, but many of them became "low-income nightmares."

  164. Yup. 100% true. But no different in Chicago than it was under Republican William Hale (“Big Bill”) Thompson during the 1920s. It was under his rule that Al Capone and other gangsters flourished. Machine politics exists to this day under both parties with patronage jobs and monies (that is tax dollars) being directed towards pet projects.

  165. It would make an interesting discussion to investigate the benefits reaped from the likes of a Desapio as opposed to damage resulting from his tenure at Tammany.

    I was a part of the Dennis Carey machine in Essex Country, NJ and was also involved in its destruction. That was in the Sixties. So I'm very familiar with both the positive side of machine politics and the negative. I never witnessed any machine being "reformed." Destruction seemed the only answer to their excesses--but I sure would welcome a full scale discussion of them.

  166. Avrds: There are two books I think every student of American History NEEDS to read : Caro's POWER BROKER and David Hackett Fischer's ALBION'S SEED. Also high on my list is BIG TROUBLE, about labor problems in the West involving the Stuenberg murder and Big Bill Haywood.

  167. I've lost track again, where are we in the book?

    I just completed the biography of Big Tim Sullivan: KING OF THE BOWERY. Very good book on how Tammany operated from the 1890's until 1913.

  168. ''benefits reaped from the likes of a Desapio as opposed to damage resulting''

    A darn good question ~ but how the heck can anyone determine the proper answer? Why did those machines thrive? Why weren't they ferreted out? How did Tammany survive the Boss Tweed purge? Did any cities thrive without machines?

    Perhaps as some say, machines continue to exist but under more polite or outward appearances. We just call it party politics. We do not call it machine politics anymore.

  169. Robert, I've always wanted to read the Moses bio, but just have never gotten to it. Have read all three of his LBJ books, so know it must be great. Have also read a couple Fischer books, but not that one either.

    We read Big Trouble with the Times group -- it was a book I really pushed for. When I had to declare my favorite book of history in a course on historiography, that was the book I chose. I loved it -- and we had a great online discussion of it as I recall.

  170. I'd be up for The Power Broker, although it will be quite a haul. Lots of intriguing angles in this book, and Caro is a first class writer.

    As for "machine politics," I think it was a product of the industrial age, a great way for industry to control politics through its handpicked "officials" and "henchmen." As long as industry held the purse strings, it figured it had city, state and federal government pretty much in its pocket.

    "Machine Politics" still thrives today as witnessed by all the tax breaks industry continues to get, not to mention lightweight regulations, and open door policy when it comes to exporting jobs overseas.

  171. We can talk about Frances Perkins. Von Drehle spent a lot of time on her. Open the book with Lemlich, then closes the book with Perkins, as if the two presented two sides of the same coin.

  172. I was struck by how familiar the politics of the time were. We really are one nation under the sway of large donations. And this crazy idea of "freedom." Now Conoco is saying that to eliminate tax subsidies to the richest corporations in the history of the world would be Unamerican.... And in some ways I suppose he is right.

    Gintaras, I would love to read the Power Broker, but I'll have my hands full with 2011 books. Caro will have to wait until next year when I'm free to pick my own reading again. I'm probably the only one here who hasn't read it in any event.

  173. Let us suppose that machine politics evolved in North Carolina, as it did in NY, to the point where the pols actually represented the rank and file workers. Just imagine if a modern day Carmine De Sapio operated there and worked to improve conditions for workers. Would this disaster have taken place?

    ''North Carolina Plant Is Fined $808,150 in Fatal Fire''


    So that while it is true that a De Sapio may have bled the City for a few million, how many lives did he save by expanding and improving police and fire protection? how did his work improve the quality of life through municipal works, and fighting for progressive legislation (some of which promoted worker safety), that enabled people to live out the American Dream thereby sparing them lives of poverty?

    I, for one, am certain that if a De Sapio had been in control of things in Hamlet, NC, the disaster that killed those workers would not have taken place. They would still be alive and working to this day, the company would be making profits, and tax revenues would be generated. De Sapio would be taking a sizable cut of the goods. But everyone would be alive, productive, and well. This is a better way to measure the good/bad of machine politics.

  174. ''The Power Broker'':


    1336 pages???

  175. Your questions are very well put, but I can't answer the in a forum venue. A true set of answers would involve an intense study, probably extending over a a long period of time and probably invoving a damned good book.

    Thanks anyway for the thought stimulating effect they had on me. I don't know of any studies which go to answering your concerns--but I do know that even to begin, I would have to read or re-read at least ten books--and then it would only be a start.

  176. I would love to write a book based on the questions, but i'm not up to it right now. I'll look around to see if I can track down some relevant works. I'm sure there are studies somewhere. Are there any Desapio books available?

  177. ''Your questions are very well put, but I can't answer the in a forum venue.''

    Strange ~ my two posts with those questions are missing on my screen. But they do or did tie in with our reading on Triangle as they deal with the evolution of political machines from those which favored capitalists to those which favored rank and file people. Further, they also dealt with how we as a society fail to measure or can better measure the good/bad these machines did, failed to do, or can do better for the good of society.

    Anyways, Triangle is a book that shows how political corruption entailed costs to society that cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents. Further, it reveals how society has again retrogressed into a new form of Gilded Age in that new work zone disasters are again taking place because politicos disregard the needs and interests of rank and file people.

    By the way, Triangle is one of the most requested books in the library systems in St Paul and in nearby Dakota County. Evidently, van Drehle's book is viewed as very relevant to today's headlines and social concerns. Its revelations serve to inform us that we have fallen short of our professed beliefs some universally accessible 'American Dream' which largely remains unreachable for millions. This is something we all need to consider on election day and in our daily lives. For those reasons, I commend the readership here for selecting this very important book.

  178. I also believe we are in a second Gilded Age, but I believe in the American Dream, which may be dormant or in a coma right now, but will revive in time.

    It may have seemed dead to the hoards of Immigrants in 1911, but, as we know, not even The Great Depression killed it. My God, look at a Bill Gates or Steven Jobs or Barak Obama or even Glenn Beck--we might not like what they stand for or their philosophy, but they emerged from average families to to success in their chosen fields. Google started in a guys garage.

  179. Seems like we lost a few posts due to the Google downtime, but now they have come back again.

    Von Drehle's book fits very well with what is going on at the moment, especially when you view the labor conditions in Indonesia, Thailand, China and other countries. Naomi Klein's No Logo is a great book to read in this regard, as she takes the major fashion labels to task for "contracting" their products overseas so that they don't have to take any responsibility for the labor conditions. This allows them to focus on marketing back at home, which they pour millions into each year. Among the labels she specifically went after -- Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Adidas. Hilfiger was perhaps the most interesting as he simply sticks his labels on other companies' clothes which he selects for himself, making himself twice removed from the sordid labor conditions abroad, while enjoying fantastic mark-ups.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  180. Gintaras: are you referring to THE SHOCK DOCTRINE? I read about 1/3 of it, or more before my great disaster--what did you think of the book?

    How does it relate to conditions in 1911?

    There's a new biography of Lincoln Steffens just released. I'll bet his SHAME OF THE CITIES touches a lot of ground in common with TRIANGLE. Have you read it? He was a good friend of TR when TR was Police Commissioner in NY

  181. The deleted posts do not appear on my screen ~ nonetheless, we have had sufficient point-counterpoint in re to those issues.

    As for the idea that the American Dream still is a reality, well, it is to some but maybe not to others. Here in the midwest we have seen lots of folks who used to be millionaires but who are now on church breadlines. Others are just as bad off (like me). But, you never know ...

    Glad to see that Triangle, How the Other Half Lives, Shame of the Cities, and other writings are again being read and discussed by so many people. Perhaps this is what will stimulate people to re-adopt FDR's progressivism and to again make society prosperous for everyone. For indeed, it is the lessons of history that bring about improvement into society.

  182. The Steffens biogarhy might revive interest in earlier lifestyles and beliefs.

  183. Does anyone have a copy of that Steffens bio? I wonder if it has large print like Triangle so that I might be able to read it.

  184. No Logo, Robert. Different book by the same author. In it she explores the free trade zones and sweat shops that were set up overseas to lure American and European retail industry.

  185. Trippe: The Steffens biograhy is coming out on Tuesdat. I'll check for you to see if there is a large print edition. B&N ordered one copy, which should arrive on Wednesday. Sinc we both have poor vision, i'm also interested in font size. Typical books have 11 point type. I can read that, but prefer 12 or 13. Ill let you know...

  186. Good morning: I sense we've slowed down on Triangle....where are we in terms of chapters?

  187. We use more of a free form commentary nowadays. No more chapter-by-chapter. So go ahead and discuss any issue you wish ...

  188. At trial the defendants were asked how much they would lose each year because of worker thefts. They answered $15-20 and routinely kept the safety doors locked in order to prevent workers from walking off with materials. This, to me, suggests that they knew the safety door was locked at the time of the disastrous fire. On that basis, there should have been a conviction since the judge's charge to the jury would have entailed one based on their knowledge of the door being open/closed. Somehow, the evidence, like the video in the initial Rodney King trial, wasn't enough to bring about a just verdict.

  189. From my other readings on this subject, I learned that immediately after this fire many states adopted worker safety laws. This, with the growth of unions (which still were not fully accepted in society) insured greater worker safety. Sadly, in great contrast, worker safety and union growth did not grow after the Hamlet fire in 1991. 20 years ago we failed to learn from the lessons of history. Now that the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire took place and society is again discussing the issue, let's hope those lessons will now be learned.

  190. ~Preliminary Report of the New York Factory Investigating Commission, 1912~


    Von Drehle refers to this Commission in TRIANGLE.

    I found this blurb to be especially significant in view of our discussion of the role played by political machines in every day life:

    ''The illness and diseases caused by these conditions can in large measure be prevented, and prevention is always better than cure and less costly. In his report on National Vitality, Professor Irving Fisher shows that the economic gain to the nation that would result from proper precaution to prevent sickness and disease, would amount to at least $500,000,000 per anum.

    A New York State manufacturer testified before the Commission that he had installed a great many sanitary improvements and labor-saving devices tending to the comfort of his employees. He expressly disclaimed any philanthropical motives in so doing, but said it was a decided benefit to him in his business from a purely dollars-and-cents standpoint. ''

    As I wrote before ~ true, those machines cost society a great deal of money. But once they took the side of rank and file people, how much good did they do for society?


    ... we had regulations that prevented worker injuries, prevented the sale of perilous foods and medicines, prevented pollution, and allowed for other measures that promoted good health?

    The cost prevented and the enhanced productivity are incalculable.

  191. The trial was very disheartening to read, but of course not surprising. Tammany had the courts as well as the politicians in their pockets so there was little chance the workers would get justice.

    I had a hard time figuring out what was so wrong with the women's testimony. It may have been "scripted," but no more than would have been Blanck's testimony, which was riddled with lies. One has to wonder if the prosecution was on the take as well?

    I was surprised that Von Drehle gave no more mention to the Colony Club or other wealthy benefactors who would have had a strong interest in the workers' plight. By his narrative, they lost interest after the earlier strike?

  192. ~ prosecutors on the take ~

    A very real possibility.

    Since the trial was for the death, I believe, of only 7 of the girls, the prosecution could not re-try the defendants for their deaths again under the legal concept of double jeopardy. However, this does not enjoin the prosecution from holding trial for the deaths of another set of victims. They could easily have proceeded against Max Blanck and Isaac Harris and this time used the specific language of the law as determinant of the defendant's guilt or innocence. Here's what I mean:

    The judge charged the jury as convicting only if the prosecution established that the defendants had specific knowledge that the safety door was locked.


    Based on my past legal experience, no specific knowledge is required. Guilt could be established regardless as to whether or not the defendants were aware that it was locked.

    Thus, the prosecution should read the law to the judge and jury, if necessary use the legal history of the law (this is where the intent and all legal ramifications of the bill are discussed by legislators prior to enactment), and introduce legal writings by lawyers or law school professors which discuss how the law should be properly applied. This way there can be no room for error. I suggest that this would be far likelier to produce a successful prosecution. In truth, I am amazed that the prosecution did not appeal the initial case by saying judicial error or further proceed in this manner. But, of course, if they were on the take such a thing is to be expected, sad to say.

  193. In the end Tammany stood with the owners and the status quo. It would take time before they had any real concern for the worker and for their efforts to improve conditions. In the meantime, they continued their good works by sending food baskets and throwing big bashes in the Lower East Side, but did nothing to help improve their living conditions. All they wanted was their votes--so they "bribed" their people with their good works, but people saw little or no changes for at least a year, during which they continued to live and work under sorid conditions, while Tammany chieftants lived a good life thanks to continued bribery and gang control of their areas...