The Asch building--known as the Brown building today--was the home of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and site of both the first large scale strike of women workers in the country and of one of the worst industrial disasters in American history.
Hazardous working conditions were the rule in early 20th-century American industry, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was no exception. Overcrowding, poor ventilation and dangerous machinery caused the local union to declare a strike against Triangle, and national labor and feminist figures such as Samuel Gompers and Lillian Wald spoke in support at local rallies. A spirit of solidarity grew throughout New York's clothing factories and when a general strike was called in the fall of 1909, over 20,000 workers--4/5 of them women--walked off their jobs. What was once a strike limited to one company became the first large scale strike of women workers in American history.
A settlement establishing a slight wage increase was reached, but union demands for increased fire safety were not addressed, a failure that had tragic consequences. When fire swept through the building in the spring of 1911, locked doors and missing fire escapes contributed to the deaths of 146 workers, most of them young women. Many leapt to their deaths in a vain effort to avoid the flames. Public outrage swept the city and women progressives led by Florence Kelley joined with Tammany Hall leaders to create the New York State Factory Investigation Committee (FIC). The FIC conducted hearings and inspections which led to a series of state laws that dramatically improved safety conditions within factories.
Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Building (Brown Building)
Photograph by Andrew S. Dolkart.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 23-29 Washington Place in New York City, NY. The property is now used as classrooms and offices by New York University and is not open to the public
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