|Birth: ||Mar. 27, 1893|
Vienna (Wien), Austria
|Death: ||Feb. 15, 2001|
Los Angeles County
The last living survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Rose passed away at the age of 107.
She was born Rose Rosenfeld in a small town near Vienna where her family ran a successful import/export business. On visits, her father became enamored with New York and the family emigrated in 1909. The family moved into a comfortable apartment on the East Side, but Rose's father had trouble in business and her elder sister, Molly, found a job at an exporting firm. Rose took care of the apartment until Molly suggested that keeping house was hardly "working" and Rose, then 16, became determined to find a job of her own. The nearby Triangle Waist Company, on the top three floors of the Asch Building, had recently fired several workers suspected of union-organizing and Rose was hired to operate a button-attaching machine. Although conditions at the shop were hard, Rose said in interviews that she found the job exciting. It meant she was no longer a sheltered Jewish girl, but a real American, earning real money.
Rose was two days shy of her 18th birthday and working on the 9th floor on March 25, 1911 when fire broke out around 4:30 pm. "All of us on the ninth floor were engulfed by smoke, and there was a terrible panic because the doors were locked and there was no way to get out," she said. "People were running, crying and screaming, but I just stood still, stupidly." As girls jumped from the windows, Rose finally ran up to the 10th floor "to see what the executives were doing." She discovered the floor had been abandoned and realized her only chance was a smoldering staircase leading to the roof. She covered her face with her long skirt and ran through the flames. On the roof, firemen lifted her to an adjacent building. As she walked down to the street, she stopped on each stoop to sit down and cry. "When I came in the street here comes my father," she recalled. "He collapsed. He fainted. And I didn't go back to work anymore. I went to college." 146 of her coworker's died in the fire, including Rose's only close friend, a shop forewoman. The fire shocked the nation and led to some of the first laws dealing with workers' safety. It gave much needed momentum to the fledgling labor movement, greatly strengthening the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
Her life would be no less remarkable in later years. On a visit to Austria to show relatives she had survived the fire, she and her mother were detained due to the Russian invasion of Austria during World War I. During this time, she once had to hide a Russian national spying against his country for Austria. She buried him in coal in the basement, and then talked the pursuing Cossacks into leaving without a search. After returning to New York, she got a job with the Cunard steamship line. In 1927, she married Harry Freedman, an American who owned a typewriter store in New York. They had three children. When the two youngest were stricken with polio, Rose asked when they would be able to walk. The doctor said, "Five years." She replied, "I have time." When Harry died in 1952, leaving Rose with no money or source of income, she went to business school and at age 59 was hired by the Mark Cross pen company in New York. At 64, she left for an accounting job at the Manhattan Life Insurance Company. Her youthful appearance enabled her to say she was 50. "Of course it was a lie, but they didn't know it was a lie," she said. She worked until she was 79.
In 1995, she moved to Los Angeles to be near two of her children. There, she became such an avid Lakers fan that, on her 100th birthday she was presented with a team jersey bearing the number 100. She exhibited her own paintings and eventually mastered 7 languages. She was still attending Spanish classes at 107. "To me, 106 is a number," she said. "I lived that long, not only on account of my genes, but on account of my attitude. You've got to stand up for yourself. Am I right?"
She was a lifelong crusader for worker safety, maintaining that the Triangle workers died because the owners were not concerned with their welfare. She said: "That's the whole trouble of this fire. Nobody cares. Nobody. Hundred forty-six people in a half an hour. I have always tears in my eyes when I think. It should never have happened. The executives with a couple of steps could have opened the door. But they thought they were better than the working people. It's not fair because material, money is more important here than everything. "That's the biggest mistake — that a person doesn't count much when he hasn't got money. What good is a rich man and he hasn't got a heart? I don't pretend. I feel it. Still."
Harry Freedman (1893 - 1952)*
Mount Zion Cemetery
New York, USA
Plot: Path 31R, Gate 10, Czernowitzer Bukowiner Lodge
Created by: TomDuse
Record added: Nov 01, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 43807416
Hi Rose, My name is Sarah and I will be portraying you in our school's production of The Triangle Factory Fire Project. I've learned a lot about your life and your many hardships. I am inspired by you and hope I can do you a justice as acting your part....(Read more)|
Added: Jun. 29, 2016
Added: Apr. 29, 2016
Knowing you survived one of New York's most horrific moments in history was unbelieveable. But now your pain is over and you have peace with those you knew and worked with in God's Kingdom. Rest in peace Rose.|
Added: Feb. 20, 2014
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