Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Victim. In 1911, 18 year old Yetta was a garment worker, an Examiner of finished pieces, at the Triangle Waist Company on the 9th floor of the Asch Building in New York City.
The company made women's blouses, known as "waists" or "shirtwaists", and it's workers were mostly recent immigrant German, Italian and European Jewish girls, some as young as 13 years old, although older women and men and young boys were also represented. Their working conditions were far from safe. They worked 14 hour shifts among heaps of flammable bolts of fabric, scraps of which piled up on the floor around them; tissue paper patterns hung from racks above their worktables. The workrooms were lit by open flame gas lamps and the cutters, mostly men, were allowed to smoke as they worked. Although many of the workers had joined the fledgling International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the Triangle Company refused to sign any agreement and was under no obligation to abide by established union safety rules.
On March 25, 1911, around 4:30pm, a fire broke out on the 8th floor. Most on that floor and the executives on the 10th floor were able to escape, but workers on the 9th floor, who had not been alerted to the fire, found themselves trapped. Of the four 9th floor exits, the elevator was commandeered by 8th floor workers and then stopped working altogether, one stairwell door was soon blocked by fire and smoke, the other stairwell door had been locked (although denied by the owners in the trial held after, it was a common practice to lock factory workers in to prevent them from stealing) and the only fire escape proved too flimsy and collapsed under the weight of the escaping workers. Many died from being overcome by the smoke and flames quickly filling the building, but 62 of the workers realized there was no other means of escape and jumped from the windows to the pavement 9 stories below. Or worse, they were pushed toward the open windows by the panicked crowd and had no choice. Although the fire department responded quickly, the water from their hoses would not reach the top floors and ladders of the time were unable to reach above the 6th floor. By the time the fire was extinguished, 141 people had lost their lives. In the next few days, 5 more would die from their injuries.
From her documented injuries and cause of death, Yetta was one of those who jumped. Her name does not appear on lists of victims compiled at the time of the fire. According to the East Harlem Preservation, Inc website, from information on her death certificate, historian Michael Hirsch, a member of the Triangle Fire Remembrance Coalition, has linked her to Case #66 on the April 1912 Final Report of the Red Cross Emergency Relief Committee:"(Austrian), a girl of 17, married, deserted, and living with parents, died in hospital from injuries received in the fire. The girl had been seduced at the age of 14 by a man who was later forced by his relatives to marry her. He deserted her; a baby was born, which died; and she returned to her parents. They did not want her to go to work, but she was anxious for some money of her own, and she had been working only ten days when the disaster occurred."
The public outrage and subsequent acquittal of the company's owners following the tragedy paved the way for a flood of legislation to improve factory safety standards, led to the founding of The American Society of Safety Engineers and hastened the growth and clout of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. A bystander who witnessed the young girls jumping from the windows was inspired to a life of public service fighting for the rights of factory workers; Frances Perkins went on to become the first woman appointed to a Presidential Cabinet position as Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was the single worst workplace disaster in New York City until the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
unknown–1955 (m. 1910)
Sponsored by Ancestry
See more Berger or Rechtschaffer memorials in: