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'Women's History Month' lecture examines Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire – 101 years later


Many of the issues surrounding the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire – immigration, women's rights, the role of organized labor, government regulations in the workplace – have yet to be resolved.

  • February 8, 2012

More than 100 years after the “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory” fire that claimed the lives of 146 immigrant girls and women, many of the issues, according to Cal State East Bay professor emeritus Gerald S. Henig, are still unresolved: immigration, women’s rights, the role of organized labor, and government regulation in the workplace.

Henig, a longtime history professor, will return to CSUEB's Hayward campus, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Thursday, March 8, to describe the circumstances leading to the tragedy, and explain why it happened, who was responsible, and the tragic consequences.

The free program, part of the university's observance of Women's History Month, will be presented from 1-2 p.m. in the University Library's Biella Room. The program is sponsored by the History Department, part of College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the University Libraries.

On March 25, 1911, a cataclysmic fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located on the top three floors of a 10-story building in New York City's lower Manhattan area. Most of the people who perished were Jewish or Italian immigrant women and girls, some as young as 13. It was the worst disaster to befall a New York City workplace until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. 

Henig, who holds a doctorate in American history, has specialized in such topics as the Progressive Era, the Civil War and Reconstruction.

His Progressive Era papers include "California Jewry and the Mendel Beiliss Affair, 1911-1913” (published by Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly); "He Did Not Have a Fair Trial: California Progressives React to the Leo Frank Case" (California History); and "San Francisco Jewry and the Russian Visa Controversy of 1911" (Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly).

“Professor Henig will shine an important light on a tragedy that started reforms in America's treatment of workers and reminded Americans that women and immigrants were an important part of the workforce,” said Linda Dobb, university librarian and interim associate provost.

“It's important to remember that many of the workplace safety rules we now take for granted weren't in place in the early 20th century,” said Nancy Thompson, associate professor of history and department chair. “The Triangle Shirtwaist fire helped change that. The event was big news in 1911 because of the shocking number of deaths, which were made all the more horrible because many of the women could have escaped, except for the policies of the factory management, that had locked the doors and blocked all escape routes. The resulting public outrage led to the implementation of significant factory safety reforms first in New York City, then in other major American cities."

Parking on the CSUEB campus is $2 per hour.

Cal State East Bay welcomes persons with disabilities and will provide reasonable accommodation upon request. Please call the History Department at (510) 885-3664, well in advance if accommodation is needed.

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