Brown Building, formerly the Asch Building in Manhattan, NYC, photo 2014. This is the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911 which killed 146 people and became a pivotal event in the history of labor laws in the United States. The deaths of these working poor, locked into their overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe factory rooms, challenged the doctrine of ‘freedom of contract.’ This doctrine had long caused courts to strike down laws protecting workers on the assumption that employment was an entirely voluntary, non-coercive relationship between two fully consenting, legally equal parties. The pain and horror of these deaths, suffered mostly by teenage girls forced to choose between burning to death or leaping from a window, awoke the conscience of Americans and galvanized a progressive labor movement as no other single event had yet done.
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, photo published in the New York World, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Brown Building, formerly the Asch Building, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Manhattan, NYC
New York Tribune, NYC, 26 March 1911. Chronicling America – Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress
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