THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY
 
asks you to explore what working was like in a

 Lower East Side Sweatshop

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Former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building, New York City

   

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The former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York, New York

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Flatbush Avenue
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Public School No. 109,
Brooklyn, New York

Lower East Side
Sweatshop

The Loew's Pitkin,
Brooklyn, New York

Tenement of the
Lower East Side
         
In the Lower East Side of New York City during the late nineteenth century, clothing was often manufactured in districts that were filled with tenement houses. In these often dilapidated buildings,  one could find small sweatshops--one or two rooms where men and women, both young and old, would be hard at work, sewing, piecing together parts of garments, in poor conditions, all under the supervision of at least one taskmaster. These workers were most definitely exploited, slaving behind sewing machines for very long hours and receiving poor wages. Also, they often worked under degrading conditions that were unsanitary and dangerous to their health and well-being.

Often times work would be contracted out to different sweatshops; these businesses were often located in the same tenement building where the contractor lived. The workers would not create entire garments, but would receive pieces of  a particular garment and assemble them into some sort of approved design and finished product. The contractors would then receive a set price for each completed garment. This gave an incentive to contractors, who wished for greater profits, to produce as many garments as possible. By doing so, this forced their seamstresses and others to work even harder.

The flood of immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island provided an abundance of workers for the sweatshops. Immigrants were plentiful then and jobs weren't, especially during hard economic times such as the Depression that occurred in the mid 1890s. Many immigrants were ignorant and knew little to nothing about American life. What they did learn was that it was often more expensive to live in America than it was back home. They had to provide for themselves and their family the necessities of life. The work for many was seasonal, putting even more pressure on the worker to earn enough of a wage to save enough to get by until the next season of work.

Often, contractors would be able to find workers from their own hometown in Europe to fill these demanding jobs. It also helped the contractor that he or she could speak the same language or dialect as the workers they sought to employ. There weren't a lot of jobs available for those who couldn't speak English. However, most anyone can learn how to sew. And sew they did, many for ten to fifteen hours a day without a break. In the dead of summer, the conditions inside the shop could be sweltering.

As the small sweatshop was often run out of the apartment of the contractor, the business was really family business. The husband supervised; the wife often cooked the food and fed the workers, though the workers were forced to pay for their own meals.

Near the turn of the twentieth century, the first subways opened in New York City. They connected the Lower East Side to the outlying areas as well as those areas uptown. Much of the garment production was then moved to more uptown locations. The business owner now had more room to create larger work spaces, so they began to build factories. Garment production no longer had to be done in parts and assembled elsewhere; all could be done in one location and shipped out from there to the customer or middle man. Of course, some of the small tenement sweatshops remained.

One of these new factories was called the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located on the top three floors of the ten story former Asch building located at 19 Washington Place. The speaking of this factory's name brings chills and sadness to many who are familiar with the terrible blaze in March of 1911 that occurred in this building, taking the lives of many men and women.  Besides the awful conditions that existed in this factory, the long hours and  low wages paid to their employees, those who managed the factory locked the doors to the stairways. This was done supposedly because the managers wanted to prevent theft and also to stop people from leaving work when they weren't supposed to. Having then nowhere to run when the fire began, many workers were forced to jump from the windows and fire escapes, in the vain hope of escaping the smoke and flames. At the end, at least 146 people died in this needless tragedy, most of whom were young Jewish and Italian women.

At the time of this devastating fire, a movement had already began among workers to unionize, as they sought to improve working conditions for all. This tragedy at the factory only spurred greater action on behalf of the worker, compelling many to protest and organize and to work even harder to have factory safety laws strengthened and enforced.


Below is a list of those who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Note that a good percentage of the deceased were Jews:

 NAME AGE
Aberstein, Julia 30
Adler, Lizzie 24
Altman, Anna 16
Ardito, Anna 25
Astrowsky, Becky 20
Bassino, Rosie 31
Belatta, Vincenza 16
Bellotta, Ignazia  
Benanti, Vincenza 22
Bernstein, Essie 19
Bernstein, Jacob 28
Bernstein, Morris 19
Bernstein, Moses  
Bierman, Gussie 22
Binevitz, Abraham 20
Brenman, Rosie  
Brenman, Surka (Sarah)  
Brodsky, Ida 16
Brodsky, Sarah 21
Brooks, Ida 18
Brunette, Laura 17
Caputta 17
Carlisi, Josephina 31
Caruso, Albina 20
Carutto, Frances 17
Castello, Josie 21
Ciminello, Mrs. Annie 30
Cirrito, Rosie  
Cohen, Anna 25
Colletti, Antonia (Annie) 30
Costello, Della  
Crepo, Rose 19
Denent, Grances 20
Dichtenhultz (Fichtenhultz), Yetta 18
Dockman (Dochman), Dora (Clara) 19
Donnick, Kalman 24
Dorman, K.  
Eisenberg, Celia 17
Feibush, Rose  
Feicisch (Feibish), Rebecca 17
Feltzer 40
Fitzi, Mrs. Daisy Lopez 26
Forrester, May 25
Franco, Jennie 16
Frank, Tina 17
Gallo, Mrs. Mary 23
Geib, Bertha 25
Gernstein, Molly 17
Gittlin, Celina 17
Goldfield, Esther  
Goldstein, Esther  
Goldstein, Lena 22
Goldstein, Mary 18
Goldstein, Yetta 20
Gorfield, Esther 22
Grameattassio, Mrs. Irene 24
Harris, Esther 21
Herman, Mary 40
Jakobowski, Ida  
Kaplan 20
Keober 30
Kessler, Becky  
Klein, Jacob 23
Konowitz, Ida 18
Kupla, Sara  
Launswold, Fannie 24
Lehrer, Max 19
Lehrer, Sam  
Leibowitz, Nettie 25
Leone, Kate 14
Lermack, Rosie D. 19
Leventhal, Mary 22
Levin, Jennie 19
Levine, Abe  
Levine, Max  
Levine, Pauline 19
Maltese, Catherine  
Maltese, Lucia 20
Maltese, Rosalie (Rosari) 14
Manara, Mrs. Maria 27
Manofsky, Rose 22
Marciano, Mrs. Michela 25
Mayer, Minnie  
Meyers, Yetta 19
Miale, Bettina 18
Miale, Frances 21
Midolo, Gaetana 16
Nebrerer, Becky 19
Nicholas, Annie 18
Nicolose, Nicolina (Michelina) 22
Novobritsky, Annie 20
Nussbaum (Nausbaum), Sadie 18
Oberstein, Julia 19
Oringer, Rose  
Ozzo, Carrie 22
Pack, Annie 18
Panno, Mrs. Providenza 48
Pasqualicca, Antonietta 16
Pearl, Ida 20
Pildescu, Jennie 18
Pinello, Vincenza 30
Poliny, Jennie 20
Prato, Millie 21
Reiners (Reivers), Becky 19
Robinowitz, Abraham  
Rootstein, Emma  
Rosen, Israel 17
Rosen, Julia (widow) 35
Rosen, Louis (or Leob) 38
Rosenbaum, Yetta 22
Rosenberg, Jennie 21
Rosenfeld, Gussie 22
Rosenthal, Nettie 21
Rother, R 25
Rother, Theodore 22
Sabasowitz, Sarah 14
Salemi, Sophie 24
Saracino, Sara  
Saracino, Serafina 25
Saracino, Tessie 20
Schechter, Violet 21
Schiffman, Gussie 18
Schmidt, Mrs. Theresa 32
Schneider, Mrs. Ethel  
Schwartz, Margaret  
Selzer, Jacob 33
Shapiro, Rosie 17
Shena, Catherine 30
Sklaver, Berel (Sklawer, Bennie) 25
Sorkin, Rosie 18
Spear  
Sprunt  
Spunt, Gussie 19
Starr, Mrs. Annie 30
Stein, Jennie 18
Stellino, Jennie 16
Stiglitz, Jennie 22
Tabick, Samuel 18
Terdanova (Terranova), Clotilde 22
Tortorella (Lauletti), Maria Giuseppa  
Tortorella, Isabella 17
Ullo, Mary 20
Utal, Meyer 23
Velakowsky (Vilakowsky), Freda (Freida) 20
Vivlania, Bessie 15
Vovobritsky, Annie 20
Weinduff, Sally 17
Weiner, Rose 23
Weintraub, Celia  
Weintraub, Sally (Sarah?) 17
Welfowitz, Dora 21
Wilson, Joseph 21
Wisner, Tessie 27
Wisotsky, Sonia 17
Wondross, Bertha  
Zeltner 30


List courtesy of www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/victims.html




 


Photograph courtesy of  www.nps.gov.
Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Building (Brown Building)
Photograph by Andrew S.  Dolkart. 
 


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