The fire occurred in New York in 1911, and 146 people perished. The fire broke out in a “shirtwaist” or blouse factory in Greenwich Village. The workers inside, most of them Jewish women, worked in sweatshop conditions common to the industry at the time. They worked in the factory to support their families, and often had no other means of support. They had little or no say over their working conditions, which was standard practice at the time. While there were activists who fought for workers’ rights, in that era they had little power. The factory had little fire control equipment or other safety standards, and this lack of standards allowed the fire to spread rapidly. The locks to the factory had been locked from the outside ostensibly to prevent theft and as a result the workers were trapped inside the factory during the inferno. Many of those who died had jumped to their deaths to escape the blaze. While the owners of the factory were acquitted on their charges, the fire led to dramatic changes in workers protections and women’s rights.


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