From the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848 until today, women have been working hard to have equal pay and equal working conditions. Sadly, though much progress has been made, we still do not have equal pay for equal work and often face unequal conditions of employment.
This month we remember the 146 women and girls who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire on March 25, 1911. Most of the victims were teenage immigrants, many of who could not speak English. In dangerous and crowded conditions, they labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for no more than $15 per week.
Fire Inspectors concluded that most of the deaths resulted from unsafe conditions. The laborers were on the third floor of a poorly maintained building in Manhattan, NY. Only one of the four elevators was fully operational, and it could only be reached at the end of a long, narrow hallway. One of the only two exits from the building was locked from the outside. The internal fire hose had rotted, and the water valve was rusted shut. It was the most infamous industrial disaster of its time.
In early April 1911, the funeral procession for seven of the young victims drew an estimated 400,000 people who silently followed the funeral procession in the pouring rain. Reports indicate that it took 4 hours for the procession (eight at a time) to pass through the Washington Arch.
The Suffragists formed and impressive delegation and included such notables as Harriet Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter), Jeanette Rankin (the first woman elected to Congress) and many more. The Suffragists firmly believed that such dangerous working conditions were allowed to exist because the lives of women and girls were so undervalued. They also believed that where gains are made to improve our society, they must be valiantly guarded to endure. May we all remember to do our part.