American History, Books, History, immigrants, New York, Ohio Women, suffragettes, Triangle Shirtwaist, Union, Women, Women's History, Workers, Young Women
This time I am not giving you an account of an Ohio Woman in History but a female writer from Ohio who writes children’s books. I chose her book, “Uprising” which is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which occurred on March 25, 1911. This tragedy occurred in New York and claimed the lives of 146 people (123 women and 23 men). The majority of the victims were between the ages of 14-23 years old. Ms. Haddix chose to do a historical fiction to discuss this terrible incident by focusing her story around three women who might have been involved. She carefully researched her book in great detail (which she tells you in an author’s note at the end).
This included a strike that occurred between the months of 1909-1910. This strike demanded many things, hoping to make working conditions fairer and safer. The union caved too quickly and did not even secure a “closed” shop which would have meant that Triangle could not hire non-union workers. Shortly after sending the strikers back to work, the “promises” quickly faded. It is odd that the union wasn’t called to the mat in court, as well as the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. Had the union succeeded in securing rights for the worker’s this horrible event would not have happened.
The story which unfolds is beautifully told. Ms. Haddix breaks the story up by the three girl’s names, so that we hear each of their voices. One is a Russian Jew, Yetta; then there is Bella an Italian that had recently arrived and finally there is Jane, a wealthy young American woman ripe on the heels of the suffragist’s movement. At first none of them even know each other but through various events are brought together. At the end, only one of them will survive and this is not a secret as you are told this at the beginning of the book. And, like with “The Nightingale,” by Kristen Hannah (another historical novel but about German occupied France) the ending is a surprise.
The story has romance, it is of course ripe with suspense and the characters all have self-reflection. In the end, the writer tells us how she knows what happened to the other two characters. This is Ms. Haddix’s way of answering all of the reader’s questions. The most significant is “How could she possibly know.”
Naturally, I knew about this piece of history and as it happened, it came up at least twice, prior to reading this, while I was judging National History Day. Since I had purchased the book a year prior, at Ohioana, I knew I needed to sit down and pour over the pages which were now begging to be read. While reading this book, another issue kept gnawing at me that always has since our factories were signed over to China under the Clinton regime. What a waste! For years since the trade agreement was signed and our small towns (quite a few in Ohio, including Middletown which you read about in “Hillbilly Elegy” by another Ohioan, J.D. Vance) have been turned into meth labs and are screaming for answers to bring back a dwindling economy stolen from them 20+ years ago. All the work that these men and women went through, several decades ago, to create: fair wage laws, equal employment, age limits and humane working conditions; completely lost by the stroke of a President’s hand. Now, American factories are in communist countries, third world environments that have none of these rights at hand.
When I read this book and I hope many of you will as well, I think particularly of 146 workers who died in vain. What would Yetta think if she saw that what the striker’s worked for only became a temporary fix? What has happened to unions that were there to protect the worker’s jobs? I keep wondering if the unions had caved just like they did at the end of the shirtwaist worker’s strike. Max and Isaac, the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company are just two CEO’s not unlike those of our big corporations today. These multimillion dollar companies, today, are no more interested in their employees or even their customers. Perhaps we have better laws now to protect employees from a fire breaking out in a building but there are just different issues at hand in this generation. As I am a therapist in my day job, I often hear employees talking about how 1. They can’t talk to Human Resources anymore because they are in another country or state (different time zones). 2. They are expected to work off the clock (or on salary) and take text messages and phone calls 24/7 in some cases. That is to say, whenever the boss has a question. Meanwhile, as a customer, when was the last time you called a corporation and actually spoke to a receptionist? Likewise, how often did you get the right person on the phone or had to call back several times. How long was it between the time you first called the company, till the time you got your answer?
Serious questions that politicians always fight about to get votes but never really solve.