For this centennial year, the number of groups and individuals who are commemorating the fire has grown. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, founded in 2008 in anticipation of the fire’s 100th anniversary, has created a forum for diverse constituencies—including activists, artists, labor unions, and scholars—to collaborate. People are participating in the 2011 commemorations for many reasons, including family connections to the fire’s victims; intellectual inquiry; artistic expression; political advocacy; and personal identification with the fire victims’ struggles as immigrants, workers, women, and New Yorkers. The Coalition serves as a nationwide resource, coordinating and publicizing centennial events and commissioning a permanent, public memorial.
Contemporary acts of remembrance—in the arenas of art, civic life, education, politics, theater, and scholarship— help ensure the fire’s continuing significance in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and, through new media and scholarship, the re-invigoration of its memory. Similarly, the ongoing struggle to achieve humane labor conditions and empower garment workers in the U.S. and worldwide provides clear evidence that the fire’s legacy still calls for political action.
The Triangle fire often serves as a historical reference point for contemporary tragedies. Just days after the Twin Towers fell, Joshua Brown wrote in the New York Times:
The people who jumped from the towers, bodies silhouetted against the blue sky in their terrible plummet to earth, evoked to me the desperate falls of the young women and men in the ... Triangle Shirtwaist fire who, trapped on unreachable floors, leapt to their deaths to escape the flames.
Ninety years later, the images of loss and desperation associated with the Triangle fire still resonated in the public imagination. That same year, the fire’s last survivor, Rose Freedman, died at the age of 107. Throughout her long life, she remained a committed advocate for labor reform.
Hester Goodwin, Carolina Herrera, Maren Lankford,
and Amita Manghnani