WAG ’81 | MPA in Health Policy & Management
Commemorating Labor’s Lost
By Ray Suarez (WSUC ’85)
Portrait by Emil Cohen
The deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history (and one of the deadliest in US history as well) occurred on March 25, 1911, at the northwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire claimed the lives of 146 workers—23 men and 123 women and girls as young as 14; they labored up to 16 hours a day, six days a week. Eventually deemed a National Historic Landmark, the building is now part of the College of Arts and Science.
Soon, an impressive memorial will commemorate the victims and legacy of the fire, one that changed labor laws forever. A stainless-steel ribbon etched with the names of those who died will run up the corner of the building from the second floor to the 9th floor. Historical information will be printed in the languages spoken by those who perished: English, Yiddish, and Italian. It will also be one of the only memorials in the United States dedicated to workers.
It’s the culmination of a 13-year undertaking by many, including Joel Sosinsky. “We got together and decided, this is a building that just has three small plaques on it, and it really needs a memorial,” says the graduate of the Wagner School of Public Service.
As an executive board member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, Sosinsky helped with many aspects of the project, including launching an international design competition; involving NYU in the planning and construction; navigating the landmark commissions; and raising the $3 million needed through the establishment of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
He also put his experience as a lawyer to work on contracts and negotiating with a diverse pool of stakeholders. Historians, designers, organized labor leaders, civic groups, unions, and the university all played roles in the endeavor.
“I’ve always thought of myself as somebody who got things done,” Sosinsky says. “This looked like a project we could get done right.” He credits NYU—which helped with funding—with sharing the vision of the memorial’s passionate advocates. “God bless ’em, they’ve given us permission to put up a memorial on the building, which was obviously not a simple thing,” he says.
The goal of the efforts, says Sosinsky: “We want to make this a building that people cannot walk past without stopping and absorbing why it is the fire that changed America.”