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TV to Watch: HBO’s “Triangle: Remembering the Fire”

Photo courtesy of HBO

HBO tonight will premiere “Triangle: Remembering the Fire,” a documentary about a tragic 1911 fire in a garment factory that claimed the lives of 146 mostly women and teenage girls.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire resulted in the highest number of deaths in a workplace  until the terrorist attacks of September 11. The incident also spurred reforms in workplace safety and buoyed the women’s rights movement.

What you may not know is that social work icon Frances Perkins witnessed the fire and watched some of the trapped women jump to their deaths rather than burn alive.

“”I shall never forget the frozen horror that came across as we stood with our hands on our throats watching that horrible sight, knowing that there was no help,” Perkins wrote.

Perkins later became labor secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt; she was the first woman to hold a Cabinet position. She is remembered for instituting a minimum wage, Social Security and other reforms. However, Perkins also created the  Labor Standards Bureau, a precursor to what is now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

Frances Perkins

Current Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in this column that appeared in the Washington Post said the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire probably inspired Perkins to make the workplace safer for all Americans.


Social workers such as Frances Perkins are dedicated to providing equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities to all. To learn more, read the National Association of Social Workers’ Social Justice fact sheet by clicking here. To read more about social work pioneers such as Perkins, click here.

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1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful story of one woman’s accomplishments.
    NYU’s campus is now on the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire…I had classes in the Brown Building which has a plaque remembering those who died in that horrible fire.
    Until now I did not know who was responsible for all the reforms that took place after that tragic event.
    Thanks Greg for posting this item.

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