Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor Movement

Written By: Barbara Diamond Goldin
Illustrated By: James Watling
Published By: Bt Bound, October 1999
Suggested Readers: Ages 8-12

Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor MovementThe Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 took the lives of 146 people and shocked the citizens of New York City. This tragic event brought to light the need for factory reform and is retold in Barbara Diamond Goldin’s Fire! through the eyes of 11 year-old Rosie, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. When the story begins, Rosie wishes she could work in a factory like her older sister Freyda rather than attend school and envies Freyda’s freedom from the homework that keeps Rosie inside on weeknights. Freyda warns Rosie that life as a factory worker is not all fun and games-that Rosie is too smart to waste her time in the Shirtwaist factory. She describes the conditions of her workplace and the unfair treatment she and her fellow workers receive; the timed trips to the bathroom, the crowded and dimly lit workrooms with locked windows, the long hours for poor pay and the single fire-escape with no sprinklers. Rosie’s understanding of the severity of these conditions is only fully realized when the sudden and disastrous fire tears through the factory. Inspired by anger at the loss of a close family friend to the fire, Rosie begins to participate in the meetings of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, or ILGWU, with her sister. The meetings open her eyes to the importance of her own education and the need for change for workers like Freyda. Author Goldin focuses on what comes out of the tragedy and does not dwell too much on the details of the disaster itself. Simple black-and-white sketches illustrate the chapters and offer further historical information in the form of period dress and settings. Goldin offers a glimpse of the hardships of daily life in the Lower East Side garment district without becoming too heavy or over-sentimental. Rosie’s story will appeal to readers looking for a good story and provides sufficient historical information for those interested in the era.

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