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Triangle Fire history preserved by ILR’s Kheel Center

Steps from where dozens of young immigrant Jewish and Italian women leaped to their deaths when a fire erupted in the locked sweatshop where they sewed blouses, 60 Cornell students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered Oct. 11 to honor the legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy.

At the New York City event, students held 18-by-24 reproductions of fire photos from the Triangle Fire archive at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives in Catherwood Library, part of Cornell University Library and located in the ILR School.

They were among an estimated 2,000 people in Greenwich Village for the Triangle Fire Memorial dedication outside the building where a 1911 fire killed 146 workers. The disaster spurred labor protections and was a defining moment for the nation. Many students learn about the fire's impact through a Jewish Studies Program course taught by Visiting Scholar and Senior Lecturer Elissa Sampson.

The images of victims and the fire carried by students provide a window into “how a tragedy can inspirecollective action leading to a transformation of the nation’s labor laws. It was important for Cornell students to carry the posters as representatives of a new generation that is increasingly pro-labor, using the past as a guide for future labor action,” said Kheel Center Archivist Steven Calco. “I was ecstatic to see the fire memorialized for future generations. The goal of any archive is to keep history alive, and it’s rare for archivists to see the impact of the history we preserve in real-time.”

This story also appears on the ILR website.

Mary Catt is the ILR School communications director.

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