Sunday, April 22, 2012

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

I really enjoyed Albert Marrin’s book, Flesh and Blood So Cheap.  I loved the writing style and although it was a historical retelling it wasn’t boring or hard to get into.  I think another reason why I liked the book so much was because although I’ve taken several American history classes, I can’t ever remember learning about the infamous Triangle Factory Fire.
Marrin doesn’t only highlight the tragic Triangle Fire, but he does a great job of leading up to the event by explaining the occurrences that directly effected the fire.  Marrin partially explains the fire and other events from the eyes of Frances Perkins (a 31 year old social worker who later became the first female cabinet member on FDRs staff).  Frances witnessed the fire and it changed her in such a way that she became a sort of advocate and vowed to make sure that preventable misfortunes, such as the fire, would never happen again.
Marrin goes into detail and brings the story back, to what you might call the “old country.”  There were millions of immigrants that made their way through Ellis Island, the majority of them being Italian or Russian Jews.  They began immigrating when a series of events (such as extreme widespread poverty and natural disasters) led to such dire conditions at home they felt they had no choice but to move to America for a brand new start.  
The immigrants didn’t have a wide selection of work options so they were forced into factories.  Without good support systems, such a labor unions or insurance/health care, it was quickly established that working in the factories was not going to be a picnic.  Of course this was all during the industrial revolution so factories began conquering over operations such a sweat shops.  It was because of the factories that establishing unions did become easier, and then became regulation.
Marrin explains that one of the biggest female strikes, named the “uprising of the 20,000” preceded the fire.  And although the building the factory was in was built to be a safe place, even in hectic factory conditions, the garments made in the factory and the workers themselves unfortunately weren’t as fireproof as the building.  The factory lost about 150 out of 500 workers, the majority of them being young girls.  The aftermath of the fire greatly helped improve factory conditions, with protests, legislature being passed, and new laws being implemented, people felt a sense of justice and no longer feared working in factories.
I think this is a great read for young adults, because like I said, I don’t remember learning about this particular event.  It’s definitely a tale from the past that should be shared with future generations.  


cstephens said...

I think that books like this are great to use in the classroom because it is so easy to make connections to our lives. The U. S. now has regulation to help prevent disasters like this, but many countries where our consumer goods are made do not. I believe that this even in our history has a lot to teach us about repsonsible behavior and the dangers of valuing high production for the lowest possible cost.

Susan said...

You make a great point on reading this novel simply because you'd never learned about it in class. I never had either! The only reason I know about the fire is that it was recently the centennial.

It is a great example of why we have child labor and other labor laws nowadays and more classes, especially US History and government classes should be teaching this. I wonder if it is taught in schools in NYC. I know living in Chicago, we learned about things here like the horrible conditions in the slaughterhouses and Updike "Jungle" stuff.