The murals memorializing the 1911 Triangle Fire

It’s one of the city’s most notorious tragedies: the March 25, 1911 fire that broke out on the upper floors of a Washington Place sweatshop, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women.

The fire ushered in a new era of safety standards for garment-industry workers—a huge business in the city in the first half of the 20th century and the post-World War II years.

So in 1940, when a coalition of unions and government groups created a new secondary school, Central High School of Needle Trades, to train students to work in the garment industry, it seemed fitting to also commemorate the Triangle fire and the struggle for workers’ rights.

Artist Ernest Fiene was brought in by the Works Progress Administration to paint the murals in the auditorium of the new school, on 24th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

“Completed in 1940, Fiene’s History of the Needlecraft Industry positions the Triangle fire at a critical juncture between the exploitative labor conditions characteristic of the early garment industry and the strong worker protections ushered in by unionism and New Deal legislation in the 1930s,” states this New York University website.

The high school is now called the High School for Fashion Industries, and though the auditorium isn’t open to non-students, more detailed information about all three panels can be found here.

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7 Responses to “The murals memorializing the 1911 Triangle Fire”

  1. MO Says:

    the factory was on washington place.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    yikes, fixed it

  3. Jules Says:

    I’ve been in that auditorium; the murals are really something. The students hold a fashion show of their creations every spring, and they do some great work. It’s in the auditorium, so all you need to do is finagle an invitation! If you get a chance, you should do a post on the school itself — it’s definitely an “only in New York” place.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ll try to see it, thanks for the info! WPA murals in general are so interesting.

  5. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    Unless a part of this mural is cropped, I think it’s a little… offensive or insensitive… I can’t find the word… because such a disproportionate amount of women died in the catastrophe, and yet the only “fallen” person in the work is a man, over whom women are grieving.

  6. What became of the Triangle factory owners? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the tragedy rose a stronger workers’ rights movement and new city laws mandating safer […]

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