Crossing Boundaries: The Unique Situation of the 1909 Shirtwaist Strike
The great shirtwaist strike of 1909 served as a catalyst to expose the many underlying social issues that defined the gritty transition period in the beginning of the Progressive Era. Certain elements of importance: gender, class and ethnicity, literally breathed fire into the already heated friction between labor and industry. The book, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, by David Von Drehle, brought the viewpoint of the lower-class industrial worker to the forefront of the fight uncovering a multi-dimensional struggle for safe, sanitary, and financially self-sustaining conditions. On the other hand, it also highlighted the resentment felt by the lower class workers toward socially prominent suffrage activists and power-hungry political men interested in propelling their own political agenda. More than a fight between labor and industry; it was a fight between men and women, high class and low class, and between the immigrant ethnicities. In a twisted web of sympathy and animosity, the strike of 1909 ironically gained publicity and respectability through the involvement of wealthy socialites and power-hungry political hopefuls, while poor industrial workers suffered exasperation, indignation, and desperation concerning the labor movement and the over-lapping, yet conflicting issues of women’s rights, ethnic wars, and class boundaries.
Supporters of Women’s Suffrage were the first to extend a helping hand to the floundering strike attempt and acted as an umbrella for the labor movement. Unwittingly they also sparked animosity in the workers involved in the strike of 1909. Shirtwaist factories were composed primarily of women. Women interested in gaining the right to vote were sensitive to finding ways that the gender was being exploited and disadvantaged. Upon the discovery of the working conditions within these largely women...