Dangerous for your health

Author: Sara Chavarria
Derived from Miriam Laska, Oakland Unified School District
Editor: Stephanie Nardei, MLS

Time: 2 class periods
Make Classroom sets of all Handouts – to be re-used in each class.
Prepare Overhead
Materials: Handout 1
Overhead 1
Handout 2
Handout 3
Handout 4
Handout 5
Handout 6


During this Engage lesson students are introduced to working conditions in America during the Industrial Revolution. The student investigates primary sources pertaining to the Triangle Fire (shirtwaist factory fire) in New York that killed many young women. The purpose of the lesson is for students to comprehend how the fire illustrated unfair treatment of workers and the dire working conditions of the time.

Students will be able to:
1. Articulate the relationship between the Shirtwaist Factory Fire and working conditions in an essay using primary sources.

National Social Studies Standards
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 2A: Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage.
  • Standard 4C: Interrogate historical data
  • Standard 5A: Identify issues and problems in the past.

United States History Standards

  • Era 7 Standard 1: How Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption.

Teacher Background
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the largest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York, causing the death of 146 garment workers who either died in the fire or jumped to their deaths. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers in that industry.

Resource Websites
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire
Literary Digest, January 6, 1912. p 6. excerpt found at:
History Matters newspaper article: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5481.html
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial by Doug Linder (2002)
A Sabbath Rose-A True Story of the “lone survivor” of the factory fire: http://www.heritage.org.il/innernet/archives/rose.htm
Fire Trap: The Legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire http://www.failuremag.com/arch_history_triangle_fire.html
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial http://www.trianglememorial.com/
Photo Gallery of Factory Fire of 1911 http://newdeal.feri.org/library/d_4m.htm



Day 1
1. Write on the board or overhead: What was life like during the Industrial Revolution? Have students write and respond to this in their notes. In this section, workers and their role in industry will be explored.

2. Give each student a copy of Handout 1 (to be collected when done for re-use in other classes). Have them read silently and then display the questions on Overhead 1. Lead a class discussion addressing the questions. Ask the students what the response of the families of the victims was to the verdict. For the rest of the class, they will be given more and more information to peel back the layers of the story trying to be told. As new information for investigation is given to students, they will learn more about the events that resulted in this court case. At the end, they will be asked to answer the question: Was justice served? (15 - 20 minutes)

3. Group students into fours. Give each group the 4-part Handout 2 and 4 copies of Handout 3. Have the group distribute Handout 2 among themselves. Handout 2 is made up of 1st-hand witness accounts of the incident referred to in Handout 1. As they read the witness accounts they will fill out Handout 3. When all group members are done reading their witness accounts have them share their observations with each other in order to see how different or similar they might be. As the students discuss their observations, they can answer the questions found at the bottom of Handout 3. Answers can be written after the question or on the back of the sheet. (25-30 minutes)

4. For the final few minutes of class, pose the question: What do you think is being described in this article? Have students right down their answers on Handout 3 and on an exit slip.

Day 2
5. Write the question from the previous day that the class ended with: What do you think is being described in this article? Ask students to have Handout 3 ready for reference. Give each student a copy of Handout 4. Explain that this is a primary source of the incident; like the eye-witness accounts, it describes the incident as it is taking place.

6. When done have students answer the questions once more from Handout 3, applying their new knowledge. By now they know the details of the incident. In addition to the Handout 3 questions, have them also answer the following questions:

a. How long was it before the elevator became useless as a means of escape?
b. On which floor did the fire start?
c. What floor was affected the most by the fire?

7. Finally, give students Handout 5 & 6. These two writings talk about the fire after the fact. Handout 5 is a synopsis of the situation. This is just to make sure everyone understands all of the facts correctly. Handout 6 is an adapted version of a lecture given by Frances Perkins who worked for the New York Legislature Investigating Commission set up after the fire.

8. When students are done with the second reading, have them write a short one-page essay that describes the Triangle Fire and why it was worth noting. Included in the essay conclusions should be answers to the following questions:

a. Why were the conditions the workers found themselves in of paramount importance in the investigation?
b. What other working conditions are mentioned by Frances Perkins that illustrate this Age of Industry better known as the American Industrial Revolution?
c. What was the initial role of the Investigation Commission? What was it’s continuing role?
d. Was justice done to the victims of the Triangle Fire?

9. Let students work on this in class. They can finish for homework if not enough time is left for work during class time.

Students can finish their essays.

Embedded Assessment
Ongoing discussion and written responses to questions and essay writing

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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