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History Book: Women trapped in a factory fire


WORLD Radio - History Book: Women trapped in a factory fire

Plus, NASA’s first mission to Mercury and a pro-life woman arrested more than 100 times

Relatives commemorate the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. Getty Images / Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, March 25th, 2024. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

EICHER: Up next, the WORLD History Book. Fifty years ago this week, a space probe journeys to Mercury. And, a pro-life activist spends years behind bars for her advocacy.

REICHARD: But first, a devastating factory fire prompts legislative reform for workers. Here’s WORLD Radio reporter Emma Perley

EMMA PERLEY: At the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, supervisors lock their employees in the factory each day to prevent theft and unauthorized breaks. The sweatshop makes women’s blouses with girls as young as 14 cutting thread and sewing for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. On March 25th, 1911, cigarette ash falls into scraps of cloth. A fire begins on the eighth floor.

Within minutes the fire is out of control as an alarm blares. Workers pound against the locked doors—hoping to escape the flames.

MAX HOCHFIELD: I saw the entire 8th floor is aflame. Nobody there. And when I looked out the window, I saw girls—men—people walking down the fire escape.

Max Hochfield is a former sewing machine operator. He spoke with Sigmund Arywitz in 1957. As the workers fill the fire escape, the rickety structure collapses, and 20 are killed. Some employees manage to escape to the roof through an unlocked stairway. Many workers are trapped. They gather against the windows.

HOCHFIELD: Now, but a few of them couldn't stand the fire. The fire was licking them and they couldn't stand it so they jumped. And they jumped and they dropped dead immediately.

Firemen spread out nets on the streets to catch the falling bodies, but the nets break on impact. Twenty minutes after the fire begins, 146 workers are dead, most of them women.

Factory owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris are found liable for their negligence. The disaster sparks a wave of fire safety and building regulations reforms.

On the 2011 centennial of the tragedy, hundreds of bells rang out across the U.S. to commemorate when the first fire alarm went off.

Next, 50 years ago on March 29th…


NASA’s Mariner 10 blasts off for the planet Mercury.

Mariner 10 is the first mission to the “swift planet.” And NASA has a secondary goal in mind. Audio here from a National Air and Space Museum film:

FILM CLIP: The spacecraft’s flight path was carefully chosen to skim past the planet orbiting between Earth and Mercury: cloud-covered Venus.

Scientists plan to catch a glimpse of both Mercury and Venus during its journey. And they study the atmosphere and surface characteristics of the planets from high quality photographs. They discover that Venus’s cloudy atmosphere rotates much faster than the planet itself. Dr. Bruce Murray, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA, explains.

FILM CLIP: The atmosphere rotates around the planet once every four days. The surface rotates once every 243 days.

Mariner 10 uses Venus’s gravitational field to catapult towards Mercury. And more photos reveal vast mountain ranges on Mercury’s surface from a prior asteroid impact.

FILM CLIP: These pictures reveal craters and other features which were formed very early in the history of Mercury. And may refer to events that affected the entire inner solar system: Mars, Earth, Moon, and Venus as well as Mercury.

Mariner 10 sends back almost 3,000 pictures to NASA. Over thirty years will go by before the next robotic probe visits Mercury.

We end on March 26th, 1986, as pro-life activist Joan Andrews is arrested for tampering with equipment at an abortion facility in Pensacola, Florida. A devout Catholic, her advocacy landed her in prison over 100 times.

JOAN ANDREWS: I thought, I’ll be spending the rest of my life in jail because I knew I could not face God when I died if I didn’t do everything I could to try to save his little children to the best of my ability.

Andrews speaking with radio host Mark Harrington three years ago.

As part of her activism, she broke into abortion facilities to disable suction machines. Andrews justified her unlawful actions by saying that blocking entrances and handing out pamphlets just wasn’t enough.

ANDREWS: But when children are dying, you have to do more … Because it’s never legal to murder an innocent person.

Andrews served 2.5 years for the maximum 5 year sentence. She was arrested again in 2023 under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. In trouble this time for blockading an abortion facility in 2020. She faces up to 11 years in prison and a fine of $350,000 dollars. Here is Andrews with LSNTV one year ago:

ANDREWS: Everything in life is in God’s hands … if we’re persecuted, we accept it as God’s will, that we can give him honor and glory and we can show love for these little babies.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Emma Perley.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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