The Triangle Fire was a history-making event in America, and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s historical fiction novel, Uprising gives a good picture of the epoch and the culture that made the tragedy possible and made it influential as a precursor to change.
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 from the fire or jumped to their deaths. It was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until September 11th, 2001. 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.
Ms. Haddix gives the story a human face by making it the story of three girls: Bella, an immigrant from Southern Italy, Yetta, a Russian Jewish immigrant worker, and Jane, a poor little rich girl who becomes involved in the lives of the shirtwaist factory workers in spite of her rarified existence as a society girl. Of the three, Jane is the least believable as a character. She runs away from her rich father because she is appalled at his indifference to the working conditions of the poor. Instead of moving heaven and earth to find her, Jane’s father lies and says she’s gone away for a visit and assumes she’ll come back to papa in due time. Rich people, even cold, heartless rich people, don’t act that way, do they? If nothing else it would be socially unacceptable to misplace one’s daughter, wouldn’t it?
Nevertheless, it’s a good book with a bit of a mystery and a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you guess who’s telling the story within the first few chapters, you’re doing better than I did. Good solid historical fiction.