Historically Speaking

I’ve been tutoring a young fellow for the last year. It’s been interesting to revisit all of the things we were taught in high school. Last week, I was drilling him for a history exam. The Great Depression was the topic of study. It was fascinating to read about FDR’s New Deal, his economic stimulus package, the statistics on unemployment during the great depression. I found myself wanting to read more to compare the challenge that Barack Obama is facing as the President-Elect of the New Great Depression! I am certain he studied history and knows what was done in the past.

In the review session, Alec was talking about how Frances Perkins became the first woman cabinet member. She was FDRs Secretary of Labor for his entire tenure. Of course, I always like when we hear about the “first woman” to whatever. trianglefiretruck.jpg

A few days later, I got to thinking about the big fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York in 1911. I had remembered learning about that when I was in high school. I recalled that around 150 women were killed because the factory doors were locked and that the ladders on the horse-drawn fire trucks only reached as high as the sixth floor … but the women were on the eighth floor. Many jumped to their deaths rather than dying in the fire. I recalled that it lead to stricter labor laws and sweeping factory reforms.

On the Cornell University website, there’s an excellent section on U.S. Labor laws and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. While exploring their site I notice Frances Perkins had been a young woman in the city when the fire broke out. She had witnessed the women jumping from the windows and followed the prosecution of the factory owners. Perhaps that is why Perkins helped write legislation and supported such things as Unemployment Compensation, Disability Insurance and Social Security. If is often surprising to watch the ripple of each major event that occurs in history.

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