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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write in the HISTORICAL genre (05/03/07)

TITLE: The 1911 Sabbath Shirtwaist Makers
By Cassie Memmer


“I’m glad you’ve come to work here, Rosie!” Katie hugged her tenement neighbor.
“I’m sure you’ll like it and we can walk to work together. I’ve been here since arriving
from Ireland six months ago. It’s long hours but it pays $1.50 a week. In another eight
months I’ll have enough saved for my wedding!”

Rosie scanned the huge room on the ninth floor of the Asch building. Lit with open gas
lamps, she viewed the rows of sewing machines on long tables manned by young girls
stitching as fast as they could treadle. She sat at a machine and began her first day as
a sewing machine operator for The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, the largest maker of
shirtwaists in America. Nearby, Katie’s green eyes flashed Rosie encouragement, then
giving her red hair a flip, she turned to her sewing.

Mindless sewing gave Rosie opportunity to miss the family she’d left in Poland. Papa
had sacrificed to send her, alone, to the Golden Land. His final parting words burned in
her heart. “Keep the Sabbath, no matter what sacrifice you must make.”

“Lord, how can a Jewish girl obey her papa, when this new land demands we work on
Saturdays? My uncle says I must work, yet I can’t ignore papa’s instructions.”

Their 14 hour day finished, she and Katie exited from the single unlocked door. “Why
do they keep the other door locked?”

“You’ll see.” As the employees headed for the stairs, a guard searched each one to
find any would-be thieves. “They don’t trust us, hence... only one way out,” Katie

Each Sabbath Rosie gave her boss an excuse for not working. After missing three
Saturdays, her boss realized what the young Jewish girl was doing. “Rosie,” he
warned, “come to work Saturday or find a new job.”

Her aunt and uncle insisted she work on the Sabbath. Torn, she devised a plan. Early
Saturday morning she left the apartment, taking her lunch.

Katie walked to work alone on Saturday. Rosie’s missing another workday. She’ll lose
her job for sure this time. She headed to her machine and started sewing.

Someone screamed. Katie looked and saw flames shooting from a bin of scrap
material. The shop often had small fires, easily extinguished with a bucket of water.
But this one flashed through the cotton, sped through patterns and other flammables,
spreading before they had a chance to get it under control.

The girls sprang from their machines and rushed to the one unlocked door. Thick
smoke and flames clogged the stairwell. They dashed to the fire escape, but the girls
on the floor above were already fleeing down it. Katie watched helplessly as the fire
escape twisted and collapsed under the weight of so many people, sending them to
their death.

The girls panicked. There was no way out! They ran to other windows, breaking them
out. “Help!” “Call the firemen!” “Get a ladder!”

Fire seized the room. Screams overpowered the roar of flames as the heat and smoke
wrapped its vile self around the young girls.

The firemen arrived. Their ladders reached only to the sixth floor. They opened a
lifenet. Two girls jumped at once, landing on the net, tearing it apart. Starved for air, so
many pushed against the window jams, the jams gave way, dropping them to the
pavement. More began jumping the eighty feet downward, seeking release on the
unforgiving street rather than burning to death.

Katie pushed her way to the window, desperate for air. Flames licked at her heels.
“Oh, God, help me!” she cried. She breathed the devilish heat and jumped.

A policeman walked through the mounds of broken bodies on the sidewalks. On each
fallen girl he placed a tag on her wrist. Number 54, he noted, had red hair and wore an
engagement ring.

Rosie walked Manhattan’s streets all day long. She went to Washington Square park
and sang Sabbath songs. After dark she returned home, wondering how she would tell
her family she no longer had a job.

She arrived to find her family distraught. Upon seeing her, their agitation turned to
shock, then wonder. “Where have you been?” her uncle asked. They told her of the
horrible fire and how they’d believed she had perished.

Rosie grieved for her friends. She remembered her papa’s last words. “God is
watching over you, guiding you. Be faithful to Him. Remember His laws. Keep the
Sabbath and the Sabbath will keep you.”

Author’s note: 146 girls, mostly immigrants, some as young as 12, died in this fire on
Saturday March 25, 1911 . 62 jumped to their death. After a failed prosecution against
owners, a civil suit won $75 compensation for each victim’s family. Rosie Goldstein,
faithful to her father and the Jewish Sabbath, lived to be 82 years old. Her story is true.
Katie’s story is fiction except for the engagement ring found on victim #54.

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This article has been read 1447 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 05/10/07
And to think that in many parts of the world, this practice still takes place. Wonderful story with a great lesson included. Thanks.
Teri Wilson05/10/07
This is fabulous. What a wonderful lesson woven into a touching story. The ending is marvelous. Great job!
Linda Germain 05/11/07
Only 96 years ago --a short time in comparison to all of history. I would love to read more about Katie and her resolve to Keep the Sabbath. Very well done~
Donna Powers 05/11/07
Wow. This is amazing! I got goosebumps as I read this moving story. Excellent!
Myrna Noyes05/11/07
I've read about this awful fire before, and you did a wonderful job of bringing it to life and making it personal in your story! I was impressed with Rosie and her stand, as I grew up hearing accounts about God honoring us if we honor His Sabbath. Nice work and good message of obedience to parents and, above all, to God! :)
Joanne Sher 05/12/07
You told this story with such passion and detail. I felt like I was right there. There were a couple places where I felt like the story stalled a bit, but it was predominantly wonderful! :)
Jan Ackerson 05/14/07
Wonderfully written, and an extremely compelling read. My only recommendation would be a title with more of a "grab" factor. This is publish-worthy, perhaps in a historical magazine.
Sharlyn Guthrie05/14/07
How tragic! I love the message here of obedience rewarded. Your telling of the story kept my attention throughout, and I so appreciated the notes at the end. Simply terrific writing.
Patty Wysong05/14/07
You brought history alive in this piece! Having a lesson woven in is wonderful and the way you did it makes it memorable. Excellent!
Jacquelyn Horne05/15/07
Wonderful telling of a historical truth. Good job.
Mariane Holbrook 05/15/07
This is a tremendous story. Tell the judges I said you should win. Big time! :-)
Julie Arduini05/15/07
This was an emotional read for sure. I did not know this story before this, and you brought it to life. Great job!
Betty Castleberry05/15/07
I'm not familiar with this, so I learned something. The writing is strong, and held my attention throughout. Nicely done.
T. F. Chezum05/15/07
Very well written. Kept me reading all the way through. Great job.
Debbie OConnor05/16/07
Very well told. You brought Rosie and Katie to life. I'm glad I read this.
Sara Harricharan 05/16/07
Oh wow. This is so real. I am so glad that she didn't give in to working on Saturdays. How sad the images are, especially the engagement ring. You did an wonderful bit of writing here. Very vivid and realistic. Thanks for sharing!
Brenda Welc05/16/07
This was an awesome story. Very well written and captivating. I was there in the room the minute the fire started. God Blessed this writing.
Sandra Petersen 05/16/07
Cassie, I have read one book about the Triangle Waist Company Fire and saw at least one video about it. You did an excellent job with the retelling of this tragedy, informing as well as keeping the reader in suspense. Good weaving of facts with fiction.

I think you probably meant to italicize this part which Katie was thinking: "Rosie’s missing another workday. She’ll lose her job for sure this time."

I very much liked the characters of Rosie and Katie that you painted. Very good description!
Shari Armstrong 05/16/07
Well told, great details...nicely done.