This Week In History: March 23 – 27

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Nearly 109 years ago, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames. 146 workers were killed in what is known as one of the worst fire disasters in history.  Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com

Nearly 109 years ago, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames. 146 workers were killed in what is known as one of the worst fire disasters in history. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com

This week in history we’ll take a look at some of the events that occurred this week that have had a tremendous effect on both American society and culture.

On March 25, 1911, 109 years ago, 146 workers were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City. Quite possibly the worst fire disaster in American industrial history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory exposed the atrocities committed against workers in early 20th century American society.

While the years following the Civil War saw tremendous industrial boom and economic growth, very little consideration was given toward the workers to fill the new mills and factories. In Lower Manhattan, factories and sweatshops worked their employees 12 hours a day, six days a week, in exchange for meager wages and poor working conditions. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was no exception.

On the morning of March 25, 400 employees entered the building, mainly consisting of teenage girls who came from poor immigrant families of the Lower East Side. Sewing stations were cramped and cluttered, making the waste bin fire inevitable. The workers, who spoke almost no English, clamored to the exits, finding the stairwells locked and elevators out of order. Employees resolved to jump out of windows, only to fall to their deaths, since firefighting nets lacked the strength necessary to save their lives. In the span of a half hour, almost 150 workers were gone.

Days later, a march of 80,000 New Yorkers was organized to honor the lives lost and protest the atrocities committed by the factory owners. Though the company owners were charged for manslaughter, they got off scot-free.

While this event was a horrible tragedy, it resulted in sweeping reform, specifically in industrial centers like New York City. The years to follow would see change for the lives of the working class as America began to wake up to the cost of their newfound industrial society.

On March 27, 1939, 81 years ago, the University of Oregon defeated Ohio State University in the first ever “March Madness.” Before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament ever became a staple of college athletics, only eight teams were invited to play in the first 12 years of the competition. More teams joined over time, but it was not until 2001 when the familiar 65-team (and now 68) format was adopted, complete with the coveted bracket that dominates countless internet and office pools nationwide. In 2005, March Madness became the most popular sporting event for gamblers after the Super Bowl.

In 1982, the NCAA held the first women’s basketball tournament, echoing the same format of the men’s competition. Today, the final match of the women’s tournament falls the day after the men’s championship, signaling the end of the college basketball season. While UCLA holds the record for the most NCAA men’s basketball championship titles, it is our very own UConn Huskies who hold the record for the most national titles for women’s basketball, with 11 championship wins.

While this March will not be the same without the legendary tournament, March Madness is a crucial part of American sports, and is certainly the one part of the year when the entirety of Connecticut is proud to be a Husky.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of history.com


Gino Giansanti is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at gino.giansanti_jr@uconn.edu.

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