Metropolitan Opera House Packed With Protest Meeting About the Fire

Jacob Schiff and Other Wealthy Individuals Speak — a Few Sharp Comments by a Representative of the Women’s Trade Union League

Published March 15, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Originally published in the Forverts on April 3, 1911

Thousands packed the Metropolitan Opera House yesterday afternoon, where the mass meeting about the vast tragedy of the fire was held. Wealthy aristocratic men and women sat in the opera boxes. The orchestra and gallery seats were open to all and were filled largely with working class men and women. Miss Annie Morgan, daughter of major Wall Street magnate J. Pierpont Morgan, organized the meeting. The speakers were for the most part professors, millionaires, philanthropists, priests and rabbis. Only two of the speakers were labor leaders, and their speeches were not well received by the aristocrats seated on the stage and in opera boxes.

Jacob Schiff opened the meeting with a brief speech. He discussed the frightful tragedy and the divine duty incumbent upon the entire community to see that these types of disasters don’t recur.

“I don’t place the blame on anyone,” he said. “The law will determine the guilty parties and punish them. We must see to it that such horrible events no longer happen. We must see to it that factory workers and tenement residents are protected from fire.”

He was followed by Mr. [Eugene] Philbin, chairman of the meeting, Bishop [David] Greer and others. Later on, Rose Schneiderman was introduced to speak as a labor leader from the Women’s Trade Union League. Her speech was a response to all the “philanthropic” homilies that had been given earlier. Each word of hers met its mark.

“I would be a traitor to the burned corpses,” she began, “if I were to speak here of ‘philanthropy’ and good ‘fellowship.’ Many times we have tried you, kind sirs, time and again, and you have done nothing for us. And now we are tormented and warped as though by the Inquisition.

“This is not the first time young women have been burned alive in this city. Every week, I hear of the untimely death of yet another of my worker-sisters. Every year, thousands of us are disabled. The lives of men and women workers are so worthless and property so sacred. There are so many of us for each job, what difference does it make if 143 of us are burned?”

“We have tried you before, wealthy citizens, and now again. You will give us a few dollars for the mothers, brothers and sisters of the unfortunates. For you, it’s charity. But each time workers step out and fight against conditions they can no longer accept, you permit the iron hand of the law to asphyxiate it. The iron hand of the law chases us back to working conditions that make life unbearable.”

“I can’t speak to you of a ‘fraternity of labor.’ Far too much blood has been spilled. From personal experience, I know that the workers themselves, and only they, can help themselves. The only way in which they can save themselves is with a powerful movement of the working class.”

This speech received much applause from those gathered in the galleries.

The chairman responded to Miss Schneiderman with a brief talk. He admitted that the influential classes had done nothing for the workers. This time, however, he insisted, that would not happen. This time, they would do everything they could.

Mr. [Peter] Brady, a second labor leader, spoke in a similar manner to Miss Schneiderman. He is secretary of the United Printing Trades.

“We have no loyalty to ‘citizens committees.’ Such committees have been appointed many times and have never achieved anything. The workers themselves must do the job.”

Dr. Henry Moskowitz read the Sanitary Committee report of the Cloakmaker’s Union indicating that the city had hundreds of similar firetraps.

The meeting resolved to approach the mayor and the legislature to pass laws abolishing firetraps.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.