New York City in 1910, site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Bella, Yetta and Jane. Three young women, seemingly so different, yet so entwined in their thought, attitudes and actions. Three teens devoted to cause, workers’ rights and women’s rights. Females who are ahead of their time with progressive ideas.
Bella works diligently in the factory to make a life for herself and to send money back home to her family. She tries to accomplish her work systematically and carefully, but she is goaded into speed by threats of not being paid. Every needle broken and every shirtwaist with threads still dangling means a deduction from her week’s pay. The workers are watched constantly, and bags are checked upon departure to ensure that no shirtwaists are stolen. Her landlord takes her money and promises to send it to her relatives.
Yetta is a worker in the same factory… until some of the workers go on strike. She stands outside in the freezing cold and chants with the others, demanding better pay, hours and working conditions. Police bloody and arrest the striking workers. They send them to work camps. Fatigue, hunger and poverty wear on these young women, yet they carry on. The union leaders come back to them with a deal from the bosses: better hours and pay, but no closed shop. This means that management can hire non-union workers and treat them as they please. Yetta and her colleagues find this deal completely unacceptable. Yet the union settles with management.
Jane lives in the lap of luxury, but she detests it. Her father is one of the owners of a factory, and she is appalled by how little he pays his domestic staff. He will not allow her to attend college as her friend, Eleanor, does. Jane is bored out of her mind, staying home with nothing to do but dress fittings and society balls. She longs to be active in the world and not passively allow her life to slip by. The teen gets the opportunity to watch the workers’ strike, and she attempts to help the workers that she meets and comes to care about.
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2007
This book blew my mind. The women’s lives are intricately woven together. The social issues of the time, women’s suffrage and workers’ rights, are brilliantly highlighted. Yetta, Bella and Jane have staunch, iron wills that they put to good use.