4: Oral history excerpt, Dora Maisler, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire survivor, 1957.
In this excerpt, we hear a former garment worker and survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire talk about her experiences. Dora Maisler, a sample-maker working on the eighth floor of the Asch Building, describes the fire, her life afterwards, and memorializing the victims. Maisler’s interview, like oral history more broadly, offers the unique perspective and insight of a first-person account.
Suggested Activity: Have students listen to the oral history excerpt. Ask them to jot down notes as they listen. What have they learned about the experience from hearing the survivor’s testimony? What details stood out to them? What did they think about the interviewers’ questions and reactions throughout the interview? What role did the interviewers seem to play?
Invite students to look at the excerpt from Finck’s graphic novel in resource 3, and remind them that it is a fictionalized drawing based on an original, translated Bintel Brief letter. Ask them to think about what the different versions of the story teach us about the history. Is there something that the graphic novel highlights about early twentieth century immigrant history more broadly, or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire more specifically, that the oral history does not (and vice versa)? Have students think about different forms of historical recording. Ask them to consider the limitations and uses of each particular historical mode.
Sources: Dora Maisler, interview by Sigmund Arywitz and unidentified woman, 1957 (Survival Oral Histories, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives, Cornell University), https://trianglefire.ilr.cornell.edu/primary/survivorInterviews/DoraMaisler.html.