Shirtwaists: More than a mere blouse.

Shirtwaists from the Eaton’s Catalogue

The Tighsolas letters mention shirtwaist. When I first discovered the letters, I had no idea what a shirtwaist was. I soon saw pictures in the magazines, like The Delineator, that I purchased off Ebay.

I have a picture of Edith in a shirtwaist. She is posing in front of her school.

I still didn’t quite understand the significance of shirtwaists. Apparently, they were working women’s garb.

The Nicholson’s made their own shirtwaists, although you could buy them from the Eaton’s catalogue, for about a buck.

The Delineator showed much more fancy ones, not the kind a woman who had to work could afford, so the leisure classes also bought into the fashion.

Well, 2011 is the 10oth annversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Greenwich Village New York.

As it happens, in March 2011, Flora was in her crunch months at Academy, hoping to get into Macdonald Teacher’s College.

She would fail French but still be allowed to go to Macdonald.

I recently found this Victor Hugo Poem called Melancholia about child labour in France during the Industrial Revolution.

Où vont tous ces enfants dont pas un seul ne rit ?
Ces doux êtres pensifs que la fièvre maigrit ?
Ces filles de huit ans qu’on voit cheminer seules ?
Ils s’en vont travailler quinze heures sous des meules ;
Ils vont, de l’aube au soir, faire éternellement
Dans la même prison le même mouvement.
Accroupis sous les dents d’une machine sombre,
Monstre hideux qui mâche on ne sait quoi dans l’ombre,
Innocents dans un bagne, anges dans un enfer,
Ils travaillent. Tout est d’airain, tout est de fer.
Jamais on ne s’arrête et jamais on ne joue.
Aussi quelle pâleur ! la cendre est sur leur joue.
Il fait à peine jour, ils sont déjà bien las.
Ils ne comprennent rien à leur destin, hélas !
Ils semblent dire à Dieu : « Petits comme nous sommes,
Notre père, voyez ce que nous font les hommes ! »
O servitude infâme imposée à l’enfant !

I think I will have Flora have to read and write about this poem in her final year. She will take it to Miss Gouin, a French woman who sews for them and the only French person she knows. Miss Gouin will tell her all about the Magog plant at Dominion Textile where many of her relations work. Flora will get an education, but not the kind expected by her teachers, but one that will serve her well as a teacher in Griffintown, where many of her students will be the children of Jewish immigrants. In 1912, Eaton’s garment factory workers, all Jewish, will strike. They won’t win their cause as the non Jewish workers will not support them.

There’s also an unrelated strike of garment workers in Montreal, complete with a protest march.

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