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Read Chapters 18 and 19 in Give Me Liberty textbook.

This discussion asks you to apply the concepts from the module’s readings to present your thoughts on a
major event in U.S. History. This practice helps you to develop the skill of engaging with sources. You
have the opportunity here to practice applying, translating, and re-working what you have learned to
function in unexpected ways.

1. Recall key events, figures, and ideas of WWI and the interwar period in the United States.
2. Contextualize, criticize, defend, and debate significant ideas found in historical primary sources of

WWI and the interwar period in the United States.

Discussion Prompt
World War I essentially determined the trajectory of twentieth-century world history, and the conflict had
an important impact on American history. The historiography on WWI is immense, with historians (from
all over the world) taking a number of different perspectives, contributing different arguments about the
significance of the conflict, and examining a wide range of issues and topics.

This discussion asks you to identify and discuss at least one aspect about WWI that you believe
historians should focus on. What do you think is the most important story about WWI? If you were writing
a history about WWI, what would you write about? What is the experience that students of WWI
absolutely need to know about? What is the story that needs to be told? What is most significant about
WWI history? What is the “big take away”? Your answer can focus on the American, European, or global
historical experience.

Your response to the question(s) needs to first identify in the introduction at least one part of WWI history
that you find most interesting/significant—the big takeaway(s). Then the remaining page should explain
why. The explanation needs incorporate historical evidence. The discussion should not be a “general
history.”

̣ CHAPTER 18 ̣

THE PROGRESSIVE ERA

1900–1916

FOCUS QUESTIONS
Why was the city such a central element in Progressive America?
How did the labor and women’s movements challenge the nineteenth-century meanings of
American freedom?
In what ways did Progressivism include both democratic and anti-democratic impulses?
How did the Progressive presidents foster the rise of the nation-state?

It was late afternoon on March 25, 1911, when fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.
The factory occupied the top three floors of a ten-story building in the Greenwich Village
neighborhood of New York City. Here some 500 workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian
immigrant women, toiled at sewing machines producing ladies’ blouses, some earning as little as
three dollars per week. Those who tried to escape the blaze discovered that the doors to the stairwell
had been locked—the owners’ way, it was later charged, of discouraging theft and unauthorized
bathroom breaks. The fire department rushed to the scene with high-pressure hoses. But their ladders
reached only to the sixth floor. As the fire raged, onlookers watched in horror as girls leapt from the
upper stories. By the time the blaze had been put out, 46 bodies lay on the street and 100 more were
found inside the building.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was typical of manufacturing in the nation’s largest city, a beehive
of industrial production in small, crowded factories. New York was home to 30,000 manufacturing
establishments with more than 600,000 employees—more industrial workers than in the entire state
of Massachusetts. Triangle had already played a key role in the era’s labor history. When 200 of its
workers tried to join the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the owners
responded by firing them. This incident helped to spark a general walkout of female garment workers
in 1909—the Uprising of the 20,000. Among the strikers’ demands was better safety in clothing
factories. The impoverished immigrants forged an alliance with middle- and upper-class female
supporters, including members of the Women’s Trade Union League, which had been founded in
1903 to help bring women workers into unions. Alva Belmont, the ex-wife of railroad magnate
William Vanderbilt, contributed several of her cars to a parade in support of the striking workers. By
the time the walkout ended early in 1911, the ILGWU had won union contracts with more than 300
firms. But the Triangle Shirtwaist Company was not among them.

The Triangle fire was not the worst fire disaster in American history (seven years earlier, over 1,000
people had died in a blaze on the General Slocum excursion boat in New York harbor). But it had an
unrivaled impact on public consciousness. More than twenty years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt
would refer to it in a press conference as an example of why the government needed

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