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A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan

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CHAPTER 9

How Low Can We Go?

                We are unsettled to the very roots of our being. We have changed our environment more quickly than we know how to change ourselves.

—Walter Lippmann, 19141

On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly women, died as they jumped to their deaths or suffocated in a New York factory fire. The oldest, Providenza Panno, was forty-three years old; the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls, Kate Leone and Rosaria Maltese. Nobody knows whether the fire was started by overheated machines or an illicit cigarette, but it spread fast because of the hundreds of pounds of fabric scraps that littered the floor. ...

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