Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thriller Thursday ~ All The Girls Jumped

My husband's great-grandmother, Golda Segal, immigrated to America in 1891. The family settled in Woodbine, New Jersey, which was originally established as a farming community for Jewish immigrants. But when that was not successful, Woodbine became a manufacturing center with a variety of factories providing jobs for new Americans.

Golda Segal was born sometime about 1869 in Russia. She worked in one of the factories in Woodbine in the 1890's. Golda was my mother-in-law's Bubbie (grandmother), and, as my mother-in-law tells it:
She [Golda] was in a fire and in those days they locked people in the factories so they wouldn't get out. When the fire happened, people told her to jump so she came out of the window to jump. There was a barrel or something on the ground and when Golda jumped, she fell onto this barrel, hit her head, and her eardrum burst. This caused hearing and speech problems for her for the rest of her life.
I have found several newspaper accounts of a factory fire in Woodbine on February 7, 1895, which is likely the one my husband's great grandmother was injured in.

From the Bridgeton (NJ) Evening News, February 8, 1895 from GenealogyBank:

TERRIBLE FIRE AT WOODBINE. Factory Buildings Burned and Many Persons Hurt. A Panic Among Employees - Rosa Litshetz Jumps From a Third Story Window - The Loss May Reach Fifteen Thousand Dollars  There was a big fire, terrible in its results, at the Russian Hebrew colony of Woodbine late yesterday afternoon, but the particulars are meagre and hard to obtain.
  The machine and tool factories were burned to the ground. The first account says that seven persons were badly injured and one woman was nearly burned to death.
  A later report says: One of the main building which were burned was a three story one. Forty five persons were in it. The fire happened late yesterday afternoon. A girl named Rosa Litshetz jumped from a third story window and was seriously injured.
  Several others jumped from windows and were somewhat hurt. Nearly all the employees were injured, either by jumping or fighting the fire.
  The factories have lately started up and the town had taken a sudden boom during the last two weeks.
  Great excitement prevailed during the fire and several persons were frozen by exposure.
  The loss by the burning of the buildings is estimated at between $12,000 and $15,000.
  A physician went to Woodbine from Millville by special car this morning. Several reporters of Philadelphia and New York papers, en route for the place, are on the down train, snow bound at Glassboro.
An article in the February 9, 1895, New York Sun, found at the Chronicling America website, is even more dramatic in its retelling:

ALL THE GIRLS JUMPED. Thirty-eight Leaped from a Burning Factory in Woodbine, N.J.  Woodbine, N.J., Feb. 8. - A factory in which thirty-eight girls were working was discovered to be on fire about the time the girls quit work last night. As soon as the girls learned of the fire they began to run about the place screaming. The factory was a two-story structure.
  The ground floor was occupied by the Woodbine Machine and Tool Company and the second floor was used as a pocketbook factory, conducted by B. Billinschick. It was he who employed the girls. They ran to the windows and began to jump out. One followed the other until the whole thirty-eight had leaped down.
  Woodbine, which is inhabited by Hebrews, has no fire department, and the factory burned itself out. Among those most seriously injured were Rhoda Segall, whose leg was broken. She was one of the last to jump from the window and did not do so until her face and hands were badly burned.
  Rebecca Segall, a sister of Rhoda, stayed with her until the last minute, and was also badly burned about the face and hands, but was not injured by her jump. Bertha Sliefstein was burned about the face. Mary Sliefstein, her sister, was slightly burned, and Rose Goldfarb was burned slightly about the face and hands. Rose Lipshitz and her sister Rebecca, each had their faces burned. Samuel Herman was burned about the face and bruised by falling. Louis Kriechie broke a leg by jumping, and Bernard Breslow was burned about the face and hands before he could get up courage enough to jump.
  The fire was discovered in the part of the building occupied by the Woodbine Machine and Tool Company. A new electric light plant had just been put into the building. The total damage will amount to about $20,000. The cause of the fire is not known.
This news story was reported in newspapers all over. Facts are reported differently and names mentioned were often spelled differently in each news report. It is possible that Rhoda and Rebecca Segall are related to my husband's Segal ancestors, but I don't have proof of that. Some reports indicate that the building was three stories and the first floor was occupied by the electric light plant.

Although I looked around a bit for any news report of the cause of the fire, I only found mention in a July 16, 1895, issue of the Bridgeton Evening News of the need of a waterworks, "as the fire last winter showed how dangerous it was to be without water." I also didn't find out if any of those mentioned in the article died of their injuries.

For reference, the worst factory fire in New York City's history was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911.


  1. Fascinating personal family history tie to the news. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. It is amazing what you can find in old newspapers!