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Jacob Riis and Progressive Reform of the Modernist Period. Jacob Riis was a Danish-born muckraker, or journalist, who sought to improve the lives of the poor in New York City. Muckrakers.
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Jacob Riis was a Danish-born muckraker, or journalist, who sought to improve the lives of the poor in New York City.
Muckrakers Muckrakers were journalists who set out to expose problems, corruption, crime, or dangers which existed in major cities across the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The reason they wanted to expose these problems was to generate public interest and rally support to correct the problems! Jacob Riis considered poverty the most important concern in major cities across America, particularly “The Problem of the Children.”
Jacob Riis was known for the stunning pictures he took of immigrants trying to make a life for themselves in the United States. His pictures portray a bleak life of those trying to make it in a new country. He brought the atrocities of tenement living, sweat shops, slums and health issues to life through his photos and his writings. Jacob Riis1849-1914 How the Other Half Lives, a photo essay by Jacob Riis
The Tenement A barrack down town where he has to live because he is poor brings in a third more rent than a decent flat house in Harlem. The statement once made a sensation that between seventy and eighty children had been found in one tenement. It no longer excites even passing attention, when the sanitary police report counting 101 adults and 91 children in a Crosby Street house, one of twins, built together. The children in the other, if I am not mistaken, numbered 89, a total of 180 for two tenements! Or when a midnight inspection in Mulberry Street unearths a hundred and fifty "lodgers" sleeping on filthy floors in two buildings. Spite of brown-stone trimmings, plate-glass and mosaic vestibule floors, the water does not rise in summer to the second story, while the beer flows unchecked to the all-night picnics on the roof. The saloon with the side-door and the landlord divide the prosperity of the place between them, and the tenant, in sullen submission, foots the bills. From Chapter 2
This photograph shows conditions in the back alleys of a tenement, where clotheslines hung.
The Sweat Shop The bulk of the sweater's work is done in the tenements, which the law that regulates factory labor does not reach. To the factories themselves that are taking the place of the rear tenements in rapidly growing numbers, letting in bigger day-crowds than those the health officers banished, the tenement shops serve as a supplement through which the law is successfully evaded. Ten hours is the legal work-day in the factories, and nine o'clock the closing hour at the latest. Forty-five minutes at least must be allowed for dinner, and children under sixteen must not be employed unless they can read and write English; none at all under fourteen. The very fact that such a law should stand on the statute book, shows how desperate the plight of these people. But the tenement has defeated its benevolent purpose. In it the child works unchallenged from the day he is old enough to pull a thread. There is no such thing as a dinner hour; men and women eat while they work, and the "day" is lengthened at both ends far into the night. Factory hands take their work with them at the close of the lawful day to eke out their scanty earnings by working overtime at home. From Chapter 11
Garment workers might work 14 to 16 hours a day, being paid by the piece – and not very well.
Health Issues The message came from one of the Health Department's summer doctors, last July, to the King's Daughters' Tenement-house Committee, that a family with a sick child was absolutely famishing in an uptown tenement. The address was not given. The doctor had forgotten to write it down, and before he could be found and a visitor sent to the house the baby was dead, and the mother had gone mad. The nurse found the father, who was an honest laborer long out of work, packing the little corpse in an orange-box partly filled with straw, that he might take it to the Morgue for pauper burial. There was absolutely not a crust to eat in the house, and the other children were crying for food. The great immediate need in that case, as in more than half of all according to the record, was work and living wages. Alms do not meet the emergency at all. They frequently aggravate it, degrading and pauperizing where true help should aim at raising the sufferer to self-respect and self-dependence. From Chapter 21
Frequently, low paid workers would try to save money by sharing a room. Overcrowding bred disease.
The poor were frequently found drunk or ill to the point of death on the streets. Freezing to death was entirely possible. How the Other Half Lives, By Jacob Riis
A blind beggar sells cigars on the street, hoping to make enough money to pay for a meal and a bed.
Children of the slums The Street Arab has all the faults and all the virtues of the lawless life he leads. Vagabond that he is, acknowledging no authority and owing no allegiance to anybody or anything, with his grimy fist raised against society whenever it tries to coerce him, he is as bright 'and sharp as the weasel, which, among all the predatory beasts, he most resembles His sturdy independence, love of freedom and absolute self-reliance, together with his rude sense of justice that enables him to govern his little community, not always in accordance with municipal law or city ordinances, but often a good deal closer to the saving line of "doing to others as one would be done by"— these are strong handles by which those who know how can catch the boy and make him useful. From Chapter 17
From How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis “Bodies of drowned children turn up in the rivers right along in summer whom no one seems to know anything about. When last spring some workmen, while moving a pile of lumber on a North River pier, found under the last plank the body of a little lad crushed to death, no one had missed a boy, though his parents afterward turned up.”
This photograph shows children moving trash one wheelbarrow at a time – exposing child labor.
Immigrants The crowds that jostle each other at the wagons and about the sidewalk shops, where a gutter plank on two ash-barrels does duty for a counter! Pushing, struggling, babbling, and shouting in foreign tongues, a veritable Babel of confusion. An English word falls upon the ear almost with a sense of shock, as something unexpected and strange. In the midst of it all there is a sudden wild scattering, a hustling of things from the street into dark cellars, into back-yards and by-ways, a slamming and locking of doors hidden under the improvised shelves and counters. The health officers' cart is coming down the street, preceded and followed by stalwart policemen, who shovel up with scant ceremony the eatables--musty bread, decayed fish an d stale vegetables--indifferent to the curses that are showered on them from stoops and windows, and carry them off to the dump. From Chapter 10
The immigrant family above is pictured with all of the family’s possessions.
Talmud School Public School
Many impoverished citizens of New York shared shanties like these, squatting on the land in back alleys. How the Other Half Lives, By Jacob Riis
The Bend becomes a Park The Bend
The Effects of Jacob Riis’How the Other Half Lives Riis’ work brought attention to the conditions in which poor workers and immigrants lived in New York City and other major cities across America. The emphasis Riis put on ending child labor and improving public schools in America helped reformers like Horace Mann establish public schools and helped labor unions to end child labor. Riis’ work inspired members of the settlement house movement, like Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which created a graduated income tax system was adopted when Americans became increasingly aware of the disparity between the wealth and the very poor.