How the Other Half Lives
LONG ago it was said that "one half of the world does not know how the other half lives." That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat. There came a time when the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent upheavals so violent, that it was no longer an easy thing to do, and then the upper half fell to inquiring what the matter was. Information on the subject has been accumulating rapidly since, and the whole world has had its hands full answering for its old ignorance.
(How the Other Half Lives, introduction by Jacob Riis at uthentichistory.com)The pioneering work of photojournalism by Jacob Riis (1849-1914) focused on the plight of the poor in the Lower East Side, and greatly influenced future "muckraking" journalism. Riis mostly attributed the plight of the poor to environmental conditions, but he also divided the poor into two categories: deserving of assistance (mostly women and children) and undeserving (mostly the unemployed and intractably criminal). He wrote with prejudice about Jews, Italians, and Irish, and he stopped short of calling for government intervention. Still, the catalyst of his work was a genuine sympathy for his subjects, and his work shocked many New Yorkers.
Life in New York
Life in New York was certainly hard for the Irish immigrants, but it was without a doubt better than life in famine starved Ireland. Most Irish immigrants had relatives already in New York, so they would frequently move in with them upon arrival in the big apple. It was quite difficult to get affordable housing in New York. Thus, most immigrants would share a tenement apartment with sometimes as many as ten other people. The parks movement that destroyed many buildings and raised the price of real estate didn't help either. The cramped conditions of such tenements led to an unhealthy group of tenants. Such tenements were very unhealthy as it was. Landlords continued to reduce the size of their courtyards and eventually used only air shafts for light and ventilation. These shafts were filled with tenant’s garbage and did nothing to help the ventilation at all. The apartments themselves were cramped and stuffy, filled with too many people.
Five Points in 1852
Five Points in 1861
Present location of the Five Points, New York
Garment Workers Protesting Child Labor
Five Points, New York City
To make matters worse for the Irish, they were hated by the "native" New Yorkers. There were several reasons for this hatred; one was the poverty and squalor in which they lived. Irish were seen as dirty, but it was their lack of money or base in this country that was to blame. However, the main reason the Irish were hated was because they were catholic. The majority of New Yorkers were protestant, of English background. The Protestants hated the Catholics, thus the Irish were driven into the slums where their collective poverty was something to behold. They became almost entirely isolated within New York in places such as the Five Points. That did not stop the discrimination however. Irish were looked down upon even more than African Americans and were frequently turned down for jobs. All landlords but those who owned housing already in Irish slums turned down Irish tenants. The Irish were depicted as drunks and thugs. Comics about the Irish gangs became common. Their slums became famous; the Five Points was interesting to the upper class.
Little Italy, Mulberry Street, New York City
New York City Boston, Mass
Everyone in New York will tell you that Little Italy is not the place to find great Italian food. Unfortunately, the area is referred to as Little Italy more out of respect and nostalgia as a reflection of true ethnic population. The restaurants are better than average, but still worse than some gems in Brooklyn, Staten Island and yes, even the Bronx. For non-New Yorkers: NY's real Little Italy is the Bronx. Manhattan was the logical starting point for many Italian American families. Once the boats from Italy arrived in New York harbor, (after the passengers were processed at Ellis Island) passengers were dropped off in lower Manhattan. As was the case with many immigrants, the Italians made their way to the “ghetto” which was located a few blocks away from Canal Street. Most Italians found their new homes to be tenement buildings with poor sanitation and hygiene. The Italians worked hard to transform their new home into an American area with a uniquely Italian twist. Pastry shops, bakeries, and grocers sprung up throughout while pushcart vendors sold fruits and vegetables. The Italians prospered in the area, and began to flourish as a whole, rather quickly. The “dominance” of Italians in NY's Little Italy was short lived, due in large part to Italian prosperity which caused them to move out of the tenements and into areas such as Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. As a result, the Little Italy of today is a shadow of its former self. However, the remnants are great reminders of what once was. The iconic status of places like Ferrara's Pasticceria and Banca Stabile let everyone know that NY's Little Italy was just the beginning of the Italian success story in America. (italianaware.com)
Bandit's Roost, 1890, New York City
Photograph by Jacob Riis
Featured in his book How the Other Half Lives (1890)
Buk-Swienty's 'The Other Half'
The New York Sun at nysun.com
Free coffee, doughnuts, and soup for the unemployed
Coffee on the bowery, New York, 1908
New York City immigrant neighborhood in 1908
In New York, the youngest of the world's great cities, that time came later than elsewhere, because the crowding had not been so great. There were those who believed that it would never come; but their hopes were vain. Greed and reckless selfishness wrought like results here as in the cities of older lands. "When the great riot occurred in 1863," so reads the testimony of the Secretary of the Prison Association of New York before a legislative committee appointed to investigate causes of the increase of crime in the State twenty-five years ago, "every hiding-place and nursery of crime discovered itself by immediate and active participation in the operations of the mob. Those very places and domiciles, and all that are like them, are to-day nurseries of crime, and of the vices and disorderly courses which lead to crime. By far, at least the largest part, eighty per cent of crimes against property and against the person are perpetrated by individuals who have either lost connection with home life, or never had any, or whose homes had ceased to be sufficiently separate, decent, and desirable to afford what ate regarded as ordinary wholesome influences of home and family. . . . The younger criminals seem to come almost exclusively from the worst tenement house districts, that is, when traced back to the very places where they had their homes in the city here.'' Of one thing New York made sure at that earls stage of the inquiry: the boundary line of the Other Half lives through the tenements…..
(How the Other Half Lives, introduction by Jacob Riis at uthentichistory.com)