HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES – JACOB RIIS
“How the Other Half Lives,” written in 1880 by Jacob Riis, has set the standard regarding the woeful lives of those who lived in the downtown tenements of New York City in and around 1890.
Referenced, greatly in the PBS special New York by Rick Burns associated with Ken Burns, that mini-series on the origins of New York brought this work to my attention.
The stories of many who lived in these tenements of squalor, disease, and hopelessness are heart-wrenching and all true.
In one tenement for example, over 300 children died in one year mostly from smallpox and literally from starvation. It is important to note, that at the time, to be registered under the term “children” only referred to somebody 5 years of age or younger, one must wonder how many more over the age of 5 but not yet at maturity, dies, as well, that same year.
Or, the story in 1889, of over 530 newborn babies, that were being abandoned left at hospitals or police stations. And, in the care of local government, after coming to these localities, had starved well over 360 of these babies to death.
JACOB RIIS PHOTOGRAPHS ILLUSTRATED
Photographs? They are haunting and disturbing. And, the resolution proposed by the author Jacob Riis, does not fit the vernacular of a government that would take care of such squalor.
Rather, he goes into great detail, even back then, of well-meaning government oversight leading to money being wasted. And, this would only continue creating perpetuating poverty.,
Written in the style that is not politically correct; I see why this book is not taught in high schools. But, if you ever want to learn what it was like to live in a tenement in 1890 New York City, read this book.
Written By: D. Redmond
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