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New York City Slums In The 1880s

Jacob A. Riis was one of the first photographers who directed their cameras to the nineteenth-century immigrants in New York. He emigrated from Denmark and arrived in New York in 1870. At the time, thousands of people were coming to New York seeking a better life. Part of them was moving deeper into the continent, but a large part left in the fast-growing city. But there was not enough jobs for all, and rents rose. Many people faced joblessness, hunger, homelessness, and thoughts of suicide.

The Danish American photographer found himself among these people. So when he finally found work as a reporter in 1877, he made it his mission to reveal the crime and poverty of New York City’s East Side slum district to the world. The best way was to take photos. As a result, he published a book How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York in 1890 which is considered as a landmark in the annals of social reform.

Riis took photographs until 1898. In 1901, he resigned from his job as a reporter and dedicated his life to social activities. He died in 1914. Currently, Riis’ negatives are in the collections of Museum of the City of New York. Check out his photographs of New York City slums taken in the 1880s.

A black-and-tan dive in “Africa” [Broome Street, c.1890].

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (1)

A flat in the pauper barracks, West 38 St., with all its furniture.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (2)

Members of the gang showing how they “did the trick”.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (3)

Bandits Roost.

Bandits' Roost, 59 1/2 Mulberry Street

Bottle Alley, Mulberry Bend.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (5)

Lodgers in a crowded Bayard Street tenement.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (6)

Under the dump, Rivington Street, about 1890.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (7)

In poverty Gap, West 28 Street: an English coal-heaver’s home.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (8)

Necktie workshop in a Division Street tenement, 1889.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (9)

The man slept in this cellar for four years, about 1890.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (10)

Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters [church corner].

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (11)

Quarters for the night.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (12)

Twelve-year-old boy (who had sworn he was sixteen) pulling threads in a sweat shop, about 1889.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (13)

Typical tenement fire-escape serving as an extention of the flat, Allen Street.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (14)

Under the dump at West 35 Street.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (15)

Children’s Playground in Poverty Cap.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (16)

Bottle Alley.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (17)

Shoemaker, Broome Street, early 1890s.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (18)

Greek children in Gotham Court.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (19)

Feast of Saint Rocco, Bandits’ Roost, Mulberry Street.

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (20)

Street Arabs in sleeping quarters [areaway, Mulberry St.].

How the Other Half Lives Jacob Riis (21)

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There will be something about me. I'm too lazy now.

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