HIST 298

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis

..in its beginning, the tenant-house became a real blessing to that class of industrious poor whose small earnings limited their expenses, and whose employment in workshops, stores, or about the warehouses and thoroughfares, render a near residence of much importance. Not for long, however. As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities or the poor became the opportunity of the their wealthier neighbors, and the stamp was set upon the old houses, suddenly become valuable, which the best thought and effort of a later age have vainly struggled to efface. Their large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard or ventilation, the rate of rent being lower in proportion to space or height from the street; and they soon became filled from cellar to garret with a class of tenantry living from hand to mouth, loose in morals, improvident in habits, degraded, and squalid as beggary itself. It was thus the dark bedroom, prolific of untold depravities, came into the world. It was destined to survive the old houses. In their new role, says the old report, eloquent in its indignant denunciation of “evils more destructive than wars,” “they were not intended to last.Rents were fixed high enough to cover damage and abuse from this class, from whom nothing was expected, and the most was made of them while they lasted. Neatness, order, cleanliness, were never dreamed of in connection with the tenant-house system, as it spread its localities from year to year; while reckless slovenliness, discontent, privation, and ignorance were left to work out their invariable results..”

Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1880. 63-64.

While the book, in all its editions, is in public libraries across the country, the original text is at the University of Michigan, and Riis’ photographs and archives can be found in the Library of Congress and New York Public Library.

The publishing company, Bedford Books, has recently focused more heavily on new editions of books related to culture and history. More information on which books are included in this series can be found here. David Leviatin, the editor of this 1996 version of How the Other Half Lives, has taught American Studies at a number of universities and has written two books on immigrants and their experiences in America. Leviatin did his best to create his edition to look as close as possible to the original text by Jacob Riis; he did however, add the uncrossed photographs Riis had taken that were not in any of the other editions of the text.

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