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Period 2


The Problem(s)

      • As more and more immigrants flocked to the U.S., they decided to settle in their own ethnic neighborhoods for protection. Since many of the immigrants who moved into these neighborhoods were very poor, they lived in tenements, which were low-rent apartment buildings.
      • These tenements became incredibly overcrowded. In some of these apartments, up to ten people shared a room together. Since it was so hard to breathe in the rooms, children often slept on the window ledges, which you can imagine was very unsafe.
      • It was also very hard to get a good education because there were no regulated public schools
      • Some of the sanitation problems in the tenements, diseases like typhoid fever, tuberculosis, cholera, and smallpox spread easily. It is estimated that up to 60% of babies who lived in tenements didn’t live to see their first birthday. Sewage and garbage built up on the streets, and it was almost impossible to get good hygiene.
      • Because of the terrible situations in the tenements, they were referred to as slums. The major area were slums were located were in large, industrial cities because of the pull for labor. The people who lived in slums in large cities were often referred to as the urban poor.
      • To make matters worse, many city governments were corrupt because they were overrun by political bosses. A political boss was generally the mayor of a city who appointed people he liked to other high ranking positions in the city. These people would run a corrupt city government and abuse their power by using taxpayers’ money to increase their personal wealth.
      • Also referred to as ‘machines’, political bosses could stay in power because they would make favors to immigrants in order to collect votes. Since many of the immigrants were desperate for a job, a house, or some money, this was an easy thing to do. The ‘machines’ would also bribe voting officials and cram ballet boxes with votes for their party.

The Solution(s)



  • The cities and government were charged with the job of cleaning up slums and making better low cost housing. Landlords had to keep the housing in shape. The government also had to make or improve garbage collection and fire codes, pave streets, and improve methods of transportation.
  • Parks had to be built to encourage recreation, and the Settlement House Movement was encouraged, which funded and built centers for recreation like parks, paid for better education, and constructed temporary homeless shelters. Donations to charities like the Salvation Army were encouraged, and free medical clinics were built and doctors were hired and paid by the city.
  • The city government had to be non-partisan, so it would be run more like a business without politics getting in the way. Plans like the commission form of government (a commission of five people is picked with no regard to politics, and it governs the city) and the city manager plan (the people choose a committee, and they hire one person that has no political orientation. They would run the city as a business, get paid, and since he wasn’t elected, he’ll do things that benefit everyone without worrying about reelection.) These were some ideas people had to keep politics out of the government.
  • There had to be stricter laws for running elections to keep them fair. More jobs had to be under the control of the 'civil service', which where tests and qualifications deciding which jobs people should get.
  • Jane Addams established the Hull House (social welfare house) and tried to establish world peace. At the Hull House, middle class and college educated women shared knowledge with poorer families, and taught classes on subjects like good sanitation and English.
  • Jacob Riis was a police photographer who did several exposés on the urban poor, or people living in tenements. He published a book composed of photographs and narratives called How the Other Half Lives based on the horrors of life in a slum. This publication encouraged public action and reform. He influenced a generation of investigative reporters, or muckrakers, and he raised the bar for other photographers. He also did Some of his pictures are shown below.


The Images

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Jacob Riis photo of a poor family in a slum alleyway.
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"Jacob Riis portrait of an immigrant mother and child in a New York City tenement"

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A great example of the piles of garbage on the streets in a tenement neighborhood.
(Photo by Jacob Riis)

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A sign of some effort to put recreational parks in tenement neighborhoods.
(Photo by Jacob Riis)

The Primary Sources


"The hall is dark and you might stumble over the children pitching pennies back there. . . . A flight of stairs. You can feel your way, if you cannot see it. Close? Yes! What would you have? All the fresh air that ever enters these stairs comes from the front door that is forever slamming, and from the windows of dark bedrooms that in turn receive from the stairs their sole supply of the elements God meant to be free, but man deals out with such a niggardly hand. . . . What sort of an answer, think you, would come from these tenements to the question "Is life worth living?""- Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives

"The era of the air-shaft has not solved the problem of housing the poor, but it has made good use of limited opportunities. Over the new houses sanitary law exercises full control. But the old remain. They cannot be summarily torn down, though in extreme cases the authorities can order them cleared. The outrageous overcrowding, too, remains. It is characteristic of the tenements. Poverty, their badge and typical condition, invites—compels it. All efforts to abate it result only in temporary relief. As long as they exist it will exist with them. And the tenements will exist in New York forever. "- Jacob Riis

"It is constantly said that because the masses have never had social advantages they do not want them, that they are heavy and dull, and that it will take political or philanthropic machinery to change them. This divides a city into rich and poor; into the favored, who express their sense of the social obligation by gifts of money, and into the unfavored, who express it by clamoring for a "share"—both of them actuated by a vague sense of justice. This division of the city would be more justifiable, however, if the people who thus isolate themselves on certain streets and use their social ability for each other gained enough thereby and added sufficient to the sum total of social progress to justify the withholding of the pleasures and results of that progress from so many people who ought to have them."- Jane Addams, in a speech delivered to The Ethical Culture Societies

The Citations

The handout from class called The Progressive Era Wiki- The Urban Por

“Jane Addams: The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements speech.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Jacob Riis.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Jacob Riis- How the Other Half Lives (1890).” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Italian Mother and her Baby- Image.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Garbage in the Streets- Image.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Baxter Street Alley in Mulberry Bend- Image.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.

“Childrens' Playground, Poverty Gap- Image.” American History. ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites. 21 February 2007 <http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com.