Monday, 30 November 2015

'In Poverty Gap, West 28 Street: an English coal-heaver's home.'

During the Nineteenth Century, more and more people began crowding into America’s cities, including thousands of newly arrived immigrants seeking a better life than the one they had left behind.’ Published in 1890, Jacob Riis’ ‘How the Other Half Lives’, is a collection of photos which document the living conditions of the immigrants in the Lower East Side of New York City during the 1880s. Riis helped to ‘expose the horrible conditions of the slums in which the lower classes of New York City lived.’ By doing this he was able to show other Americans that ‘the tenement slum was incompatible with good American citizenship.’[1]  

This picture is one of many, which capture the many immigrant’s poor living conditions. The image is called, ‘In Poverty Gap, West 28 Street: an English coal-heaver’s home’. The photograph consists of a ‘pleasant-faced’ mother, ‘a slow-going, honest English coal-heaver’ father and their children, ‘two bright and pretty girls’.[2] The image reveals that immigrants lived in squalor, the tenements in which they resided were not well kept and provided little comfort, also the lack of space meant that many families were crowded. These poor living conditions were only subjected to the immigrants as they were seen as inferior to the other Americans. They did not get a lot but they made do with what they had, because they wanted a better quality of life and the only way they could do this was by going to America, where they were promised they would achieve this greater quality of living. The image is a clear indication that the immigrants were not living the American lifestyle they wished they could. The lack of help provided for the immigrants shows that they had to manage on their own and provide and feed their kids. It was not the ideal living circumstances and through images such as this, Riis uncovers the horrendous conditions which well-off people refused to see.

[1] Roy Lubove, The Progressive and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890-1917 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963) p. 124
[2] Jacob A. Riss, How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (New York: Dover, 1971) p. 134

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