Jacob Riis was a journalist and reformer around the turn of the century in New York. He published a book of his photographs and descriptions of the harsh conditions of life in the Lower East Side tenements, How the Other Half Lives, in 1890.
Many of these cramped indoor spaces and dark alleys had never been captured on film, and allowed many people to see the homes of the mostly immigrant populations for the first time. Riis advocated for the city to improve the drinking water supply and other reforms to poor neighborhoods. There are several parks and buildings named after him across the city today.
These photos are from How the Other Half Lives, which is now in the public domain (the ebook version $0.99 if you want to check it out).
1. This is a cobbler on the Sabbath on Ludlow St. Look at this. Apart from that delicious looking challah bread, IT SUCKED.
2. Here are women living in a police house on 47th St. IT BEYOND SUCKED
3. This is a class in the condemned Essex Market School, where a gas stoved burned by day. IT SUCKED.
4. Women lodgers at the police station on Elizabeth Street. This SUCKED.
5. A weirdly hot peddler who sleeps in the cellar of 11 Ludlow St. This is like a hot guy who you discover has a really gross single bed. This is still happening on Ludlow St. It still sucks.
6. Here is a woman in her house on Hudson St. IT SUCKED.
7. This is the home of an Italian immigrant ragpicker. That was a real job: ragpicker. And you thought your unpaid internship sucked? THIS REALLY SUCKED YOU JUST PICK RAGS.
8. Mott Street Industrial School clearly SUCKED.
9. Look at these miserable guys sitting around. Now we have chairs. Back then, IT SUCKED AND YOU SAT ON THE FLOOR.
11. Here’s “The Short Tail Gang” hanging out under the pier at Jackson Street. They just hung out with a bunch of trash and wore not very scary hats. AS A GANG, THEY SUCKED.
12. The Talmud School in Hester Street SUCKED.
13. Here is a reporters’ office at 301 Mulberry St. Look at this – no coffee, no snacks, no Wi-Fi. Horrible. IT SUCKED
14. More women lodgers at the police station. SUCKS.
15. A black-and-tan (meaning integrated) dive bar in “Little Africa.” Chilling on a giant barrell of whiskey looks pretty cool, but check out how miserable they all look. It SUCKED.
16. Sure, this LES apartment was $5/month and has a roof deck, but oh yeah YOU DON’T GET SHOES. IT SUCKED.
17. Remember when you could smoke in bars? Yeah, that was the real New York, man, when the city was real and dirty. Oh wait, you also had children working their fingers to the bone in a tobacco shop. IT SUCKED.
18. Here’s a cobbler who was living in a basement that got condemned by the sanitation dept. He’s now working out of the yard. His rent is $12/month but IT STILL SUCKS.
20. A “growler gang”. Just chilling on a pile of dirt because that was all there was to do. Because life SUCKED.
22. This photo is titled “Bandit’s roost” because bandits literally just roamed Mulberry St. How sucky is that?
23. I’m sure the Craigslist ad claimed there was in-building laundry.
24. This is a family of coal heavers. COAL HEAVERS!!
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