How the other Half Lives is a book by Jacob August Riis who was an immigrant. I am sure you have heard of this book that portrays the lives of tenement dwellers in New York City in 1890. There were around 1,000,000 or more people living in terrible poverty. Mostly families living in one tiny room. Riis shed a light on their condition with his photographs. He didn’t even own a camera or know anything about photography when he began, but his photos helped to change the awful living conditions.

    Among my many piles of books, in various places tucked away here and there, I came across my old book. The first thing that came to mind was perspective!  There isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t carry a burden of some kind even from the least to the greatest. Personally I don’t look at people as being from the least or greatest at all…just each person having value to contribute to their world.  But if one were to use a scale, then the least of New York, the tenements, were invisible until Riis took the time and care to say something!

   The first is a photo of wash day. (mine should be a happy occasion for ever after)

   The second is a lady with tuberculosis trying to stay away from her family as she recovers.  (what a beautiful smile)


28 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. Wow girl I’ll never complsain about laundry day or even my illness again. Thankful for my NEw washing machine and dryer and grateful that the my health condition is not contagious.
    I’ve never read his book although several times in my life its been brought to my attention. Your review of it is inspiring, no O want to know. It’s on my wish list.

  2. Yeah I just found it on Kindle! Now I have a digital copy for under $4 that will allow me to read it this morning. But I can tell I will need a hard copy of my oown to hold and touch. Kindle is okay, I would never have purchased one but I found I have an app on my laptop that cost me nothing more. So why not?

  3. These are very powerful images. I will have to look for a copy of this book. I had never heard of it.

  4. Thank you Laurie! I never thought I would care about History when I was in high school. But time gives a different perspective doesn’t it? I am glad you stopped by!

  5. Oddly, you and I focused our posts on the same subject today. I linked to this post as a reference for the difference in poverty brought on by sudden circumstance and the chronic poverty that exists today. Thank you for reminding me of Riis’ work.

  6. I’m not familiar with these photographs, or Riis, for that matter, Terri. And I would like to learn more. This is such an incredibly poignant photo essay…he caught the important historical episodes, didn’t he? I’m really moved…and impressed. I’m so glad you shared, and brought him to my attention. Debra

  7. I like this thought provoking review a lot. I like how you narrated, it is not necessary to have a camera of your own to show the reality. We all need to try in our small ways, with in our own limitation to bring a change to this world. And after reading this post of yours, I can tell that Riss was a perfect example of this. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.

  8. I remember learning about Riis in high school History class. But the emphasis was on memorizing the term social reform, rather than really understanding the subjects of his work. Now I wish I’d looked more closely. I also wonder if “the other half” was much more than half, and if that woman in the second photo got better or if she froze to death.

    Thank you for posting this, Terri. I’ll be thinking about it all day.

  9. I tried to find out what happened to her before I posted, but the only mention is a general description of those who had to live on the roof at times due to illness or crowding. There are a lot of stats in the back and since Riis worked as a police reporter he was able to dig under the surface so….in NY 1888 the pop. of tenements was 1,093,701… being three families to a room. I wish there were a way to know what happened to her. The only info are these words (that I could find) “Fighting tuberculosis on the roof” The word moving is feebly used to descibe the effect this book has on a person. And also such a story that one person caused others to look and really see.

  10. This is really a lovely post, Terri. I love the photos, and my heart goes out to the poor woman with TB. I had relatives living in the Lower East side tenements from 1905-1910, as they earned passage over for the family a few fares at a time, until they could all be together. Last year when we were in New York, we visited the Tenement Museum, and took the tour, which was really interesting. Thank you for a great post.

  11. I am so glad you shared that, and what stories there must be around the kitchen table. What incredible family to live in the tenements as they earned a way for someone else to come over so they could be together. That is just inspiring and beautiful. Thank you Naomi.

  12. Thank you for reminding us about keeping everthing in perspective! Those photos are heartbreaking…
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