Digital History

The Rise of the City

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Digital History ID 3051



The immigrant poor lived in overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe housing. Many lived in tenements, dumbbell-shaped brick apartment buildings, four to six stories in height. In 1900, two-thirds of Manhattan's residents lived in tenements.

In one New York tenement, up to 18 people lived in each apartment. Each apartment had a wood-burning stove and a concrete bathtub in the kitchen, which, when covered with planks, served as a dining table. Before 1901, residents used rear-yard outhouses. Afterward, two common toilets were installed on each floor. In the summer, children sometimes slept on the fire escape. Tenants typically paid $10 a month rent.

In tenements, many apartments were dark and airless because interior windows faced narrow light shafts, if there were interior windows at all. With a series of newspaper articles and then a book, entitled How the Other Half Lives, published in 1889, Jacob Riis turned tenement reform into a crusade.

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