Jacob August Riis

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914), Danish-born American journalist and slum reformer, created new stan dards in civic responsibility regarding the poor and homeless in his reporting of New York City slum conditions.

Jacob Riis was born May 3, 1849, in Ribe, Denmark, one of 14 children. His father was a school-teacher. Young Riis early showed a sensitive disposition and a faith in people that would sustain him through difficult days. Trained in carpentry, he emigrated to New York in 1870. Riis never forgot the bitter experiences with poverty and ill-treatment that followed, but they did not mar his hopeful outlook. In 1874 he became editor of the South Brooklyn News and began developing his skills as a reporter. In 1877 he joined the New York Tribune and was assigned to the Police Department in the slums of the lower East Side.

Although Riis was in some respects sentimental in outlook, he was able to investigate and report conditions that made cynics of less hardy journalists. Riis turned his energy and keen eye for human-interest stories into a weapon for rousing New Yorkers to the evil state of their slums. His articles for the Tribune, the Sun (which he joined in 1890), and elsewhere probed every aspect of human circumstances: sanitary conditions, family life, the fate of women and children, and even treatment of dead victims of hunger and cold. Riis’s articles and exposés turned light on dark tenements, vice centers, lax police administration, firetraps, and other areas of civic neglect. How the Other Half Lives (1890) brought him fame and introduced him to his lifelong friend and associate Theodore Roosevelt, who termed him the most useful citizen in New York.

Nibsy’s Christmas

Nibsy’s Christmas

Printed: 5.99 $eBook: 1.99 $

It was Christmas-eve over on the East Side. Darkness was closing in on a cold, hard day. The light that struggled through the frozen windows of the delicatessen store, and the saloon on the corner, fell upon men with empty dinner-pails who were hurrying homeward, their coats buttoned tightly, and heads bent against the steady blast from the river.

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