Jacob Riis quote: “The slum is the measure…

Jacob Riis quote:

“The slum is the measure of civilization.”

Mulberry Street, New York, 1888.
Bandits’ Roost, Mulberry Street in New York. Taken by Jacob Riis in 1888.

About Jacob Riis:

The following is an an excerpt from an article about Jacob A. Riis:
“IF any rich man could mark a city with as many good works as Jacob A. Riis has thrust upon New York, his name would be called good and himself great; no matter how he made his money, the man would be a philanthropist. Riis is a reporter. The evils he exposed he discovered as a reporter; as a reporter he wrung men’s hearts with them; and the reporter with his “roasts” compelled indifferent city officials to concede the reforms he suggested or approved. Consider these reforms: It was Riis who exposed the contaminated state of the city’s water supply, and thus brought about the purchase of the whole Croton watershed. It was Riis who forced the destruction of rear tenements, and thus relieved the hideous darkness and density of life among the poor. It was the reporter with his nagging that wiped out Mulberry Bend, the worst tenement block in the city, and had the space turned into a park. Riis spoke the word that incited Commissioner Roosevelt to abolish police station lodging-houses. Riis fought for and secured a truant school, where boys who play hooky are punished—they used to be imprisoned with juvenile criminals. Riis did the work that won small parks for bad spots in the city; he labored years for enough schools; he drove bake shops with their fatal fires out of tenement basements; he demanded light for dark tenement hallways, got it, and thus opened one hiding place of vice, crime, and filth. He worked for the abolition of child labor, and, when a law was enacted, compelled its enforcement. Playgrounds for schools and the opening of schoolrooms to boys’ and girls’ clubs were of his work. And he raised the cry for flowers for the healthy as well as the sick poor.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that Riis was ‘the most useful citizen of New York.’ A Harvard professor who heard the remark spoke of it as a “generous exaggeration” characteristic of Mr. Roosevelt. The man who is president never chose words more nicely. People don’t realize it, but no citizen of New York ever devoted himself so completely to the welfare of the city as Riis, and truly no one has accomplished so much—so many specific, tangible reforms.”

“Jacob Riis quote: ‘The slum is the measure…'” sources:

Museum of Modern Art / Wikimedia Commons / “Jacob A. Riis – Reporter, Reformer, American Citizen.” by Lincoln Steffens, McClure’s Magazine, August 1903 – The Archive of American Journalism, Lincoln Steffens Collection


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