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Title: A Ten Year War - An Account of The Battle with The Slum in New York
Author: Riis, Jacob A. (Jacob August), 1849-1914
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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             A TEN YEARS' WAR

         AN ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE
             WITH THE SLUM IN
                 NEW YORK

            BY JACOB A. RIIS


    AUTHOR OF "HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES"

    _WITH ILLUSTRATIONS_

    [Illustration: The Riverside Press]

    BOSTON AND NEW YORK

    HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY

    The Riverside Press, Cambridge

    1900

    COPYRIGHT, 1900, BY JACOB A. RIIS

    ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


    TO THE FAINT-HEARTED AND THOSE OF LITTLE
    FAITH THIS VOLUME IS REPROACHFULLY
    INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR



[Illustration: COLONEL GEORGE E. WARING, JR.]



CONTENTS


    CHAP.                                    PAGE

       I. THE BATTLE WITH THE SLUM              1

      II. THE TENEMENT HOUSE BLIGHT            30

     III. THE TENEMENT: CURING ITS BLIGHT      68

      IV. THE TENANT                          104

       V. THE GENESIS OF THE GANG             139

      VI. LETTING IN THE LIGHT                169

     VII. JUSTICE FOR THE BOY                 204

    VIII. REFORM BY HUMANE TOUCH              239



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                               PAGE

       COLONEL GEORGE E. WARING, JR.                     _Frontispiece_

       POLICE STATION LODGING ROOM ON EAST SIDE                     18

       THE MOTT STREET BARRACKS 74

       ALFRED CORNING CLARK BUILDINGS--_Model Tenements
       Of City And Suburban Homes Company_                          84

       EVENING IN ONE OF THE COURTS OF MILLS HOUSE NO. 1            94

       BONE ALLEY                                                  134

       MULBERRY BEND PARK                                          180

       LETTER H PLAN OF PUBLIC SCHOOL NO. 165 (SHOWING
       FRONT ON WEST 109TH STREET)                                 214

       PLAYGROUND ON ROOF OF NEW EAST BROADWAY SCHOOLHOUSE
      (AREA 8,348 SQUARE FEET)                                     220

       A TAMMANY-SWEPT EAST SIDE STREET BEFORE WARING              242

       THE SAME EAST SIDE STREET WHEN COLONEL WARING
       WIELDED THE BROOM                                           248

       THEODORE ROOSEVELT                                          262



A TEN YEARS' WAR



I

THE BATTLE WITH THE SLUM


The slum is as old as civilization. Civilization implies a race, to get
ahead. In a race there are usually some who for one cause or another
cannot keep up, or are thrust out from among their fellows. They fall
behind, and when they have been left far in the rear they lose hope and
ambition, and give up. Thenceforward, if left to their own resources,
they are the victims, not the masters, of their environment; and it is a
bad master. They drag one another always farther down. The bad
environment becomes the heredity of the next generation. Then, given the
crowd, you have the slum ready-made.

The battle with the slum began the day civilization recognized in it her
enemy. It was a losing fight until conscience joined forces with fear
and self-interest against it. When common sense and the golden rule
obtain among men as a rule of practice, it will be over. The two have
not always been classed together, but here they are plainly seen to
belong together. Justice to the individual is accepted in theory as the
only safe groundwork of the commonwealth. When it is practiced in
dealing with the slum, there will shortly be no slum. We need not wait
for the millennium, to get rid of it. We can do it now. All that is
required is that it shall not be left to itself. That is justice to it
and to us, since its grievous ailment is that it cannot help itself.
When a man is drowning, the thing to do is to pull him out of the water;
afterward there will be time for talking it over. We got at it the other
way in dealing with our social problems. The doctrinaires had their day,
and they decided to let bad enough alone; that it was unsafe to
interfere with "causes that operate sociologically," as one survivor of
these unfittest put it to me. It was a piece of scientific humbug that
cost the age which listened to it dear. "Causes that operate
sociologically" are the opportunity of the political and every other
kind of scamp who trades upon the depravity and helplessness of the
slum, and the refuge of the pessimist who is useless in the fight
against them. We have not done yet paying the bills he ran up for us.
Some time since we turned to, to pull the drowning man out, and it was
time. A little while longer, and we should have been in danger of being
dragged down with him.

The slum complaint had been chronic in all ages, but the great changes
which the nineteenth century saw, the new industry, political freedom,
brought on an acute attack which threatened to become fatal. Too many of
us had supposed that, built as our commonwealth was on universal
suffrage, it would be proof against the complaints that harassed older
states; but in fact it turned out that there was extra hazard in that.
Having solemnly resolved that all men are created equal and have certain
inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, we shut our eyes and waited for the formula to work. It was
as if a man with a cold should take the doctor's prescription to bed
with him, expecting it to cure him. The formula was all right, but
merely repeating it worked no cure. When, after a hundred years, we
opened our eyes, it was upon sixty cents a day as the living wage of the
working-woman in our cities; upon "knee pants" at forty cents a dozen
for the making; upon the Potter's Field taking tithe of our city life,
ten per cent, each year for the trench, truly the Lost Tenth of the
slum. Our country had grown great and rich; through our ports was poured
food for the millions of Europe. But in the back streets multitudes
huddled in ignorance and want. The foreign oppressor had been
vanquished, the fetters stricken from the black man at home; but his
white brother, in his bitter plight, sent up a cry of distress that had
in it a distinct note of menace. Political freedom we had won; but the
problem of helpless poverty, grown vast with the added offscourings of
the Old World, mocked us, unsolved. Liberty at sixty cents a day set
presently its stamp upon the government of our cities, and it became the
scandal and the peril of our political system.

So the battle began. Three times since the war that absorbed the
nation's energies and attention had the slum confronted us in New York
with its challenge. In the darkest days of the great struggle it was the
treacherous mob; later on, the threat of the cholera, which found swine
foraging in the streets as the only scavengers, and a swarming host, but
little above the hog in its appetites and in the quality of the shelter
afforded it, peopling the back alleys. Still later, the mob, caught
looting the city's treasury with its idol, the thief Tweed, at its head,
drunk with power and plunder, had insolently defied the outraged
community to do its worst. There were meetings and protests. The rascals
were turned out for a season; the arch-thief died in jail. I see him
now, going through the gloomy portals of the Tombs, whither, as a
newspaper reporter, I had gone with him, his stubborn head held high as
ever. I asked myself more than once, at the time when the vile prison
was torn down, whether the comic clamor to have the ugly old gates
preserved and set up in Central Park had anything to do with the memory
of the "martyred" thief, or whether it was in joyful celebration of the
fact that others had escaped. His name is even now one to conjure with
in the Sixth Ward. He never "squealed," and he was "so good to the
poor"--evidence that the slum is not laid by the heels by merely
destroying Five Points and the Mulberry Bend. There are other fights to
be fought in that war, other victories to be won, and it is slow work.
It was nearly ten years after the great robbery before decency got the
upper grip in good earnest. That was when the civic conscience awoke in
1879.

In that year the slum was arraigned in the churches. The sad and
shameful story was told of how it grew and was fostered by avarice, that
saw in the homeless crowds from over the sea only a chance for business,
and exploited them to the uttermost, making sometimes a hundred per
cent, on the capital invested,--always most out of the worst houses,
from the tenants of which "nothing was expected" save that they pay the
usurious rents; how Christianity, citizenship, human fellowship, shook
their skirts clear of the rabble that was only good enough to fill the
greedy purse, and how the rabble, left to itself, improved such
opportunities as it found after such fashion as it knew; how it ran
elections merely to count its thugs in, and fattened at the public crib;
and how the whole evil thing had its root in the tenements, where the
home had ceased to be sacred,--those dark and deadly dens in which the
family ideal was tortured to death, and character was smothered; in
which children were "damned rather than born" into the world, thus
realizing a slum kind of foreordination to torment, happily brief in
many cases. The Tenement House Committee long afterward called the worst
of the barracks "infant slaughter houses," and showed, by reference to
the mortality lists, that they killed one in every five babies born in
them.

The story shocked the town into action. Plans for a better kind of
tenement were called for, and a premium was put on every ray of light
and breath of air that could be let into it. Money was raised to build
model houses, and a bill to give the health authorities summary powers
in dealing with tenements was sent to the legislature. The landlords
held it up until the last day of the session, when it was forced
through by an angered public opinion. The power of the cabal was broken.
The landlords had found their Waterloo. Many of them got rid of their
property, which in a large number of cases they had never seen, and
tried to forget the source of their ill-gotten wealth. Light and air did
find their way into the tenements in a half-hearted fashion, and we
began to count the tenants as "souls." That is one of our milestones in
the history of New York. They were never reckoned so before; no one ever
thought of them as "souls." So, restored to human fellowship, in the
twilight of the air shaft that had penetrated to their dens, the first
Tenement House Committee was able to make them out "better than the
houses" they lived in, and a long step forward was taken. The Mulberry
Bend, the wicked core of the "bloody Sixth Ward," was marked for
destruction, and all slumdom held its breath to see it go. With that
gone, it seemed as if the old days must be gone too, never to return.
There would not be another Mulberry Bend. As long as it stood, there was
yet a chance. The slum had backing, as it were.

The civic conscience was not very robust yet, and required many and
protracted naps. It slumbered fitfully eight long years, waking up now
and then with a start, while the politicians did their best to lull it
back to its slumbers. I wondered often, in those years of delay, if it
was just plain stupidity that kept the politicians from spending the
money which the law had put within their grasp; for with every year that
passed a million dollars that could have been used for small park
purposes was lost. But they were wiser than I. I understood when I saw
the changes which letting in the sunshine worked. We had all believed
it, but they knew it all along. At the same time, they lost none of the
chances that offered. They helped the landlords, who considered
themselves greatly aggrieved because their property was thereafter to
front on a park instead of a pigsty, to transfer the whole assessment of
half a million dollars for park benefit to the city. They undid in less
than six weeks what it had taken considerably more than six years to do;
but the park was cheap at the price. We could afford to pay all it cost
to wake us up. When finally, upon the wave of wrath excited by the
Parkhurst and Lexow disclosures, reform came with a shock that dislodged
Tammany, it found us wide awake, and, it must be admitted, not a little
astonished at our sudden access of righteousness.

The battle went against the slum in the three years that followed, until
it found backing in the "odium of reform" that became the issue in the
municipal organization of the greater city. Tammany made notes. Of what
was done, how it was done, and why, during those years, I shall have
occasion to speak further in these pages. Here I wish to measure the
stretch we have come since I wrote "How the Other Half Lives," ten years
ago. Some of it we came plodding, and some at full speed; some of it in
the face of every obstacle that could be thrown in our way, wresting
victory from defeat at every step; some of it with the enemy on the run.
Take it altogether, it is a long way. Most of it will not have to be
traveled over again. The engine of municipal progress, once started as
it has been in New York, may slip many a cog with Tammany as the
engineer; it may even be stopped for a season; but it can never be made
to work backward. Even Tammany knows that, and is building the schools
she so long neglected, and so is hastening the day when she shall be but
an unsavory memory.

How we strove for those schools, to no purpose! Our arguments, our
anger, the anxious pleading of philanthropists who saw the young on the
East Side going to ruin, the warning year after year of the
superintendent of schools that the compulsory education law was but an
empty mockery where it was most needed, the knocking of uncounted
thousands of children for whom there was no room,--uncounted in sober
fact; there was not even a way of finding out how many were
adrift,--brought only the response that the tax rate must be kept down.
Kept down it was. "Waste" was successfully averted at the spigot; at the
bunghole it went on unchecked. In a swarming population like that you
must have either schools or jails, and the jails waxed fat with the
overflow. The East Side, that had been orderly, became a hotbed of child
crime. And when, in answer to the charge made by a legislative committee
that the father forced his child into the shop, on a perjured age
certificate, to labor when he ought to have been at play, that father,
bent and heavy-eyed with unceasing toil, flung back the charge with the
bitter reproach that we gave him no other choice, that it was either the
street or the shop for his boy, and that perjury for him was cheaper
than the ruin of the child, we were mute. What, indeed, was there to
say? The crime was ours, not his. That was but yesterday. To-day we can
count the months to the time when every child who knocks shall find a
seat in our schools. We have a school census to tell us of the need. In
that most crowded neighborhood in all the world, where the
superintendent lately pleaded in vain for three new schools, five have
been built, the finest in this or any other land,--great, light, and
airy structures, with playgrounds on the roof; and all over the city the
like are going up. The briefest of our laws, every word of which is like
the blow of a hammer driving the nails home in the coffin of the bad old
days, says that never one shall be built without its playground. So the
boy is coming to his rights.

The streets are cleaned,--not necessarily clean just now; Colonel Waring
is dead, with his doctrine of putting a man instead of a voter behind
every broom, killed by politics, he and his doctrine both,--but cleaned.
The slum has even been washed. We tried that on Hester Street years ago,
in the age of cobblestone pavements, and the result fairly frightened
us. I remember the indignant reply of a well-known citizen, a man of
large business responsibility and experience in the handling of men, to
whom the office of street-cleaning commissioner had been offered, when I
asked him if he would accept. "I have lived," he said, "a blameless life
for forty years, and have a character in the community. I cannot
afford--no man with a reputation can afford--to hold that office; it
will surely wreck it." That was then. It made Colonel Waring's
reputation. He took the trucks from the streets. Tammany, in a brief
interregnum of vigor under Mayor Grant, had laid the axe to the
unsightly telegraph poles and begun to pave the streets with asphalt,
but it left the trucks and the ash barrels to Colonel Waring as
hopeless. Trucks have votes; at least their drivers have. Now that they
are gone, the drivers would be the last to bring them back; for they
have children, too, and the rescued streets gave them their first
playground. Perilous, begrudged by policeman and storekeeper, though it
was, it was still a playground.

But one is coming in which the boy shall rule unchallenged. The Mulberry
Bend Park kept its promise. Before the sod was laid in it two more were
under way in the thickest of the tenement house crowding, and each,
under the law which brought them into existence, is to be laid out in
part as a playground. They are not yet finished, but they will be; for
the people have taken to the idea, and the politician has made a note of
the fact. He saw a great light when the play piers were opened. In half
a dozen localities where the slum was striking its roots deep into the
soil such piers are now being built, and land is being acquired for
small parks. We shall yet settle the "causes that operated
sociologically" on the boy with a lawn mower and a sand heap. You have
got your boy, and the heredity of the next one, when you can order his
setting.

Even while I am writing, a bill is urged in the legislature to build in
every senatorial district in the city a gymnasium and a public bath. It
matters little whether it passes at this session or not. The important
thing is that it is there. The rest will follow. A people's club is
being organized, to crowd out the saloon that has had a monopoly of the
brightness and the cheer in the tenement streets too long. The labor
unions are bestirring themselves to deal with the sweating curse, and
the gospel of less law and more enforcement sits enthroned at Albany.
Theodore Roosevelt will teach us again Jefferson's forgotten lesson,
that "the whole art of government consists in being honest." With a back
door to every ordinance that touched the lives of the people, if indeed
the whole thing was not the subject of open ridicule or the vehicle of
official blackmail, it seemed as if we had provided a perfect municipal
machinery for bringing the law into contempt with the young, and so for
wrecking citizenship by the shortest cut.

Of free soup there is an end. It was never food for free men. The last
spoonful was ladled out by yellow journalism with the certificate of the
men who fought Roosevelt and reform in the police board that it was
good. It is not likely that it will ever plague us again. Our experience
has taught us a new reading of the old word that charity covers a
multitude of sins. It does. Uncovering some of them has kept us busy
since our conscience awoke, and there are more left. The worst of them
all, that awful parody on municipal charity, the police station lodging
room, is gone, after twenty years of persistent attack upon the foul
dens,--years during which they were arraigned, condemned, indicted by
every authority having jurisdiction, all to no purpose. The stale beer
dives went with them and with the Bend, and the grip of the tramp on our
throat has been loosened. We shall not easily throw it off altogether,
for the tramp has a vote, too, for which Tammany, with admirable
ingenuity, has found a new use, since the ante-election inspection of
lodging houses has made them less available for colonization purposes
than they were. Perhaps I should say a new way of very old use. It is
simplicity itself. Instead of keeping tramps in hired lodgings for weeks
at a daily outlay, the new way is to send them all to the island on
short commitments during the canvass, and vote them from there _en bloc_
at the city's expense. Time and education must solve that, like so many
other problems which the slum has thrust upon us. They are the forces
upon which, when we have gone as far as our present supply of steam will
carry us, we must always fall back; and this we may do with confidence
so long as we keep stirring, if it is only marking time, as now. It is
in the retrospect that one sees how far we have come, after all, and
from that gathers courage for the rest of the way. Twenty-nine years
have passed since I slept in a police station lodging house, a lonely
lad, and was robbed, beaten, and thrown out for protesting; and when the
vagrant cur that had joined its homelessness to mine, and had sat all
night at the door waiting for me to come out,--it had been clubbed away
the night before,--snarled and showed its teeth at the doorman, raging
and impotent I saw it beaten to death on the step. I little dreamed then
that the friendless beast, dead, should prove the undoing of the
monstrous wrong done by the maintenance of these evil holes to every
helpless man and woman who was without shelter in New York; but it did.
It was after an inspection of the lodging rooms, when I stood with
Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the police board, in the one where
I had slept that night, and told him of it, that he swore they should
go. And go they did, as did so many another abuse in those two years of
honest purpose and effort. I hated them. It may not have been a very
high motive to furnish power for municipal reform; but we had tried
every other way, and none of them worked. Arbitration is good, but there
are times when it becomes necessary to knock a man down and arbitrate
sitting on him, and this was such a time. It was what we started out to
do with the rear tenements, the worst of the slum barracks, and it would
have been better had we kept on that track. I have always maintained
that we made a false move when we stopped to discuss damages with the
landlord, or to hear his side of it at all. His share in it was our
grievance; it blocked the mortality records with its burden of human
woe. The damage was all ours, the profit all his. If there are damages
to collect, he should foot the bill, not we. Vested rights are to be
protected, but no man has a right to be protected in killing his
neighbor.

[Illustration: POLICE STATION LODGING ROOM ON EAST SIDE]

However, they are down, the worst of them. The community has asserted
its right to destroy tenements that destroy life, and for that cause. We
bought the slum off in the Mulberry Bend at its own figure. On the rear
tenements we set the price, and set it low. It was a long step. Bottle
Alley is gone, and Bandits' Roost. Bone Alley, Thieves' Alley, and
Kerosene Row,--they are all gone. Hell's Kitchen and Poverty Gap have
acquired standards of decency; Poverty Gap has risen even to the height
of neckties. The time is fresh in my recollection when a different kind
of necktie was its pride; when the boy murderer--he was barely
nineteen--who wore it on the gallows took leave of the captain of
detectives with the cheerful invitation to "come over to the wake. They
will have a high old time." And the event fully redeemed the promise.
The whole Gap turned out to do the dead bully honor. I have not heard
from the Gap, and hardly from Hell's Kitchen, in five years. The last
news from the Kitchen was when the thin wedge of a column of negroes, in
their uptown migration, tried to squeeze in, and provoked a race war;
but that in fairness should not be laid up against it. In certain local
aspects it might be accounted a sacred duty; as much so as to get drunk
and provoke a fight on the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne. But
on the whole the Kitchen has grown orderly. The gang rarely beats a
policeman nowadays, and it has not killed one in a long while.

So, one after another, the outworks of the slum have been taken. It has
been beaten in many battles; but its reserves are unimpaired. More
tenements are being built every day on twenty-five-foot lots, and
however watchfully such a house is planned, if it is to return to the
builder the profit he seeks, it will have that within it which, the
moment the grasp of official sanitary supervision is loosened, must
summon up the ghost of the slum. The common type of tenement to-day is
the double-decker, and the double-decker is hopeless. In it the crowding
goes on at a constantly increasing rate. This is the sore spot, and as
against it all the rest seems often enough unavailing. Yet it cannot
be. It is true that the home, about which all that is to work for
permanent progress must cluster, is struggling against desperate odds in
the tenement, and that the struggle has been reflected in the morals of
the people, in the corruption of the young, to an alarming extent; but
it must be that the higher standards now set up on every hand, in the
cleaner streets, in the better schools, in the parks and the clubs, in
the settlements, and in the thousand and one agencies for good that
touch and help the lives of the poor at as many points, will tell at no
distant day, and react upon the homes and upon their builders. To any
one who knew the East Side, for instance, ten years ago, the difference
between that day and this in the appearance of the children whom he sees
there must be striking. Rags and dirt are now the exception rather than
the rule. Perhaps the statement is a trifle too strong as to the dirt;
but dirt is not harmful except when coupled with rags; it can be washed
off, and nowadays is washed off where such a thing would have been
considered affectation in the days that were. Soap and water have
worked a visible cure already, that must go more than skin-deep. They
are moral agents of the first value in the slum. And the day must come
when rapid transit will cease to be a football between contending forces
in a city of three million people, and the reason for the outrageous
crowding will cease to exist with the scattering of the centres of
production to the suburb. That day may be a long way off, measured by
the impatience of the philanthropist, but it is bound to come.
Meanwhile, philanthropy is not sitting idle and waiting. It is building
tenements on the humane plan that wipes out the lines of the
twenty-five-foot lot, and lets in sunshine and air and hope. It is
putting up hotels deserving of the name for the army that but just now
had no other home than the cheap lodging houses which Inspector Byrnes
fitly called "nurseries of crime." These also are standards from which
there is no backing down, even if coming up to them is slow work: and
they are here to stay, for they pay. That is the test. Not charity, but
justice,--that is the gospel which they preach.

Flushed with the success of many victories, we challenged the slum to a
fight to the finish a year ago, and bade it come on. It came on. On our
side fought the bravest and best. The man who marshaled the citizen
forces for their candidate had been foremost in building homes, in
erecting baths for the people, in directing the self-sacrificing labors
of the oldest and worthiest of the agencies for improving the condition
of the poor. With him battled men who had given lives of patient study
and effort to the cause of helping their fellow men. Shoulder to
shoulder with them stood the thoughtful workingman from the East Side
tenement. The slum, too, marshaled its forces. Tammany produced her
notes. She pointed to the increased tax rate, showed what it had cost to
build schools and parks and to clean house, and called it criminal
recklessness. The issue was made sharp and clear. The war cry of the
slum was characteristic: "To hell with reform!" We all remember the
result. Politics interfered, and turned victory into defeat. We were
beaten. I shall never forget that election night. I walked home through
the Bowery in the midnight hour, and saw it gorging itself, like a
starved wolf, upon the promise of the morrow. Drunken men and women sat
in every doorway, howling ribald songs and curses. Hard faces I had not
seen for years showed themselves about the dives. The mob made merry
after its fashion. The old days were coming back. Reform was dead, and
decency with it.

A year later, I passed that same way on the night of election. The scene
was strangely changed. The street was unusually quiet for such a time.
Men stood in groups about the saloons, and talked in whispers, with
serious faces. The name of Roosevelt was heard on every hand. The dives
were running, but there was no shouting, and violence was discouraged.
When, on the following day, I met the proprietor of one of the oldest
concerns in the Bowery,--which, while doing a legitimate business,
caters necessarily to its crowds, and therefore sides with them,--he
told me with bitter reproach how he had been stricken in pocket. A
gambler had just been in to see him, who had come on from the far West,
in anticipation of a wide-open town, and had got all ready to open a
house in the Tenderloin. "He brought $40,000 to put in the business, and
he came to take it away to Baltimore. Just now the cashier of ---- Bank
told me that two other gentlemen--gamblers? yes, that's what you call
them--had drawn $130,000 which they would have invested here, and had
gone after him. Think of all that money gone to Baltimore! That's what
you've done!"

I went over to police headquarters, thinking of the sad state of that
man, and in the hallway I ran across two children, little tots, who were
inquiring their way to "the commissioner." The older was a hunchback
girl, who led her younger brother (he could not have been over five or
six years old) by the hand. They explained their case to me. They came
from Allen Street. Some undesirable women tenants had moved into the
tenement, and when complaint was made that sent the police there, the
children's father, who was a poor Jewish tailor, was blamed. The tenants
took it out of the boy by punching his nose till it bled. Whereupon the
children went straight to Mulberry Street to see the commissioner and
get justice. It was the first time in twenty years that I had known
Allen Street to come to police headquarters for justice; and in the
discovery that the new idea had reached down to the little children I
read the doom of the slum, despite its loud vauntings.

No, it was not true that reform was dead, with decency. It was not the
slum that had won; it was we who had lost. We were not up to the
mark,--not yet. But New York is a many times cleaner and better city
to-day than it was ten years ago. Then I was able to grasp easily the
whole plan for wresting it from the neglect and indifference that had
put us where we were. It was chiefly, almost wholly, remedial in its
scope. Now it is preventive, constructive, and no ten men could gather
all the threads and hold them. We have made, are making headway, and no
Tammany has the power to stop us. She knows it, too, and is in such
frantic haste to fill her pockets while she has time that she has
abandoned her old ally, the tax rate, and the pretense of making bad
government cheap government. She is at this moment engaged in raising
taxes and assessments at one and the same time to an unheard-of figure,
while salaries are being increased lavishly on every hand. We can afford
to pay all she charges us for the lesson we are learning. If to that we
add common sense, we shall discover the bearings of it all without
trouble. Yesterday I picked up a book,--a learned disquisition on
government,--and read on the title-page, "Affectionately dedicated to
all who despise politics." That was not common sense. To win the battle
with the slum, we must not begin by despising politics. We have been
doing that too long. The politics of the slum is apt to be like the slum
itself, dirty. Then it must be cleaned. It is what the fight is about.
Politics is the weapon. We must learn to use it so as to cut straight
and sure. That is common sense, and the golden rule as applied to
Tammany.

Some years ago, the United States government conducted an inquiry into
the slums of great cities. To its staff of experts was attached a
chemist, who gathered and isolated a lot of bacilli with fearsome Latin
names, in the tenements where he went. Among those he labeled were the
_Staphylococcus pyogenes albus_, the _Micrococcus fervidosus_, the
_Saccharomyces rosaceus_, and the _Bacillus buccalis fortuitus_. I made
a note of the names at the time, because of the dread with which they
inspired me. But I searched the collection in vain for the real bacillus
of the slum. It escaped science, to be identified by human sympathy and
a conscience-stricken community with that of ordinary human selfishness.
The antitoxin has been found, and is applied successfully. Since justice
has replaced charity on the prescription the patient is improving. And
the improvement is not confined to him; it is general. Conscience is not
a local issue in our day. A few years ago, a United States Senator
sought reëlection on the platform that the decalogue and the golden rule
were glittering generalities that had no place in politics, and lost. We
have not quite reached the millennium yet, but to-day a man is governor
in the Empire State who was elected on the pledge that he would rule by
the ten commandments. These are facts that mean much or little,
according to the way one looks at them. The significant thing is that
they are facts, and that, in spite of slipping and sliding, the world
moves forward, not backward. The poor we shall have always with us, but
the slum we need not have. These two do not rightfully belong together.
Their present partnership is at once poverty's worst hardship and our
worst fault.



II

THE TENEMENT HOUSE BLIGHT


In a Stanton Street tenement, the other day, I stumbled upon a Polish
capmaker's home. There were other capmakers in the house, Russian and
Polish, but they simply "lived" there. This one had a home. The fact
proclaimed itself the moment the door was opened, in spite of the
darkness. The rooms were in the rear, gloomy with the twilight of the
tenement, although the day was sunny without, but neat, even cosy. It
was early, but the day's chores were evidently done. The teakettle sang
on the stove, at which a bright-looking girl of twelve, with a pale but
cheery face, and sleeves brushed back to the elbows, was busy poking up
the fire. A little boy stood by the window, flattening his nose against
the pane and gazing wistfully up among the chimney pots where a piece of
blue sky about as big as the kitchen could be made out. I remarked to
the mother that they were nice rooms.

"Ah yes," she said, with a weary little smile that struggled bravely
with hope long deferred, "but it is hard to make a home here. We would
so like to live in the front, but we can't pay the rent."

I knew the front with its unlovely view of the tenement street too well,
and I said a good word for the air shaft--yard or court it could not be
called, it was too small for that--which rather surprised myself. I had
found few virtues enough in it before. The girl at the stove had left
off poking the fire. She broke in the moment I finished, with eager
enthusiasm: "Why, they have the sun in there. When the door is opened
the light comes right in your face."

"Does it never come here?" I asked, and wished I had not done so, as
soon as the words were spoken. The child at the window was listening,
with his whole hungry little soul in his eyes.

Yes, it did, she said. Once every summer, for a little while, it came
over the houses. She knew the month and the exact hour of the day when
its rays shone into their home, and just the reach of its slant on the
wall. They had lived there six years. In June the sun was due. A
haunting fear that the baby would ask how long it was till June--it was
February then--took possession of me, and I hastened to change the
subject. Warsaw was their old home. They kept a little store there, and
were young and happy. Oh, it was a fine city, with parks and squares,
and bridges over the beautiful river,--and grass and flowers and birds
and soldiers, put in the girl breathlessly. She remembered. But the
children kept coming, and they went across the sea to give them a better
chance. Father made fifteen dollars a week, much money; but there were
long seasons when there was no work. She, the mother, was never very
well here,--she hadn't any strength; and the baby! She glanced at his
grave white face, and took him in her arms. The picture of the two, and
of the pale-faced girl longing back to the fields and the sunlight, in
their prison of gloom and gray walls, haunts me yet. I have not had the
courage to go back since. I recalled the report of an English army
surgeon, which I read years ago, on the many more soldiers that
died--were killed would be more correct--in barracks into which the sun
never shone than in those that were open to the light.

The capmaker's case is the case of the nineteenth century, of
civilization, against the metropolis of America. The home, the family,
are the rallying points of civilization. But long since the tenements of
New York earned for it the ominous name of "the homeless city." In its
40,000 tenements its workers, more than half of the city's population,
are housed. They have no other chance. There are, indeed, wives and
mothers who, by sheer force of character, rise above their environment
and make homes where they go. Happily, there are yet many of them. But
the fact remains that hitherto their struggle has been growing ever
harder, and the issue more doubtful.

The tenement itself, with its crowds, its lack of privacy, is the
greatest destroyer of individuality, of character. As its numbers
increase, so does "the element that becomes criminal for lack of
individuality and the self-respect that comes with it." Add the
shiftless and the weak who are turned out by the same process, and you
have its legitimate crop. In 1880 the average number of persons to each
dwelling in New York was 16.37; in 1890 it was 18.52. In 1895, according
to the police census, 21.2. The census of 1900 will show the crowding to
have gone on at an equal if not at a greater rate. That will mean that
so many more tenements have been built of the modern type, with four
families to the floor where once there were two. I shall not weary the
reader with many statistics. They are to be found, by those who want
them, in the census books and in the official records. I shall try to
draw from them their human story. But, as an instance of the unchecked
drift, let me quote here the case of the Tenth Ward, that East Side
district known as the most crowded in all the world. In 1880, when it
had not yet attained that bad eminence, it contained 47,554 persons, or
432.3 to the acre. In 1890 the census showed a population of 57,596,
which was 522 to the acre. The police census of 1895 found 70,168
persons living in 1514 houses, which was 643.08 to the acre. Lastly, the
Health Department's census for the first half of 1898 gave a total of
82,175 persons living in 1201 tenements, with 313 inhabited buildings
yet to be heard from. This is the process of doubling up,--literally,
since the cause and the vehicle of it all is the double-decker
tenement,--which in the year 1895 had crowded a single block in that
ward at the rate of 1526 persons per acre, and one in the Eleventh Ward
at the rate of 1774.[1] It goes on not in the Tenth Ward or on the East
Side only, but throughout the city. When, in 1897, it was proposed to
lay out a small park in the Twenty-Second Ward, up on the far West Side,
it was shown that five blocks in that section, between Forty-Ninth and
Sixty-Second streets and Ninth and Eleventh avenues, had a population of
more than 3000 each. The block between Sixty-First and Sixty-Second
streets, Tenth and Eleventh avenues, harbored 3580, which meant 974.6
persons to the acre.

[Footnote 1: Police census of 1895: Block bounded by Canal, Hester,
Eldridge, and Forsyth streets: size 375 × 200, population 2628, rate per
acre 1526. Block bounded by Stanton, Houston, Attorney, and Ridge
streets: size 200 × 300, population 2244, rate per acre 1774.]

If we have here to do with forces that are beyond the control of the
individual or the community, we shall do well at least to face the
facts squarely and know the truth. It is no answer to the charge that
New York's way of housing its workers is the worst in the world to say
that they are better off than they were where they came from. It is not
true, in most cases, as far as the home is concerned: a shanty is better
than a flat in a cheap tenement, any day. Even if it were true, it would
still be beside the issue. In Poland my capmaker counted for nothing.
Nothing was expected of him. Here he ranks, after a few brief years,
politically equal with the man who hires his labor. A citizen's duty is
expected of him, and home and citizenship are convertible terms. The
observation of the Frenchman who had watched the experiment of herding
two thousand human beings in eight tenement barracks in Paris, that the
result was the "exasperation of the tenant against society," is true the
world over. We have done as badly in New York. Social hatefulness is not
a good soil for citizenship to grow in, where political equality rules.

Nor will the old lie about the tenants being wholly to blame cover the
ground. It has long been overworked in defense of landlord usury.
Doubtless there are bad tenants. In the matter of renting houses, as in
everything else, men have a trick of coming up to what is expected of
them, good or bad; but as a class the tenants have been shown all along
to be superior to their surroundings. "Better than the houses they live
in," said the first Tenement House Commission; and the second gave as
its verdict that "they respond quickly to improved conditions." That is
not an honest answer. The truth is that if we cannot check the indraught
to the cities, we can, if we choose, make homes for those who come, and
at a profit on the investment. Nothing has been more clearly
demonstrated in our day, and it is time that it should be said so that
everybody can understand. It is not a case of transforming human nature
in the tenant, but of reforming it in the landlord builder. It is a
plain question of the per cent. he is willing to take.

So that we may get the capmaker's view and that of his fellow
tenants,--for, after all, that is the one that counts; the state and the
community are not nearly so much interested in the profits of the
landlord as in the welfare of the workers,--suppose we take a stroll
through a tenement house neighborhood and see for ourselves. We were in
Stanton Street. Let us start there, then, going east. Towering barracks
on either side, five, six stories high. Teeming crowds. Push-cart men
"moved on" by the policeman, who seems to exist only for the purpose.
Forsyth Street: there is a church on the corner, Polish and Catholic, a
combination that strikes one as queer here on the East Side, where
Polish has come to be synonymous with Jewish. I have cause to remember
that corner. A man killed his wife in this house, and was hanged for it.
Just across the street, on the stoop of that brown stone tenement, the
tragedy was reënacted the next year; only the murderer saved the county
trouble and expense by taking himself off, also. That other stoop in the
same row witnessed a suicide. Why do I tell you these things? Because
they are true. The policeman here will bear me out. They belong to the
ordinary setting of life in a crowd such as this. It is never so little
worth living, and therefore held so cheap along with the fierce,
unceasing battle that goes on to save it. You will go no further unless
I leave it out? Very well; I shall leave out the murder after we have
passed the block yonder. The tragedy of that is of a kind that comes too
close to the every-day life of tenement house people to be omitted. The
house caught fire in the night, and five were burned to death,--father,
mother, and three children. The others got out; why not they? They
stayed, it seems, to make sure none was left; they were not willing to
leave one behind, to save themselves. And then it was too late; the
stairs were burning. There was no proper fire escape. That was where the
murder came in; but it was not all chargeable to the landlord, nor even
the greater part. More than thirty years ago, in 1867, the state made it
law that the stairs in every tenement four stories high should be
fireproof, and forbade the storing of any inflammable material in such
houses. I do not know when the law was repealed, or if it ever was. I
only know that in 1892 the Fire Department, out of pity for the tenants
and regard for the safety of its own men, forced through an amendment to
the building law, requiring the stairs of the common type of five-story
tenements to be built of fireproof material, and that to-day they are of
wood, just as they always were. Only last spring I looked up the
Superintendent of Buildings and asked him what it meant. I showed him
the law, which said that the stairs should be "built of slow-burning
construction or fireproof material;" and he put his finger upon the
clause that follows, "as the Superintendent of Buildings shall decide."
The law gave him discretion, and that is how he used it. "Hard wood
burns slowly," said he.

The fire of which I speak was a "cruller fire," if I remember rightly,
which is to say that it broke out in the basement bakeshop, where they
were boiling crullers (doughnuts) in fat, at four A. M., with a hundred
tenants asleep in the house above them. The fat went into the fire, and
the rest followed. I suppose that I had to do with a hundred such fires,
as a police reporter, before, under the protest of the Tenement House
Committee and the Good Government Clubs, the boiling of fat in tenement
bakeshops was forbidden. The chief of the Fire Department, in his
testimony before the committee, said that "tenements are erected mainly
with a view of returning a large income for the amount of capital
invested. It is only after a fire in which great loss of life occurs
that any interest whatever is taken in the safety of the occupants." The
Superintendent of Buildings, after such a fire in March, 1896, said that
there were thousands of tenement fire-traps in the city. My reporter's
notebook bears witness to the correctness of his statement, and it has
many blank leaves that are waiting to be put to that use yet. The
reckoning for eleven years showed that, of 35,844 fires in New York,
53.18 per cent. were in tenement houses, though they were only a little
more than 31 per cent. of all the buildings, and that 177 occupants were
killed, 523 maimed, and 625 rescued by the firemen. Their rescue cost
the lives of three of these brave men, and 453 were injured in the
effort. And when all that is said, not the half is told. A fire in the
night in one of those human beehives, with its terror and woe, is one of
the things that live in the recollection ever after as a terrible
nightmare. Yet the demonstration of the Tenement House Committee, that
to build tenements fireproof from the ground up would cost little over
ten per cent. more than is spent upon the firetrap, and would more than
return the interest on the extra outlay in the saving of insurance and
repairs, and in the better building every way, has found no echo in
legislation or in the practice of builders. That was the fire chief's
way to avoid "the great destruction of life;" but he warned the
committee that it would "meet with strong opposition from the different
interests, should legislation be requested." The interest of the man who
pays the rent will not be suspected in this, so he must have meant the
man who collects it.

Here is a block of tenements inhabited by poor Jews. Most of the Jews
who live over here are poor; and the poorer they are, the higher rent do
they pay, and the more do they crowd to make it up between them. "The
destruction of the poor is their poverty." It is only the old story in a
new setting. The slum landlord's profits were always the highest. He
spends nothing for repairs, and lays the blame on the tenant. The
"district leader" saves him, in these days of Tammany rule come back,
unless he is on the wrong side of the political fence, in which case
the Sanitary Code comes handy to chase him into camp. A big "order" on
his house is a very effective way of making a tenement house landlord
discern political truth on the eve of an important election. Just before
the last, when the election of Theodore Roosevelt was threatened, the
sanitary force displayed such activity as it has not since, up to the
raid on the elevated roads, in the examination of tenements belonging
very largely, as it happened, to sympathizers with the gallant Rough
Rider's cause; and those who knew did not marvel much at the large vote
polled by the Tammany candidate in the old city.

The halls of these tenements are dark. Under the law, there should be a
light burning, but it is one of the rarest things to find one. The thing
seems well-nigh impossible of accomplishment. Two years ago, when the
Good Government Clubs set about backing up the Board of Health in its
efforts to work out this reform, which comes close to being one of the
most necessary of all,--such untold mischief is abroad in the darkness
of these thoroughfares,--the sanitary police reported 12,000 tenement
halls unlighted by night, even, and brought them, by repeated orders,
down to less than 1000 in six months. I do not believe the light burns
in 1000 of them all to-day. It is so easy to put it out when the
policeman's back is turned, and save the gas.

We had a curious instance at the time of the difficulties that sometimes
beset reform. Certain halls that were known to be dark were reported
sufficiently lighted by the policeman of the district, and it was
discovered that it was his standard that was vitiated. He himself lived
in a tenement, and was used to its gloom. So an order was issued
defining darkness to the sanitary police: if the sink in the hall could
be made out, and the slops overflowing on the floor, and if a baby could
be seen on the stairs, the hall was light; if, on the other hand, the
baby's shrieks were the first warning that it was being trampled upon,
the hall was dark. Some days later, the old question arose about an
Eldridge Street tenement. The policeman had reported the hall light
enough. The president of the Board of Health, to settle it once for all,
went over with me, to see for himself. The hall was very dark. He sent
for the policeman.

"Did you see the sink in that hall?" he asked.

The policeman said he did.

"But it is pitch dark. How did you see it?"

"I lit a match," said the policeman.

Four families live on these floors, with Heaven knows how many children.
It was here the police commissioners were requested, in sober earnest,
some years ago, by a committee of very practical women philanthropists,
to have the children tagged, so as to save the policemen wear and tear
in taking them back and forth between the Eldridge Street police station
and headquarters, when they got lost. If tagged, they could be assorted
at once and taken to their homes. Incidentally, the city would save the
expense of many meals. It was shrewdly suspected that the little ones
were lost on purpose in a good many cases, as a way of getting them fed
at the public expense.

That the children preferred the excitement of the police station, and
the distinction of a trip in charge of a brass-buttoned guardian, to
the Ludlow Street flat is easy enough to understand. A more unlovely
existence than that in one of these tenements it would be hard to
imagine. Everywhere is the stench of the kerosene stove that is forever
burning, serving for cooking, heating, and ironing alike, until the last
atom of oxygen is burned out of the close air. Oil is cheaper than coal.
The air shaft is too busy carrying up smells from below to bring any air
down, even if it is not hung full of washing in every story, as it
ordinarily is. Enterprising tenants turn it to use as a refrigerator as
well. There is at least a draught of air, such as it is. When fire
breaks out, this draught makes of the air shaft a flue through which the
fire roars fiercely to the roof, so transforming what was meant for the
good of the tenants into their greatest peril. The stuffy rooms seem as
if they were made for dwarfs. Most decidedly, there is not room to swing
the proverbial cat in any one of them. In one I helped the children,
last holiday, to set up a Christmas tree, so that a glimpse of something
that was not utterly sordid and mean might for once enter their lives.
Three weeks after, I found the tree standing yet in the corner. It was
very cold, and there was no fire in the room. "We were going to burn
it," said the little woman, whose husband was then in the insane asylum,
"and then I couldn't. It looked so kind o' cheery-like there in the
corner." My tree had borne the fruit I wished.

It remained for the New York slum landlord to assess the exact value of
a ray of sunlight,--upon the tenant, of course. Here are two
back-to-back rear tenements, with dark bedrooms on the south. The flat
on the north gives upon a neighbor's yard, and a hole two feet square
has been knocked in the wall, letting in air and sunlight; little enough
of the latter, but what there is is carefully computed in the lease. Six
dollars for this flat, six and a half for the one with the hole in the
wall. Six dollars a year per ray. In half a dozen houses in this block
have I found the same rate maintained. The modern tenement on the corner
goes higher: for four front rooms, "where the sun comes right in your
face," seventeen dollars; for the rear flat of three rooms, larger and
better every other way, but always dark, like the capmaker's, eleven
dollars. From the landlord's point of view, this last is probably a
concession. But he is a landlord with a heart. His house is as good a
one as can be built on a twenty-five-foot lot. The man who owns the
corner building in Orchard Street, with the two adjoining tenements, has
no heart. In the depth of last winter, I found a family of poor Jews
living in a coop under his stairs, an abandoned piece of hallway, in
which their baby was born, and for which he made them pay eight dollars
a month. It was the most outrageous case of landlord robbery I had ever
come across, and it gave me sincere pleasure to assist the sanitary
policeman in curtailing his profits by even this much. The hall is not
now occupied.

The Jews under the stairs had two children. The shoemaker in the cellar
next door has three. They were fighting and snarling like so many dogs
over the coarse food on the table before them, when we looked in. The
baby, it seems, was the cause of the row. He wanted it all. He was a
very dirty and a very fierce baby, and the other two children were no
match for him. The shoemaker grunted fretfully at his last, "Ach, he is
all de time hungry!" At the sight of the policeman, the young imp set up
such a howl that we beat a hasty retreat. The cellar "flat" was
undoubtedly in violation of law, but it was allowed to pass. In the main
hall, on the ground floor, we counted seventeen children. The facts of
life here suspend ordinary landlord prejudices to a certain extent.
Occasionally it is the tenant who suspends them. The policeman laughed
as he told me of the case of a mother who coveted a flat into which she
well knew her family would not be admitted; the landlord was particular.
She knocked, with a troubled face, alone. Yes, the flat was to let; had
she any children? The woman heaved a sigh. "Six, but they are all in
Greenwood." The landlord's heart was touched by such woe. He let her
have the flat. By night he was amazed to find a flock of half a dozen
robust youngsters domiciled under his roof. They had indeed been in
Greenwood; but they had come back from the cemetery to stay. And stay
they did, the rent being paid.

High rents, slack work, and low wages go hand in hand in the tenements
as promoters of overcrowding. The rent is always one fourth of the
family income, often more. The fierce competition for a bare living cuts
down wages; and when loss of work is added, the only thing left is to
take in lodgers to meet the landlord's claim. The Jew usually takes them
singly, the Italian by families. The midnight visit of the sanitary
policeman discloses a state of affairs against which he feels himself
helpless. He has his standard: 400 cubic feet of air space for each
adult sleeper, 200 for a child. That in itself is a concession to the
practical necessities of the case. The original demand was for 600 feet.
But of 28,000 and odd tenants canvassed in New York, in the slumming
investigation prosecuted by the general government in 1894, 17,047 were
found to have less than 400 feet, and of these 5526 slept in
unventilated rooms with no windows. No more such rooms have been added
since; but there has come that which is worse.

It was the boast of New York, till a few years ago, that at least that
worst of tenement depravities, the one-room house, too familiar in the
English slums, was practically unknown here. It is not so any longer.
The evil began in the old houses in Orchard and Allen streets, a bad
neighborhood, infested by fallen women and the thievish rascals who prey
upon their misery,--a region where the whole plan of humanity, if plan
there be in this disgusting mess, jars out of tune continually. The
furnished-room house has become an institution here, speeded on by a
conscienceless Jew who bought up the old buildings as fast as they came
into the market, and filled them with a class of tenants before whom
charity recoils, helpless and hopeless. When the houses were filled, the
crowds overflowed into the yard. In one case, I found, in midwinter,
tenants living in sheds built of odd boards and roof tin, and paying a
dollar a week for herding with the rats. One of them, a red-faced
German, was a philosopher after his kind. He did not trouble himself to
get up, when I looked in, but stretched himself in his bed,--it was high
noon,--responding to my sniff of disgust that it was "sehr schoen! ein
bischen kalt, aber was!" His neighbor, a white-haired old woman, begged,
trembling, not to be put out. She would not know where to go. It was
out of one of these houses that Fritz Meyer, the murderer, went to rob
the poorbox in the Redemptorist Church, the night when he killed
policeman Smith. The policeman surprised him at his work. In the room he
had occupied I came upon a brazen-looking woman with a black eye, who
answered the question of the officer, "Where did you get that shiner?"
with a laugh. "I ran up against the fist of me man," she said. Her
"man," a big, sullen lout, sat by, dumb. The woman answered for him that
he was a mechanic.

"What does he work at?" snorted the policeman, restraining himself with
an effort from kicking the fellow.

She laughed scornfully. "At the junk business." It meant that he was a
thief.

Young men, with blotched faces and cadaverous looks, were loafing in
every room. They hung their heads in silence. The women turned their
faces away at the sight of the uniform. They cling to these wretches,
who exploit their starved affections for their own ease, with a grip of
desperation. It is their last hold. Women have to love something. It is
their deepest degradation that they must love these. Even the wretches
themselves feel the shame of it, and repay them by beating and robbing
them, as their daily occupation. A poor little baby in one of the rooms
gave a shuddering human touch to it all.

The old houses began it, as they began all the tenement mischief that
has come upon New York. But the opportunity that was made by the
tenant's need was not one to be neglected. In some of the newer
tenements, with their smaller rooms, the lodger is by this time provided
for in the plan, with a special entrance from the hall. "Lodger" comes,
by an easy transition, to stand for "family." Only the other night I
went with the sanitary police on their midnight inspection through a row
of Elizabeth Street tenements which I had known since they were built,
fifteen or sixteen years ago. That is the neighborhood in which the
recent Italian immigrants crowd. In the house which we selected for
examination, in all respects the type of the rest, we found forty-three
families where there should have been sixteen. Upon each floor were four
flats, and in each flat three rooms that measured respectively 14 x 11,
7 x 11, and 7 x 8-1/2 feet. In only one flat did we find a single
family. In three there were two to each. In the other twelve each room
had its own family living and sleeping there. They cooked, I suppose, at
the one stove in the kitchen, which was the largest room. In one big bed
we counted six persons, the parents and four children. Two of them lay
crosswise at the foot of the bed, or there would not have been room. A
curtain was hung before the bed in each of the two smaller rooms,
leaving a passageway from the hall to the main room. The rent for the
front flats was twelve dollars; for that in the rear ten dollars. The
social distinctions going with the advantage of location were rigidly
observed, I suppose. The three steps across a tenement hall, from the
front to "the back," are often a longer road than from Ludlow Street to
Fifth Avenue.

They were sweaters' tenements. But I shall keep that end of the story
until I come to speak of the tenants. The houses I have in mind now.
They were Astor leasehold property, and I had seen them built upon the
improved plan of 1879, with air shafts and all that. There had not been
water in the tenements for a month then, we were told by the one tenant
who spoke English that could be understood. The cold snap had locked the
pipes. Fitly enough, the lessee was an undertaker, an Italian himself,
who combined with his business of housing his people above and below the
ground that of the padrone, to let no profit slip. He had not taken the
trouble to make many or recent repairs. The buildings had made a fair
start; they promised well. But the promise had not been kept. In their
premature decay they were distinctly as bad as the worst. I had the
curiosity to seek out the agent, the middleman, and ask him why they
were so. He shrugged his shoulders. With such tenants nothing could be
done, he said. I have always held that Italians are most manageable, and
that, with all the surface indications to the contrary, they are really
inclined to cleanliness, if cause can be shown, and I told him so. He
changed the subject diplomatically. No doubt it was with him simply a
question of the rent. They might crowd and carry on as they pleased,
once that was paid; and they did. It used to be the joke of Elizabeth
Street that when the midnight police came, the tenants would keep them
waiting outside, pretending to search for the key, until the surplus
population of men had time to climb down the fire escape. When the
police were gone they came back. We surprised them all in bed.

Like most of the other tenements we have come across on our trip, these
were double-deckers. That is the type of tenement that is responsible
for the crowding that goes on unchecked. It is everywhere replacing the
older barracks, as they rot or are torn down.

This double-decker was thus described by the Tenement House Committee of
1894: "It is the one hopeless form of tenement construction. It cannot
be well ventilated, it cannot be well lighted; it is not safe in case of
fire. It is built on a lot 25 feet wide by 100 or less in depth, with
apartments for four families in each story. This necessitates the
occupation of from 86 to 90 per cent. of the lot's depth. The stairway,
made in the centre of the house, and the necessary walls and partitions
reduce the width of the middle rooms (which serve as bedrooms for at
least two people each) to 9 feet each at the most, and a narrow light
and air shaft, now legally required in the centre of each side wall,
still further lessens the floor space of these middle rooms. Direct
light is only possible for the rooms at the front and rear. The middle
rooms must borrow what light they can from dark hallways, the shallow
shafts, and the rear rooms. Their air must pass through other rooms or
the tiny shafts, and cannot but be contaminated before it reaches them.
A five-story house of this character contains apartments for eighteen or
twenty families, a population frequently amounting to 100 people, and
sometimes increased by boarders or lodgers to 150 or more."

The committee, after looking in vain through the slums of the Old World
cities for something to compare the double-deckers with, declared that,
in their setting, the separateness and sacredness of home life were
interfered with, and evils bred, physical and moral, that "conduce to
the corruption of the young." The statement needs no argument to
convince.

Yet it is for these that the "interests" of which the fire chief spoke
rush into battle at almost every session of the legislature, whenever a
step, no matter how short and conservative, is to be taken toward their
improvement. No winter has passed, since the awakening conscience of the
people of New York city manifested itself in a desire to better the lot
of the other half, that has not seen an assault made, in one shape or
another, on the structure of tenement house law built up with such
anxious solicitude. Once a bill to exempt from police supervision, by
withdrawing them from the tenement house class, the very worst of the
houses, whose death rate threatened the community, was sneaked through
the legislature all unknown, and had reached the executive before the
alarm was sounded. The governor, put upon his guard, returned the bill,
with the indorsement that he was unable to understand what could have
prompted a measure that seemed to have reason and every argument against
it, and none for it. But the motive is not so obscure, after all. It is
the same old one of profit without conscience. It took from the Health
Department the supervision of the light, ventilation, and plumbing of
the tenements, which by right belonged there, and put it in charge of a
compliant Building Department, "for the convenience of architects and
their clients, and the saving of time and expense to them." For the
convenience of the architect's client, the builder, the lot was
encroached upon, until of one big block which the Tenement House
Committee measured only 7 per cent. was left uncovered for the air to
struggle through; 93 per cent. of it was covered with brick and mortar.
Rear tenements, to the number of nearly 100, have been condemned as
"slaughter houses," with good reason, but this block was built
practically solid. The average of space covered in 34 tenement blocks
was shown to be 78.13 per cent. The law allowed only 65. The
"discretion" that pens tenants in a burning tenement with stairs of wood
for the builder's "convenience" cut down the chance of life of their
babies unmoved. Sunlight and air mean just that, where three thousand
human beings are packed into a single block. That was why the matter was
given into the charge of the health officials, when politics was yet
kept out of their work.

Of such kind are the interests that oppose betterment of the worker's
hard lot in New York; that dictated the appointment by Tammany of a
commission composed of builders to revise its code of building laws, and
that sneer at the "laughable results of the late Tenement House
Committee." Those results made for the health and happiness and safety
of a million and a half of souls, and were accounted, on every humane
ground, the longest step forward that had yet been taken by this
community. For the old absentee landlord, who did not know what mischief
was afoot, we have got the speculative builder, who does know, but does
not care so long as he gets his pound of flesh. Half of the just laws
that have been passed for the relief of the people he has paralyzed with
his treacherous discretion clause, carefully nursed in the school of
practical politics to which he gives faithful adherence. The thing has
been the curse of our city from the day when the earliest struggle
toward better things began. Among the first manifestations of that was
the prohibition of soap factories below Grand Street by the act of 1797,
which created a Board of Health with police powers. The act was passed
in February, to take effect in July; but long before that time the same
legislature had amended it by giving the authorities discretion in the
matter. And the biggest soap factory of them all is down there to this
day, and is even now stirring up a rumpus among the latest immigrants,
the Syrians, who have settled about it. No doubt it is all a question of
political education; but are not a hundred years enough to settle this
much, that compromise is out of place where the lives of the people are
at stake, and that it is time our years of "discretion" were numbered?

And, please God, the time is at hand. Here, set in its frame of swarming
tenements, is a wide open space, some time, when enough official red
tape has been unwound, to be a park, with flowers and grass and birds to
gladden the hearts of those to whom such things have been as tales that
are told, all these dreary years, and with a playground in which the
children of yonder big school may roam at will, undismayed by landlord
or policeman. Not all the forces of reaction can put back the barracks
that were torn down as one of the "laughable results" of that very
Tenement House Committee's work, or restore to the undertaker his
profits from Bone Alley of horrid memory. It was the tenant's turn to
laugh, that time. Down half a dozen blocks, among even denser swarms, is
another such plot, where football and a skating pond are being planned
by the children's friends. We shall hear the story of these yet, and
rejoice that the day of reckoning is coming for the builder without a
soul. Till then let him deck the fronts of his tenements with bravery of
plate glass and brass to hide the darkness within. He has done his
worst.

We can go no further. Yonder lies the river. A full mile we have come,
through unbroken ranks of tenements with their mighty, pent-up
multitudes. Here they seem, with a common impulse, to overflow into the
street. From corner to corner it is crowded with girls and children
dragging babies nearly as big as themselves, with desperate endeavor to
lose nothing of the show. There is a funeral in the block. Unnumbered
sewing-machines cease for once their tireless rivalry with the flour
mill in the next block, that is forever grinding in a vain effort to
catch up. Heads are poked from windows. On the stoops hooded and shawled
figures have front seats. The crowd is hardly restrained by the
policeman and the undertaker in holiday mourning, who clear a path by
force to the plumed hearse. The eager haste, the frantic rush to
see,--what does it not tell of these starved lives, of the quality of
their aims and ambitions? The mill clatters loudly: there is one mouth
less to fill. In the midst of it all, with clamor of urgent gong, the
patrol wagon rounds the corner, carrying two policemen precariously
perched upon a struggling "drunk," a woman. The crowd scatters,
following the new sensation. The tragedies of death and life in the slum
have met together.

Many a mile I might lead you along these rivers, east and west, through
the island of Manhattan, and find little else than we have seen. The
great crowd is yet below Fourteenth Street, but the northward march
knows no slackening of pace. As the tide sets uptown, it reproduces
faithfully the scenes of the older wards, though with less of their
human interest than here where the old houses, in all their ugliness,
have yet some imprint of the individuality of their tenants. Only on
feast days does Little Italy, in Harlem, recall the Bend when it put on
holiday attire. Anything more desolate and disheartening than the
unending rows of tenements, all alike and all equally repellent, of the
uptown streets, it is hard to imagine. Hell's Kitchen in its ancient
wickedness was picturesque, at least, with its rocks and its goats and
shanties. Since the negroes took possession it is only dull, except
when, as happened last summer, the remnant of the Irish settlers make a
stand against the intruders. Vain hope! Perpetual eviction is their
destiny. Negro, Italian, and Jew, biting the dust with many a bruised
head under the Hibernian's stalwart fist, resistlessly drive him before
them, nevertheless, out of house and home. The landlord pockets the gate
money. The old robbery still goes on. Where the negro pitches his tent,
he pays more rent than his white neighbor next door, and is a better
tenant. And he is good game forever. He never buys the tenement, as the
Jew or the Italian is likely to do, when he has scraped up money enough
to reënact, after his own fashion, the trick taught him by his
oppressor. The black column has reached the hundredth street on the East
Side, and the sixties on the West,[2] and there for the present it
halts. Jammed between Africa, Italy, and Bohemia, the Irishman has
abandoned the East Side uptown. Only west of Central Park does he yet
face his foe, undaunted in defeat as in victory. The local street
nomenclature, in which the directory has no hand,--Nigger Row, Mixed Ale
Flats, etc.,--indicates the hostile camps with unerring accuracy.

[Footnote 2: There is an advanced outpost of blacks as far up as One
Hundred and Forty-Fifth Street, but the main body lingers yet among the
sixties.]

Uptown or downtown, as the tenements grow taller, the thing that is
rarest to find is the home of the olden days, even as it was in the
shanty on the rocks. "No home, no family, no morality, no manhood, no
patriotism!" said the old Frenchman. Seventy-seven per cent. of their
young prisoners, say the managers of the state reformatory, have no
moral sense, or next to none. "Weakness, not wickedness, ails them,"
adds the prison chaplain; no manhood, that is to say. Years ago, roaming
through the British Museum, I came upon an exhibit that riveted my
attention as nothing else had. It was a huge stone arm, torn from the
shoulder of some rock image, with doubled fist and every rigid muscle
instinct with angry menace. Where it came from or what was its story I
do not know. I did not ask. It was its message to us I was trying to
read. I had been spending weary days and nights in the slums of London,
where hatred grew, a noxious crop, upon the wreck of the home. Lying
there, mute and menacing, the great fist seemed to me like a shadow
thrown from the gray dawn of the race into our busy day with a purpose,
a grim, unheeded warning. What was it? In the slum the question haunts
me yet. They perished, the empires those rock-hewers built, and the
governments reared upon their ruins are long since dead and forgotten.
They were born to die, for they were not built upon human happiness, but
upon human terror and greed. We built ours upon the bed rock, and its
cornerstone is the home. With this bitter mockery of it that makes the
slum, can it be that the warning is indeed for us?



III

THE TENEMENT: CURING ITS BLIGHT


I stood at Seven Dials and heard the policeman's account of what it used
to be. Seven Dials is no more like the slum of old than is the Five
Points to-day. The conscience of London wrought upon the one as the
conscience of New York upon the other. A mission house, a children's
refuge, two big schools, and, hard by, a public bath and a wash house
stand as the record of the battle with the slum, which, with these
forces in the field, has but one ending. The policeman's story rambled
among the days when things were different. Then it was dangerous for an
officer to go alone there at night.

Around the corner there came from one of the side streets a procession
with banners, parading in honor and aid of some church charity. We
watched it pass. In it marched young men and boys with swords and
battle-axes, and upon its outskirts skipped a host of young roughs--so
one would have called them but for the evidence of their honest
employment--who rattled collection boxes, reaping a harvest of pennies
from far and near. I looked at the battle-axes and the collection boxes,
and thought of forty years ago. Where were the Seven Dials of that day,
and the men who gave it its bad name? I asked the policeman.

"They were druv into decency, sor," he said, and answered from his own
experience the question ever asked by faint-hearted philanthropists. "My
father, he done duty here afore me in '45. The worst dive was where that
church stands. It was always full of thieves,"--whose sons, I added
mentally, have become collectors for the church. The one fact was a
whole chapter on the slum.

London's way with the tenant we adopted at last in New York with the
slum landlord. He was "druv into decency." We had to. Moral suasion had
been stretched to the limit. The point had been reached where one
knock-down blow outweighed a bushel of arguments. It was all very well
to build model tenements as object lessons to show that the thing could
be done; it had become necessary to enforce the lesson by demonstrating
that the community had power to destroy houses which were a menace to
its life. The rear tenements were chosen for this purpose.

They were the worst as they were the first of New York's tenements. The
double-deckers of which I have spoken had, with all their evils, at
least this to their credit, that their death rate was not nearly as high
as that of the old houses. That was not because of any virtue inherent
in the double-deckers, but because the earlier tenements were old, and
built in a day that knew nothing of sanitary restrictions, and cared
less. Hence the showing that the big tenements had much the lowest
mortality. The death rate does not sound the depths of tenement house
evils, but it makes a record that is needed when it comes to attacking
property rights. The mortality of the rear tenements had long been a
scandal. They are built in the back yard, generally back to back with
the rear buildings on abutting lots. If there is an open space between
them, it is never more than a slit a foot or so wide, and gets to be
the receptacle of garbage and filth of every kind; so that any opening
made in these walls for purposes of ventilation becomes a source of
greater danger than if there were none. The last count that was made, in
1898, showed that among the 40,958 tenements in New York there were
still 2379 rear houses left. Where they are the death rate rises, for
reasons that are apparent. The sun cannot reach them. They are damp and
dark, and the tenants, who are always the poorest and most crowded, live
"as in a cage open only toward the front," said the Tenement House
Committee. A canvass made of the mortality records by Dr. Roger S.
Tracy, the registrar of records, showed that while in the First Ward
(the oldest), for instance, the death rate in houses standing singly on
the lot was 29.03 per 1000 of the living, where there were rear houses
it rose to 61.97. The infant death rate is a still better test: that
rose from 109.58 in the single tenements of the same ward to 204.54
where there were rear houses. One in every five babies had to die, that
is to say; the house killed it. No wonder the committee styled the rear
tenements "slaughter houses," and called upon the legislature to root
them out, and with them every old, ramshackle, disease-breeding tenement
in the city.

A law which is in substance a copy of the English act for destroying
slum property was passed in the spring of 1895. It provides for the
seizure of buildings that are dangerous to the public health or unfit
for human habitation, and their destruction upon proper proof, with
compensation to the owner on a sliding scale down to the point of entire
unfitness, when he is entitled only to the value of the material in his
house. Up to that time, the only way to get rid of such a house had been
to declare it a nuisance under the sanitary code; but as the city could
not very well pay for the removal of a nuisance, to order it down seemed
too much like robbery; so the owner was allowed to keep it. It takes
time and a good many lives to grow a sentiment such as this law
expressed. The Anglo-Saxon respect for vested rights is strong in us,
also. I remember going through a ragged school in London, once, and
finding the eyes of the children in the infant class red and sore.
Suspecting some contagion, I made inquiries, and was told that a collar
factory next door was the cause of the trouble. The fumes from it
poisoned the children's eyes.

"And you allow it to stay, and let this thing go on?" I asked, in
wonder.

The superintendent shrugged his shoulders. "It is their factory," he
said.

I was on the point of saying something that might not have been polite,
seeing that I was a guest, when I remembered that, in the newspaper
which I carried in my pocket, I had just been reading a plea of some
honorable M. P. for a much-needed reform in the system of counsel fees,
then being agitated in the House of Commons. The reply of the solicitor
general had made me laugh. He was inclined to agree with the honorable
member, but still preferred to follow precedent by referring the matter
to the Inns of Court. Quite incidentally, he mentioned that the matter
had been hanging fire in the House two hundred years. It seemed very
English to me then; but when we afterward came to tackle our rear
tenements, and in the first batch there was a row which I knew to have
been picked out by the sanitary inspector, twenty-five years before, as
fit only to be destroyed, I recognized that we were kin, after all.

[Illustration: THE MOTT STREET BARRACKS]

That was Gotham Court. It was first on the list, and the Mott Street
Barracks came next, when, as executive officer of the Good Government
Clubs, I helped the Board of Health put the law to the test the
following year. The Health Department kept a list of 66 old houses, with
a population of 5460 tenants, in which there had been 1313 deaths in a
little over five years (1889-94). From among them we picked our lot, and
the department drove the tenants out. The owners went to law, one and
all; but, to their surprise and dismay, the courts held with the health
officers. The moral effect was instant and overwhelming. Rather than
keep up the fight, with no rent coming in, the landlords surrendered at
discretion. In consideration of this, compensation was allowed them at
the rate of about a thousand dollars a house, although they were really
entitled only to the value of the old material. The buildings all came
under the head of "wholly unfit." Gotham Court, with its sixteen
buildings, in which, thirty-five years ago, a health inspector counted
146 cases of sickness, including "all kinds of infectious disease," was
bought for $19,750, and Mullen's Court, adjoining, for $7251. They had
been under civilized management since, but nothing decent could be made
out of them. To show the character of all, let two serve; in each case
it is the official record, upon which seizure was made, that is
quoted:--

No. 98 Catherine Street: "The floor in the apartments and the wooden
steps leading to the second-floor apartment are broken, loose, saturated
with filth. The roof and eaves gutters leak, rendering the apartments
wet. The two apartments on the first floor consist of one room each, in
which the tenants are compelled to cook, eat, and sleep. The back walls
are defective; the house wet and damp, and unfit for human habitation.
It robs the surrounding houses of light."

"The sunlight never enters" was the constant refrain.

No. 17 Sullivan Street: "Occupied by the lowest whites and negroes,
living together. The houses are decayed from cellar to garret, and
filthy beyond description,--the filthiest, in fact, we have ever seen.
The beams, the floors, the plaster on the walls, where there is any
plaster, are rotten and alive with vermin. They are a menace to the
public health, and cannot be repaired. Their annual death rate in five
years was 41.38."

The sunlight enters where these stood, at all events, and into 58 other
yards that once were plague spots. Of 94 rear tenements seized that
year, 60 have been torn down, 33 of them voluntarily by the owners; 29
were remodeled and allowed to stand, chiefly as workshops; 5 other
houses were standing empty, and yielding no rent, in March, 1899. The
worst of them all, the Mott Street Barracks, are yet in the courts; but
all the judges and juries in the land have no power to put them back. It
is a case of "They can't put you in jail for that"--"Yes, but I am in
jail." They are gone, torn down under the referee's decision that they
ought to go, before the Appellate Division called a halt. In 1888 I
counted 360 tenants in these tenements, front and rear, all Italians,
and the infant death rate of the Barracks that year was 325 per 1000.
There were forty babies, and one in three of them had to die. The
general infant death rate for the whole tenement house population that
year was 88.38. In the four years following, during which the population
and the death rate of the houses were both reduced with an effort,
fifty-one funerals went out of the Barracks. With entire fitness, a
cemetery corporation held the mortgage upon the property. The referee
allowed it the price of opening one grave, in the settlement, gave one
dollar to the lessee and one hundred and ten dollars to the landlord,
who refused to collect, and took his case to the Court of Appeals, where
it is to be argued this summer. The only interest that attaches to it,
since the real question has been decided by the wrecker ahead of time,
is the raising of the constitutional point, perchance, and the issue of
that is not doubtful. The law has been repeatedly upheld, and in
Massachusetts, where similar action has been taken since, the
constitutionality of it has in no case been attacked, so far as I know.

I have said before that I do not believe in paying the slum landlord
for taking his hand off our throats, when we have got the grip on him in
turn. Mr. Roger Foster, who as a member of the Tenement House Committee
drew the law, and as counsel for the Health Department fought the
landlords successfully in the courts, holds to the opposite view. I am
bound to say that instances turned up in which it did seem a hardship to
deprive the owners of even such property. I remember especially a
tenement in Roosevelt Street, which was the patrimony and whole estate
of two children. With the rear house taken away, the income from the
front would not be enough to cover the interest on the mortgage. It was
one of those things that occasionally make standing upon abstract
principle so very uncomfortable. I confess I never had the courage to
ask what was done in their case. I know that the tenement went, and I
hope--Well, never mind what I hope. It has nothing to do with the case.
The house is down, and the main issue decided upon its merits.

In the 94 tenements (counting the front houses in; they cannot be
separated from the rear tenements in the death registry) there were in
five years 956 deaths, a rate of 62.9 at a time when the general city
death rate was 24.63. It was the last and heaviest blow aimed at the
abnormal mortality of a city that ought, by reason of many advantages,
to be one of the healthiest in the world. With clean streets, pure milk,
medical school inspection, antitoxin treatment of deadly diseases, and
better sanitary methods generally; with the sunlight let into its slums,
and its worst plague spots cleaned out, the death rate of New York came
down from 26.32 per 1000 inhabitants in 1887 to 19.53 in 1897. Inasmuch
as a round half million was added to its population within the ten
years, it requires little figuring to show that the number whose lives
were literally saved by reform would people a city of no mean
proportions. The extraordinary spell of hot weather, two years ago,
brought out the full meaning of this. While many were killed by
sunstroke, the population as a whole was shown to have acquired, in
better hygienic surroundings, a much greater power of resistance. It
yielded slowly to the heat. Where two days had been sufficient, in
former years, to send the death rate up, it now took five; and the
infant mortality remained low throughout the dreadful trial. Perhaps the
substitution of beer for whiskey as a summer drink had something to do
with it; but Colonel Waring's broom and unpolitical sanitation had more.
Since it spared him so many voters, the politician ought to have been
grateful for this; but he was not. Death rates are not as good political
arguments as tax rates, we found out. In the midst of it all, a
policeman whom I knew went to his Tammany captain to ask if Good
Government Clubs were political clubs within the meaning of the law,
which prohibits policemen from joining such. The answer he received set
me to thinking: "Yes, the meanest, worst kind of political clubs, they
are." Yet they had done nothing worse than to save the babies, the
captain's with the rest.

The landlord read the signs better. He learned his lesson quickly. All
over the city, he made haste to set his house to rights, lest it be
seized or brought to the bar in other ways. The Good Government Clubs
did not rest content with their first victory. They made war upon the
dark hall in the double-decker, and upon the cruller bakery. They
opened small parks, exposed the abuses of the civil courts, the "poor
man's courts," urged on the building of new schools, compelled the
cleaning of the Tombs prison and hastened the demolition of the wicked
old pile, and took a hand in evolving a sensible and humane system of
dealing with the young vagrants who were going to waste on free soup.
The proposition to establish a farm colony for their reclamation was met
with the challenge at Albany that "we have had enough reform in New York
city," and, as the event proved, for the time being we had really gone
as far as we could. But even that was a good long way. Some things had
been nailed that could never again be undone; and hand in hand with the
effort to destroy had gone another to build up, that promised to set us
far enough ahead to appeal at last successfully to the self-interest of
the builder, if not to his humanity; or, failing that, to compel him to
decency. If that promise has not been kept, the end is not yet. I
believe it will be kept.

The movement for reform, in the matter of housing the people, had
proceeded upon a clearly outlined plan that apportioned to each of
several forces its own share of the work. At a meeting held under the
auspices of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor,
early in the days of the movement, the field had been gone over
thoroughly. To the Good Government Clubs fell the task, as already set
forth, of compelling the enforcement of the existing tenement house
laws. D. O. Mills, the philanthropic banker, declared his purpose to
build hotels which should prove that a bed and lodging as good as any
could be furnished to the great army of homeless men at a price that
would compete with the cheap lodging houses, and yet yield a profit to
the owner. On behalf of a number of well-known capitalists, who had been
identified with the cause of tenement house reform for years, Robert
Fulton Cutting, the president of the Association for Improving the
Condition of the Poor, offered to build homes for the working people
that should be worthy of the name, on a large scale. A company was
formed, and chose for its president Dr. Elgin R. L. Gould, author of the
government report on the Housing of the Working People, the standard
work on the subject. A million dollars were raised by public
subscription, and operations were begun at once.

Two ideas were kept in mind as fundamental: one, that charity that will
not pay will not stay; the other, that nothing can be done with the
twenty-five-foot lot. It is the primal curse of our housing system, and
any effort toward better things must reckon with it first. Nineteen lots
on Sixty-Eighth and Sixty-Ninth streets, west of Tenth Avenue, were
purchased of Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, who took one tenth of the
capital stock of the City and Suburban Homes Company; and upon these was
erected the first block of tenements. This is the neighborhood toward
which the population has been setting with ever increasing congestion.
Already in 1895 the Twenty-Second Ward contained nearly 200,000 souls.
Between Forty-Ninth and Sixty-Second streets, west of Ninth Avenue,
there are at least five blocks with more than 3000 tenants in each, and
the conditions of the notorious Tenth Ward are certain to be reproduced
here, if indeed they are not exceeded. In the Fifteenth Assembly
District, some distance below, but on the same line, the first
sociological canvass of the Federation of Churches had found the
churches, schools, and other educational agencies marshaling a frontage
of 756 feet on the street, while the saloon fronts stretched themselves
over nearly a mile; so that, said the compiler of these pregnant facts,
"saloon social ideals are minting themselves in the minds of the people
at the ratio of seven saloon thoughts to one educational thought." It
would not have been easy to find a spot better fitted for the experiment
of restoring to the home its rights.

[Illustration: ALFRED CORNING CLARK BUILDINGS

_Model Tenements of City and Suburban Homes Co._]

The Alfred Corning Clark Buildings, as they were called in recognition
of the support of this public-spirited woman, have been occupied a year.
When I went through them, the other day, I found all but five of the 373
apartments they contain occupied, and a very large waiting list of
applicants for whom there was no room. The doctor alone, of all the
tenants, had moved away, disappointed. He had settled on the estate,
hoping to build up a practice among so many; but he could not make a
living. The plan of the buildings, for which Ernest Flagg, a young
and energetic architect, with a very practical interest in the welfare
of the Other Half, has the credit, seems to me to realize the ideal of
making homes under a common roof. The tenants appeared to take the same
view of it. They were a notably contented lot. Their only objection was
to the use of the common tubs in the basement laundry,--a sign that, to
my mind, was rather favorable than otherwise, though it argued ill for
the scheme of public wash houses on the Glasgow plan that has seemed so
promising. They were selected tenants as to trustworthiness and
desirability on that score, but they were all of the tenement house
class. The rents are a little lower than for much poorer quarters in the
surrounding tenements. The houses are built around central courts, with
light and air in abundance, with fireproof stairs and steam-heated
halls. There is not a dark passage anywhere. Within, there is entire
privacy for the tenant; the partitions are deadened, so that sound is
not transmitted from one apartment to another. Without, the houses have
none of the discouraging barrack look. The architecture is distinctly
pleasing. The few and simple rules laid down by the management have been
readily complied with, as making for the benefit of all. A woman
collects the rents, which are paid weekly in advance. The promise that
the property will earn the five per cent. to which the company limits
its dividends seems certain to be kept. There is nothing in sight to
prevent it, everything to warrant the prediction.

The capital stock has since been increased to $2,000,000, and the
erection has been begun of a new block of buildings in East Sixty-Fourth
Street, within hail of Battle Row, of anciently warlike memory. James E.
Ware & Son, the architects who, in the competition of 1879, won the
prize for the improved tenements that marked the first departure from
the boxlike barracks of old, drew the plans, embodying all the good
features of the Clark Buildings with attractions of their own. A
suburban colony is being developed by the company, in addition. It is
not the least promising feature of its work that a very large proportion
of its shareholders are workingmen, who have invested their savings in
the enterprise, thus bearing witness to their faith and interest in it.
Of the entire number of shareholders at the time of the first annual
report, forty-five per cent, held less than ten shares each.

The success of these and previous efforts at the building of model
tenements has had the desired effect of encouraging other attempts in
the same direction. They represent the best that can be done in fighting
the slum within the city. Homewood, the City and Suburban Homes
Company's settlement in the country, stands for the way out that must
eventually win the fight. That is the track that must be followed, and
will be when we have found in rapid transit the key to the solution of
our present perplexities. "In the country" hardly describes the site of
the colony. It is within the Greater City, on Long Island, hardly an
hour's journey by trolley from the City Hall, and only a short walk from
the bay. Here the company has built a hundred cottages, and has room for
two or three hundred more. Of the hundred houses, seventy-two had been
sold when I was there last winter. They are handsome and substantial
little houses, the lower story of brick, the upper of timber and
stucco, each cottage standing in its own garden. The purchaser pays for
the property in monthly payments extending over twenty years. A plan of
life insurance, which protects the family and the company alike in the
event of the death of the bread-winner, is included in the arrangement.
The price of the cottages which so far have found owners has averaged
about $3100, and the monthly installment, including the insurance
premium, a trifle over $25. It follows that the poorest have not moved
to Homewood. Its settlers include men with an income of $1200 or $1500 a
year,--policemen, pilots, letter carriers, clerks, and teachers. This is
as it should be. They represent the graduating class, as it were, from
the city crowds. It is the province of the philanthropic tenement to
prepare the next lot for moving up and out. Any attempt to hasten the
process by taking a short cut could result only in failure and
disappointment. The graduating class is large enough, however, to
guarantee that it will not be exhausted by one Homewood. Before the
houses were contracted for, without advertising or effort of any kind to
make the thing known, more than eight hundred wage earners had asked to
have their names put on the books as applicants for suburban homes.

Others had built model tenements and made them pay, but it was left to
Mr. D. O. Mills to break ground in the field which Lord Rowton had
filled with such signal success in London. The two Mills Houses, in
Bleecker and Rivington streets, are as wide a departure as could well be
imagined from the conventional type of lodging houses in New York. They
are large and beautiful structures, which, for the price of a cot in one
of the Bowery barracks, furnish their lodgers with as good a bed in a
private room as the boarder in the Waldorf-Astoria enjoys. Indeed, it is
said to be the very same in make and quality. There are baths without
stint, smoking and writing rooms and games, and a free library; a
laundry for those who can pay for having their washing done, and a
separate one for such as prefer to do it themselves. There is a
restaurant in the basement, in which a regular dinner of good quality is
served at fifteen cents. The night's lodging is twenty cents. The
dearest Bowery lodging houses charge twenty-five cents. The bedrooms
are necessarily small, but they are clean and comfortable, well lighted
and heated. The larger house, No. 1, in Bleecker Street, has room for
1554 guests; No. 2, in Rivington Street, for 600. Though this represents
more than twelve per cent, of the capacity of all the cheap lodging
houses in the city, both have been filled since they were opened, and
crowds have often been turned away. The Bowery "hotels" have felt the
competition. Their owners deny it, but the fact is apparent in efforts
at improvements with which they were not justly chargeable before. Only
the lowest, the ten-cent houses, are exempt from this statement. These
attract a class of custom for which the Mills Houses do not compete. The
latter are intended for the large number of decent mechanics, laborers,
and men of small means, hunting for work, who are always afloat in a
large city, and who neither seek nor wish charity. The plan and purpose
of the builder cannot be better put than in his own words at the opening
of the first house.

"No patron of the Mills Hotel," he said, "will receive more than he pays
for, unless it be my hearty goodwill and good wishes. It is true that I
have devoted thought, labor, and capital to a very earnest effort to
help him, but only by enabling him to help himself. In doing the work on
so large a scale, and in securing the utmost economies in purchases and
in administration, I hope to give him a larger equivalent for his money
than has hitherto been possible. He can, without scruple, permit me to
offer him this advantage; but he will think better of himself, and will
be a more self-reliant, manly man and a better citizen, if he knows that
he is honestly paying for what he gets."

Mr. Mills's faith that the business of housing the homeless crowds in
decency and comfort could be made to pay just as well as that of housing
families in model tenements has been justified. Besides providing a fund
sufficient for deterioration and replacement, the two houses have made a
clear three per cent. profit on the investment of $1,500,000 which they
represent. Beyond this, they have borne, and will bear increasingly,
their own hand in settling with the saloon, which had no rival in the
cheerlessness of the cheap lodging house or the boarding house back
bedroom. Every philanthropic effort to fight it on that ground has drawn
renewed courage and hope from Mr. Mills's work and success.

While I am writing, subscriptions are being made to the capital stock of
a Woman's Hotel Company, that will endeavor to do for the
self-supporting single women of our own city what Mr. Mills has done for
the men. It is proposed to erect, at a cost of $800,000, a hotel capable
of sheltering over 500 guests, at a price coming within reach of women
earning wages as clerks, stenographers, nurses, etc. The number of women
whose needs an establishment of the kind would meet is said to exceed
40,000. The Young Women's Christian Association alone receives every
year requests enough for quarters to fill a score of such hotels, and
can only refer the applicants to boarding houses. Experience in other
cities shows that a woman's hotel or club can be managed and made
profitable, and there seems to be little doubt that New York will be the
next to furnish proof of it. It was the dream of A. T. Stewart, the
merchant prince, to do this service for his city, just as he planned
Garden City for a home colony for his clerks. It came out differently.
The Long Island town became a cathedral city, and the home of wealth and
fashion; his woman's hoarding house a great public hotel, far out of the
reach of those he sought to benefit. It may be that the success of the
banker's philanthropy will yet realize the dream of the merchant before
the end of the century that saw his wealth, his great business, his very
name, vanish as if they had never been, and even his bones denied, by
ghoulish thieves, a rest in the grave. I like to think of it as a kind
of justice to his memory, more eloquent than marble and brass in the
empty crypt. Mills House No. 1 stands upon the site of Mr. Stewart's old
home, where he dreamed his barren dream of benevolence to his kind.

Of all these movements the home is the keynote. That is the cheerful
sign that shows light ahead. To the home it comes down in the end,--good
government, bad government, and all the rest. As the homes of a
community are, so is the community. New York has still the worst housing
system in the world. Eight fifteenths of its people live in tenements,
not counting the better class of flats, though legally they come under
the definition. The blight of the twenty-five-foot lot remains, with the
double-decker. But we can now destroy what is not fit to stand; we have
done it, and our republic yet survives. The slum landlord would have had
us believe that it must perish with his rookeries. We knew that to build
decently improved a neighborhood, made the tenants better and happier,
and reduced the mortality. Model tenement house building is now proving
daily that such houses can be built safer and better every way for less
money than the double-decker, by crossing the lot line. The dark hall is
not a problem in the tenement built around a central court, for there is
no common hall. The plan of the double-decker is shown to be wasteful of
space and wall and capital. The model tenement pays, does not
deteriorate, and keeps its tenants. After the lapse of ten years, I was
the other day in Mr. A. T. White's Riverside Buildings in Brooklyn,
which are still the best I know of, and found them, if anything, better
houses than the day they were built. The stone steps of the stairways
were worn: that was all the evidence of deterioration I saw. These, and
Mr. White's other block of buildings on Hicks Street, which was built
more than twenty years ago,--occupied, all of them, by distinctly poor
tenants,--have paid their owner over five per cent. right along.
Practically, every such enterprise has the same story to tell. Dr. Gould
found that only six per cent. of all the great model housing operations
had failed to pay. All the rest were successful. That was the showing of
Europe. It is the same here. Only the twenty-five-foot lot is in the way
in New York.

[Illustration: EVENING IN ONE OF THE COURTS IN MILLS HOUSE No. 1]

It will continue to be in the way. A man who has one lot will build on
it: it is his right. The state, which taxes his lot, has no right to
confiscate it by forbidding him to make it yield him an income, on the
plea that he might build something which would be a nuisance. But it can
so order the building that it shall not be a nuisance: that is not only
its right, but its duty. The best which can be made out of a
twenty-five-foot lot is not good, but even that has not been made out of
it yet. I have seen plans drawn by two young women architects in this
city, the Misses Gannon and Hands, and approved by the Building
Department, which let in an amount of light and air not dreamed of in
the conventional type of double-decker, while providing detached stairs
in a central court. It was not pretended that it was an ideal plan,--far
from it; but it indicated clearly the track to be followed in dealing
with the twenty-five-foot lot, seeing that we cannot get rid of it. The
demand for light and air space must be sharpened and rigidly held to,
and "discretion" to cut it down on any pretext must be denied, to the
end of discouraging at least the building of double-deckers by the
speculative landlord who has more than one lot, but prefers to build in
the old way, in order that he may more quickly sell his houses, one by
one.

With much evidence to the contrary in the big blocks of tenements that
are going up on every hand, I think still we are tending in the right
direction. I come oftener, nowadays, upon three tenements built on four
lots, or two on three lots, than I used to. Indeed, there was a time
when such a thing would have been considered wicked waste, or evidence
of unsound mind in the builder. Houses are built now, as they were then,
for profit. The business element must be there, or the business will
fail. Philanthropy and five per cent. belong together in this field; but
there is no more reason for allowing usurious interest to a man who
makes a living by providing houses for the poor than for allowing it to
a lender of money on security. In fact, there is less; for the former
draws his profits from a source with which the welfare of the
commonwealth is indissolubly bound up. The Tenement House Committee
found that the double-deckers yield the landlord an average of ten per
cent., attack the home, and are a peril to the community. Model
tenements pay a safe five per cent., restore the home, and thereby
strengthen the community. It comes down, then, as I said, to a simple
question of the per cent. the builder will take. It should help his
choice to know, as he cannot now help knowing, that the usurious profit
is the price of good citizenship and human happiness, which suffer in
the proportion in which the home is injured.

The problem of rent should be solved by the same formula, but not so
readily. In the case of the builder the state can add force to
persuasion, and so urge him along the path of righteousness. The only
way to reach the rent collector would be for the municipality to enter
the field as a competing landlord. Doubtless relief could be afforded
that way. The Tenement House Committee found that the slum landlord
charged the highest rents, sometimes as high as twenty-five per cent. He
made no repairs. Model tenement house rents are lower, if anything, than
those of the double-decker, with more space and better accommodations.
Such a competition would have to be on a very large scale, however, to
avail, and I am glad that New York has shown no disposition to undertake
it yet. I would rather we, as a community, learned first a little more
of the art of governing ourselves without scandal. Present relief from
the burden that taxes the worker one fourth of his earnings for a roof
over his head must be sought in the movement toward the suburbs that
will follow the bridging of our rivers, and real rapid transit. On the
island rents will always remain high, on account of the great land
values. But I have often thought that if the city may not own new
tenements, it might with advantage manage the old to the extent of
licensing them to contain so many tenants on the basis of the air space,
and no more. The suggestion was made when the tenement house question
first came up for discussion, thirty years ago, but it was rejected
then. The same thing is now proposed for rooms and workshops, as the
means of getting the best of the sweating nuisance. Why not license the
whole tenement, and with the money collected in the way of fees pay for
the supervision of them by night and day? The squad of sanitary
policemen now comprises for the Greater City some ninety men. Forty-one
thousand tenements in the Borough of Manhattan alone, at three dollars
each for the license, would pay the salaries of the entire body, and
leave a margin. Seeing that their services are going exclusively to the
tenements, it would not seem to be an unfair charge upon the landlords.

The home is the key to good citizenship. Unhappily for the great cities,
there exists in them all a class that has lost the key or thrown it
away. For this class, New York, until three years ago, had never made
any provision. The police station lodging rooms, of which I have spoken,
were not to be dignified by the term. These vile dens, in which the
homeless of our great city were herded, without pretense of bed, of
bath, of food, on rude planks, were the most pernicious parody on
municipal charity, I verily believe, that any civilized community had
ever devised. To escape physical and moral contagion in these crowds
seemed humanly impossible. Of the innocently homeless lad they made a
tramp by the shortest cut. To the old tramp they were indeed ideal
provision, for they enabled him to spend for drink every cent he could
beg or steal. With the stale beer dive, the free lunch counter, and the
police lodging room at hand, his cup of happiness was full. There came
an evil day, when the stale beer dive shut its doors and the free lunch
disappeared for a season. The beer pump, which drained the kegs dry and
robbed the stale beer collector of his ware, drove the dives out of
business; the Raines law forbade the free lunch. Just at this time
Theodore Roosevelt shut the police lodging rooms, and the tramp was
literally left out in the cold, cursing reform and its fruits. It was
the climax of a campaign a generation old, during which no one had ever
been found to say a word in defense of these lodging rooms; yet nothing
had availed to close them.

The city took lodgers on an old barge in the East River, that winter,
and kept a register of them. We learned something from that. Of nearly
10,000 lodgers, one half were under thirty years old and in good
health,--fat, in fact. The doctors reported them "well nourished." Among
100 whom I watched taking their compulsory bath, one night, only two
were skinny; the others were stout, well-fed men, abundantly able to do
a man's work. They all insisted that they were willing, too; but the
moment inquiries began with a view of setting such to work as really
wanted it, and sending the rest to the island as vagrants, their number
fell off most remarkably. From between 400 and 500 who had crowded the
barge and the pier sheds, the attendance fell on March 16, the day the
investigation began, to 330, on the second day to 294, and on the third
day to 171; by March 21 it had been cut down to 121. The problem of the
honestly homeless, who were without means to pay for a bed even in a
ten-cent lodging house, and who had a claim upon the city by virtue of
residence in it, had dwindled to surprisingly small proportions. Of 9386
lodgers, 3622 were shown to have been here less than sixty days, and 968
less than a year. The old mistake, that there is always a given amount
of absolutely homeless destitution in a city, and that it is to be
measured by the number of those who apply for free lodging, had been
reduced to a demonstration. The truth is that the opportunity furnished
by the triple alliance of stale beer, free lunch, and free lodging at
the police station was the open door to permanent and hopeless vagrancy.

A city lodging house was established, with decent beds, baths, and
breakfast, and a system of investigation of the lodger's claim that is
yet to be developed to useful proportions. The link that is missing is a
farm school, for the training of young vagrants to habits of industry
and steady work, as the alternative of the workhouse. Efforts to forge
this link have failed so far, but in the good time that is coming, when
we shall have learned the lesson that the unkindest thing that can be
done to a young tramp is to let him go on tramping, and when magistrates
shall blush to discharge him on the plea that "it is no crime to be poor
in this country," they will succeed, and the tramp also we shall then
have "druv into decency." When I look back now to the time, ten or
fifteen years ago, when, night after night, with every police station
filled, I found the old tenements in the "Bend" jammed with a reeking
mass of human wrecks that huddled in hall and yard, and slept, crouching
in shivering files, all the way up the stairs to the attic, it does seem
as if we had come a good way, and as if all the turmoil and the bruises
and the fighting had been worth while.



IV

THE TENANT


We have considered the problem of the tenement. Now about the tenant.
How much of a problem is he? And how are we to go about solving his
problem?

The government "slum inquiry," of which I have spoken before, gave us
some facts about him. In New York it found 62.58 per cent. of the
population of the slum to be foreign-born, whereas for the whole city
the percentage of foreigners was only 43.23. While the proportion of
illiteracy in all was only as 7.69 to 100, in the slum it was 46.65 per
cent. That, with nearly twice as many saloons to a given number, there
should be three times as many arrests in the slum as in the city at
large need not be attributed to nationality, except indirectly in its
possible responsibility for the saloons. I say "possible" advisedly.
Anybody, I should think, whose misfortune it is to live in the slum
might be expected to find in the saloon a refuge. I shall not quarrel
with the other view of it. I am merely stating a personal impression.
The fact that concerns us here is the great proportion of the
foreign-born. Though the inquiry covered only a small section of a
tenement district, the result may be accepted as typical.

We shall not, then, have to do with an American element in discussing
this tenant, for even of the "natives" in the census, by far the largest
share is made up of the children of the immigrant. Indeed, in New York
only 4.77 per cent. of the slum population canvassed were shown to be of
native parentage. The parents of 95.23 per cent. had come over the sea,
to better themselves, it may be assumed. Let us see what they brought
us, and what we have given them in return.

The Italians were in the majority where this census taker went. They
were from the south of Italy, avowedly the worst of the Italian
immigration which in the eight years from 1891 to 1898 gave us more than
half a million of King Humbert's subjects. The exact number, as
registered by the Emigration Bureau, was 502,592. In 1898, 58,613 came
over, 36,086 of them with New York as their destination. The official
year ends with June. In the six months from July 1 to December 31, the
immigrants were sorted out upon a more intelligent plan than previously.
The process as applied to the 30,470 Italians who were landed during
that term yielded this result: from northern Italy, 4762; from southern
Italy, 25,708. Of these latter a number came from Sicily, the island of
the absentee landlord, where peasants die of hunger. I make no apology
for quoting here the statement of an Italian officer, on duty in the
island, to a staff correspondent of the "Tribuna" of Rome, a paper not
to be suspected of disloyalty to United Italy. I take it from the
"Evening Post:"--

"In the month of July I stopped on a march by a threshing floor where
they were measuring grain. When the shares had been divided, the one who
had cultivated the land received a single _tumolo_ (less than a half
bushel). The peasant, leaning on his spade, looked at his share as if
stunned. His wife and their five children were standing by. From the
painful toil of a year this was what was left to him with which to feed
his family. The tears rolled silently down his cheeks."

These things occasionally help one to understand. Over against this
picture there arises in my memory one from the Barge Office, where I had
gone to see an Italian steamer come in. A family sat apart, ordered to
wait by the inspecting officer; in the group an old man, worn and
wrinkled, who viewed the turmoil with the calmness of one having no
share in it. The younger members formed a sort of bulwark around him.

"Your father is too old," said the official.

Two young women and a boy of sixteen rose to their feet at once. "Are
not we young enough to work for him?" they said. The boy showed his
strong arms.

It is charged against this Italian immigrant that he is dirty, and the
charge is true. He lives in the darkest of slums, and pays rent that
ought to hire a decent flat. To wash, water is needed; and we have a law
which orders tenement landlords to put it on every floor, so that their
tenants may have the chance. And it is not yet half a dozen years since
one of the biggest tenement house landlords in the city, the wealthiest
church corporation in the land, attacked the constitutionality of this
statute rather than pay a couple of hundred dollars for putting water
into two old buildings, as the Board of Health had ordered, and came
near upsetting the whole structure of tenement house law upon which our
safety depends. He is ignorant, it is said, and that charge is also
true. I doubt if one of the family in the Barge Office could read or
write his own name. Yet would you fear especial danger to our
institutions, to our citizenship, from these four? He lives cheaply,
crowds, and underbids even the Jew in the sweatshop. I can myself
testify to the truth of these statements. Only this spring I was the
umpire in a quarrel between the Jewish tailors and the factory inspector
whom they arraigned before the Governor on charges of inefficiency. The
burden of their grievance was that the Italians were underbidding them
in their own market, which of course the factory inspector could not
prevent. Yet, even so, the evidence is not that the Italian always gets
the best of it. I came across a family once working on "knee-pants."
"Twelve pants, ten cents," said the tailor, when there was work. "Ve
work for dem sheenies," he explained. "Ven dey has work, ve gets some;
ven dey hasn't, ve don't." He was an unusually gifted tailor as to
English, but apparently not as to business capacity. In the Astor
tenements, in Elizabeth Street, where we found forty-three families
living in rooms intended for sixteen, I saw women finishing "pants" at
thirty cents a day. Some of the garments were of good grade, and some of
poor; some of them were soldiers' trousers, made for the government; but
whether they received five, seven, eight, or ten cents a pair, it came
to thirty cents a day, except in a single instance, in which two women,
sewing from five in the morning till eleven at night, were able, being
practiced hands, to finish forty-five "pants" at three and a half cents
a pair, and so made together over a dollar and a half. They were
content, even happy. I suppose it seemed wealth to them, coming from a
land where a Parisian investigator of repute found three lire (not quite
sixty cents) _per month_ a girl's wages.

I remember one of those flats, poor and dingy, yet with signs of the
instinctive groping toward orderly arrangement which I have observed so
many times, and take to be evidence that in better surroundings much
might be made of these people. Clothes were hung to dry on a line strung
the whole length of the room. Upon couches by the wall some men were
snoring. They were the boarders. The "man" was out shoveling snow with
the midnight shift. By a lamp with brown paper shade, over at the
window, sat two women sewing. One had a baby on her lap. Two sweet
little cherubs, nearly naked, slept on a pile of unfinished "pants," and
smiled in their sleep. A girl of six or seven dozed in a child's rocker
between the two workers, with her head hanging down on one side; the
mother propped it up with her elbow as she sewed. They were all there,
and happy in being together even in such a place. On a corner shelf
burned a night lamp before a print of the Mother of God, flanked by two
green bottles, which, seen at a certain angle, made quite a festive
show.

Complaint is made that the Italian promotes child labor. His children
work at home on "pants" and flowers at an hour when they ought to have
been long in bed. Their sore eyes betray the little flower-makers when
they come tardily to school. Doubtless there are such cases, and quite
too many of them; yet, in the very block which I have spoken of, the
investigation conducted for the Tenement House Committee by the
University Department of Sociology of Columbia College, under Professor
Franklin H. Giddings, discovered of 196 children of school age only 23
at work or at home, and in the next block only 27 out of 215. That was
the showing of the foreign population all the way through. Of 225
Russian Jewish children only 15 were missing from school, and of 354
little Bohemians only 21. The overcrowding of the schools and their long
waiting lists occasionally furnished the explanation why they were not
there. Professor Giddings reported, after considering all the evidence:
"The foreign-born population of the city is not, to any great extent,
forcing children of legal school age into money-earning occupations. On
the contrary, this population shows a strong desire to have its
children acquire the common rudiments of education. If the city does not
provide liberally and wisely for the satisfaction of this desire, the
blame for the civic and moral dangers that will threaten our community,
because of ignorance, vice, and poverty, must rest on the whole public,
not on our foreign-born residents." It is satisfactory to know that the
warning has been heeded, and that soon there will be schools enough to
hold all the children who come. Now, since September 1, 1899, the new
factory law reaches also the Italian flowermaker in his home, and that
source of waste will be stopped.

He is clannish, this Italian; he gambles and uses a knife, though rarely
on anybody not of his own people; he "takes what he can get," wherever
anything is free, as who would not, coming to the feast like a starved
wolf? There was nothing free where he came from. Even the salt was taxed
past a poor man's getting any of it. Lastly, he buys fraudulent
naturalization papers, and uses them. I shall plead guilty for him to
every one of these counts. They are all proven. Gambling is his
besetting sin. He is sober, industrious, frugal, enduring beyond
belief, but he will gamble on Sunday and quarrel over his cards, and
when he sticks his partner in the heat of the quarrel, the partner is
not apt to tell. He prefers to bide his time. Yet there has lately been
evidence once or twice in the surrender of an assassin by his countrymen
that the old vendetta is being shelved, and a new idea of law and
justice is breaking through. As to the last charge: our Italian is not
dull. With his intense admiration for the land where a dollar a day
waits upon the man with a shovel, he can see no reason why he should not
accept the whole "American plan" with ready enthusiasm. It is a good
plan. To him it sums itself up in the statement: a dollar a day for the
shovel; two dollars for the shovel with a citizen behind it. And he
takes the papers and the two dollars.

He came here for a chance to live. Of politics, social ethics, he knows
nothing. Government in his old home existed only for his oppression. Why
should he not attach himself with his whole loyal soul to the plan of
government in his new home that offers to boost him into the place of
his wildest ambition, a "job on the streets,"--that is, in the
Street-Cleaning Department,--and asks no other return than that he shall
vote as directed? Vote! Not only he, but his cousins and brothers and
uncles will vote as they are told, to get Pietro the job he covets. If
it pleases the other man, what is it to him for whom he votes? He is
after the job. Here, ready-made to the hand of the politician, is such
material as he never saw before. For Pietro's loyalty is great. As a
police detective, one of his own people, once put it to me: "He got a
kind of an idea, or an old rule: an eye for an eye; do to another as
you'd be done by; if he don't squeal on you, you stick by him, no matter
what the consequences." This "kind of an idea" is all he has to draw
upon for an answer to the question if the thing is right. But the
question does not arise. Why should it? Was he not told by the agitators
whom the police jailed at home that in a republic all men are made happy
by means of the vote? And is there not proof of it? It has made him
happy, has it not? And the man who bought his vote seems to like it.
Well, then?

Very early Pietro discovered that it was every man for himself, in the
chase of the happiness which this powerful vote had in keeping. He was
robbed by the padrone--that is, the boss--when he came over, fleeced on
his steamship fare, made to pay for getting a job, and charged three
prices for board and lodging and extras while working in the railroad
gang. The boss had a monopoly, and Pietro was told that it was
maintained by his "divvying" with some railroad official. Rumor said, a
very high-up official, and that the railroad was in politics in the
city; that is to say, dealt in votes. When the job gave out, the boss
packed him into the tenement he had bought with his profits on the
contract; and if Pietro had a family, told him to take in lodgers and
crowd his flat, as the Elizabeth Street tenements were crowded, so as to
make out the rent, and to never mind the law. The padrone was a
politician, and had a pull. He was bigger than the law, and it was the
votes he traded in that did it all. Now it was Pietro's turn. With his
vote he could buy what to him seemed wealth. In the muddle of ideas,
that was the one which stood out. When citizen papers were offered him
for $12.50, he bought them quickly, and got his job on the street.

It was the custom of the country. If there was any doubt about it, the
proof was furnished when Pietro was arrested through the envy and
plotting of the opposition boss last fall. Distinguished counsel,
employed by the machine, pleaded his case in court. Pietro felt himself
to be quite a personage, and he was told that he was safe from harm,
though a good deal of dust might be kicked up; because, when it came
down to that, both the bosses were doing the same kind of business. I
quote from the report of the State Superintendent of Elections of
January, 1899: "In nearly every case of illegal registration, the
defendant was represented by eminent counsel who were identified with
the Democratic organization, among them being three assistants to the
Corporation counsel. My deputies arrested Rosario Calecione and Giuseppe
Marrone, both of whom appeared to vote at the fifth election district of
the Sixth Assembly District; Marrone being the Democratic captain of the
district, and, it was charged, himself engaged in the business of
securing fraudulent naturalization papers. In both of these cases
Farriello had procured the naturalization papers for the men for a
consideration. They were subsequently indicted. Marrone and Calecione
were bailed by the Democratic leader of the Sixth Assembly District."

The business, says the State Superintendent, is carried on "to an
enormous extent." It appears, then, that Pietro has already "got on to"
the American plan as the slum presented it to him, and has in good
earnest become a problem. I guessed as much from the statement of a
Tammany politician to me, a year ago, that every Italian voter in his
district got his "old two" on election day. He ought to know, for he
held the purse. Suppose, now, we speak our minds as frankly, for once,
and put the blame where it belongs. Will it be on Pietro? And upon this
showing, who ought to be excluded, when it comes to that?

The slum census taker did not cross the Bowery. Had he done so, he would
have come upon the refugee Jew, the other economic marplot of whom
complaint is made with reason. If his Nemesis has overtaken him in the
Italian, certainly he challenged that fate. He did cut wages by his
coming. He was starving, and he came in shoals. In fourteen years more
than 400,000 Jewish immigrants have landed in New York.[3] They had to
have work and food, and they got both as they could. In the strife they
developed qualities that were anything but pleasing. They herded like
cattle. They had been so herded by Christian rulers, a despised and
persecuted race, through the centuries. Their very coming was to escape
from their last inhuman captivity in a Christian state. They lied, they
were greedy, they were charged with bad faith. They brought
nothing,--neither money nor artisan skill,--nothing but their consuming
energy, to our land, and their one gift was their greatest offense. One
might have pointed out that they had been trained to lie, for their
safety; had been forbidden to work at trades, to own land; had been
taught for a thousand years, with the scourge and the stake, that only
gold could buy them freedom from torture. But what was the use? The
charges were true. The Jew was--he still is--a problem of our slum.

[Footnote 3: According to the register of the United Hebrew Charities,
between October 1, 1884, and March 1, 1899, the number was 402,181.]

And yet, if ever there was material for citizenship, this Jew is such
material. Alone of all our immigrants he comes to us without a past. He
has no country to renounce, no ties to forget. Within him there burns a
passionate longing for a home to call his, a country which will own him,
that waits only for the spark of such another love to spring into flame
which nothing can quench. Waiting for it, all his energies are turned
into his business. He is not always choice in method; he often offends.
But he succeeds. He is the yeast of any slum, if given time. If it will
not let him go, it must rise with him. The charity managers in London
said it, when we looked through their slums some years ago: "The Jews
have renovated Whitechapel." I, for one, am a firm believer in this Jew,
and in his boy. Ignorant they are, but with a thirst for knowledge that
surmounts any barrier. The boy takes all the prizes in the school. His
comrades sneer that he will not fight. Neither will he when there is
nothing to be gained by it. But I believe that, should the time come
when the country needs fighting men, the son of the despised immigrant
Jew will resurrect on American soil, the first that bade him welcome,
the old Maccabee type, and set an example for all the rest of us to
follow.

For fifteen years he has been in the public eye as the vehicle and
promoter of sweating, and much severe condemnation has been visited upon
him with good cause. He had to do something, and he took to the
clothes-maker's trade as that which was most quickly learned. The
increasing crowds, the tenement, and his grinding poverty made the soil,
wherein the evil thing grew rank. Yet the real sweater is the
manufacturer, not the workman. It is just a question of expense to the
manufacturer. By letting out his work on contract, he can save the
expense of running his factory and delay longer making his choice of
styles. The Jew is the victim of the mischief quite as much as he has
helped it on. Back of the manufacturer there is still another
sweater,--the public. Only by its sufferance of the bargain counter and
of sweatshop-made goods has the nuisance existed as long as it has. I
am glad to believe that its time is passing away. The law has driven the
sweatshops out of the tenements, and so deprived them of one of their
chief props: there was no rent at all to pay there. Child labor, which
only four years ago the Reinhard Committee characterized as "one of the
most extensive evils now existing in the city of New York, a constant
and grave menace to the welfare of its people," has been practically
banished from the tailoring trade. What organization among the workers
had failed to effect is apparently going to be accomplished by direct
pressure of an outraged public opinion. Already manufacturers are
returning to their own factories, and making capital of the fact among
their customers. The new law, which greatly extends the factory
inspector's power over sweatshops, is an expression of this enlightened
sentiment. It will put New York a long stride ahead, and quite up to
Massachusetts. The inspector's tag has proved, where the law was
violated, an effective weapon. It suspends all operation of the shop and
removal of the goods until the orders of the inspector have been obeyed.
But the tag which shall finally put an end to sweating, and restore
decent conditions, is not the factory inspector's, I am persuaded, but a
trades union label, which shall deserve public confidence and receive
it. We have much to learn yet, all of us. I think I can see the end of
this trouble, however, when the Italian's triumph in the sweatshop shall
have proved but a barren victory, to his own gain.

In all I have said so far, in these papers, I have not gone beyond the
limits of the old city,--of Manhattan Island, in fact. I want now to
glance for a moment at the several attempts made at colonizing refugee
Jews in this part of the country. Brownsville was one of the earliest.
Its projector was a manufacturer, and its motive profit. The result was
the familiar one,--as nasty a little slum as ever the East Side had to
show. We have it on our hands now in the Greater City,--it came in with
Brooklyn,--and it is not a gain. Down in southern New Jersey several
colonies were started, likewise by speculators, in the persecution of
the early eighties, and these also failed. The soil was sandy and poor,
and, thrown upon their own resources in a strange and unfriendly
neighborhood, with unfamiliar and unremunerative toil, the colonists
grew discouraged and gave up in despair. The colonies were approaching
final collapse, when the managers of the Baron de Hirsch Fund in New
York, who had started and maintained a successful colony at Woodbine, in
the same neighborhood, took them under the arms and inaugurated a new
plan. They persuaded several large clothing contractors in this city to
move their plants down to the villages, where they would be assured of
steady hands, not so easily affected by strikes. For strikes in
sweatshops are often enough the alternative of starvation. Upon the land
there would be no starvation. The managers of the Fund built factories,
bought the old mortgages on the farms, and put up houses for the
families which the contractors brought down with them. This effort at
transplanting the crowd from the Ghetto to the soil has now been going
on for a year. At latest account, eight contractors and two hundred and
fifty families had been moved out. The colonies had taken on a new lease
of life and apparent prosperity. While it is yet too early to pass sober
judgment, there seems to be good ground for hoping that a real way out
has been found that shall restore the Jew, at least in a measure, to the
soil from which he was barred so long. The experiment is of exceeding
interest. The hopes of its projectors that a purely farming community
might be established have not been realized. Perhaps it was too much to
expect. By bringing to the farmers their missing market, and work to the
surplus population, the mixed settlement plan bids fair to prove a step
in the desired direction.

Some 18,500 acres are now held by Jewish colonists in New Jersey. In the
New England States, in the last eight years, 600 abandoned farms have
been occupied and are cultivated by refugees from Russia. As a dairy
farmer and a poultry raiser, the Jew has more of an immediate commercial
grip on the situation and works with more courage. At Woodbine,
sixty-five boys and girls are being trained in an agricultural school
that has won the whole settlement the friendly regard of the
neighborhood. Of its pupils, eleven came out of tailor shops, and ten
had been office boys, messengers, or newsboys. To these, and to the
trade schools now successfully operated by the de Hirsch Fund, we are
to look in the next generation for the answer to the old taunt that the
Jew is a trader, and not fit to be either farmer or craftsman, and for
the solution of the problem which he now presents in the slum.

I have spoken at length of the Jew and the Italian, because they are our
present problem. Yesterday it was the Irishman and the Bohemian.
To-morrow it may be the Greek, who already undersells the Italian from
his pushcart in the Fourth Ward, and the Syrian, who can give Greek,
Italian, and Jew points at a trade. From Dalmatia a new immigration has
begun to come, and there are signs of its working further east in the
Balkan states, where there is no telling what is in store for us. How to
absorb them all safely is the question. Doubtless the Irishman, having
absorbed us politically, would be glad to free us from all concern on
that score by doing a like favor for them. But we should not get the
best of the slum that way; it would get the best of us, instead. Would I
shut out the newcomers? Sometimes, looking at it from the point of view
of the Barge Office and the sweatshop, I think I would. Then there
comes up the recollection of a picture of the city of Prague that hangs
in a Bohemian friend's parlor, here in New York. I stood looking at it
one day, and noticed in the foreground cannon that pointed in over the
city. I spoke of it, unthinking, and said to my host that they should be
trained, if against an enemy, the other way. The man's eye flashed fire.
"Ha!" he cried, "here, yes!" When I think of that, I do not want to shut
the door.

Again, there occurs to me an experience the police had last summer in
Mulberry Street. They were looking for a murderer, and came upon a nest
of Italian thugs who lived by blackmailing their countrymen. They were
curious about them, and sent their names to Naples with a request for
information. There came back such a record as none of the detectives had
ever seen or heard of before. All of them were notorious criminals, who
had been charged with every conceivable crime, from burglary to
kidnapping and "maiming," and some not to be conceived of by the
American mind. Five of them together had been sixty-three times in
jail, and one no less than twenty-one times. Yet, though they were all
"under special surveillance," they had come here without let or
hindrance within a year. When I recall that, I want to shut the door
quick. I sent the exhibit to Washington at the time. But then, again,
when I think of Mrs. Michelangelo in her poor mourning for one child run
over and killed, wiping her tears away and going bravely to work to keep
the home together for the other five until the oldest shall be old
enough to take her father's place; and when, as now, there strays into
my hand the letter from my good friend, the "woman doctor" in the slum,
when her father had died, in which she wrote: "The little scamps of the
street have been positively pathetic; they have made such shy, boyish
attempts at friendliness. One little chap offered to let me hold his top
while it was spinning, in token of affection,"--when I read that, I have
not the heart to shut anybody out.

Except, of course, the unfit, the criminal and the pauper, cast off by
their own, and the man brought over here merely to put money into the
pockets of the steamship agent, the padrone, and the mine owner. We
have laws to bar these out. Suppose we begin by being honest with
ourselves and the immigrant, and enforcing our own laws. In spite of a
healthy effort at the port of New York,--I can only speak for
that,--under the present administration, that has not yet been done.
When the door has been shut and locked against the man who left his
country for his country's good, whether by its "assistance" or not, and
when trafficking in the immigrant for private profit has been stopped,
then, perhaps, we shall be better able to decide what degree of
ignorance in him constitutes unfitness for citizenship and cause for
shutting him out. Perchance then, also, we shall hear less of the cant
about his being a peril to the republic. Doubtless ignorance is a peril,
but the selfishness that trades upon ignorance is a much greater. He
came to us without a country, ready to adopt such a standard of
patriotism as he found, at its face value, and we gave him the rear
tenement and slum politics. If he accepted the standard, whose fault was
it? His being in such a hurry to vote that he could not wait till the
law made him a citizen was no worse, to my mind, than the treachery of
the "upper class" native, who refuses to go to the polls for fear he may
rub up against him there. This last let us settle with first, and see
what remains of our problem. We can approach it honestly, then, at all
events.

When the country was in the throes of the silver campaign, the
newspapers told the story of an old laborer who went to the sub-treasury
and demanded to see the "boss." He undid the strings of an old leathern
purse with fumbling fingers, and counted out more than two hundred
dollars in gold eagles, the hoard of a lifetime of toil and self-denial.
They were for the government, he said. He had not the head to understand
all the talk that was going, but he gathered from what he heard that the
government was in trouble, and that somehow it was about not having gold
enough. So he had brought what he had. He owed it all to the country,
and now that she needed it he had come to give it back. The man was an
Irishman. Very likely he was enrolled in Tammany and voted her ticket. I
remember a tenement at the bottom of a back alley over on the East
Side, where I once went visiting with the pastor of a mission chapel. Up
in the attic there was a family of father and daughter in two rooms that
had been made out of one by dividing off the deep dormer window. It was
midwinter, and they had no fire. He was a peddler, but the snow had
stalled his pushcart and robbed them of their only other source of
income, a lodger who hired cot room in the attic for a few cents a
night. The daughter was not able to work. But she said, cheerfully, that
they were "getting along." When it came out that she had not tasted
solid food for many days, was starving, in fact,--indeed, she died
within a year, of the slow starvation of the tenements that parades in
the mortality returns under a variety of scientific names which all mean
the same thing,--she met her pastor's gentle chiding with the excuse,
"Oh, your church has many poorer than I. I don't want to take your
money."

These were Germans, ordinarily held to be close-fisted; but I found that
in their dire distress they had taken in a poor old man who was past
working, and had kept him all winter, sharing with him what they had.
He was none of theirs; they hardly even knew him, as it appeared. It
was enough that he was "poorer than they," and lonely and hungry and
cold.

It was over here that the children of Dr. Elsing's Sunday school gave
out of the depth of their poverty fifty-four dollars in pennies to be
hung on the Christmas tree as their offering to the persecuted
Armenians. One of their teachers told me of a Bohemian family that let
the holiday dinner she brought them stand and wait, while they sent out
to bid to the feast four little ragamuffins of the neighborhood who else
would have gone hungry. I remember well a teacher in one of the
Children's Aid Society's schools, herself a tenement child, who, with
breaking heart, but brave face, played and sang the children's Christmas
carols with them rather than spoil their pleasure, while her only sister
lay dying at home.

I might keep on and fill many pages with instances of that kind, which
simply go to prove that our poor human nature is at least as robust on
Avenue A as up on Fifth Avenue, if it has half a chance, and often
enough to restore one's faith in it, with no chance at all; and I might
set over against it the product of sordid and mean environment which one
has never far to seek. Good and evil go together in the tenements as in
the fine houses, and the evil sticks out sometimes merely because it
lies nearer the surface. The point is that the good does outweigh the
bad, and that the virtues that turn the balance are after all those that
make for good citizenship anywhere, while the faults are oftenest the
accidents of ignorance and lack of training, which it is the business
of society to correct. I recall my discouragement when I looked
over the examination papers of a batch of candidates for police
appointment,--young men largely the product of our public schools in
this city and elsewhere,--and read in them that five of the original New
England States were "England, Ireland, Scotland, Belfast, and Cork;"
that the Fire Department ruled New York in the absence of the Mayor,--I
have sometimes wished it did, and that he would stay away awhile; and
that Lincoln was murdered by Ballington Booth. But we shall agree, no
doubt, that the indictment of these papers was not of the men who wrote
them, but of the school that stuffed its pupils with useless trash, and
did not teach them to think. Neither have I forgotten that it was one of
these very men who, having failed, and afterward got a job as a bridge
policeman, on his first pay day went straight from his post, half frozen
as he was, to the settlement worker who had befriended him and his sick
father, and gave him five dollars for "some one who was poorer than
they." Poorer than they! What worker among the poor has not heard it? It
is the charity of the tenement that covers a multitude of sins. There
were thirteen in this policeman's family, and his wages were the biggest
item of income in the house.

Jealousy, envy, and meanness wear no fine clothes and masquerade under
no smooth speeches in the slums. Often enough it is the very nakedness
of the virtues that makes us stumble in our judgment. I have in mind the
"difficult case" that confronted some philanthropic friends of mine in a
rear tenement on Twelfth Street, in the person of an aged widow, quite
seventy I should think, who worked uncomplainingly for a sweater all day
and far into the night, pinching and saving and stinting herself, with
black bread and chicory coffee as her only fare, in order that she might
carry her pitiful earnings to her big, lazy lout of a son in Brooklyn.
He never worked. My friends' difficulty was a very real one, for
absolutely every attempt to relieve the widow was wrecked upon her
mother heart. It all went over the river. Yet one would not have had her
different.

Sometimes it is only the unfamiliar setting that shocks. When an East
Side midnight burglar, discovered and pursued, killed a tenant who
blocked his way of escape, a few weeks ago, his "girl" gave him up to
the police. But it was not because he had taken human life. "He was good
to me," she explained to the captain whom she told where to find him,
"but since he robbed the church I had no use for him." He had stolen, it
seems, the communion service in a Staten Island church. The thoughtless
laughed. But in her ignorant way she was only trying to apply the
standards of morality as they had been taught her. Stunted, bemuddled,
as they were, I think I should prefer to take my chances with her rather
than with the woman of wealth and luxury who, some years ago, gave a
Christmas party to her lap-dog, as on the whole the sounder of the two,
and by far the more hopeful.

[Illustration: BONE ALLEY]

All of which is merely saying that the country is all right, and the
people are to be trusted with the old faith in spite of the slum. And it
is true, if we remember to put it that way,--in spite of the slum. There
is nothing in the slum to warrant that faith save human nature as yet
uncorrupted. How long it is to remain so is altogether a question of the
sacrifices we are willing to make in our fight with the slum. As yet, we
are told by the officials having to do with the enforcement of the
health ordinances, which come closer to the life of the individual than
any other kind, that the poor in the tenements are "more amenable to the
law than the better class." It is of the first importance, then, that we
should have laws deserving of their respect, and that these laws should
be enforced, lest they conclude that the whole thing is a sham. Respect
for law is a very powerful bar against the slum. But what, for instance,
must the poor Jew understand, who is permitted to buy a live hen at the
market, yet neither to kill nor keep it in his tenement, and who on his
feast day finds a whole squad of policemen detailed to follow him around
and see that he does not do any of the things with his fowl for which he
must have bought it? Or the day laborer, who drinks his beer in a
"Raines law hotel," where brick sandwiches, consisting of two pieces of
bread with a brick between, are set out on the counter, in derision of
the state law which forbids the serving of drinks without "meals"? (The
Stanton Street saloon keeper who did that was solemnly acquitted by a
jury.) Or the boy, who may buy fireworks on the Fourth of July, but not
set them off? These are only ridiculous instances of an abuse that
pervades our community life to an extent that constitutes one of the
gravest perils. Insincerity of that kind is not lost on our fellow
citizen by adoption, who is only anxious to fall in with the ways of the
country; and especially is it not lost on his boy.

We shall see how it affects him. He is the one for whom we are waging
the battle with the slum. He is the to-morrow that sits to-day drinking
in the lesson of the prosperity of the big boss who declared with pride
upon the witness stand that he rules New York, that judges pay him
tribute, and that only when _he_ says so a thing "goes;" and that it is
all for what he can get out of it, "just the same as everybody else." He
sees corporations to-day pay blackmail and rob the people in return,
quite according to the schedule of Hester Street. Only there it is the
police who charge the peddler twenty cents, while here it is the
politicians taking toll of the franchises, twenty per cent. Wall Street
is not ordinarily reckoned in the slum, because of certain physical
advantages; but, upon the evidence of the day, I think we shall have to
conclude that the advantage ends there. The boy who is learning such
lessons,--how is it with him?

The president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
says that children's crime is increasing, and he ought to know. The
managers of the Children's Aid Society, after forty-six years of
wrestling with the slum for the boy, in which they have lately seemed to
get the upper hand, say in this year's report that on the East Side
children are growing up in certain districts "entirely neglected," and
that the number of such children "increases beyond the power of
philanthropic and religious bodies to cope properly with their needs."
In the Tompkins Square Lodging House the evening classes are thinning
out, and the keeper wails: "Those with whom we have dealt of late have
not been inclined to accept this privilege; how to make night school
attractive to shiftless, indifferent street boys is a difficult problem
to solve."

Perhaps it is only that he has lost the key. Across the square, the
Boys' Club of St. Mark's Place, that began with a handful, counts five
thousand members to-day, and is seeking a place to build a house of its
own. The school census man announces that no boy in that old stronghold
of the "bread or blood" brigade need henceforth loiter in the street
because there is not room in the public school, and the brigade has
disbanded for want of recruits. The shop is being shut against the boy,
and the bars let down at the playground. But from Tompkins Square,
nevertheless, came Jacob Beresheim, whose story I shall tell you
presently.



V

THE GENESIS OF THE GANG


Jacob Beresheim was fifteen when he was charged with murder. It is now
more than three years ago, but the touch of his hand is cold upon mine,
with mortal fear, as I write. Every few minutes, during our long talk on
the night of his arrest and confession, he would spring to his feet,
and, clutching my arm as a drowning man catches at a rope, demand with
shaking voice, "Will they give me the chair?" The assurance that boys
were not executed quieted him only for the moment. Then the dread and
the horror were upon him again.

Of his crime the less said the better. It was the climax of a career of
depravity that differed from other such chiefly in the opportunities
afforded by an environment which led up to and helped shape it. My
business is with that environment. The man is dead, the boy in jail. But
unless I am to be my brother's jail keeper, merely, the iron bars do
not square the account of Jacob with society. Society exists for the
purpose of securing justice to its members, appearances to the contrary
notwithstanding. When it fails in this, the item is carried on the
ledger with interest and compound interest toward a day of reckoning
that comes surely with the paymaster. We have heard the chink of his
coin on the counter, these days, in the unblushing revelations before
the Mazet Committee of degraded citizenship, of the murder of the civic
conscience, and in the applause that hailed them. And we have begun to
understand that these are the interest on Jacob's account, older, much
older than himself. He is just an item carried on the ledger. But with
that knowledge the account is at last in a way of getting squared. Let
us see how it stands.

We shall take Jacob as a type of the street boy on the East Side, where
he belonged. What does not apply to him in the review applies to his
class. But there was very little of it indeed that he missed or that
missed him.

He was born in a tenement in that section where the Tenement House
Committee found 324,000 persons living out of sight and reach of a green
spot of any kind, and where sometimes the buildings, front, middle, and
rear, took up ninety-three per cent. of all the space on the block. Such
a home as he had was there, and of the things that belonged to it he was
the heir. The sunlight was not among them. It "never entered" there.
Darkness and discouragement did, and dirt. Later on, when he took to the
dirt as his natural weapon in his battles with society, it was said of
him that it was the only friend that stuck to him, and it was true. Very
early the tenement gave him up to the street. The thing he took with him
as the one legacy of home was the instinct for the crowd, which meant
that the tenement had wrought its worst mischief upon him: it had
smothered that in him around which character is built. The more readily
did he fall in with the street and its ways. Character implies depth, a
soil, and growth. The street is all surface: nothing grows there; it
hides only a sewer.

It taught him gambling as its first lesson, and stealing as the next.
The two are never far apart. From shooting craps behind the "cop's"
back to filching from the grocer's stock or plundering a defenseless
peddler is only a step. There is in both the spice of law-breaking that
appeals to the shallow ambition of the street as heroic. Occasionally
the raids have a comic tinge. A German grocer wandered into police
headquarters the other day, with an appeal for protection against the
boys.

"Vat means dot 'cheese it'?" he asked, rubbing his bald head in helpless
bewilderment. "Efery dime dey says 'cheese it,' somedings vas gone."

To the lawlessness of the street the home opposes no obstacle, as we
have seen. Until very recently the school did not. It might have more to
offer even now. There are, at least, schools where there were none then,
and so much is gained; also, they are getting better, but too many of
them, in my unprofessional judgment, need yet to be made over, until
they are fit to turn out whole, sound boys, instead of queer manikins
stuffed with information for which they have no use, and which is none
of their business anyhow. It seemed to me sometimes, when watching the
process of cramming the school course with the sum of human knowledge
and conceit, as if it all meant that we distrusted nature's way of
growing a man from a boy, and had set out to show her a shorter cut. A
common result was the kind of mental befogment that had Abraham Lincoln
murdered by Ballington Booth, and a superficiality, a hopeless slurring
of tasks, that hitched perfectly with the spirit of the street, and left
nothing to be explained in the verdict of the reformatory, "No moral
sense." There was no moral sense to be got out of the thing, for there
was little sense of any kind in it. The boy was not given a chance to be
honest with himself by thinking a thing through; he came naturally to
accept as his mental horizon the headlines in his penny paper and the
literature of the Dare-Devil-Dan-the-Death-Dealing-Monster-of-Dakota
order, which comprise the ordinary æsthetic equipment of the slum. The
mystery of his further development into the tough need not perplex
anybody.

But Jacob Beresheim had not even the benefit of such schooling as there
was to be had. He did not go to school, and nobody cared. There was
indeed a law directing that every child should go, and a corps of truant
officers to catch him if he did not; but the law had been a dead letter
for a quarter of a century. There was no census to tell what children
ought to be in school, and no place but a jail to put those in who
shirked. Jacob was allowed to drift. From the time he was twelve till he
was fifteen, he told me, he might have gone to school three weeks,--no
more.

Church and Sunday school missed him. I was going to say that they passed
by on the other side, remembering the migration of the churches uptown,
as the wealthy moved out of, and the poor into, the region south of
Fourteenth Street. But that would hardly be fair. They moved after their
congregations; but they left nothing behind. In the twenty years that
followed the war, while enough to people a large city moved in downtown,
the number of churches there was reduced from 141 to 127. Fourteen
Protestant churches moved out. Only two Roman Catholic churches and a
synagogue moved in. I am not aware that there has been any large
increase of churches in the district since, but we have seen that the
crowding has not slackened pace. Jacob had no trouble in escaping the
Sunday school as he had escaped the public school. His tribe will have
none until the responsibility incurred in the severance of church and
state sits less lightly on a Christian community, and the church, from a
mob, shall have become an army, with von Moltke's plan of campaign,
"March apart, fight together." The Christian church is not alone in its
failure. The Jew's boy is breaking away from safe moorings rather faster
than his brother of the new dispensation. The church looks on, but it
has no cause for congratulation. He is getting nothing in place of that
which he lost, and the result is bad. There is no occasion for profound
theories about it. The facts are plain enough. The new freedom has
something to do with it, but neglect to look after the young has quite
as much. Apart from its religious aspect, seen from the angle of the
community's interest wholly, the matter is of the gravest import.

What the boy's play has to do with building character in him Froebel
has told us. Through it, he showed us, the child "first perceives moral
relations," and he made that the basis of the kindergarten and all
common-sense education. That prop was knocked out. New York never had a
children's playground till within the last year. Truly it seemed, as
Abram S. Hewitt said, as if in the early plan of our city the children
had not been thought of at all. Such moral relations as Jacob was able
to make out ran parallel with the gutter always, and counter to law and
order as represented by the policeman and the landlord. The landlord had
his windows to mind, and the policeman his lamps and the city ordinances
which prohibit even kite-flying below Fourteenth Street where the crowds
are. The ball had no chance at all. It is not two years since a boy was
shot down by a policeman for the heinous offense of playing football in
the street on Thanksgiving Day. But a boy who cannot kick a ball around
has no chance of growing up a decent and orderly citizen. He must have
his childhood, so that he may be fitted to give to the community his
manhood. The average boy is just like a little steam engine with steam
always up. The play is his safety valve. With the landlord in the yard
and the policeman on the street sitting on his safety valve and holding
it down, he is bound to explode. When he does, when he throws mud and
stones and shows us the side of him which the gutter developed, we are
shocked and marvel much what our boys are coming to, as if we had any
right to expect better treatment of them. I doubt if Jacob, in the whole
course of his wizened little life, had ever a hand in an honest game
that was not haunted by the dread of the avenging policeman. That he was
not "doing anything" was no defense. The mere claim was proof that he
was up to mischief of some sort. Besides, the policeman was usually
right. Play in such a setting becomes a direct incentive to mischief in
a healthy boy. Jacob was a healthy enough little animal.

Such fun as he had he got out of law-breaking in a small way. In this he
was merely following the ruling fashion. Laws were apparently made for
no other purpose that he could see. Such a view as he enjoyed of their
makers and executors at election seasons inspired him with seasonable
enthusiasm, but hardly with awe. A slogan, now, like that raised by
Tammany's late candidate for district attorney,--"To hell with
reform!"--was something he could grasp. Of what reform meant he had only
the vaguest notion, but the thing had the right ring to it. Roosevelt
preaching enforcement of law was from the first a "lobster" to him, not
to be taken seriously. It is not among the least of the merits of the
man that by his sturdy personality, as well as by his unyielding
persistence, he won the boy over to the passive admission that there
might be something in it. It had not been his experience.

There was the law which sternly commanded him to go to school, and which
he laughed at every day. Then there was the law to prevent child labor.
It cost twenty-five cents for a false age certificate to break that, and
Jacob, if he thought of it at all, probably thought of perjury as rather
an expensive thing. A quarter was a good deal to pay for the right to
lock a child up in a factory, when he ought to have been at play. The
excise law was everybody's game. The sign that hung in every saloon,
saying that nothing was sold there to minors, never yet barred out his
"growler" when he had the price. There was another such sign in the
tobacco shop, forbidding the sale of cigarettes to boys of his age.
Jacob calculated that when he had the money he smoked as many as fifteen
in a day, and he laughed when he told me. He laughed, too, when he
remembered how the boys of the East Side took to carrying balls of cord
in their pockets, on the wave of the Lexow reform, on purpose to measure
the distance from the school door to the nearest saloon. They had been
told that it should be two hundred feet, according to law. There were
schools that had as many as a dozen within the tabooed limits. It was in
the papers how, when the highest courts said that the law was good, the
saloon keepers attacked the schools as a nuisance and detrimental to
property. In a general way Jacob sided with the saloon keeper; not
because he had any opinion about it, but because it seemed natural. Such
opinions as he ordinarily had he got from that quarter.

When, later on, he came to be tried, his counsel said to me, "He is an
amazing liar." No, hardly amazing. It would have been amazing if he had
been anything else. Lying and mockery were all around him, and he
adjusted himself to the things that were. He lied in self-defense.

Jacob's story ends here, as far as he is personally concerned. The story
of the gang begins. So trained for the responsibility of citizenship,
robbed of home and of childhood, with every prop knocked from under him,
all the elements that make for strength and character trodden out in the
making of the boy, all the high ambition of youth caricatured by the
slum and become base passions,--so equipped he comes to the business of
life. As a "kid" he hunted with the pack in the street. As a young man
he trains with the gang, because it furnishes the means of gratifying
his inordinate vanity, that is the slum's counterfeit of self-esteem.
Upon the Jacobs of other days there was a last hold,--the father's
authority. Changed conditions have loosened that also. There is a time
in every young man's life when he knows more than his father. It is
like the measles or the mumps, and he gets over it, with a little
judicious firmness in the hand that guides. It is the misfortune of the
slum boy of to-day that it is really so, and that he knows it. His
father is an Italian or a Jew, and cannot even speak the language to
which the boy is born. He has to depend on him in much, in the new order
of things. The old man is "slow," he is "Dutch." He maybe an Irishman
with some advantages; he is still a "foreigner." He loses his grip on
the boy. Ethical standards of which he has no conception clash. Watch
the meeting of two currents in river or bay, and see the line of drift
that tells of the struggle. So in the city's life strive the currents of
the old and the new, and in the churning the boy goes adrift. The last
hold upon him is gone. That is why the gang appears in the second
generation, the first born upon the soil,--a fighting gang if the
Irishman is there with his ready fist, a thievish gang if it is the East
Side Jew,--and disappears in the third. The second boy's father is not
"slow." He has had experience. He was clubbed into decency in his own
day, and the night stick wore off the glamour of the thing. His grip on
the boy is good, and it holds.

It depends now upon chance what is to become of the lad. But the slum
has stacked the cards against him. There arises in the lawless crowd a
leader, who rules with his stronger fists or his readier wit. Around him
the gang crystallizes, and what he is it becomes. He may be a thief,
like David Meyer, a report of whose doings I have before me. He was just
a bully, and, being the biggest in his gang, made the others steal for
him and surrender the "swag," or take a licking. But that was unusual.
Ordinarily the risk and the "swag" are distributed on more democratic
principles. Or he may be of the temper of Mike of Poverty Gap, who was
hanged for murder at nineteen. While he sat in his cell at police
headquarters, he told with grim humor of the raids of his gang on
Saturday nights when they stocked up at "the club." They used to "hook"
a butcher's cart or other light wagon, wherever found, and drive like
mad up and down the avenue, stopping at saloon or grocery to throw in
what they wanted. His job was to sit at the tail of the cart with a
six-shooter and pop at any chance pursuer. He chuckled at the
recollection of how men fell over one another to get out of his way. "It
was great to see them run," he said. Mike was a tough, but with a better
chance he might have been a hero. The thought came to him, too, when it
was all over and the end in sight. He put it all in one sober,
retrospective sigh, that had in it no craven shirking of the
responsibility that was properly his: "I never had no bringing up."

There was a meeting some time after his death to boom a scheme for
"getting the boys off the street," and I happened to speak of Mike's
case. In the audience was a gentleman of means and position, and his
daughter, who manifested great interest and joined heartily in the
proposed movement. A week later, I was thunderstruck at reading of the
arrest of my sympathetic friend's son for train-wrecking up the State.
The fellow was of the same age as Mike. It appeared that he was supposed
to be attending school, but had been reading dime novels instead, until
he arrived at the point where he "had to kill some one before the end
of the month." To that end he organized a gang of admiring but less
resourceful comrades. After all, the plane of fellowship of Poverty Gap
and Madison Avenue lies nearer than we often suppose. I set the incident
down in justice to the memory of my friend Mike. If this one went astray
with so much to pull him the right way, and but the single strand
broken, what then of the other?

Mike's was the day of Irish heroics. Since their scene was shifted from
the East Side there has come over there an epidemic of child crime of
meaner sort, but following the same principle of gang organization. It
is difficult to ascertain the exact extent of it, because of the
well-meant but, I am inclined to think, mistaken effort on the part of
the children's societies to suppress the record of it for the sake of
the boy. Enough testimony comes from the police and the courts, however,
to make it clear that thieving is largely on the increase among the East
Side boys. And it is amazing at what an early age it begins. When, in
the fight for a truant school, I had occasion to gather statistics upon
this subject, to meet the sneer of the educational authorities that the
"crimes" of street boys compassed at worst the theft of a top or a
marble. I found among 278 prisoners, of whom I had kept the run for ten
months, two boys, of four and eight years respectively, arrested for
breaking into a grocery, not to get candy or prunes, but to rob the
till. The little one was useful to "crawl through a small hole." There
were "burglars" of six and seven years, and five in a bunch, the whole
gang apparently, at the age of eight. "Wild" boys began to appear in
court at that age. At eleven, I had seven thieves, two of whom had a
record on the police blotter, and an "habitual liar;" at twelve, I had
four burglars, three ordinary thieves, two arrested for drunkenness,
three for assault, and three incendiaries; at thirteen, five burglars,
one with a "record," as many thieves, one "drunk," five charged with
assault and one with forgery; at fourteen, eleven thieves and
house-breakers, six highway robbers,--the gang on its unlucky day,
perhaps,--and ten arrested for fighting, not counting one who had
assaulted a policeman, in a state of drunken frenzy. One of the gangs
made a specialty of stealing baby carriages, when left unattended in
front of stores. They "drapped the kids in the hallway" and "sneaked"
the carriages. And so on. The recital was not a pleasant one, but it was
effective. We got our truant school, and one way that led to the jail
was blocked.

It may be that the leader is neither thief nor thug, but ambitious. In
that case the gang is headed for politics by the shortest route.
Likewise, sometimes, when he is both. In either case it carries the
situation by assault. When the gang wants a thing, the easiest way seems
to it always to take it. There was an explosion in a Fifth Street
tenement, one night last January, that threw twenty families into a wild
panic, and injured two of the tenants badly. There was much mystery
about it, until it came out that the housekeeper had had a "run in" with
the gang in the block. It wanted club-room in the house, and she would
not let it in. Beaten, it avenged itself in characteristic fashion by
leaving a package of gunpowder on the stairs, where she would be sure to
find it when she went the rounds with her candle to close up. That was a
gang of that kind, headed straight for Albany. And what is more, it
will get there, unless things change greatly. The gunpowder was just a
"bluff" to frighten the housekeeper, an installment of the kind of
politics it meant to play when it got its chance. There was "nothing
against this gang" except a probable row with the saloon keeper, since
it applied elsewhere for house-room. Not every gang has a police record
of theft and "slugging" beyond the early encounters of the street. "Our
honored leader" is not always the captain of a band of cutthroats. He is
the honorary president of the "social club" that bears his name, and he
counts for something in the ward. But the ethical standards do not
differ. "Do others, or they will do you," felicitously adapted from Holy
Writ for the use of the slum, and the classic war-cry, "To the victors
the spoils," made over locally to read, "I am not in politics for my
health," still interpret the creed of the political as of the "slugging"
gang. They drew their inspiration from the same source. Of what gang
politics means every large city in our country has had its experience.
New York is no exception. History on the subject is being made yet, in
the sight of us all.

Our business with the gang, however, is in the making of it. Take now
the showing of the reformatory,[4] to which I have before made
reference, and see what light it throws upon the matter: 71 per cent. of
prisoners with no moral sense, or next to none, yet more than that
proportion possessed of "natural mental capacity," which is to say that
they had the means of absorbing it from their environment, if there had
been any to absorb. Bad homes sent half of all prisoners there; bad
company 92 per cent. The reformatory repeats the prison chaplain's
verdict, "weakness, not wickedness," in its own way: "Malevolence does
not characterize the criminal, but aversion to continuous labor." If
"the street" had been written across it in capital letters, it could not
have been made plainer. Twelve per cent. only of the prisoners came
from good homes, and one in a hundred had kept good company; evidently
he was not of the mentally capable. They will tell you at the prison
that, under its discipline, 83 per cent. are set upon their feet and
make a fresh start. With due allowance for a friendly critic, there is
still room for the three fourths labeled normal. The Children's Aid
Society will give you even better news of the boys rescued from the slum
before it had branded them for its own. Scarce five per cent. are lost,
though they leave such a black mark that they make trouble for all the
good boys that are sent out from New York. Better than these was the
kindergarten record in San Francisco. New York has no monopoly of the
slum. Of nine thousand children from the slummiest quarters of that city
who had gone through the Golden Gate Association's kindergartens, just
one was said to have got into jail. The merchants who looked coldly on
the experiment before brought their gold to pay for keeping it up. They
were hard-headed men of business, and the demonstration that schools
were better than jails any day appealed to them as eminently sane and
practical.

[Footnote 4: Year-Book of Elmira State Reformatory, 1897. The statistics
deal with 8319 prisoners received there in twenty-three years. The
social stratum whence they came is sufficiently indicated by the
statement that 18.3 per cent. were illiterates, and 43.3 per cent. were
able to read and write with difficulty; 35.2 per cent. had an ordinary
common school education; 3.2 per cent. came out of high schools or
colleges.]

And well it might. The gang is a distemper of the slum that writes upon
the generation it plagues the recipe for its own corrective. It is not
the night stick, though in the acute stage that is not to be dispensed
with. Neither is it the jail. To put the gang behind iron bars affords
passing relief, but it is like treating a symptom without getting at the
root of the disease. Prophylactic treatment is clearly indicated. The
boy who flings mud and stones is entering his protest in his own way
against the purblind policy that gave him jails for schools and the
gutter for a playground, that gave him dummies for laws and the tenement
for a home. He is demanding his rights, of which he has been
cheated,--the right to his childhood, the right to know the true dignity
of labor that makes a self-respecting manhood. The gang, rightly
understood, is our ally, not our enemy. Like any ailment of the body, it
is a friend come to tell us of something that has gone amiss. The thing
for us to do is to find out what it is, and set it right.

That is the story of the gang. That we have read and grasped its lesson
at last, an item in my morning paper, which I read at the breakfast
table to-day, bears witness. It tells that the League for Political
Education has set about providing a playground for the children up on
the West Side, near the model tenements which I described. Just so! With
a decent home and a chance for the boy to grow into a healthy man, his
political education can proceed without much further hindrance. Now let
the League for Political Education trade off the policeman's club for a
boys' club, and it may consider its course fairly organized.

I spoke of the instinct for the crowd in the tenement house boy as
evidence that the slum had got its grip on him. And it is true of him.
The experience that the helpless poor will not leave their slum when a
chance of better things is offered is wearily familiar to most of us. I
recall the indignant amazement of my good friend, the president of the
Baron de Hirsch Fund, when, of a hundred of the neediest families chosen
to be the pioneers in the experiment of transplanting the crowds of the
Ghetto to the country, where homes and work were waiting for them, only
seven wanted to go. They preferred the excitement of the street. One
has to have resources to face the loneliness of the woods and the
fields. We have seen what resources the slum has at its command. In the
boy it laid hold of the instinct for organization, the desire to fall in
and march in line that belongs to all boys, and is not here, as abroad,
cloyed with military service in the young years,--and anyhow is stronger
in the American boy than in his European brother,--and perverted it to
its own use. That is the simple secret of the success of the club, the
brigade, in winning back the boy. It is fighting the street with its own
weapon. The gang is the club run wild.

How readily it owns the kinship was never better shown than by the
experience of the College Settlement girls, when they first went to make
friends in the East Side tenements. I have told it before, but it will
bear telling again, for it holds the key to the whole business. They
gathered in the drift, all the little embryo gangs that were tuning up
in the district, and made them into clubs,--Young Heroes, Knights of the
Round Table, and such like; all except one, the oldest, that had begun
to make a name for itself with the police. That one held aloof,
observing coldly what went on, to make sure it was "straight." They let
it be, keeping the while an anxious eye upon it; until one day there
came a delegation with the proposition, "If you will let us in, we will
change and have your kind of a gang." Needless to say it was let in. And
within a year, when, through a false rumor that the concern was moving
away, there was a run on the Settlement's penny provident bank, the
converted gang proved itself its stanchest friend by doing actually what
John Halifax did, in Miss Mulock's story: it brought all the pennies it
could raise in the neighborhood by hook or by crook and deposited them
as fast as the regular patrons--the gang had not yet risen to the
dignity of a bank account--drew them out, until the run ceased.

The cry "Get the boys off the street" that has been raised in our
cities, as the real gravity of the situation has been made clear, has
led to the adoption of curfew ordinances in many places. Any attempt to
fit such a scheme to metropolitan life would probably result simply in
adding one more dead-letter law, more dangerous than all the rest, to
those we have. Besides, the curfew rings at nine o'clock. The dangerous
hours, when the gang is made, are from seven to nine, between supper and
bedtime. This is the gap the club fills out. The boys take to the street
because the home has nothing to keep them there. To lock them up in the
house would only make them hate it more. The club follows the line of
least resistance. It has only to keep also on the line of common sense.
It must be a real club, not a reformatory. Its proper function is to
head off the jail. The gang must not run it. But rather that than have
it help train up a band of wretched young cads. The signs are not hard
to make out. When a boy has had his head swelled by his importance as a
member of the Junior Street-Cleaning Band to the point of reproving his
mother for throwing a banana peel in the street, the thing to be done is
to take him out and spank him, if it _is_ reverting to "the savagery" of
the street. Better a savage than a cad. The boys have the making of both
in them. Their vanity furnishes abundant material for the cad, but only
when unduly pampered. Left to itself, the gang can be trusted not to
develop that kink.

It comes down in the end to the personal influence that is always most
potent in dealing with these problems. We had a gang start up once when
my boys were of that age, out in the village on Long Island where we
lived. It had its headquarters in our barn, where it planned divers
raids that aimed at killing the cat and other like outrages; the central
fact being that the boys had an air rifle, with which it was necessary
to murder something. My wife discovered the conspiracy, and, with
woman's wit, defeated it by joining the gang. She "gave in wood" to the
election bonfires, and pulled the safety valve upon all the other plots
by entering into the true spirit of them,--which was adventure rather
than mischief,--and so keeping them within safe lines. She was elected
an honorary member, and became the counselor of the gang in all their
little scrapes. I can yet see her dear brow wrinkled in the study of
some knotty gang problem, which we discussed when the boys had been long
asleep. They did not dream of it, and the village never knew what small
tragedies it escaped, nor who it was that so skillfully averted them.

It is always the women who do those things. They are the law and the
gospel to the boy, both in one. It is the mother heart, I suppose, and
there is nothing better in all the world. I am reminded of the
conversion of "the Kid" by one who was in a very real sense the mother
of a social settlement uptown, in the latitude of Battle Row. The Kid
was driftwood. He had been cast off by a drunken father and mother, and
was living on what he could scrape out of ash barrels, and an occasional
dime for kindling-wood which he sold from a wheel-barrow, when the gang
found and adopted him. My friend adopted the gang in her turn, and
civilized it by slow stages. Easter Sunday came, when she was to redeem
her promise to take the boys to witness the services in a neighboring
church, where the liturgy was especially impressive. It found the larger
part of the gang at her door,--a minority, it was announced, were out
stealing potatoes, hence were excusable,--in a state of high
indignation.

"The Kid's been cussin' awful," explained the leader. The Kid showed in
the turbulent distance, red-eyed and raging.

"But why?" asked my friend, in amazement.

"'Cause he can't go to church!"

It appeared that the gang had shut him out, with a sense of what was due
to the occasion, because of his rags. Restored to grace, and choking
down reminiscent sobs, the Kid sat through the Easter service,
surrounded by the twenty-seven "proper" members of the gang.
Civilization had achieved a victory, and no doubt my friend remembered
it in her prayers with thanksgiving. The manner was of less account.
Battle Row has its own ways, even in its acceptance of means of grace.

I walked home from the office to-night. The street wore its normal
aspect of mingled dullness and the kind of expectancy that is always
waiting to turn any excitement, from a fallen horse to a fire, to
instant account. The early June heat had driven the multitudes from the
tenements into the street for a breath of air. The boys of the block
were holding a meeting at the hydrant. In some way they had turned the
water on, and were splashing in it with bare feet, reveling in the sense
that they were doing something that "went against" their enemy, the
policeman. Upon the quiet of the evening broke a bugle note and the
tramp of many feet keeping time. A military band came around the corner,
stepping briskly to the tune of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Their
white duck trousers glimmered in the twilight, as the hundred legs moved
as one. Stoops and hydrant were deserted with a rush. The gang fell in
with joyous shouts. The young fellow linked arms with his sweetheart and
fell in too. The tired mother hurried with the baby carriage to catch
up. The butcher came, hot and wiping his hands on his apron, to the door
to see them pass.

"Yes," said my companion, guessing my thoughts,--we had been speaking of
the boys,--"but look at the other side. There is the military spirit. Do
you not fear danger from it in this country?"

No, my anxious friend, I do not. Let them march; and if with a gun,
better still. Often enough it is the choice of the gun on the shoulder,
or, by and by, the stripes on the back in the lockstep gang.



VI

LETTING IN THE LIGHT


I had been out of town and my way had not fallen through the Mulberry
Bend in weeks until that morning when I came suddenly upon the park that
had been made there in my absence. Sod had been laid, and men were going
over the lawn cutting the grass after the rain. The sun shone upon
flowers and the tender leaves of young shrubs, and the smell of new-mown
hay was in the air. Crowds of little Italian children shouted with
delight over the "garden," while their elders sat around upon the
benches with a look of contentment such as I had not seen before in that
place. I stood and looked at it all, and a lump came in my throat as I
thought of what it had been, and of all the weary years of battling for
this. It had been such a hard fight, and now at last it was won. To me
the whole battle with the slum had summed itself up in the struggle
with this dark spot. The whir of the lawn mower was as sweet a song in
my ear as that which the skylark sang when I was a boy, in Danish
fields, and which gray hairs do not make the man forget.

In my delight I walked upon the grass. It seemed as if I should never be
satisfied till I had felt the sod under my feet,--sod in the Mulberry
Bend! I did not see the gray-coated policeman hastening my way, nor the
wide-eyed youngsters awaiting with shuddering delight the catastrophe
that was coming, until I felt his cane laid smartly across my back and
heard his angry command:--

"Hey! Come off the grass! D' ye think it is made to walk on?"

So that was what I got for it. It is the way of the world. But it was
all right. The park was there, that was the thing. And I had my revenge.
I had just had a hand in marking five blocks of tenements for
destruction to let in more light, and in driving the slum from two other
strongholds. Where they were, parks are being made to-day in which the
sign "Keep off the grass!" will never be seen. The children may walk in
them from morning till night, and I too, if I want to, with no policeman
to drive us off. I tried to tell the policeman something about it. But
he was of the old dispensation. All the answer I got was a gruff:--

"G'wan now! I don't want none o' yer guff!"

It was all "guff" to the politicians, I suppose, from the day the
trouble began about the Mulberry Bend, but toward the end they woke up
nobly. When the park was finally dedicated to the people's use, they
took charge of the celebration with immense unction, and invited
themselves to sit in the high seats and glory in the achievement which
they had done little but hamper and delay from the first. They had not
reckoned with Colonel Waring, however. When they had had their say, the
colonel arose and, curtly reminding them that they had really had no
hand in the business, proposed three cheers for the citizen effort that
had struck the slum this staggering blow. There was rather a feeble
response on the platform, but rousing cheers from the crowd, with whom
the colonel was a prime favorite, and no wonder. Two years later he laid
down his life in the fight which he so valiantly and successfully waged.
It is the simple truth that he was killed by politics. The services
which he had rendered the city would have entitled him in any reputable
business to be retained in the employment that was his life and his
pride. Had he been so retained he would not have gone to Cuba, and would
in all human probability be now alive. But Tammany is not "in politics
for her health" and had no use for him, though no more grievous charge
could be laid at his door, even in the heat of the campaign, than that
he was a "foreigner," being from Rhode Island. Spoils politics never
craved a heavier sacrifice of any community.

It was Colonel Waring's broom that first let light into the slum. That
which had come to be considered an impossible task he did by the simple
formula of "putting a man instead of a voter behind every broom." The
words are his own. The man, from a political dummy who loathed his job
and himself in it with cause, became a self-respecting citizen, and the
streets that had been dirty were swept. The ash barrels which had
befouled the sidewalks disappeared, almost without any one knowing it
till they were gone. The trucks that obstructed the children's only
playground, the street, went with the dirt despite the opposition of the
truckman who had traded off his vote to Tammany in the past for stall
room at the curbstone. They did not go without a struggle. When appeal
to the alderman proved useless, the truckman resorted to strategy. He
took a wheel off, or kept a perishing nag, that could not walk, hitched
to the truck over night to make it appear that it was there for
business. But subterfuge availed as little as resistance. In the
Mulberry Bend he made his last stand. The old houses had been torn down,
leaving a three-acre lot full of dirt mounds and cellar holes. Into this
the truckmen of the Sixth Ward hauled their carts, and defied the street
cleaners. They were no longer in their way, and they were on the Park
Department's domain, where no Colonel Waring was in control. But while
their owners were triumphing, the children playing among the trucks set
one of them rolling down into a cellar, and three or four of the little
ones were crushed. That was the end. The trucks disappeared. Even
Tammany has not ventured to put them back, so great was the relief of
their going. They were not only a hindrance to the sweeper and the
skulking places of all manner of mischief at night, but I have
repeatedly seen the firemen baffled in their efforts to reach a burning
house, where they stood four and six deep in the wide "slips" at the
river.

Colonel Waring did more for the cause of labor than all the walking
delegates of the town together, by investing a despised but highly
important task with a dignity which won the hearty plaudits of a
grateful city. When he uniformed his men and announced that he was going
to parade with them so that we might all see what they were like, the
town laughed and poked fun at the "white wings;" but no one went to see
them who did not come away converted to an enthusiastic belief in the
man and his work. Public sentiment, that had been half reluctantly
suspending judgment, expecting every day to see the colonel "knuckle
down to politics" like his predecessors, turned in an hour, and after
that there was little trouble. The tenement house children organized
street cleaning bands to help along the work, and Colonel Waring
enlisted them as regular auxiliaries and made them useful.

They had no better friend. When the unhappy plight of the persecuted
pushcart men, all immigrant Jews, who were blackmailed, robbed, and
driven from pillar to post as a nuisance, though licensed to trade in
the street, appealed vainly for a remedy, Colonel Waring found a way out
in a great morning market in Hester Street that should be turned over to
the children for a playground in the afternoon. Though he proved that it
would pay interest on the investment in market fees, and many times in
the children's happiness, it was never built. It would have been a most
fitting monument to the man's memory. His broom saved more lives in the
crowded tenements than a squad of doctors. It did more: it swept the
cobwebs out of our civic brain and conscience, and set up a standard of
a citizen's duty which, however we may for the moment forget, will be
ours until we have dragged other things than our pavements out of the
mud.

Even the colonel's broom would have been powerless to do that for "the
Bend." That was hopeless and had to go. There was no question of
children or playground involved. The worst of all the gangs, the Whyós,
had its headquarters in the darkest of its dark alleys; but it was left
to the police. We had not begun to understand that the gangs meant
something to us beyond murder and vengeance, in those days. No one
suspected that they had any such roots in the soil that they could be
killed by merely destroying the slum. The cholera was rapping on our
door and, with the Bend there, we felt about it as a man with stolen
goods in his house must feel when the policeman comes up the street.
Back in the seventies we began discussing what ought to be done. By 1884
the first Tenement House Commission had summoned up courage to propose
that a street be cut through the bad block. In the following year a bill
was brought in to destroy it bodily, and then began the long fight that
resulted in the defeat of the slum a dozen years later.

It was a bitter fight, in which every position of the enemy had to be
carried by assault. The enemy was the deadly official inertia that was
the outcome of political corruption born of the slum plus the
indifference of the mass of our citizens, who probably had never seen
the Bend. If I made it my own concern to the exclusion of all else, it
was only because I knew it. I had been part of it. Homeless and alone, I
had sought its shelter, not for long,--that was not to be endured,--but
long enough to taste of its poison, and I hated it. I knew that the blow
must be struck there, to kill. Looking back now over those years, I can
see that it was all as it should be. We were learning the alphabet of
our lesson then. We could have learned it in no other way so thoroughly.
Before we had been at it more than two or three years, it was no longer
a question of the Bend merely. The Small Parks law that gave us a
million dollars a year to force light and air into the slum, to its
destruction, grew out of it. The whole sentiment which in its day,
groping blindly and angrily, had wiped out the disgrace of the Five
Points, just around the corner, crystallized and took shape in its
fight. It waited merely for the issue of that, to attack the slum in
its other strongholds; and no sooner was the Bend gone than the rest
surrendered, unconditionally.

But it was not so easy campaigning at the start. In 1888 plans were
filed for the demolition of the block. It took four years to get a
report of what it would cost to tear it down. About once in two months
during all that time the authorities had to be prodded into a spasm of
activity, or we would probably have been yet where we were then. Once
when I appealed to the Corporation Counsel to give a good reason for the
delay, I got the truth out of him without evasion.

"Well, I tell you," he said blandly, "no one here is taking any interest
in that business. That is good enough reason for you, isn't it?"

It was. That Tammany reason became the slogan of an assault upon
official incompetence and treachery that hurried things up considerably.
The property was condemned at a total cost to the city of a million and
a half, in round numbers, including the assessment of half a million for
park benefit which the property owners were quick enough, with the aid
of the politicians, to get saddled on the city at large. In 1894 the
city took possession and became the landlord of the old barracks. For a
whole year it complacently collected the rents and did nothing. When it
was shamed out of that rut, too, and the tenements were at last torn
down, the square lay as the wreckers had left it for another year, until
it became such a plague spot that, as a last resort, with a citizen's
privilege, I arraigned the municipality before the Board of Health for
maintaining a nuisance upon its premises. I can see the shocked look of
the official now, as he studied the complaint.

"But, my dear sir," he coughed diplomatically, "isn't it rather unusual?
I never heard of such a thing."

"Neither did I," I replied, "but then there never was such a thing
before."

That night, while they were debating the "unusual thing," happened the
accident to the children of which I spoke, emphasizing the charge that
the nuisance was "dangerous to life," and there was an end. In the
morning the Bend was taken in hand, and the following spring the
Mulberry Bend Park was opened.

A million dollars a year had been lost while we were learning our
lesson. The Small Parks Fund was not cumulative, and when it came to
paying for the Bend a special bill had to be passed to authorize it, the
award being "more than one million in one year." The wise financiers who
framed and hung in the comptroller's office a check for three cents that
had been under-paid on a school site, for the taxpayer to bow before in
awe and admiration at such business methods, could find no way to make
the appropriation for two years apply, though the new year was coming in
a week or two. But the Gilder Tenement House Commission had been
sitting, the Committee of Seventy had been at work, and a law was on the
statute books authorizing the expenditure of three million dollars for
two open spaces in the parkless district on the East Side, where Jacob
Beresheim was born. It had shown that while the proportion of park area
inside the limits of the old city was equal to one thirteenth of all,
below Fourteenth Street, where one third of the people lived, it was
barely one fortieth. It took a citizen's committee appointed by the
mayor just three weeks to seize the two sites which are now being
laid out in playgrounds chiefly, and it took the Good Government Clubs
with their allies at Albany less than two months to get warrant of law
for the tearing down of the houses ahead of final condemnation lest any
mischance befall through delay or otherwise,--a precaution which
subsequent events proved to be eminently wise. The slow legal
proceedings are going on yet.

[Illustration: MULBERRY BEND PARK]

The playground part of it was a provision of the Gilder law that showed
what apt scholars we had been. I was a member of that committee, and I
fed fat my grudge against the slum tenement, knowing that I might not
again have such a chance. Bone Alley went. I shall not soon get the
picture of it, as I saw it last, out of my mind. I had wandered to the
top floor of one of the ramshackle tenements in the heart of the block,
to a door that stood ajar, and pushed it open. On the floor lay three
women rag-pickers with their burdens, asleep, overcome by the heat and
the beer, the stale stench of which filled the place. Swarms of flies
covered them. The room--no! let it go. Thank God, we shall not again
hear of Bone Alley. Where it stood workmen are to-day building a
gymnasium with baths for the people, and a playground and park which may
even be turned into a skating-pond in winter if the architect keeps his
promise. A skating-pond for the children of the Eleventh Ward! No wonder
the politician is in a hurry to take the credit for what is going
forward over there. It is that or nothing with him now. It will be all
up with Tammany, once the boys find out that these were the things she
withheld from them all the years, for her own gain.

Half a dozen blocks away the city's first public bath house is at last
going up, after many delays, and godliness will have a chance to move in
with cleanliness. The two are neighbors everywhere, but in the slum the
last must come first. Glasgow has half a dozen public baths. Rome, two
thousand years ago, washed its people most sedulously, and in heathen
Japan to-day, I am told, there are baths, as we have saloons, on every
corner. Christian New York never had a bath house. In a tenement
population of 255,033 the Gilder Committee found only 306 who had access
to bath-rooms in the houses where they lived. The Church Federation
canvass of the Fifteenth Assembly District counted three bath-tubs to
1321 families. Nor was that because they so elected. The People's Baths
took in 115,000 half dimes last year for as many baths, and forty per
cent. of their customers were Italians. The free river baths admitted
5,096,876 customers during the summer. The "great unwashed" were not so
from choice, it would appear.

Bone Alley brought thirty-seven dollars under the auctioneer's hammer.
Thieves' Alley, in the other park down at Rutgers Square, where the
police clubbed the Jewish cloakmakers a few years ago for the offense of
gathering to assert their right to "being men, live the life of men," as
some one who knew summed up the labor movement, brought only seven
dollars, and the old Helvetia House, where Boss Tweed and his gang met
at night to plan their plundering raids on the city's treasury, was
knocked down for five. Kerosene Row would not have brought enough to buy
kindling wood with which to start one of the numerous fires that gave it
its bad name. It was in Thieves' Alley that the owner in the days long
gone by hung out the sign: "No Jews need apply." Last week I watched the
opening of the first municipal playground upon the site of the old
alley, and in the thousands that thronged street and tenements from curb
to roof with thunder of applause, there were not twoscore who could have
found lodging with the old Jew-baiter. He had to go with his alley
before the better day could bring light and hope to the Tenth Ward.

In all this the question of rehousing the population, that had to be so
carefully considered abroad in the destruction of slums, gave no
trouble. The speculative builder had seen to that. In the five wards,
the Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, and Seventeenth, in which the
unhoused ones would look for room, if they wanted to stay near their old
home, there were, according to the tenement census at the time when the
old houses were torn down, 4268 vacant apartments, with room for more
than 18,000 persons at our average of four and a half to the family.
Even including the Mulberry Bend, the whole number of the dispossessed
was not 10,000. On Manhattan Island there were at this time more than
37,000 vacant apartments, so that the question could not arise in any
serious shape, much as it plagued the dreams of some well-meaning
people. As a matter of fact the unhoused were scattered much more widely
than had been anticipated, which was one of the very purposes sought to
be attained. Many of them had remained in their old slum more from force
of habit and association than because of necessity.

"Everything takes ten years," said Abram S. Hewitt when, exactly ten
years after he had as mayor championed the Small Parks Act, he took his
seat as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Small Parks. The ten years
had wrought a great change. It was no longer the slum of to-day, but
that of to-morrow that challenged attention. The committee took the
point of view of the children from the first. It had a large map
prepared showing where in the city there was room to play and where
there was none. Then it called in the police and asked them to point out
where there was trouble with the boys; and in every instance the
policeman put his finger upon a treeless slum.

"They have no other playground than the street," was the explanation
given in each case. "They smash lamps and break windows. The
storekeepers kick and there is trouble. That is how it begins." "Many
complaints are received daily of boys annoying pedestrians,
storekeepers, and tenants by their continually playing baseball in some
parts of almost every street. The damage is not slight. Arrests are
frequent, much more frequent than when they had open lots to play in."
This last was the report of an uptown captain. He remembered the days
when there were open lots there. "But these lots are now built upon," he
said, "and for every new house there are more boys and less chance for
them to play."

The committee put a red daub on the map to indicate trouble. Then it
asked those police captains who had not spoken to show them where their
precincts were, and why they had no trouble. Every one of them put his
finger on a green spot that marked a park. "My people are quiet and
orderly," said the captain of the Tompkins Square precinct. The police
took the square from a mob by storm twice in my recollection, and the
commander of the precinct then was hit on the head with a hammer by "his
people" and laid out for dead. "The Hook Gang is gone," said he of
Corlears Hook. The professional pursuit of that gang was to rob and
murder inoffensive citizens by night and throw them into the river, and
it achieved a bad eminence at its calling. "The whole neighborhood has
taken a change, and decidedly for the better," said the captain of
Mulberry Street, and the committee rose and said that it had heard
enough.

The map was hung on the wall, and in it were stuck pins to mark the site
of present and projected schools as showing where the census had found
the children crowding. The moment that was done the committee sent the
map and a copy of chapter 338 of the laws of 1895 to the mayor, and
reported that its task was finished. This is the law and all there is of
it:--

     "The people of the State of New York, represented in Senate and
     Assembly, do enact as follows:--

     "Section 1. Hereafter no schoolhouse shall be constructed in the
     city of New York without an open-air playground attached to or
     used in connection with the same.

     "Section 2. This act shall take effect immediately."

Where the map was daubed with red the school pins crowded one another.
On the lower East Side, where child crime was growing fast, and no less
than three storm centres were marked down by the police, nine new
schools were going up or planned, and in the uptown precinct whence came
the wail about the ball players there were seven. The playground had
proved its case. Where it was expedient it was to be a school
playground. It seemed a happy combination, for the new law had been a
stumbling-block to the school commissioners, who were in a quandary over
the needful size of an "open-air playground." The success of the
roof-garden idea suggested a way out. But schools are closed at the time
of the year when playgrounds are most needed for city children. To get
the garden on the roof of the schoolhouse recognized as the public
playground seemed a long step toward turning it into a general
neighborhood evening resort that should be always open, and so toward
bringing school and people, and especially the school and the boy,
together in a bond of mutual sympathy highly desirable for both.

That was the burden of the committee's report. It made thirteen
recommendations besides, as to the location of parks and detached
playgrounds, only one of which has been adopted. But that is of less
account--as also was the information imparted to me as secretary of the
committee by our peppery Tammany mayor, that we had "as much authority
as a committee of bootblacks in his office"--than the fact that the
field has at last been studied and its needs have been made known. The
rest will follow, with or without the politician's authority. The one
recommendation that has been carried out was that of a riverside park in
the region uptown on the West Side where the Federation of Churches and
Christian Workers found "saloon social ideals minting themselves upon
the minds of the people at the rate of seven saloon thoughts to one
educational thought." There is an outdoor gymnasium to-day on the chosen
site,--while the legal proceedings to take possession are unraveling
their red tape,--and a recreation pier hard by. In the evening the young
men of the neighborhood may be seen trooping riverward with their girls
to hear the music. The gang that "laid out" two policemen, to my
knowledge, has gone out of business.

The best laid plans are sometimes upset by surprising snags. We had
planned for two municipal playgrounds on the East Side where the need is
greatest, and our plans were eagerly accepted by the city authorities.
But they were never put into practice. A negligent attorney killed one,
a lazy clerk the other. And both served under the reform government. The
first of the two playgrounds was to have been in Rivington Street,
adjoining the new public bath, where the boys, for want of something
better to do, were fighting daily battles with stones, to the great
damage of windows and the worse aggravation of the householders. Four
hundred children in that neighborhood petitioned the committee for a
place of their own where there were no windows to break, and we found
one. It was only after the proceedings had been started that we
discovered that they had been taken under the wrong law and the money
spent in advertising had been wasted. It was then too late. The daily
assaults upon the windows were resumed. The other case was an attempt to
establish a model school park in a block where more than four thousand
children attended day and night school. The public school and the
pro-cathedral, which divided the children between them, were to be
allowed to stand, at opposite ends of the block. The surrounding
tenements were to be torn down to make room for a park and playground
which should embody the ideal of what such a place ought to be, in the
opinion of the committee. The roof garden was not in the original plan
except as an alternative of the street-level playground, where land came
too high. The plentiful supply of light and air, the safety from fire to
be obtained by putting the school in a park, beside the fact that it
could thus be "built beautiful," were considerations of weight. Plans
were made, and there was great rejoicing in Essex Street, until it came
out that this scheme had gone the way of the other. The clerk who should
have filed the plans in the register's office left that duty to some
one else, and it took just twenty-one days to make the journey, a
distance of five hundred feet or less. The Greater New York had come
then with Tammany, and the thing was not heard of again. When I traced
the failure down to the clerk in question, and told him that he had
killed the park, he yawned and said:--

"Yes, and I think it is just as well it is dead. We haven't any money
for those things. It is very nice to have small parks, and very nice to
have a horse and wagon, if you can afford it. But we can't. Why, there
isn't money enough to run the city government."

So the labor of weary weeks and months in the children's behalf was all
undone by a third-rate clerk in an executive office; but he saved the
one thing he had in mind: the city government is "run" to date, and his
pay is secure.

Neither stupidity, spite, nor the false cry that "reform extravagance"
has wrecked the city's treasury will be able much longer, however, to
cheat the child out of his rights. The playground is here to wrestle
with the gang for the boy, and it will win. It came so quietly that we
hardly knew of it till we heard the shouts. It took us seven years to
make up our minds to build a play pier,--recreation pier is its
municipal title,--and it took just about seven weeks to build it when we
got so far; but then we learned more in one day than we had dreamed of
in the seven years. Half the East Side swarmed over it with shrieks of
delight, and carried the mayor and the city government, who had come to
see the show, fairly off their feet. And now "we are seven," or will be
when the one in Brooklyn has been built,--great, handsome structures,
seven hundred feet long, some of them, with music every night for mother
and the babies, and for papa, who can smoke his pipe there in peace. The
moon shines upon the quiet river, and the steamers go by with their
lights. The street is far away with its noise. The young people go
sparking in all honor, as it is their right to do. The councilman who
spoke the other day of "pernicious influences" lying in wait for them
there made the mistake of his life, unless he has made up his mind to go
out of politics. The play piers have taken a hold of the people which no
crabbed old bachelor can loosen with trumped-up charges. Their
civilizing influence upon the children is already felt in a reported
demand for more soap in the neighborhood where they are, and even the
grocer smiles approval.

The play pier is the kindergarten in the educational campaign against
the gang. It gives the little ones a chance. Often enough it is a chance
for life. The street as a playground is a heavy contributor to the
undertaker's bank account. I kept the police slips of a single day in
May two years ago, when four little ones were killed and three crushed
under the wheels of trucks in tenement streets. That was unusual, but no
day has passed in my recollection that has not had its record of
accidents which bring grief as deep and lasting to the humblest home as
if it were the pet of some mansion on Fifth Avenue that was slain. The
kindergarten teaching bore fruit. To-day there are half a dozen
full-blown playgrounds downtown and uptown where the children swarm.
Private initiative set the pace, but the idea has been engrafted upon
the municipal plan. The city helped get at least one of them under way.
The Outdoor Recreation League was organized last year by public-spirited
citizens, including many amateur athletes and enthusiastic women, with
the object of "obtaining recognition of the necessity for recreation and
physical exercise as fundamental to the moral and physical welfare of
the people." Together with the Social Reform Club and the Federation of
Churches and Christian Workers it maintained a playground on the uptown
West Side last summer. The ball came into play there for the first time
as a recognized factor in civic progress. The day might well be kept for
all time among those that mark human emancipation, for it was social
reform and Christian work in one, of the kind that tells.

Only the year before, the athletic clubs had vainly craved the privilege
of establishing a gymnasium in the East River Park, where the children
wistfully eyed the sacred grass, and cowered under the withering gaze of
the policeman. A friend whose house stands opposite the park found them
one day swarming over her stoop in such shoals that she could not enter,
and asked them why they did not play tag under the trees instead. The
instant shout came back: "'Cause the cop won't let us." Now a splendid
gymnasium has been opened on the site of the people's park that is to
come at Fifty-Third Street and Eleventh Avenue. It is called Hudsonbank.
A board fence more than a thousand feet long surrounds it. The director
pointed out to me with pride, last week, that not a board had been
stolen from it in a year, while other fences within twenty feet of it
were ripped to pieces. And he was right. The neighborhood is one that
has been anything but distinguished for its respect for private property
in the past, and where boards have a market value among the Irish
settlers. Better testimony could not have been borne to the spirit in
which the gift was accepted by the children.

Poverty Gap, that was fairly transformed by one brief season's
experience with its "Holy Terror Park,"[5] a dreary sand lot upon the
site of the old tenements in which the Alley Gang once murdered the one
good boy of the block for the offense of supporting his aged parents by
his work as a baker's apprentice,--Poverty Gap is to have its permanent
playground, and Mulberry Bend and Corlears Hook are down on the League's
books; which is equivalent to saying that they, too, will shortly know
the climbing pole and the vaulting buck. For years the city's only
playground that had any claim upon the name--and that was only a little
asphalted strip behind a public school in First Street--was an old
graveyard. We struggled vainly to get possession of another, long
abandoned. The dead were of more account than the living. But now at
last it is their turn. The other day I watched the children at their
play in the new Hester Street gymnasium. The dusty square was jammed
with a mighty multitude. It was not an ideal spot, for it had not rained
in weeks, and powdered sand and cinders had taken wing and floated like
a pall over the perspiring crowd. But it was heaven to them. A hundred
men and boys stood in line, waiting their turn upon the bridge ladder
and the traveling rings that hung full of struggling and squirming
humanity, groping madly for the next grip. No failure, no rebuff
discouraged them. Seven boys and girls rode with looks of deep
concern--it is their way--upon each end of the see-saw, and two squeezed
into each of the forty swings that had room for one, while a hundred
counted time and saw that none had too much. It is an article of faith
with these children that nothing that is "going" for their benefit is to
be missed. Sometimes the result provokes a smile, as when a band of
young Jews, starting up a club, called themselves the Christian Heroes.
It was meant partly as a compliment, I suppose, to the ladies that gave
them club-room; but at the same time, if there was anything in a name,
they were bound to have it. It is rather to cry over than to laugh at,
if one but understands it. The sight of these little ones swarming over
a sand heap until scarcely an inch of it was in sight, and gazing in
rapt admiration at the poor show of a dozen geraniums and English ivy
plants in pots on the window-sill of the overseer's cottage, was
pathetic in the extreme. They stood for ten minutes at a time resting
their eyes upon them. In the crowd were aged women and bearded men with
the inevitable Sabbath silk hat, who it seemed could never get enough of
it. They moved slowly, when crowded out, looking back many times at the
enchanted spot, as long as it was in sight.

[Footnote 5: The name was bestowed before the fact, not after.]

Perhaps there was in it, on the part of the children at least, just a
little bit of the comforting sense of proprietorship. They had
contributed of their scant pennies more than a hundred dollars toward
the opening of the playground, and they felt that it was their very own.
All the better. Two policemen watched the passing show, grinning. But
their clubs hung idly from their belts. The words of a little woman whom
I met last year in Chicago kept echoing in my ear. She was the "happiest
woman alive," for she had striven long for a playground for her poor
children, and had got it.

"The police like it," she said. "They say that it will do more good than
all the Sunday schools in Chicago. The mothers say, 'This is good
business.' The carpenters that put up the swings and things worked with
a will; everybody was glad. The police lieutenant has had a tree called
after him. The boys that did that used to be terrors. Now they take care
of the trees. They plead for a low limb that is in the way, that no one
may cut it off."

The twilight deepens and the gates of the playground are closed. The
crowds disperse slowly. In the roof garden on the Hebrew Institute
across East Broadway lights are twinkling and the band is tuning up.
Little groups are settling down to a quiet game of checkers or
love-making. Paterfamilias leans back against the parapet where palms
wave luxuriously in the summer breeze. The newspaper drops from his
hand; he closes his eyes and is in dreamland, where strikes come not.
Mother knits contentedly in her seat, with a smile on her face that was
not born of the Ludlow Street tenement. Over yonder a knot of
black-browed men talk with serious mien. They might be met any night in
the anarchist café, half a dozen doors away, holding forth against
empires. Here wealth does not excite their wrath, nor power their
plotting. In the roof garden anarchy is harmless, even though a
policeman typifies its government. They laugh pleasantly to one another
as he passes, and he gives them a match to light their cigars. It is
Thursday, and smoking is permitted. On Friday it is discouraged because
it offends the orthodox, to whom the lighting of a fire, even the
holding of a candle, is anathema on the Sabbath eve.

The band plays on. One after another, tired heads droop upon babes
slumbering peacefully at the breast. Ludlow Street, the tenement, are
forgotten; eleven o'clock is not yet. Down along the silver gleam of the
river a mighty city slumbers. The great bridge has hung out its string
of shining pearls from shore to shore. "Sweet land of liberty!" Overhead
the dark sky, the stars that twinkled their message to the shepherds on
Judæan hills, that lighted their sons through ages of slavery, and the
flag of freedom borne upon the breeze,--down there the tenement,
the--Ah, well! let us forget, as do these.

Now if you ask me: "And what of it all? What does it avail?" let me take
you once more back to the Mulberry Bend, and to the policeman's verdict
add the police reporter's story of what has taken place there. In
fifteen years I never knew a week to pass without a murder there, rarely
a Sunday. It was the wickedest, as it was the foulest, spot in all the
city. In the slum the two are interchangeable terms for reasons that
are clear enough to me. But I shall not speculate about it, only state
the facts. The old houses fairly reeked with outrage and violence. When
they were torn down, I counted seventeen deeds of blood in that place
which I myself remembered, and those I had forgotten probably numbered
seven times seventeen. The district attorney connected more than a score
of murders of his own recollection with Bottle Alley, the Whyó gang's
headquarters. Two years have passed since it was made into a park, and
scarce a knife has been drawn, or a shot fired, in all that
neighborhood. Only twice have I been called as a police reporter to the
spot. It is not that the murder has moved to another neighborhood, for
there has been no increase of violence in Little Italy or wherever else
the crowd went that moved out. It is that the light has come in and made
crime hideous. It is being let in wherever the slum has bred murder and
robbery, bred the gang, in the past. Wait, now, another ten years, and
let us see what a story there will be to tell.

Avail? Why, here is Tammany actually applauding Comptroller Coler's
words in Plymouth Church last night: "Whenever the city builds a
schoolhouse upon the site of a dive and creates a park, a distinct and
permanent mental, moral, and physical improvement has been made, and
public opinion will sustain such a policy, even if a dive-keeper is
driven out of business and somebody's ground rent is reduced." And
Tammany's press agent sends forth this pæan: "In the light of such
events how absurd it is for the enemies of the organization to contend
that Tammany is not the greatest moral force in the community." Tammany
a moral force! The park and the playground have availed, then, to bring
back the day of miracles.



VII

JUSTICE FOR THE BOY


Sometimes, when I see my little boy hugging himself with delight at the
near prospect of the kindergarten, I go back in memory forty years and
more to the day when I was dragged, a howling captive, to school, as a
punishment for being bad at home. I remember, as though it were
yesterday, my progress up the street in the vengeful grasp of an
exasperated servant, and my reception by the aged monster--most fitly
named Madame Bruin--who kept the school. She asked no questions, but led
me straightway to the cellar, where she plunged me into an empty barrel
and put the lid on over me. Applying her horn goggles to the bunghole,
to my abject terror, she informed me, in a sepulchral voice, that that
was the way bad boys were dealt with in school. When I ceased howling
from sheer fright, she took me out and conducted me to the yard, where
a big hog had a corner to itself. She bade me observe that one of its
ears had been slit half its length. It was because the hog was lazy, and
little boys who were that way minded were in danger of similar
treatment; in token whereof she clipped a pair of tailor's shears
suggestively close to my ear. It was my first lesson in school. I hated
it from that hour.

The barrel and the hog were never part of the curriculum in any American
boy's school, I suppose; they seem too freakish to be credited to any
but the demoniac ingenuity of my home ogre. But they stood for a
comprehension of the office of school and teacher which was not patented
by any day or land. It is not so long since the notion yet prevailed
that the schools were principally to lock children up in for the
convenience of their parents, that we should have entirely forgotten it.
Only the other day a clergyman from up the State came into my office to
tell of a fine reform school they had in his town. They were very proud
of it.

"And how about the schools for the good boys in your town?" I asked,
when I had heard him out. "Are they anything to be proud of?"

He stared. He guessed they were all right, he said, after some
hesitation. But it was clear that he did not know.

It is not necessary to go back forty years to find us in the metropolis
upon the clergyman's platform, if not upon Madame Bruin's. Ten will do.
They will bring us to the day when roof playgrounds were contemptuously
left out of the estimates for an East Side school, as "frills" that had
nothing to do with education; when the Board of Health found but a
single public school in more than sixscore that was so ventilated as to
keep the children from being poisoned by foul air; when the authority of
the Talmud had to be invoked by the Superintendent of School Buildings
to convince the president of the Board of Education, who happened to be
a Jew, that seventy-five or eighty pupils were far too many for one
class-room; when a man who had been dead a year was appointed a school
trustee of the Third Ward, under the mouldy old law surviving from the
day when New York was a big village, and filled the office as well as if
he had been alive, because there were no schools in his ward; when
manual training and the kindergarten were yet the fads of yesterday,
looked at askance; when fifty thousand children roamed the streets for
whom there was no room in the schools, and the only defense of the
School Commissioners was that they "didn't know" there were so many; and
when we mixed truants and thieves in a jail with entire unconcern.
Indeed, the jail filled the title rôle in the educational cast of that
day. Its inmates were well lodged and cared for, while the sanitary
authorities twice condemned the Essex Market school across the way as
wholly unfit for children to be in, but failed to catch the ear of the
politician who ran things unhindered. When (in 1894) I denounced the
"system" of enforcing--or not enforcing--the compulsory education law as
a device to make thieves out of our children by turning over their
training to the street, he protested angrily; but the experts of the
Tenement House Committee found the charge fully borne out by the facts.
They were certainly plain enough in the sight of us all, had we chosen
to see.

When at last we saw, we gave the politician a vacation for a season. To
say that he was to blame for all the mischief would not be fair. We
were to blame for leaving him in possession. He was only a link in the
chain which our indifference had forged; but he was always and
everywhere an obstruction to betterment,--sometimes, illogically, in
spite of himself. Successive Tammany mayors had taken a stand for the
public schools, when it was clear that reform could not be delayed much
longer; but they were helpless against a system of selfishness and
stupidity of which they were the creatures, though they posed as its
masters. They had to go with it as unfit, and upon the wave that swept
out the last of the rubbish came reform. The Committee of Seventy took
hold, the Good Government Clubs, the Tenement House Committee, and the
women of New York. Five years we strove with the powers of darkness, and
look now at the change. The New York school system is not yet the ideal
one,--it may never be; but the jail, at least, has been cast out of the
firm. We have a compulsory education law under which it will be
possible, when a seat has been provided for every child, to punish the
parent for the boy's truancy, unless he surrenders him as unmanageable;
and we can count the months now till every child shall find the
latchstring out on the school door. We have had to put our hands deep
into our pockets to get to that point, but we are nearly there now.
Since 1895 the expenditure of twenty-two and a half millions of dollars
for new schools in the old city has been authorized by law, and two
thirds of the money has been spent. Fifty-odd new buildings have been
put up, or are going up while I am writing, every one of them with its
playground, which will by and by be free to all the neighborhood. The
idea is at last working through that the schools belong to the people,
and are primarily for the children and their parents; not mere vehicles
of ward patronage, or for keeping an army of teachers in office and pay.

The silly old régime is dead. The ward trustee is gone with his friend
the alderman, loudly proclaiming the collapse of our liberties in the
day that saw the schools taken from "the people's" control. They were
"the people." Experts manage our children's education, which was
supposed in the old plan to be the only thing that did not require any
training. To superintend a brickyard demanded some knowledge, but
anybody could run the public schools. It cost us an election to take
that step. One of the Tammany district leaders, who knew what he was
talking about, said to me after it was all over: "I knew we would win.
Your bringing those foreigners here did the business. Our people believe
in home rule. We kept account of the teachers you brought from out of
town, and who spent the money they made here out of town, and it got to
be the talk among the tenement people in my ward that their daughters
would have no more show to get to be teachers. That did the business. We
figured the school vote in the city at forty-two thousand, and I knew we
could not lose." The "foreigners" were teachers from Massachusetts and
other States, who had achieved a national reputation at their work.

There lies upon my table a copy of the minutes of the Board of Education
of January 9, 1895, in which is underscored a report on a primary school
in the Bronx. "It is a wooden shanty," is the inspector's account,
"heated by stoves, and is a regular tinder box; cellar wet, and under
one class-room only. This building was erected in order, I believe, to
determine whether or not there was a school population in the
neighborhood to warrant the purchase of property to erect a school on."

That was the way then of taking a school census, and the result was the
utter failure of the compulsory education law to compel anything. To-day
we have a biennial census, ordained by law, which, when at last it gets
into the hands of some one who can count, will tell us how many Jacob
Beresheims are drifting upon the shoals of the street. And we have a
truant school to keep them safe in. To it, says the law, no thief shall
be committed. It is not yet five years since the burglar and the
truant--who, having been refused admission to the school because there
was not room for him, inconsequently was locked up for contracting idle
ways--were herded in the Juvenile Asylum, and classified there in squads
of those who were four feet, four feet seven, and over four feet seven!
I am afraid I scandalized some good people, during the fight for decency
in this matter, by insisting that it ought to be considered a good mark
for Jacob that he despised such schools as were provided for him. But it
was true. Except for the risk of the burglar, the jail was preferable by
far. A woman has now had charge of the truant school for fourteen
months, and she tells me that of quite twenty-five hundred boys scarce
sixty were rightly called incorrigible, and even these a little longer
and tighter grip would probably win over. For such, a farm school is yet
to be provided. The rest responded promptly to an appeal to their pride.
She "made it a personal matter" with each of them, and the truant
vanished; the boy was restored. The burglar, too, made it a personal
matter in the old contact, and the result was two burglars for one. In
common with nearly all those who have paid attention to this matter,
Mrs. Alger believes that the truant school strikes at the root of the
problem of juvenile crime. After thirty years of close acquaintance with
the child population of London, Mr. Andrew Drew, chairman of the
Industrial Committee of the School Board, declared his conviction that
"truancy is to be credited with nearly the whole of our juvenile
criminality." But for years there seemed to be no way of convincing the
New York School Board that the two had anything to do with each other.
As executive officer of the Good Government Clubs, I fought that fight
to a finish. We got the school, and in Mrs. Alger, at the time a truant
officer, a person singularly well qualified to take charge of it. She
has recently been removed, that her place might be given to a man. It is
the old scheme come back,--a voter behind the broom,--and the old slough
waiting to overwhelm us again.

But it will not get the chance. I have my own idea of how this truancy
question is going to be solved. Yesterday I went with Superintendent
Snyder through some of the new schools he is building, upon what he
calls the letter H plan, in the crowded districts. It is the plan of the
Hôtel de Cluny in Paris, and to my mind as nearly perfect as it is
possible to make a schoolhouse. There is not a dark corner in the whole
structure, from the splendid gymnasium under the red-tiled roof to the
indoor playground on the ground floor, which, when thrown in one with
the two open-air playgrounds that lie embraced in the arms of the H,
will give the children nearly an acre of asphalted floor space from
street to street, to romp on. Seven such schools are going up to-day,
each a beautiful palace, and within the year sixteen thousand children
will be housed in them. When I think of the old Allen Street school,
where the gas had to be kept burning even on the brightest days,
recitations suspended every half hour, and the children made to practice
calisthenics so that they should not catch cold while the windows were
opened to let in fresh air; of the dark playground downstairs, with the
rats keeping up such a racket that one could hardly hear himself speak
at times, or of the other East Side playground where the boys "weren't
allowed to speak above a whisper," so as not to disturb those studying
overhead, I fancy that I can make out both the cause and the cure of the
boy's desperation. "We try to make our schools pleasant enough to hold
the children," wrote the Superintendent of Schools in Indianapolis to me
once, and added that they had no truant problem worth bothering about.
With the kindergarten and manual training firmly engrafted upon the
school course, as they are at last, and with it reaching out to
enlist also the boy's play through playground and vacation schools, I
shall be willing to turn the boy, who will not come in, over to the
reformatory. They will not need to build a new wing to the jail for his
safe-keeping.

[Illustration: LETTER H PLAN OF PUBLIC SCHOOL No. 165

_Showing Front on West 109th Street_]

All ways lead to Rome. The reform in school-building dates back, as does
every other reform in New York, to the Mulberry Bend. It began there.
The first school that departed from the soulless old tradition, to set
beautiful pictures before the child's mind as well as dry figures on the
slate, was built there. At the time I wanted it to stand in the park,
hoping so to hasten the laying out of that; but although the Small Parks
law expressly permitted the erection on park property of buildings for
"the instruction of the people," the officials upon whom I pressed my
scheme could not be made to understand that as including schools.
Perhaps they were right. I catechised thirty-one Fourth Ward girls in a
sewing school, about that time, twenty-six of whom had attended the
public schools of the district more than a year. One wore a badge earned
for excellence in her studies. In those days every street corner was
placarded with big posters of Napoleon on a white horse riding through
fire and smoke. There was one right across the street. Yet only one of
the thirty-one knew who Napoleon was. She "thought she had heard of the
gentleman before." It came out that the one impression she retained of
what she had heard was that "the gentleman" had two wives. They knew of
Washington that he was the first President of the United States, and cut
down a cherry-tree. They were sitting and sewing at the time almost on
the identical spot where he lived and held office. To the question who
ruled before Washington the answer came promptly: no one; he was the
first. They agreed reluctantly, upon further consideration, that there
was probably "a King of America" before his day, and the Irish damsels
turned up their noses at the idea. The people of Canada, they thought,
were copper-colored. The same winter I was indignantly bidden to depart
from a school in the Fourth Ward by a trustee who had heard that I had
written a book about the slum and spoken of "his people" in it.

Those early steps in the reform path stumbled sadly at times over
obstacles that showed how dense was the ignorance and how rank were the
prejudices we had to fight. When I wrote that the Allen Street school
was overrun by rats, which was a fact any one might observe for himself
by spending five minutes in the building, I was called sharply to
account by the Mayor in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. There
were no rats, he said. The Allen Street school was the worst of them
all, and I determined that the time had come to make a demonstration. I
procured a rat trap, and was waiting for an idle hour to go over and
catch one of the rats, so that I might have it stuffed and sent to the
board over which the Mayor presided, as a convincing exhibit; but before
I got so far reform swept the whole conspiracy of ignorance and jobbery
out of the City Hall.

That was well enough as far as it went; but that the broom was needed
elsewhere we learned later, when the Good Government Clubs fought for
the inspection of the schools and of the children by trained oculists.
The evidence was that the pupils were made both near-sighted and stupid
by the want of proper arrangement of their seats and of themselves in
the class-room. The fact was not denied, and the scheme was strongly
indorsed by the Board of Health and by some of the ablest and best known
oculists in the city; but it was wrecked upon an opposition in which we
heard the ignorant and selfish cry that it would "interfere with private
practice," and so curtail the profits of the practitioner. The proposal
to inspect the classes daily for evidence of contagious disease--which,
carried out, has proved a most effective means of preventing the spread
of epidemics, and one of the greatest blessings--had been opposed,
happily unsuccessfully, with the same arguments.[6] It is very well to
prate about the rapacity of politicians, but these things came often
enough to show what they meant by the claim that they were "closer to
the people" than we who were trying to help them; and they were all the
more exasperating because they came rarely from below,--the tenement
people, when they were not deliberately misled, were ready and eager to
fall in with any plan for bettering things, notably where it concerned
the schools,--but usually from those who knew better, and from whom we
had a right to expect support and backing.

[Footnote 6: I set down reluctantly this censure of an honored
profession, to individual members of which I have been wont, in a long
succession of troubled years, to go for advice and help in public
matters, and never in vain. The statement of the chief sanitary officer
of the Health Department, reaffirmed at the time I am writing, is,
however, positive to the effect that to this opposition, and this only,
was due the failure of that much-needed reform which had for years been
with me a pet measure.]

Speaking of that reminds me of a mishap I had in the Hester Street
school,--the one with the "frills" which the Board of Education cut off.
I happened to pass it after school hours, and went in to see what sort
of a playground the roof would have made. I met no one on the way, and,
finding the scuttle open, climbed out and up the slant of the roof to
the peak, where I sat musing over our lost chance, when the janitor came
to close up. He must have thought I was a crazy man, and my explanation
did not make it any better. He haled me down, and but for the fortunate
chance that the policeman on the beat knew me, I should have been taken
to the lockup as a dangerous lunatic,--all for dreaming of a playground
on the roof of a schoolhouse.

Janitor and Board of Commissioners to the contrary notwithstanding, the
dream became real. There stands another school in Hester Street to-day
within easy call, that has a playground measuring more than twelve
thousand square feet on the roof, one of half that size down on the
ground, and an asphalted indoor playground as big as the one on the
roof. Together they measure a trifle less than thirty thousand feet. To
the indignant amazement of my captor, the janitor, his school was thrown
open to the children in the last summer vacation, and in the winter they
put a boys' club in to worry him. What further indignities there are in
store for him, in this day of "frills," there is no telling. A
resolution is on record which states, under date of May 18, 1897, that
"it is the sense of the Board of Superintendents that the schoolhouses
may well be used in the cause of education as neighborhood centres,
providing reading-rooms, branch offices of public libraries, etc." And
to cut off all chance of relapse into the old doubt whether "such things
are educational," that laid so many of our hopes on the dusty shelf
of the circumlocution office, the state legislature has expressly
declared that the commonwealth will take the chance, which Boards of
Education shunned, of a little amusement creeping in. The schools may be
used for "purposes of recreation." To the janitor it must seem that the
end of all things is at hand.

[Illustration: PLAYGROUND ON ROOF OF NEW EAST BROADWAY SCHOOLHOUSE

_Area 8,348 square feet_]

In the crowded districts, the school playgrounds were thrown open to the
children during the long vacation last year, with kindergarten teachers
to amuse them, and half a score of vacation schools tempted more than
four thousand children from the street into the cool shade of the
class-rooms. They wrought in wood and iron, they sang and they played
and studied nature,--out of a barrel, to be sure, that came twice a week
from Long Island filled with "specimens;" but toward the end we took a
hint from Chicago, and let the children gather their own specimens on
excursions around the bay and suburbs of the city. That was a tremendous
success. The mere hint that money might be lacking to pay for the
excursions this summer set the St. Andrew's Brotherhood men on Long
Island to devising schemes for inviting the schoolchildren out on
trolley and shore trips. With the Christian Endeavor, the Epworth
League, and kindred societies looking about for something to try their
young strength and enthusiasm on, we may be here standing upon the
threshold of something which shall bring us nearer to a universal
brotherhood than all the consecrations and badges that have yet been
invented.

The mere contact with nature, even out of a barrel, brought something to
those starved child lives that struck a new note. Sometimes it rang with
a sharp and jarring sound. The boys in the Hester Street school could
not be made to take an interest in the lesson on wheat until the teacher
came to the effect of drought and a bad year on the farmer's pocket.
Then they understood. They knew the process. Strikes cut into the
earnings of Hester Street, small enough at the best of times, at
frequent intervals, and the boys need not be told what a bad year means.
No other kind ever occurs there. They learned the lesson on wheat in no
time, after that. Oftener it was a gentler note that piped timidly in
the strange place. A barrel of wild roses came one day, instead of the
expected "specimens," and these were given to the children. They took
them greedily. "I wondered," said the teacher, "if it was more love of
the flower, or of getting something for nothing, no matter what." But
even if it were largely the latter, there was still the rose. Nothing
like it had come that way before, and without a doubt it taught its own
lesson. The Italian child might have jumped for it more eagerly, but its
beauty was not wasted in Jew-town, either. The baby kissed it, and it
lay upon more than one wan cheek, and whispered who knows what thought
of hope and courage that were nearly gone. Even in Hester Street the
wild rose from the hedge was not wasted.

The result of it all was wholesome and good, because it was common
sense. The way to fight the slum in the children's lives is with
sunlight and flowers and play, which their child hearts crave, if their
eyes have never seen them. The teachers reported that the boys were
easier to manage, more quiet, and played more fairly than before. The
police reports showed that fewer were arrested or run over in the
streets than in other years. A worse enemy was attacked than the trolley
car or the truck. In the kindergarten at the Hull House in Chicago there
hangs a picture of a harvest scene, with the man wiping his brow, and a
woman resting at his feet. The teacher told me that a little girl with
an old face picked it out among all the rest, and considered it long and
gravely. "Well," she said, when her inspection was finished, "he knocked
her down, didn't he?" A two hours' argument for kindergartens or
vacation schools could not have put it stronger or better.

The awakening of the civic conscience is nowhere more plainly traced
than in our public schools. The last five years have set us fifty years
ahead, and there is now no doubling on the track we have struck. We have
fifty kindergartens to-day where five years ago we had one, and their
method has invaded the whole system of teaching. Cooking, the only kind
of temperance preaching that counts for anything in a school course, is
taught in the girls' classes. Five years ago a minister of justice
declared in the Belgian Chamber that the nation was reverting to a new
form of barbarism, which he described by the term "alcoholic barbarism,"
and pointed out as its first cause the "insufficiency of the food
procurable by the working classes." He referred to the quality, not the
quantity. The United States experts, who lately made a study of the
living habits of the poor in New York, spoke of it as a common
observation that "a not inconsiderable amount of the prevalent
intemperance can be traced to poor food and unattractive home tables."
The toasting-fork in Jacob's sister's hand beats preaching in the
campaign against the saloon, just as the boys' club beats the police
club in fighting the gang.

The cram and the jam are being crowded out as common-sense teaching
steps in and takes their place, and the "three H's," the head, the
heart, and the hand,--a whole boy,--are taking the place too long
monopolized by the "three R's." There was need of it. It had seemed
sometimes as if, in our anxiety lest he should not get enough, we were
in danger of stuffing the boy to the point of making a hopeless dunce of
him. It is a higher function of the school to teach principles than to
impart facts merely. Teaching the boy municipal politics and a thousand
things to make a good citizen of him, instead of so filling him with
love of his country and pride in its traditions that he is bound to take
the right stand when the time comes, is as though one were to attempt to
put all the law of the state into its constitution to make it more
binding. The result would be hopeless congestion and general
uselessness.

It comes down to the teacher in the end, and there are 5600 of them in
the old city alone, 10,000 for the greater city;[7] the great mass
faithful and zealous, but yoked to the traditions of a day that is past.
Half the machine teaching, the wooden output of our public schools in
the past, I believe was due to the practical isolation of the teachers
between the tyranny of politics and the distrust of those who had good
cause to fear the politician and his work. There was never a more
saddening sight than that of the teachers standing together in an almost
solid body to resist reform of the school system as an attack upon
them. There was no pretense on their part that the schools did not need
reform. They knew better. They fought for their places. Throughout the
fight no word came from them of the children's rights. They imagined
that theirs were in danger, and they had no thought for anything else.
We gathered then the ripe fruit of politics, and it will be a long
while, I suppose, before we get the taste out of our mouths. But the
grip of politics on our schools has been loosened, if not shaken off
altogether, and the teacher's slavery is at an end, if she herself so
wills it. Once hardly thought worthy of a day laborer's hire, she will
receive a policeman's pay for faithful service[8] in the school year now
begun, with his privilege of a half-pay pension on retirement. Within
three weeks after the passage of the salary bill forty-two teachers in
the boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx had applied for retirement. The
training schools are hard at work filling up the gaps. The windows of
the schoolhouse have been thrown open, and life let in there too with
the sunlight. The day may be not far distant when ours shall be schools
"for discovering aptitude," in Professor Felix Adler's wise plan. The
problem is a vast one, even in its bulk; every year seats must be found
on the school benches for twenty thousand additional children. However
deep we have gone down into our pockets to pay for new schools, there
are to-day in the greater city nearly thirty thousand children in
half-day or part-time classes, waiting their chance. But that it can and
will be solved the experience of the last five years fully warrants.

[Footnote 7: The exact number for April, 1899, was 9989; number of
pupils registered, 401,761; average daily attendance, 370,722.]

[Footnote 8: The teacher's pay, under the new act, is from $600 to
$1400. The policeman's pay is $1400.]

In the solution the women of New York will have had no mean share. In
the struggle for school reform they struck the telling blows, and the
credit for the victory was justly theirs. The Public Education
Association, originally a woman's auxiliary to Good Government Club E,
has since worked as energetically with the school authorities as it
before worked against them. It has opened many windows for little souls
by hanging schoolrooms with beautiful casts and pictures, and forged at
the same time new and strong links in the chain that bound the boy all
too feebly to the school. At a time when the demand of the boys of the
East Side for club room, which was in itself one of the healthiest signs
of the day, had reached an exceedingly dangerous pass, the Public
Education Association broke ground that will prove the most fertile
field of all. The Raines law saloon, quick to discern in the new demand
the gap that would divorce it by and by from the man, attempted to
bridge it by inviting the boy in under its roof. Occasionally the girl
went along. A typical instance of how the scheme worked was brought to
my attention at the time by the manager of the College Settlement. The
back room of the saloon was given to the club free of charge, with the
understanding that the boy members should "treat." As a means of raising
the needed funds, the club hit upon the plan of fining members ten cents
when they "got funny." To defeat this device of the devil some way must
be found; but club room was scarce among the tenements. The Good
Government Clubs proposed to the Board of Education that it open the
empty class-rooms at night for the children's use. It was my privilege
to plead their cause before the School Board, and to obtain from it the
necessary permission, after some hesitation and doubt as to whether "it
was educational." The Public Education Association promptly assumed the
responsibility for "the property," and the Hester Street school was
opened. There are now two schools that are given over to evening clubs.
The property has not been molested, but the boys who have met under Miss
Winifred Buck's management have learned many a lesson of self-control
and practical wisdom that has proved "educational" in the highest
degree. Her plan is simplicity itself. Through their play--the meeting
usually begins with a romp--in quarters where there is not too much
elbow-room, the boys learn the first lesson of respecting one another's
rights. The subsequent business meeting puts them upon the fundamentals
of civilized society, as it were. Out of the debate of the question, Do
we want boys who swear, steal, gamble, and smoke cigarettes? grow
convictions as to why these vices are wrong that put "the gang" in its
proper light. Punishment comes to appear, when administered by the boys
themselves, a natural consequence of law-breaking, in defense of
society; and the boy is won. He can thenceforward be trusted to work out
his own salvation. If he does it occasionally with excessive unction,
remember how recent is his conversion. "_Resolved_, that wisdom is
better than wealth," was rejected as a topic for discussion by one of
the clubs, because "everybody knows it is." This was in the Tenth Ward.
If temptation had come that way in the shape of a pushcart with
pineapples--we are all human! Anyway, they had learned the right.

With the women to lead, the school has even turned the tables on the
jail and invaded it bodily. For now nearly two years the Public
Education Association has kept school in the Tombs, for the boys locked
up there awaiting trial. Of thirty-one pupils on this school register,
the other day, twelve were charged with burglary, four with highway
robbery, and three with murder. That was the gang run to earth at last.
Better late than never. The windows of their prison overlooked the spot
where the gallows used to stand that cut short many a career such as
they pursued. They were soberly attentive to their studies, which were
of a severely practical turn. Their teacher, Mr. David Willard, who was
a resident of the University Settlement in its old Delancey Street
home,--the fact that the forces for good one finds at work in the slum
usually lead back to the settlements shows best that they have so far
escaped the peril of stiffening into mere institutions,--has his own
sound view of how to head off the hangman. Daily and nightly he gathers
about him in the house on Chrystie Street, where he makes his home,
three hundred boys and girls, whom he meets as their friend, on equal
terms. The club is the means of getting them there, and so it is in its
right place.

Once a week another teacher comes to the Tombs school, and tells the
boys of our city's history, its famous buildings and great men; trying
so to arouse their interest as a first step toward a citizen's pride.
This one also is sent by a club of women, the City History Club, which
in three years has done strange things among the children. It sprang
from the proposition of Mr. Robert Abbe that the man and the citizen has
his birth in the boy, and that to love a thing one must know it first.
The half-dozen classes that were started for the study of our city's
history have swelled into nearly a hundred, with quite eighteen hundred
pupils. The pregnant fact was noted early by the teachers, that the
immigrant boy easily outstrips in interest for his adopted home the
native, who perchance turns up his nose at him, and later very likely
complains of the "unscrupulousness" of the Jew who forged ahead of him
in business as well.

"Everything takes ten years." Looking back from the closing year of the
century, one is almost tempted to turn Mr. Hewitt's phrase about, and
say that everything has been packed into ten years. The tenth winter of
the free lectures, which the city provides to fill up in a measure those
gaps which the earlier years left, has just passed. When the first
course showed an attendance of 22,149 upon 186 lectures, we were all
encouraged; but the last season saw 1923 lectures delivered upon every
topic of human interest, from the care of our bodies and natural science
to literature, astronomy, and music, and a multitude of 519,411 persons,
chiefly workingmen and their wives, the parents of the schoolboy, heard
them. Forty-eight schools and halls were employed for the purpose. The
People's Institute adds to this programme a forum for the discussion of
social topics, nineteenth-century history, and "present problems" on a
wholly non-partisan, unsectarian basis. The Institute was launched upon
its educational mission within six weeks after the disastrous Greater
New York election in 1897. It has since drawn to the platform of the
Cooper Institute audiences, chiefly of workingmen more or less connected
with the labor movement, that have filled its great hall. The spirit
that animates its work is shown in its review of the field upon the
threshold of its third year. Speaking of the social issues that are
hastening toward a settlement, it says: "Society is about to be
organized, gradually, wisely, on the lines of the recognition of the
brotherhood of man. The People's Institute holds to-day, as no other
institution in this city, the confidence of all classes of the working
people; also of the best minds among the well-to-do classes. It can
throw all its influence upon the side of removing misunderstandings,
promoting mutual confidence.... This is its great work." A great
undertaking, truly, but one in which no one may rashly say it shall not
succeed. As an installment, it organized last spring, for study,
discussion, and social intercourse, the first of a chain of People's
Clubs, full of a strong and stirring life, which within three months had
a membership of three hundred and fifty, and a list of two hundred and
fifty applicants.

While the Institute's plan has met with this cordial reception downtown,
uptown, among the leisure classes, its acceptance has been nothing like
so ready. Selfish wealth has turned a cold shoulder to the brotherhood
of man, as so often in the past. Still the proffered hand is not
withdrawn. In a hundred ways it is held out with tender of help and
sympathy and friendship, these days, where distrust and indifference
were once the rule. The People's University Extension Society, leaving
the platform to its allies, invades the home, the nursery, the
kindergarten, the club, wherever it can, with help and counsel. Down on
the lower East Side, the Educational Alliance conducts from the Hebrew
Institute an energetic campaign among the Jewish immigrants that
reaches fully six thousand souls, two thirds of them children, every day
in the week. Sixty-two clubs alone hold meetings in the building on
Saturday and Sunday. Under the same roof the Baron Hirsch Fund has
taught sixteen thousand children of refugee Jews in nine years. It
passes them on to the public schools within six months of their landing,
the best material they receive from anywhere.

So the boy is being got ready for dealing, in the years that are to
come, with the other but not more difficult problems of setting his
house to rights, and ridding it of the political gang which now
misrepresents him and us. And justice to Jacob is being evolved. Not yet
without obstruction and dragging of feet. The excellent home library
plan that proved so wholesome in the poor quarters of Boston has failed
in New York, except in a few notable instances, through the difficulty
of securing the visitors upon whom the plan depends for its success. The
same want has kept the boys' club from reaching the development that
would apply the real test to it as a barrier against the slum. There
are fifteen clubs for every Winifred Buck that is in sight. From the
City History Club, the Charity Organization Society, from everywhere,
comes the same complaint. The hardest thing in the world to give is
still one's self. But it is all the time getting to be easier. There are
daily more women and men who, thinking of the boy, can say, and do, with
my friend of the College Settlement, when an opportunity to enter a
larger field was offered her, "No, I am content to stay here, to be
ready for Johnnie when he wants me."

Justice for the boy, and for his father. An itinerant Jewish glazier,
crying his wares, was beckoned into a stable by the foreman, and bidden
to replace a lot of broken panes, enough nearly to exhaust his stock.
When, after working half the day, he asked for his pay, he was driven
from the place with jeers and vile words. Raging and impotent, he went
back to his poor tenement cursing a world in which there was no justice
for a poor man. If he had next been found ranting with anarchists
against the social order, would you have blamed him? He found instead,
in the Legal Aid Society, a champion that pleaded his cause and
compelled the stableman to pay him his wages. For a hundred thousand
such--more shame to us--this society has meant all that freedom
promised: justice to the poor man. It too has earned a place among the
forces that are working out through the new education the brighter day,
for it has taught the lesson which all the citizens of a free state need
most to learn,--respect for law.



VIII

REFORM BY HUMANE TOUCH


I have sketched in outline the gains achieved in the metropolis since
its conscience awoke. Now, in closing this account, I am reminded of the
story of an old Irishman who died here a couple of years ago. Patrick
Mullen was an honest blacksmith. He made guns for a living. He made them
so well that one with his name on it was worth a good deal more than the
market price of guns. Other makers went to him with offers of money for
the use of his stamp; but they never went twice. When sometimes a gun of
very superior make was brought to him to finish, he would stamp it P.
Mullen, never Patrick Mullen. Only to that which he himself had wrought
did he give his honest name without reserve. When he died, judges and
bishops and other great men crowded to his modest home by the East
River, and wrote letters to the newspapers telling how proud they had
been to call him friend. Yet he was, and remained to the end, plain
Patrick Mullen, blacksmith and gunmaker.

In his life he supplied the answer to the sigh of dreamers in all days:
when will the millennium come? It will come when every man is a Patrick
Mullen at his own trade; not merely a P. Mullen, but a Patrick Mullen.
The millennium of municipal politics, when there shall be no slum to
fight, will come when every citizen does his whole duty as a citizen;
not before. As long as he "despises politics," and deputizes another to
do it for him, whether that other wears the stamp of a Croker or of a
Platt,--it matters little which,--we shall have the slum, and be put
periodically to the trouble and the shame of draining it in the public
sight. A citizen's duty is one thing that cannot be farmed out safely;
and the slum is not limited by the rookeries of Mulberry or Ludlow
streets. It has long roots that feed on the selfishness and dullness of
Fifth Avenue quite as greedily as on the squalor of the Sixth Ward. The
two are not nearly so far apart as they look.

I am not saying this because it is anything new, but because we have
just had an illustration of its truth in municipal politics. Waring and
Roosevelt were the Patrick Mullens of the reform administration which
Tammany has now replaced with her insolent platform, "To hell with
reform." It was not an ideal administration, but it can be said of it,
at least, that it was up to the times it served. It made compromises
with spoils politics, and they were wretched failures. It took Waring
and Roosevelt on the other plan, on which they insisted, of divorcing
politics from the public business, and they let in more light than even
my small parks over on the East Side. For they showed us where we stood
and what was the matter with us. We believed in Waring when he
demonstrated the success of his plan for cleaning the streets: not
before. When Roosevelt announced his programme of enforcing the excise
law because it _was_ law, a howl arose that would have frightened a less
resolute man from his purpose. But he went right on doing the duty he
was sworn to do. And when, at the end of three months of clamor and
abuse, we saw the spectacle of the saloon keepers formally resolving to
help the police instead of hindering them; of the prison ward in
Bellevue Hospital standing empty for three days at a time, an
astonishing and unprecedented thing, which the warden could only
attribute to the "prompt closing of the saloons at one A. M.;" and of
the police force recovering its lost self-respect, we had found out more
and greater things than whether the excise law was a good or a bad law.
We understood what Roosevelt meant when he insisted upon the "primary
virtues" of honesty and courage in the conduct of public business. For
the want of them in us, half the laws that touched our daily lives had
become dead letters or vehicles of blackmail and oppression. It was
worth something to have that lesson taught us in that way; to find out
that simple, straightforward, honest dealing as between man and man is
after all effective in politics as in gunmaking. Perhaps we have not
mastered the lesson yet. But we have not discharged the teacher, either.

[Illustration: A TAMMANY-SWEPT EAST SIDE STREET, BEFORE WARING

(_See picture facing page 248_)]

Courage, indeed! There were times during that stormy spell when it
seemed as if we had grown wholly and hopelessly flabby as a people.
All the outcry against the programme of order did not come from the
lawless and the disorderly, by any means. Ordinarily decent,
conservative citizens joined in counseling moderation and virtual
compromise with the law-breakers--it was nothing else--to "avoid
trouble." The old love of fair play had been whittled down by the
jackknife of all-pervading expediency to an anæmic desire to "hold the
scales even;" that is a favorite modern device of the devil for
paralyzing action in men. You cannot hold the scales even in a moral
issue. It inevitably results in the triumph of evil, which asks nothing
better than the even chance to which it is not entitled. When the
trouble in the Police Board had reached a point where it seemed
impossible not to understand that Roosevelt and his side were fighting a
cold and treacherous conspiracy against the cause of good government, we
had the spectacle of a Christian Endeavor Society inviting the man who
had hatched the plot, the bitter and relentless enemy whom the Mayor had
summoned to resign, and afterward did his best to remove as a fatal
obstacle to reform,--inviting this man to come before it and speak of
Christian citizenship! It was a sight to make the bosses hug themselves
with glee. For Christian citizenship is their nightmare, and nothing is
so cheering to them as evidence that those who profess it have no sense.

Apart from the moral bearings of it, what this question of enforcement
of law means in the life of the poor was illustrated by testimony given
before the Police Board very recently. A captain was on trial for
allowing the policy swindle to go unchecked in his precinct. Policy is a
kind of penny lottery, with alleged daily drawings which never take
place. The whole thing is a pestilent fraud, which is allowed to exist
only because it pays heavy blackmail to the police and the politicians.
Expert witnesses testified that eight policy shops in the Twenty-First
Ward, which they had visited, did a business averaging about thirty-two
dollars a day each. The Twenty-First is a poor Irish tenement ward. The
policy sharks were getting two hundred and fifty dollars or more a day
of the hard-earned wages of those poor people, in sums of from one and
two cents to a quarter, without making any return for it. The thing
would seem incredible, were it not too sadly familiar. The saloon keeper
got his share of what was left, and rewarded his customer by posing as
the "friend of the poor man" whenever his business was under scrutiny; I
have yet in my office the record of a single week during the hottest of
the fight between Roosevelt and the saloons, as showing of what kind
that friendship is. It embraces the destruction of eight homes by the
demon of drunkenness: the suicide of four wives, the murder of two
others by drunken husbands, the killing of a policeman in the street,
and the torture of an aged woman by her rascal son, who "used to be a
good boy till he took to liquor, when he became a perfect devil." In
that rôle he finally beat her to death for giving shelter to some
evicted fellow tenants who else would have had to sleep in the street.
Nice friendly turn, wasn't it?

And yet there was something to be said for the saloon keeper. He gave
the man the refuge from his tenement which he needed. I say needed,
purposely. There has been a good deal of talk lately about the saloon
as a social necessity. About all there is to that is that the saloon is
there, and the necessity too. Man is a social animal, whether he lives
in a tenement or in a palace. But the palace has resources; the tenement
has not. It is a good place to get away from at all times. The saloon is
cheery and bright, and never far away. The man craving human
companionship finds it there. He finds, too, in the saloon keeper one
who understands his wants much better than the reformer who talks civil
service in the meetings. "Civil service" to him and his kind means yet a
contrivance for keeping them out of a job. The saloon keeper knows the
boss, if he is not himself the boss or his lieutenant, and can steer him
to the man who will spend all day at the City Hall, if need be, to get a
job for a friend, and all night pulling wires to keep him in it, if
trouble is brewing. Mr. Beecher used to say, when pleading for bright
hymn tunes, that he didn't want the devil to have the monopoly of all
the good music in the world. The saloon has had the monopoly up to date
of all the cheer in the tenements. If its owner has made it pan out to
his own advantage and the boss's, we at least have no just cause of
complaint. We let him have the field all to himself.

As to this boss, of whom we hear so much, what manner of man is he? That
depends on how you look at him. I have one in mind, a district boss,
whom you would accept instantly as a type, if I were to mention his
name, which I shall not do for a reason which I fear will shock you: he
and I are friends. In his private capacity I have real regard for him.
As a politician and a boss I have none at all. I am aware that this is
taking low ground in a discussion of this kind, but perhaps the reader
will better understand the relations of his "district" to him, if I let
him into mine. There is no political bond between us, of either district
or party; just the reverse. It is purely personal. He was once a police
justice,--at that time he kept a saloon,--and I never knew one with more
common sense, which happens to be the one quality especially needed in
that office. Up to the point where politics came in I could depend upon
him entirely. At that point he let me know bluntly that he was in the
habit of running his district to suit himself. The way he did it
brought him under the just accusation of being guilty of every kind of
rascality known to politics. When next our paths would cross each other,
it would very likely be on some errand of mercy, to which his feet were
always swift. I recall the distress of a dear and gentle lady at whose
dinner table I once took his part. She could not believe that there was
any good in him; what he did must be done for effect. Some time after
that she wrote asking me to look after an East Side family that was in
great trouble. It was during the severe cold spell of last winter, and
there was need of haste. I went over at once; but although I had lost no
time, I found my friend the boss ahead of me. It was a real pleasure to
me to be able to report to my correspondent that he had seen to their
comfort, and to add that it was unpolitical charity altogether. The
family was that of a Jewish widow with a lot of little children. He is a
Roman Catholic. There were no men, consequently no voters, in the house,
which was far outside of his district, too; and as for effect, he was
rather shamefaced at my catching him at it. I do not believe that a
soul has ever heard of the case from him to this day.

[Illustration: THE SAME EAST SIDE STREET WHEN COLONEL WARING WIELDED THE
BROOM

(_See picture facing page 242_)]

My friend is a Tammany boss. During that same cold spell a politician of
the other camp came into my office and gave me a hundred dollars to
spend as I saw fit among the poor. His district was miles uptown, and he
was most unwilling to disclose his identity, stipulating in the end that
no one but I should know where the money came from. He was not seeking
notoriety. The plight of the suffering had appealed to him, and he
wanted to help where he could, that was all.

Now, I have not the least desire to glorify the boss in this. He is not
glorious to me. He is simply human. Often enough he is a coarse and
brutal fellow, in his morals as in his politics. Again, he may have some
very engaging personal traits that bind his friends to him with the
closest of ties. The poor man sees the friend, the charity, the power
that is able and ready to help him in need; is it any wonder that he
overlooks the source of this power, this plenty,--that he forgets the
robbery in the robber who is "good to the poor"? Anyhow, if anybody got
robbed, it was "the rich." With the present ethical standards of the
slum, it is easy to construct even a scheme of social justice out of it
that is very comforting all round, even to the boss himself, though he
is in need of no sympathy or excuse. "Politics," he will tell me in his
philosophic moods, "is a game for profit. The city foots the bills."
Patriotism means to him working for the ticket that shall bring more
profit. "I regard," he says, lighting his cigar, "a repeater as a shade
off a murderer, but you are obliged to admit that in my trade he is a
necessary evil." I am not obliged to do anything of the kind, but I can
understand his way of looking at it. He simply has no political
conscience. He has gratitude, loyalty to a friend,--that is part of his
stock in trade,--fighting blood, plenty of it, all the good qualities of
the savage; nothing more. And a savage he is, politically, with no soul
above the dross. He would not rob a neighbor for the world; but he will
steal from the city--though he does not call it by that name--without a
tremor, and count it a good mark. When I tell him that, he waves his
hand toward Wall Street as representative of the business community,
and toward the office of his neighbor, the padrone, as representative
of the railroads, and says with a laugh, "Don't they all do it?"

The boss believes in himself. It is one of his strong points. And he has
experience to back him. In the fall of 1894 we shook off boss rule in
New York, and set up housekeeping for ourselves. We kept it up three
years, and then went back to the old style. I should judge that we did
it because we were tired of too much virtue. Perhaps we were not built
to hold such a lot at once. Besides, it is much easier to be ruled than
to rule. That fall, after the election, when I was concerned about what
would become of my small parks, of the Health Department in which we
took such just pride, and of a dozen other things, I received one
unvarying reply to my anxious question, or rather two. If it was the
Health Department, I was told: "Go to Platt. He is the only man who can
do it. He is a sensible man, and will see that it is protected." If
small parks, it was: "Go to Croker. He will not allow the work to be
stopped." A playgrounds bill was to be presented in the legislature, and
everybody advised: "Go to Platt. He won't have any objection: it is
popular." And so on. My advisers were not politicians. They were
business men, but recently honestly interested in reform. I was talking
one day with a gentleman of very wide reputation as a philanthropist,
about the unhappy lot of the old fire-engine horses,--which, after lives
of toil that deserve a better fate, are sold for a song to drag out a
weary existence hauling some huckster's cart around,--and wishing that
they might be pensioned off to live out their years on a farm, with
enough to eat and a chance to roll in the grass. He was much interested,
and promptly gave me this advice: "I tell you what you do. You go and
see Croker. He likes horses." No wonder the boss believes in himself. He
would be less than human if he did not. And he is very human.

I had voted on the day of the Greater New York election,--the Tammany
election, as we learned to call it afterward,--in my home out in the
Borough of Queens, and went over to the depot to catch the train for the
city. On the platform were half a dozen of my neighbors, all business
men, all "friends of reform." Some of them were just down from
breakfast. One I remembered as introducing a resolution, in a meeting we
had held, about the discourtesy of local politicians. He looked
surprised when reminded that it was election day. "Why, is it to-day?"
he said. "They didn't send any carriage," said another regretfully. "I
don't see what's the use," said the third; "the roads are just as bad as
when we began talking about it." (We had been trying to mend them.) The
fourth yawned and said: "I don't care. I have my business to attend to."
And they took the train, which meant that they lost their votes. The
Tammany captain was busy hauling his voters by the cartload to the
polling place. Over there stood a reform candidate who had been defeated
in the primary, and puffed out his chest. "The politicians are afraid of
me," he said. They slapped him on the back, as they went by, and told
him that he was a devil of a fellow.

So Tammany came back. The Health Department is wrecked. The police force
is worse than before Roosevelt took hold of it, and we are back in the
mud out of which we pulled ourselves with such an effort. And we are
swearing at it. But I am afraid we are swearing at the wrong fellow. The
real Tammany is not the conscienceless rascal that plunders our treasury
and fattens on our substance. That one is a mere counterfeit. It is the
voter who waits for a carriage to take him to the polls, the man who
"doesn't see what's the use;" the business man who says "business is
business," and has no time to waste on voting; the citizen who "will
wait to see how the cat jumps, because he doesn't want to throw his vote
away;" the cowardly American who "doesn't want to antagonize" anybody;
the fool who "washes his hands of politics." These are the real Tammany,
the men after the boss's own heart. For every one whose vote he buys,
there are two of these who give him theirs for nothing. We shall get rid
of him when these withdraw their support, when they become citizens of
the Patrick Mullen stamp, as faithful at the polling place as he was at
the forge; not before.

The true work of reform is at the top, not at the bottom. The man in the
slum votes according to his light, and the boss holds the candle. But
the boss is in no real sense a leader. He follows instead, always as
far behind the moral sentiment of the community as he thinks is safe. He
has heard it said that a community will not be any better than its
citizens, and that it will be just as good as they are, and he applies
the saying to himself. He is no worse a boss than the town deserves. I
can conceive of his taking credit to himself as some kind of a moral
instrument by which the virtue of the community may be graded, though
that is most unlikely. He does not bother himself with the morals of
anything. But right here is his Achilles heel. The man has no
conscience. He cannot tell the signs of it in others. It always comes
upon him unawares. Reform to him simply means the "outs" fighting to get
in. The real thing he will always underestimate. Such a man is not the
power he seems. He is formidable only in proportion to the amount of
shaking it takes to rouse the community's conscience.

The boss is like the measles, a distemper of a self-governing people's
infancy. When we shall have come of age politically, he will have no
terrors for us. Meanwhile, being charged with the business of governing,
which we left to him because we were too busy making money, he follows
the track laid out for him, and makes the business pan out all that is
in it. He fights when we want to discharge him. Of course he does. No
man likes to give up a good job. He will fight or bargain, as he sees
his way clear. He will give us small parks, play piers, new schools,
anything we ask, to keep his place, while trying to find out "the price"
of this conscience which he does not understand. Even to the half of his
kingdom he will give, to be "in" on the new deal. He has done it before,
and there is no reason that he can see why it should not be done again.
And he will appeal to the people whom he is plundering to trust him
because they know him.

Odd as it sounds, this is where he has his real hold. I have shown why
this is so. To the poor people of his district the boss is a real friend
in need. He is one of them. He does not want to reform them; far from
it. No doubt it is very ungrateful of them, but the poor people have no
desire to be reformed. They do not think they need to be. They consider
their moral standards quite as high as those of the rich, and resent
being told that they are mistaken. The reformer comes to them from
another world to tell them these things, and goes his way. The boss
lives among them. He helped John to a job on the pipes in their hard
winter, and got Mike on the force. They know him as a good neighbor, and
trust him to their harm. He drags their standard ever farther down. The
question for those who are trying to help them is how to make them
transfer their allegiance, and trust their real friends instead.

It ought not to be a difficult question to answer. Any teacher could do
it. He knows, if he knows anything, that the way to get and keep the
children's confidence is to trust them, and let them know that they are
trusted. They will almost always come up to the demand thus made upon
them. Preaching to them does little good; preaching at them still less.
Men, whether rich or poor, are much like children. The good in them is
just as good as it is said to be, and the bad, considering their
enlarged opportunities for mischief, not so much worse than it is
called. A vigorous optimism, a stout belief in one's fellow man, is
better equipment in a campaign for civic virtue than stacks of tracts
and arguments, economic and moral, are. There is good bottom, even in
the slum, for that kind of an anchor to get a grip on. A year ago I went
to see a boxing match there had been much talk about. The hall was
jammed with a rough and noisy crowd, hotly intent upon its favorite. His
opponent, who hailed, I think, from somewhere in Delaware, was greeted
with hostile demonstrations as a "foreigner." But as the battle wore on,
and he was seen to be fair and manly, while the New Yorker struck one
foul blow after another, the attitude of the crowd changed rapidly from
enthusiastic approval of the favorite to scorn and contempt; and in the
last round, when he knocked the Delawarean over with a foul blow, the
audience rose in a body and yelled to have the fight given to the
"foreigner," until my blood tingled with pride. For the decision would
leave it practically without a cent. It had staked all it had on the New
Yorker. "He is a good man," I heard on all sides, while the once
favorite sneaked away without a friend. "Good" meant fair and manly to
that crowd. I thought, as I went to the office the next morning, that
it ought to be easy to appeal to such a people with measures that were
fair and just, if we could only get on common ground. But the only hint
I got from my reform paper was an editorial denunciation of the
brutality of boxing, on the same page that had an enthusiastic review of
the college football season. I do not suppose it did any harm, for the
paper was probably not read by one of the men it had set out to reform.
But suppose it had been, how much would it have appealed to them?
Exactly the qualities of robust manliness which football is supposed to
encourage in college students had been evoked by the trial of strength
and skill which they had witnessed. As to the brutality, they knew that
fifty young men are maimed or killed at football to one who fairs ill in
a boxing match. Would it seem to them common sense, or cant and humbug?

It comes down in the end to a question of common sense and common
honesty. For how many failures of reform effort is insincerity not to
blame! Last spring I attended a meeting at Albany that had been called
by the governor to discuss the better enforcement of the labor laws. We
talked the situation over, and Mr. Roosevelt received from those present
their ready promise to aid him in every way in making effective the laws
that represented so much toil and sacrifice, yet had until then been in
too many instances barren of results. Some time after, a workingman told
me with scorn how, on our coming home, one of our party had stopped in
at the factory inspector's office to urge him to "let up" on a friend, a
cigar manufacturer, who was violating a law for which the labor
organizations had fought long years as absolutely necessary to secure
human conditions in the trade. How much stock might he and his fellows
be supposed to take in a movement that had such champions? "You scratch
my back and I'll scratch yours," is a kind of politics in which the
reformer is no match for the boss. The boss will win on that line every
time. A saving sense of humor might have avoided that and many other
pitfalls. I am seriously of the opinion that a professional humorist
ought to be attached to every reform movement, to keep it from making
itself ridiculous by either too great solemnity or too much conceit. As
it is, the enemy sometimes employs him with effect. Failing the adoption
of that plan, I would recommend a decree of banishment against
photographers, press-clippings men, and the rest of the congratulatory
staff. Why should the fact that a citizen has done a citizen's duty
deserve to be celebrated in print and picture, as if something
extraordinary had happened? The smoke of battle had not cleared away
after the victory of reform, in the fall of 1894, before the citizens'
committee and all the little sub-committees rushed pell-mell to the
photographer's to get themselves on record as the men who did it. The
spectacle might have inspired in the humorist the advice to get two sets
made, while they were about it,--one to serve by and by as an exhibit of
the men who didn't; and, as the event proved, he would have been right.

But it is easy to find fault, and on that tack we get no farther. Those
men did a great work, and they did it well. The mile-posts they set up
on the road to better things will guide another generation to the goal,
however the present may go astray. Good schools, better homes, and a
chance for the boy are arguments that are not lost upon the people.
They wear well. It may be that, like Moses and his followers, we of the
present day shall see the promised land only from afar and with the eye
of faith, because of our sins; that to a younger and sturdier to-morrow
it shall be given to blaze the path of civic righteousness that was our
dream. I like to think that it is so, and that that is the meaning of
the coming of men like Roosevelt and Waring at this time with their
simple appeal to the reason of honest men. Unless I greatly err in
reading the signs of the times, it is indeed so, and the day of the boss
and of the slum is drawing to an end. Our faith has felt the new
impulse; rather, I should say, it has given it. The social movements,
and that which we call politics, are but a reflection of what the people
honestly believe, a chart of their aims and aspirations. Charity in our
day no longer means alms, but justice. The social settlements are
substituting vital touch for the machine charity that reaped a crop of
hate and beggary. They are passenger bridges, it has been truly said,
not mere "shoots" for the delivery of coal and groceries; bridges upon
which men go over, not down, from the mansion to the tenement. We
have learned that we cannot pass off checks for human sympathy in
settlement of our brotherhood arrears. The church, which once stood by
indifferent, or worse, is hastening to enter the life of the people. In
the memory of men yet living, one church, moving uptown away from the
crowd, left its old Mulberry Street home to be converted into tenements
that justly earned the name of "dens of death" in the Health
Department's records, while another became the foulest lodging house in
an unclean city. It was a church corporation which in those bad days
owned the worst underground dive downtown, and turned a deaf ear to all
remonstrances. The church was "angling for souls." But souls in this
world live in bodies endowed with reason. The results of that kind of
fishing were empty pews and cold hearts, and the conscience-stricken cry
that went up, "What shall we do to lay hold of this great multitude that
has slipped from us?"

[Illustration: THEODORE ROOSEVELT]

Ten years have passed, and to-day we see the churches of every
denomination uniting in a systematic canvass of the city to get at the
facts of the people's life of which they had ceased to be a part,
pleading for parks, playgrounds, kindergartens, libraries, clubs, and
better homes. There is a new and hearty sound to the word "brother" that
is full of hope. The cry has been answered. The gap in the social body,
between rich and poor, is no longer widening. We are certainly coming
closer together. Ten years ago, when the King's Daughters lighted a
Christmas tree in Gotham Court, the children ran screaming from Santa
Claus as from a "bogey man." Last Christmas the boys in the Hebrew
Institute's schools nearly broke the bank laying in supplies to do him
honor. I do not mean that the Jews are deserting to join the Christian
church. They are doing that which is better,--they are embracing its
spirit; and they and we are the better for it. God knows we waited long
enough; and how close we were to each other all the while without
knowing it! Last Christmas a clergyman, who lives out of town and has a
houseful of children, asked me if I could not find for them a poor
family in the city with children of about the same ages, whom they might
visit and befriend. He worked every day in the office of a foreign
mission in Fifth Avenue, and knew little of the life that moved about
him in the city. I picked out a Hungarian widow in an East Side
tenement, whose brave struggle to keep her little flock together had
enlisted my sympathy and strong admiration. She was a cleaner in an
office building; not until all the arrangements had been made did it
occur to me to ask where. Then it turned out that she was scrubbing
floors in the missionary society's house, right at my friend's door.
They had passed each other every day, each in need of the other, and
each as far from the other as if oceans separated them instead of a
doorstep four inches wide.

       *       *       *       *       *

Looking back over the years that lie behind with their work, and forward
to those that are coming, I see only cause for hope. As I write these
last lines in a far distant land, in the city of my birth, the children
are playing under my window, and calling to one another with glad cries
in my sweet mother tongue, even as we did in the long ago. Life and the
world are before them, bright with the promise of morning. So to me
seem the skies at home. Not lightly do I say it, for I have known the
toil of rough-hewing it on the pioneer line that turns men's hair gray;
but I have seen also the reward of the toil. New York is the youngest of
the world's great cities, barely yet out of its knickerbockers. It may
be that the dawning century will see it as the greatest of them all. The
task that is set it, the problem it has to solve and which it may not
shirk, is the problem of civilization, of human progress, of a people's
fitness for self-government that is on trial among us. We shall solve it
by the world-old formula of human sympathy, of humane touch. Somewhere
in these pages I have told of the woman in Chicago who accounted herself
the happiest woman alive because she had at last obtained a playground
for her poor neighbors' children. "I have lived here for years," she
said to me, "and struggled with principalities and powers, and have made
up my mind that the most and the best I can do is to live right here
with my people and smile with them,--keep smiling; weep when I must, but
smile as long as I possibly can." And the tears shone in her gentle old
eyes as she said it. When we have learned to smile and weep with the
poor, we shall have mastered our problem. Then the slum will have lost
its grip and the boss his job.

Until then, while they are in possession, our business is to hold taut
and take in slack right along; never letting go for a moment.


    ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED
    BY H. O. HOUGHTON AND CO.

    The Riverside Press

    CAMBRIDGE, MASS., U. S. A.





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