By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: How the Other Half Lives - Studies Among the Tenements of New York
Author: Riis, Jacob A. (Jacob August)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "How the Other Half Lives - Studies Among the Tenements of New York" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                        HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES

  [Illustration: GOTHAM COURT.]

                        HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES

                      _STUDIES AMONG THE TENEMENTS
                              OF NEW YORK_

                             JACOB A. RIIS

                          TAKEN BY THE AUTHOR_

                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                          COPYRIGHT, 1890, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                               NEW YORK.


The belief that every man's experience ought to be worth something to
the community from which he drew it, no matter what that experience may
be, so long as it was gleaned along the line of some decent, honest
work, made me begin this book. With the result before him, the reader
can judge for himself now whether or not I was right. Right or wrong,
the many and exacting duties of a newspaper man's life would hardly
have allowed me to bring it to an end but for frequent friendly lifts
given me by willing hands. To the President of the Board of Health, Mr.
Charles G. Wilson, and to Chief Inspector Byrnes of the Police Force I
am indebted for much kindness. The patient friendship of Dr. Roger S.
Tracy, the Registrar of Vital Statistics, has done for me what I never
could have done for myself; for I know nothing of tables, statistics
and percentages, while there is nothing about them that he does not
know. Most of all, I owe in this, as in all things else, to the womanly
sympathy and the loving companionship of my dear wife, ever my chief
helper, my wisest counsellor, and my gentlest critic.

                                                                J. A. R.



    INTRODUCTION,                                          1

                               CHAPTER I.

    GENESIS OF THE TENEMENT,                               7

                              CHAPTER II.

    THE AWAKENING,                                        15

                              CHAPTER III.

    THE MIXED CROWD,                                      21

                              CHAPTER IV.

    THE DOWN TOWN BACK-ALLEYS,                            28

                               CHAPTER V.

    THE ITALIAN IN NEW YORK,                              48

                              CHAPTER VI.

    THE BEND,                                             55

                              CHAPTER VII.

    A RAID ON THE STALE-BEER DIVES,                       71

                             CHAPTER VIII.

    THE CHEAP LODGING-HOUSES,                             82

                              CHAPTER IX.

    CHINATOWN,                                            92

                               CHAPTER X.

    JEWTOWN,                                             104

                              CHAPTER XI.

    THE SWEATERS OF JEWTOWN,                             120

                              CHAPTER XII.


                             CHAPTER XIII.

    THE COLOR LINE IN NEW YORK,                          148

                              CHAPTER XIV.

    THE COMMON HERD,                                     159

                              CHAPTER XV.

    THE PROBLEM OF THE CHILDREN,                         179

                              CHAPTER XVI.

    WAIFS OF THE CITY'S SLUMS,                           187

                             CHAPTER XVII.

    THE STREET ARAB,                                     196

                             CHAPTER XVIII.

    THE REIGN OF RUM,                                    210

                              CHAPTER XIX.

    THE HARVEST OF TARES,                                217

                              CHAPTER XX.

    THE WORKING GIRLS OF NEW YORK,                       234

                              CHAPTER XXI.

    PAUPERISM IN THE TENEMENTS,                          243

                             CHAPTER XXII.

    THE WRECKS AND THE WASTE,                            255

                             CHAPTER XXIII.

    THE MAN WITH THE KNIFE,                              263

                             CHAPTER XXIV.

    WHAT HAS BEEN DONE,                                  268

                              CHAPTER XXV.

    HOW THE CASE STANDS,                                 282


    GOTHAM COURT,      _Frontispiece_


    HELL'S KITCHEN AND SEBASTOPOL,                         6

        FLAT,                                        12

        AIR-SHAFT,                                   18


    UPSTAIRS IN BLINDMAN'S ALLEY,                         34


        STREET,                                      51

    THE BEND,                                             59

    BANDITS' ROOST,                                       63

    BOTTLE ALLEY,                                         66

        CENTS A SPOT,"                                    69


    THE TRAMP,                                            79


    IN A CHINESE JOINT,                                   98

    "THE OFFICIAL ORGAN OF CHINATOWN,"                   100

    A TRAMP'S NEST IN LUDLOW STREET,                     106

    A MARKET SCENE IN THE JEWISH QUARTER,                111


        LUDLOW STREET SWEATER'S SHOP,                    127


    A BLACK-AND-TAN DIVE IN "AFRICA,"                    157

    THE OPEN DOOR,                                       160


    THE WHITE BADGE OF MOURNING,                         166

        AN ENGLISH COAL-HEAVER'S HOME,                   169

    DISPOSSESSED,                                        176

    THE TRENCH IN THE POTTER'S FIELD,                    178

        OF INDUSTRY,                                     195

    "DIDN'T LIVE NOWHERE,"                               200

    STREET ARABS IN SLEEPING QUARTERS,                   202

        LODGING-HOUSE,                                   205

    A DOWNTOWN "MORGUE,"                                 214

    A GROWLER GANG IN SESSION,                           223


    HUNTING RIVER THIEVES,                               231


        STREET, WITH ALL ITS FURNITURE,                  245

    COFFEE AT ONE CENT,                                  252


        (A. T. WHITE'S) IN BROOKLYN,                     292

        BUILDINGS, SHOWING SIX "APARTMENTS,"             293

          "With gates of silver and bars of gold
          Ye have fenced my sheep from their father's fold;
          I have heard the dropping of their tears
          In heaven these eighteen hundred years."

          "O Lord and Master, not ours the guilt,
          We build but as our fathers built;
          Behold thine images, how they stand,
          Sovereign and sole, through all our land."

          Then Christ sought out an artisan,
          A low-browed, stunted, haggard man,
          And a motherless girl, whose fingers thin
          Pushed from her faintly want and sin.

          These set he in the midst of them,
          And as they drew back their garment-hem,
          For fear of defilement, "Lo, here," said he,
          "The _images_ ye have made of me!"

                                        --JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

                       HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES.


Long ago it was said that "one half of the world does not know how the
other half lives." That was true then. It did not know because it did
not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles,
and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was
able to hold them there and keep its own seat. There came a time when
the discomfort and crowding below were so great, and the consequent
upheavals so violent, that it was no longer an easy thing to do, and
then the upper half fell to inquiring what was the matter. Information
on the subject has been accumulating rapidly since, and the whole world
has had its hands full answering for its old ignorance.

In New York, the youngest of the world's great cities, that time came
later than elsewhere, because the crowding had not been so great. There
were those who believed that it would never come; but their hopes were
vain. Greed and reckless selfishness wrought like results here as in
the cities of older lands. "When the great riot occurred in 1863," so
reads the testimony of the Secretary of the Prison Association of New
York before a legislative committee appointed to investigate causes
of the increase of crime in the State twenty-five years ago, "every
hiding-place and nursery of crime discovered itself by immediate and
active participation in the operations of the mob. Those very places
and domiciles, and all that are like them, are to-day nurseries of
crime, and of the vices and disorderly courses which lead to crime.
By far the largest part--eighty per cent. at least--of crimes against
property and against the person are perpetrated by individuals who
have either lost connection with home life, or never had any, or whose
_homes had ceased to be sufficiently separate, decent, and desirable to
afford what are regarded as ordinary wholesome influences of home and
family_.... The younger criminals seem to come almost exclusively from
the worst tenement house districts, that is, when traced back to the
very places where they had their homes in the city here." Of one thing
New York made sure at that early stage of the inquiry: the boundary
line of the Other Half lies through the tenements.

It is ten years and over, now, since that line divided New York's
population evenly. To-day three-fourths of its people live in the
tenements, and the nineteenth century drift of the population to the
cities is sending ever-increasing multitudes to crowd them. The fifteen
thousand tenant houses that were the despair of the sanitarian in the
past generation have swelled into thirty-seven thousand, and more than
twelve hundred thousand persons call them home. The one way out he
saw--rapid transit to the suburbs--has brought no relief. We know now
that there is no way out; that the "system" that was the evil offspring
of public neglect and private greed has come to stay, a storm-centre
forever of our civilization. Nothing is left but to make the best of a
bad bargain.

What the tenements are and how they grow to what they are, we shall
see hereafter. The story is dark enough, drawn from the plain public
records, to send a chill to any heart. If it shall appear that the
sufferings and the sins of the "other half," and the evil they
breed, are but as a just punishment upon the community that gave it
no other choice, it will be because that is the truth. The boundary
line lies there because, while the forces for good on one side vastly
outweigh the bad--it were not well otherwise--in the tenements all
the influences make for evil; because they are the hot-beds of the
epidemics that carry death to rich and poor alike; the nurseries of
pauperism and crime that fill our jails and police courts; that throw
off a scum of forty thousand human wrecks to the island asylums and
workhouses year by year; that turned out in the last eight years a
round half million beggars to prey upon our charities; that maintain
a standing army of ten thousand tramps with all that that implies;
because, above all, they touch the family life with deadly moral
contagion. This is their worst crime, inseparable from the system. That
we have to own it the child of our own wrong does not excuse it, even
though it gives it claim upon our utmost patience and tenderest charity.

What are you going to do about it? is the question of to-day. It was
asked once of our city in taunting defiance by a band of political
cutthroats, the legitimate outgrowth of life on the tenement-house
level.[1] Law and order found the answer then and prevailed. With our
enormously swelling population held in this galling bondage, will that
answer always be given? It will depend on how fully the situation that
prompted the challenge is grasped. Forty per cent. of the distress
among the poor, said a recent official report, is due to drunkenness.
But the first legislative committee ever appointed to probe this sore
went deeper down and uncovered its roots. The "conclusion forced
itself upon it that certain conditions and associations of human life
and habitation are the prolific parents of corresponding habits and
morals," and it recommended "the prevention of drunkenness by providing
for every man a clean and comfortable home." Years after, a sanitary
inquiry brought to light the fact that "more than one-half of the
tenements with two-thirds of their population were held by owners
who made the keeping of them a business, _generally a speculation_.
The owner was seeking a certain percentage on his outlay, and that
percentage very rarely fell below fifteen per cent., and frequently
exceeded thirty.[2]... The complaint was universal among the tenants
that they were entirely uncared for, and that the only answer to their
requests to have the place put in order by repairs and necessary
improvements was that they must pay their rent or leave. The agent's
instructions were simple but emphatic: 'Collect the rent in advance,
or, failing, eject the occupants.'" Upon such a stock grew this
upas-tree. Small wonder the fruit is bitter. The remedy that shall be
an effective answer to the coming appeal for justice must proceed from
the public conscience. Neither legislation nor charity can cover the
ground. The greed of capital that wrought the evil must itself undo it,
as far as it can now be undone. Homes must be built for the working
masses by those who employ their labor; but tenements must cease to be
"good property" in the old, heartless sense. "Philanthropy and five per
cent." is the penance exacted.

[Footnote 1: Tweed was born and bred in a Fourth Ward tenement.]

[Footnote 2: Forty per cent. was declared by witnesses before a Senate
Committee to be a fair average interest on tenement property. Instances
were given of its being one hundred per cent. and over.]

If this is true from a purely economic point of view, what then of the
outlook from the Christian standpoint? Not long ago a great meeting was
held in this city, of all denominations of religious faith, to discuss
the question how to lay hold of these teeming masses in the tenements
with Christian influences, to which they are now too often strangers.
Might not the conference have found in the warning of one Brooklyn
builder, who has invested his capital on this plan and made it pay more
than a money interest, a hint worth heeding: "How shall the love of
God be understood by those who have been nurtured in sight only of the
greed of man?"


                               CHAPTER I.

                        GENESIS OF THE TENEMENT.

The first tenement New York knew bore the mark of Cain from its birth,
though a generation passed before the writing was deciphered. It was
the "rear house," infamous ever after in our city's history. There had
been tenant-houses before, but they were not built for the purpose.
Nothing would probably have shocked their original owners more than the
idea of their harboring a promiscuous crowd; for they were the decorous
homes of the old Knickerbockers, the proud aristocracy of Manhattan in
the early days.

It was the stir and bustle of trade, together with the tremendous
immigration that followed upon the war of 1812 that dislodged them.
In thirty-five years the city of less than a hundred thousand came to
harbor half a million souls, for whom homes had to be found. Within the
memory of men not yet in their prime, Washington had moved from his
house on Cherry Hill as too far out of town to be easily reached. Now
the old residents followed his example; but they moved in a different
direction and for a different reason. Their comfortable dwellings in
the once fashionable streets along the East River front fell into the
hands of real-estate agents and boarding-house keepers; and here,
says the report to the Legislature of 1857, when the evils engendered
had excited just alarm, "in its beginning, the tenant-house became a
real blessing to that class of industrious poor whose small earnings
limited their expenses, and whose employment in workshops, stores,
or about the warehouses and thoroughfares, render a near residence
of much importance." Not for long, however. As business increased,
and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor
became the opportunity of their wealthier neighbors, and the stamp
was set upon the old houses, suddenly become valuable, which the best
thought and effort of a later age has vainly struggled to efface.
Their "_large_ rooms were partitioned into _several smaller ones_,
without regard to light or ventilation, the rate of rent being lower
in proportion to space or height from the street; and they soon became
filled from cellar to garret with a class of tenantry living from
hand to mouth, loose in morals, improvident in habits, degraded, and
squalid as beggary itself." It was thus the dark bedroom, prolific of
untold depravities, came into the world. It was destined to survive
the old houses. In their new rôle, says the old report, eloquent in
its indignant denunciation of "evils more destructive than wars,"
"they were not intended to last. Rents were fixed high enough to cover
damage and abuse from this class, from whom nothing was expected,
and the most was made of them while they lasted. Neatness, order,
cleanliness, were never dreamed of in connection with the tenant-house
system, as it spread its localities from year to year; while reckless
slovenliness, discontent, privation, and ignorance were left to work
out their invariable results, until the entire premises reached the
level of tenant-house dilapidation, containing, but sheltering not,
the miserable hordes that crowded beneath smouldering, water-rotted
roofs or burrowed among the rats of clammy cellars." Yet so illogical
is human greed that, at a later day, when called to account, "the
proprietors frequently urged the filthy habits of the tenants as an
excuse for the condition of their property, utterly losing sight of the
fact that it was the tolerance of those habits which was the real evil,
and that for this they themselves were alone responsible."

Still the pressure of the crowds did not abate, and in the old garden
where the stolid Dutch burgher grew his tulips or early cabbages a
rear house was built, generally of wood, two stories high at first.
Presently it was carried up another story, and another. Where two
families had lived ten moved in. The front house followed suit, if the
brick walls were strong enough. The question was not always asked,
judging from complaints made by a contemporary witness, that the old
buildings were "often carried up to a great height without regard to
the strength of the foundation walls." It was rent the owner was after;
nothing was said in the contract about either the safety or the comfort
of the tenants. The garden gate no longer swung on its rusty hinges.
The shell-paved walk had become an alley; what the rear house had left
of the garden, a "court." Plenty such are yet to be found in the Fourth
Ward, with here and there one of the original rear tenements.

Worse was to follow. It was "soon perceived by estate owners and agents
of property that a greater percentage of profits could be realized
by the conversion of houses and blocks into barracks, and dividing
their space into smaller proportions capable of containing human life
within four walls.... Blocks were rented of real estate owners, or
'purchased on time,' or taken in charge at a percentage, and held
for under-letting." With the appearance of the middleman, wholly
irresponsible, and utterly reckless and unrestrained, began the era of
tenement building which turned out such blocks as Gotham Court, where,
in one cholera epidemic that scarcely touched the clean wards, the
tenants died at the rate of one hundred and ninety-five to the thousand
of population; which forced the general mortality of the city up from
1 in 41.83 in 1815, to 1 in 27.33 in 1855, a year of unusual freedom
from epidemic disease, and which wrung from the early organizers of
the Health Department this wail: "There are numerous examples of
tenement-houses in which are lodged several hundred people that have a
_pro rata_ allotment of ground area scarcely equal to two square yards
upon the city lot, court-yards and all included." The tenement-house
population had swelled to half a million souls by that time, and on the
East Side, in what is still the most densely populated district in all
the world, China not excluded, it was packed at the rate of 290,000
to the square mile, a state of affairs wholly unexampled. The utmost
cupidity of other lands and other days had never contrived to herd much
more than half that number within the same space. The greatest crowding
of Old London was at the rate of 175,816. Swine roamed the streets and
gutters as their principal scavengers.[3] The death of a child in a
tenement was registered at the Bureau of Vital Statistics as "plainly
due to suffocation in the foul air of an unventilated apartment," and
the Senators, who had come down from Albany to find out what was the
matter with New York, reported that "there are annually cut off from
the population by disease and death enough human beings to people a
city, and enough human labor to sustain it." And yet experts had
testified that, as compared with uptown, rents were from twenty-five
to thirty per cent. higher in the worst slums of the lower wards, with
such accommodations as were enjoyed, for instance, by a "family with
boarders" in Cedar Street, who fed hogs in the cellar that contained
eight or ten loads of manure; or "one room 12 × 12 with five families
living in it, comprising twenty persons of both sexes and all ages,
with only two beds, without partition, screen, chair, or table." The
rate of rent has been successfully maintained to the present day,
though the hog at least has been eliminated.

[Footnote 3: It was not until the winter of 1867 that owners of swine
were prohibited by ordinance from letting them run at large in the
built-up portions of the city.]

Lest anybody flatter himself with the notion that these were evils of
a day that is happily past and may safely be forgotten, let me mention
here three very recent instances of tenement-house life that came under
my notice. One was the burning of a rear house in Mott Street, from
appearances one of the original tenant-houses that made their owners
rich. The fire made homeless ten families, who had paid an average of
$5 a month for their mean little cubby-holes. The owner himself told
me that it was _fully_ insured for $800, though it brought him in
$600 a year rent. He evidently considered himself especially entitled
to be pitied for losing such valuable property. Another was the case
of a hard-working family of man and wife, young people from the old
country, who took poison together in a Crosby Street tenement because
they were "tired." There was no other explanation, and none was needed
when I stood in the room in which they had lived. It was in the attic
with sloping ceiling and a single window so far out on the roof that
it seemed not to belong to the place at all. With scarcely room enough
to turn around in they had been compelled to pay five dollars and a
half a month in advance. There were four such rooms in that attic, and
together they brought in as much as many a handsome little cottage, in
a pleasant part of Brooklyn. The third instance was that of a colored
family of husband, wife, and baby in a wretched rear rookery in West
Third Street. Their rent was eight dollars and a half for a single room
on the top-story, so small that I was unable to get a photograph of it
even by placing the camera outside the open door. Three short steps
across either way would have measured its full extent.

                 D, dark. L, light. H, halls.]

[Footnote 4: This "unventilated and fever-breeding structure" the year
after it was built was picked out by the Council of Hygiene, then just
organized, and presented to the Citizens' Association of New York as a
specimen "multiple domicile" in a desirable street, with the following
comment: "Here are twelve living-rooms and twenty-one bedrooms, and
only six of the latter have any provision or possibility for the
admission of light and air, excepting through the family sitting-
and living-room; being utterly dark, close, and unventilated. The
living-rooms are but 10 × 12 feet; the bedrooms 6½ × 7 feet."]

There was just one excuse for the early tenement-house builders, and
their successors may plead it with nearly as good right for what it
is worth. "Such," says an official report, "is the lack of house-room
in the city that any kind of tenement can be immediately crowded with
lodgers, if there is space offered." Thousands were living in cellars.
There were three hundred underground lodging-houses in the city when
the Health Department was organized. Some fifteen years before that the
old Baptist Church in Mulberry Street, just off Chatham Street, had
been sold, and the rear half of the frame structure had been converted
into tenements that with their swarming population became the scandal
even of that reckless age. The wretched pile harbored no less than
forty families, and the annual rate of deaths to the population was
officially stated to be 75 in 1,000. These tenements were an extreme
type of very many, for the big barracks had by this time spread east
and west and far up the island into the sparsely settled wards. Whether
or not the title was clear to the land upon which they were built was
of less account than that the rents were collected. If there were
damages to pay, the tenant had to foot them. Cases were "very frequent
when property was in litigation, and two or three different parties
were collecting rents." Of course under such circumstances "no repairs
were ever made."

The climax had been reached. The situation was summed up by the Society
for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor in these words: "Crazy
old buildings, crowded rear tenements in filthy yards, dark, damp
basements, leaking garrets, shops, outhouses, and stables[5] converted
into dwellings, though scarcely fit to shelter brutes, are habitations
of thousands of our fellow-beings in this wealthy, Christian city."
"The city," says its historian, Mrs. Martha Lamb, commenting on the
era of aqueduct building between 1835 and 1845, "was a general asylum
for vagrants." Young vagabonds, the natural offspring of such "home"
conditions, overran the streets. Juvenile crime increased fearfully
year by year. The Children's Aid Society and kindred philanthropic
organizations were yet unborn, but in the city directory was to be
found the address of the "American Society for the Promotion of
Education in Africa."

[Footnote 5: "A lot 50 × 60, contained twenty stables, rented for
dwellings at $15 a year each; cost of the whole $600."]


                              CHAPTER II.

                             THE AWAKENING.

The dread of advancing cholera, with the guilty knowledge of the
harvest field that awaited the plague in New York's slums, pricked the
conscience of the community into action soon after the close of the
war. A citizens' movement resulted in the organization of a Board of
Health and the adoption of the "Tenement-House Act" of 1867, the first
step toward remedial legislation. A thorough canvass of the tenements
had been begun already in the previous year; but the cholera first,
and next a scourge of small-pox, delayed the work, while emphasizing
the need of it, so that it was 1869 before it got fairly under way and
began to tell. The dark bedroom fell under the ban first. In that year
the Board ordered the cutting of more than forty-six thousand windows
in interior rooms, chiefly for ventilation--for little or no light was
to be had from the dark hallways. Air-shafts were unknown. The saw
had a job all that summer; by early fall nearly all the orders had
been carried out. Not without opposition; obstacles were thrown in the
way of the officials on the one side by the owners of the tenements,
who saw in every order to repair or clean up only an item of added
expense to diminish their income from the rent; on the other side by
the tenants themselves, who had sunk, after a generation of unavailing
protest, to the level of their surroundings, and were at last content
to remain there. The tenements had bred their Nemesis, a proletariat
ready and able to avenge the wrongs of their crowds. Already it taxed
the city heavily for the support of its jails and charities. The basis
of opposition, curiously enough, was the same at both extremes; owner
and tenant alike considered official interference an infringement of
personal rights, and a hardship. It took long years of weary labor to
make good the claim of the sunlight to such corners of the dens as
it could reach at all. Not until five years after did the department
succeed at last in ousting the "cave-dwellers" and closing some five
hundred and fifty cellars south of Houston Street, many of them below
tide-water, that had been used as living apartments. In many instances
the police had to drag the tenants out by force.

The work went on; but the need of it only grew with the effort. The
Sanitarians were following up an evil that grew faster than they went;
like a fire, it could only be headed off, not chased, with success.
Official reports, read in the churches in 1879, characterized the
younger criminals as victims of low social conditions of life and
unhealthy, overcrowded lodgings, brought up in "an atmosphere of actual
darkness, moral and physical." This after the saw had been busy in the
dark corners ten years! "If we could see the air breathed by these
poor creatures in their tenements," said a well-known physician, "it
would show itself to be fouler than the mud of the gutters." Little
improvement was apparent despite all that had been done. "The new
tenements, that have been recently built, have been usually as badly
planned as the old, with dark and unhealthy rooms, often over wet
cellars, where extreme overcrowding is permitted," was the verdict
of one authority. These are the houses that to-day perpetuate the
worst traditions of the past, and they are counted by thousands. The
Five Points had been cleansed, as far as the immediate neighborhood
was concerned, but the Mulberry Street Bend was fast outdoing it in
foulness not a stone's throw away, and new centres of corruption were
continually springing up and getting the upper hand whenever vigilance
was relaxed for ever so short a time. It is one of the curses of the
tenement-house system that the worst houses exercise a levelling
influence upon all the rest, just as one bad boy in a schoolroom will
spoil the whole class. It is one of the ways the evil that was "the
result of forgetfulness of the poor," as the Council of Hygiene mildly
put it, has of avenging itself.

The determined effort to head it off by laying a strong hand upon the
tenement builders that has been the chief business of the Health Board
of recent years, dates from this period. The era of the air-shaft has
not solved the problem of housing the poor, but it has made good use of
limited opportunities. Over the new houses sanitary law exercises full
control. But the old remain. They cannot be summarily torn down, though
in extreme cases the authorities can order them cleared. The outrageous
overcrowding, too, remains. It is characteristic of the tenements.
Poverty, their badge and typical condition, invites--compels it. All
efforts to abate it result only in temporary relief. As long as they
exist it will exist with them. And the tenements will exist in New York

  [Illustration: TENEMENT OF THE OLD STYLE.]

  [Illustration: BIRTH OF THE AIR-SHAFT.]

To-day, what is a tenement? The law defines it as a house "occupied by
three or more families, living independently and doing their cooking
on the premises; or by more than two families on a floor, so living
and cooking and having a common right in the halls, stairways,
yards, etc." That is the legal meaning, and includes flats and
apartment-houses, with which we have nothing to do. In its narrower
sense the typical tenement was thus described when last arraigned
before the bar of public justice: "It is generally a brick building
from four to six stories high on the street, frequently with a store
on the first floor which, when used for the sale of liquor, has a
side opening for the benefit of the inmates and to evade the Sunday
law; four families occupy each floor, and a set of rooms consists of
one or two dark closets, used as bedrooms, with a living room twelve
feet by ten. The staircase is too often a dark well in the centre of
the house, and no direct through ventilation is possible, each family
being separated from the other by partitions. Frequently the rear of
the lot is occupied by another building of three stories, high with
two families on a floor." The picture is nearly as true to-day as ten
years ago, and will be for a long time to come. The dim light admitted
by the air-shaft shines upon greater crowds than ever. Tenements are
still "good property," and the poverty of the poor man his destruction.
A barrack down town where he _has to live_ because he is poor brings
in a third more rent than a decent flat house in Harlem. The statement
once made a sensation that between seventy and eighty children had been
found in one tenement. It no longer excites even passing attention,
when the sanitary police report counting 101 adults and 91 children in
a Crosby Street house, one of twins, built together. The children in
the other, if I am not mistaken, numbered 89, a total of 180 for two
tenements! Or when a midnight inspection in Mulberry Street unearths a
hundred and fifty "lodgers" sleeping on filthy floors in two buildings.
Spite of brown-stone trimmings, plate-glass and mosaic vestibule
floors, the water does not rise in summer to the second story, while
the beer flows unchecked to the all-night picnics on the roof. The
saloon with the side-door and the landlord divide the prosperity of the
place between them, and the tenant, in sullen submission, foots the

Where are the tenements of to-day? Say rather: where are they not?
In fifty years they have crept up from the Fourth Ward slums and the
Five Points the whole length of the island, and have polluted the
Annexed District to the Westchester line. Crowding all the lower wards,
wherever business leaves a foot of ground unclaimed; strung along both
rivers, like ball and chain tied to the foot of every street, and
filling up Harlem with their restless, pent-up multitudes, they hold
within their clutch the wealth and business of New York, hold them
at their mercy in the day of mob-rule and wrath. The bullet-proof
shutters, the stacks of hand-grenades, and the Gatling guns of the
Sub-Treasury are tacit admissions of the fact and of the quality of
the mercy expected. The tenements to-day are New York, harboring
three-fourths of its population. When another generation shall have
doubled the census of our city, and to that vast army of workers, held
captive by poverty, the very name of home shall be as a bitter mockery,
what will the harvest be?

                              CHAPTER III.

                            THE MIXED CROWD.

When once I asked the agent of a notorious Fourth Ward alley how
many people might be living in it I was told: One hundred and forty
families, one hundred Irish, thirty-eight Italian, and two that
spoke the German tongue. Barring the agent herself, there was not a
native-born individual in the court. The answer was characteristic of
the cosmopolitan character of lower New York, very nearly so of the
whole of it, wherever it runs to alleys and courts. One may find for
the asking an Italian, a German, a French, African, Spanish, Bohemian,
Russian, Scandinavian, Jewish, and Chinese colony. Even the Arab, who
peddles "holy earth" from the Battery as a direct importation from
Jerusalem, has his exclusive preserves at the lower end of Washington
Street. The one thing you shall vainly ask for in the chief city of
America is a distinctively American community. There is none; certainly
not among the tenements. Where have they gone to, the old inhabitants?
I put the question to one who might fairly be presumed to be of the
number, since I had found him sighing for the "good old days" when the
legend "no Irish need apply" was familiar in the advertising columns
of the newspapers. He looked at me with a puzzled air. "I don't know,"
he said. "I wish I did. Some went to California in '49, some to the
war and never came back. The rest, I expect, have gone to heaven, or
somewhere. I don't see them 'round here."

Whatever the merit of the good man's conjectures, his eyes did not
deceive him. They are not here. In their place has come this queer
conglomerate mass of heterogeneous elements, ever striving and working
like whiskey and water in one glass, and with the like result: final
union and a prevailing taint of whiskey. The once unwelcome Irishman
has been followed in his turn by the Italian, the Russian Jew, and the
Chinaman, and has himself taken a hand at opposition, quite as bitter
and quite as ineffectual, against these later hordes. Wherever these
have gone they have crowded him out, possessing the block, the street,
the ward with their denser swarms. But the Irishman's revenge is
complete. Victorious in defeat over his recent as over his more ancient
foe, the one who opposed his coming no less than the one who drove him
out, he dictates to both their politics, and, secure in possession
of the offices, returns the native his greeting with interest, while
collecting the rents of the Italian whose house he has bought with the
profits of his saloon. As a landlord he is picturesquely autocratic.
An amusing instance of his methods came under my notice while writing
these lines. An inspector of the Health Department found an Italian
family paying a man with a Celtic name twenty-five dollars a month
for three small rooms in a ramshackle rear tenement--more than twice
what they were worth--and expressed his astonishment to the tenant,
an ignorant Sicilian laborer. He replied that he had once asked the
landlord to reduce the rent, but he would not do it.

"Well! What did he say?" asked the inspector.

"'Damma, man!' he said; 'if you speaka thata way to me, I fira you and
your things in the streeta.'" And the frightened Italian paid the rent.

In justice to the Irish landlord it must be said that like an apt
pupil he was merely showing forth the result of the schooling he had
received, re-enacting, in his own way, the scheme of the tenements.
It is only his frankness that shocks. The Irishman does not naturally
take kindly to tenement life, though with characteristic versatility
he adapts himself to its conditions at once. It does violence,
nevertheless, to the best that is in him, and for that very reason of
all who come within its sphere soonest corrupts him. The result is a
sediment, the product of more than a generation in the city's slums,
that, as distinguished from the larger body of his class, justly ranks
at the foot of tenement dwellers, the so-called "low Irish."

It is not to be assumed, of course, that the whole body of the
population living in the tenements, of which New Yorkers are in the
habit of speaking vaguely as "the poor," or even the larger part of
it, is to be classed as vicious or as poor in the sense of verging on

New York's wage-earners have no other place to live, more is the pity.
They are truly poor for having no better homes; waxing poorer in purse
as the exorbitant rents to which they are tied, as ever was serf to
soil, keep rising. The wonder is that they are not all corrupted, and
speedily, by their surroundings. If, on the contrary, there be a steady
working up, if not out of the slough, the fact is a powerful argument
for the optimist's belief that the world is, after all, growing better,
not worse, and would go far toward disarming apprehension, were it not
for the steadier growth of the sediment of the slums and its constant
menace. Such an impulse toward better things there certainly is. The
German rag-picker of thirty years ago, quite as low in the scale as
his Italian successor, is the thrifty tradesman or prosperous farmer of

[Footnote 6: The Sheriff Street Colony of rag-pickers, long since gone,
is an instance in point. The thrifty Germans saved up money during
years of hard work in squalor and apparently wretched poverty to buy a
township in a Western State, and the whole colony moved out there in a
body. There need be no doubt about their thriving there.]

The Italian scavenger of our time is fast graduating into exclusive
control of the corner fruit-stands, while his black-eyed boy
monopolizes the boot-blacking industry in which a few years ago he was
an intruder. The Irish hod-carrier in the second generation has become
a brick-layer, if not the Alderman of his ward, while the Chinese
coolie is in almost exclusive possession of the laundry business. The
reason is obvious. The poorest immigrant comes here with the purpose
and ambition to better himself and, given half a chance, might be
reasonably expected to make the most of it. To the false plea that he
prefers the squalid homes in which his kind are housed there could
be no better answer. The truth is, his half chance has too long been
wanting, and for the bad result he has been unjustly blamed.

As emigration from east to west follows the latitude, so does the
foreign influx in New York distribute itself along certain well-defined
lines that waver and break only under the stronger pressure of a more
gregarious race or the encroachments of inexorable business. A feeling
of dependence upon mutual effort, natural to strangers in a strange
land, unacquainted with its language and customs, sufficiently accounts
for this.

The Irishman is the true cosmopolitan immigrant. All-pervading, he
shares his lodging with perfect impartiality with the Italian, the
Greek, and the "Dutchman," yielding only to sheer force of numbers,
and objects equally to them all. A map of the city, colored to
designate nationalities, would show more stripes than on the skin of
a zebra, and more colors than any rainbow. The city on such a map
would fall into two great halves, green for the Irish prevailing in
the West Side tenement districts, and blue for the Germans on the
East Side. But intermingled with these ground colors would be an
odd variety of tints that would give the whole the appearance of an
extraordinary crazy-quilt. From down in the Sixth Ward, upon the site
of the old Collect Pond that in the days of the fathers drained the
hills which are no more, the red of the Italian would be seen forcing
its way northward along the line of Mulberry Street to the quarter of
the French purple on Bleecker Street and South Fifth Avenue, to lose
itself and reappear, after a lapse of miles, in the "Little Italy" of
Harlem, east of Second Avenue. Dashes of red, sharply defined, would
be seen strung through the Annexed District, northward to the city
line. On the West Side the red would be seen overrunning the old Africa
of Thompson Street, pushing the black of the negro rapidly uptown,
against querulous but unavailing protests, occupying his home, his
church, his trade and all, with merciless impartiality. There is a
church in Mulberry Street that has stood for two generations as a sort
of milestone of these migrations. Built originally for the worship of
staid New Yorkers of the "old stock," it was engulfed by the colored
tide, when the draft-riots drove the negroes out of reach of Cherry
Street and the Five Points. Within the past decade the advance wave
of the Italian onset reached it, and to-day the arms of United Italy
adorn its front. The negroes have made a stand at several points along
Seventh and Eighth Avenues; but their main body, still pursued by the
Italian foe, is on the march yet, and the black mark will be found
overshadowing to-day many blocks on the East Side, with One Hundredth
Street as the centre, where colonies of them have settled recently.

Hardly less aggressive than the Italian, the Russian and Polish Jew,
having overrun the district between Rivington and Division Streets,
east of the Bowery, to the point of suffocation, is filling the
tenements of the old Seventh Ward to the river front, and disputing
with the Italian every foot of available space in the back alleys of
Mulberry Street. The two races, differing hopelessly in much, have
this in common: they carry their slums with them wherever they go, if
allowed to do it. Little Italy already rivals its parent, the "Bend,"
in foulness. Other nationalities that begin at the bottom make a fresh
start when crowded up the ladder. Happily both are manageable, the one
by rabbinical, the other by the civil law. Between the dull gray of the
Jew, his favorite color, and the Italian red, would be seen squeezed
in on the map a sharp streak of yellow, marking the narrow boundaries
of Chinatown. Dovetailed in with the German population, the poor but
thrifty Bohemian might be picked out by the sombre hue of his life
as of his philosophy, struggling against heavy odds in the big human
bee-hives of the East Side. Colonies of his people extend northward,
with long lapses of space, from below the Cooper Institute more than
three miles. The Bohemian is the only foreigner with any considerable
representation in the city who counts no wealthy man of his race, none
who has not to work hard for a living, or has got beyond the reach of
the tenement.

Down near the Battery the West Side emerald would be soiled by a
dirty stain, spreading rapidly like a splash of ink on a sheet of
blotting paper, headquarters of the Arab tribe, that in a single
year has swelled from the original dozen to twelve hundred, intent,
every mother's son, on trade and barter. Dots and dashes of color
here and there would show where the Finnish sailors worship their
djumala (God), the Greek pedlars the ancient name of their race, and
the Swiss the goddess of thrift. And so on to the end of the long
register, all toiling together in the galling fetters of the tenement.
Were the question raised who makes the most of life thus mortgaged,
who resists most stubbornly its levelling tendency--knows how to drag
even the barracks upward a part of the way at least toward the ideal
plane of the home--the palm must be unhesitatingly awarded the Teuton.
The Italian and the poor Jew rise only by compulsion. The Chinaman
does not rise at all; here, as at home, he simply remains stationary.
The Irishman's genius runs to public affairs rather than domestic
life; wherever he is mustered in force the saloon is the gorgeous
centre of political activity. The German struggles vainly to learn
his trick; his Teutonic wit is too heavy, and the political ladder he
raises from his saloon usually too short or too clumsy to reach the
desired goal. The best part of his life is lived at home, and he makes
himself a home independent of the surroundings, giving the lie to the
saying, unhappily become a maxim of social truth, that pauperism and
drunkenness naturally grow in the tenements. He makes the most of his
tenement, and it should be added that whenever and as soon as he can
save up money enough, he gets out and never crosses the threshold of
one again.

                              CHAPTER IV.

                       THE DOWN TOWN BACK-ALLEYS.

Down below Chatham Square, in the old Fourth Ward, where the cradle
of the tenement stood, we shall find New York's Other Half at home,
receiving such as care to call and are not afraid. Not all of it,
to be sure, there is not room for that; but a fairly representative
gathering, representative of its earliest and worst traditions. There
is nothing to be afraid of. In this metropolis, let it be understood,
there is no public street where the stranger may not go safely by day
and by night, provided he knows how to mind his own business and is
sober. His coming and going will excite little interest, unless he is
suspected of being a truant officer, in which case he will be impressed
with the truth of the observation that the American stock is dying out
for want of children. If he escapes this suspicion and the risk of
trampling upon, or being himself run down by the bewildering swarms of
youngsters that are everywhere or nowhere as the exigency and their
quick scent of danger direct, he will see no reason for dissenting
from that observation. Glimpses caught of the parents watching the
youngsters play from windows or open doorways will soon convince him
that the native stock is in no way involved.

Leaving the Elevated Railroad where it dives under the Brooklyn Bridge
at Franklin Square, scarce a dozen steps will take us where we wish to
go. With its rush and roar echoing yet in our ears, we have turned
the corner from prosperity to poverty. We stand upon the domain of
the tenement. In the shadow of the great stone abutments the old
Knickerbocker houses linger like ghosts of a departed day. Down the
winding slope of Cherry Street--proud and fashionable Cherry Hill that
was--their broad steps, sloping roofs, and dormer windows are easily
made out; all the more easily for the contrast with the ugly barracks
that elbow them right and left. These never had other design than to
shelter, at as little outlay as possible, the greatest crowds out
of which rent could be wrung. They were the bad after-thought of a
heedless day. The years have brought to the old houses unhonored age,
a querulous second childhood that is out of tune with the time, their
tenants, the neighbors, and cries out against them and against you in
fretful protest in every step on their rotten floors or squeaky stairs.
Good cause have they for their fretting. This one, with its shabby
front and poorly patched roof, what glowing firesides, what happy
children may it once have owned? Heavy feet, too often with unsteady
step, for the pot-house is next door--where is it not next door in
these slums?--have worn away the brown-stone steps since; the broken
columns at the door have rotted away at the base. Of the handsome
cornice barely a trace is left. Dirt and desolation reign in the wide
hallway, and danger lurks on the stairs. Rough pine boards fence off
the roomy fire-places--where coal is bought by the pail at the rate of
twelve dollars a ton these have no place. The arched gateway leads no
longer to a shady bower on the banks of the rushing stream, inviting to
day-dreams with its gentle repose, but to a dark and nameless alley,
shut in by high brick walls, cheerless as the lives of those they
shelter. The wolf knocks loudly at the gate in the troubled dreams
that come to this alley, echoes of the day's cares. A horde of dirty
children play about the dripping hydrant, the only thing in the alley
that thinks enough of its chance to make the most of it: it is the
best it can do. These are the children of the tenements, the growing
generation of the slums; this their home. From the great highway
overhead, along which throbs the life-tide of two great cities, one
might drop a pebble into half a dozen such alleys.


One yawns just across the street; not very broadly, but it is not
to blame. The builder of the old gateway had no thought of its ever
becoming a public thoroughfare. Once inside it widens, but only to
make room for a big box-like building with the worn and greasy look
of the slum tenement that is stamped alike on the houses and their
tenants down here, even on the homeless cur that romps with the
children in yonder building lot, with an air of expectant interest
plainly betraying the forlorn hope that at some stage of the game a
meat-bone may show up in the role of "It." Vain hope, truly! Nothing
more appetizing than a bare-legged ragamuffin appears. Meat-bones,
not long since picked clean, are as scarce in Blind Man's Alley as
elbow-room in any Fourth Ward back-yard. The shouts of the children
come hushed over the house-tops, as if apologizing for the intrusion.
Few glad noises make this old alley ring. Morning and evening it echoes
with the gentle, groping tap of the blind man's staff as he feels his
way to the street. Blind Man's Alley bears its name for a reason.
Until little more than a year ago its dark burrows harbored a colony
of blind beggars, tenants of a blind landlord, old Daniel Murphy, whom
every child in the ward knows, if he never heard of the President
of the United States. "Old Dan" made a big fortune--he told me once
four hundred thousand dollars--out of his alley and the surrounding
tenements, only to grow blind himself in extreme old age, sharing in
the end the chief hardship of the wretched beings whose lot he had
stubbornly refused to better that he might increase his wealth. Even
when the Board of Health at last compelled him to repair and clean
up the worst of the old buildings, under threat of driving out the
tenants and locking the doors behind them, the work was accomplished
against the old man's angry protests. He appeared in person before the
Board to argue his case, and his argument was characteristic.

"I have made my will," he said. "My monument stands waiting for me in
Calvary. I stand on the very brink of the grave, blind and helpless,
and now (here the pathos of the appeal was swept under in a burst of
angry indignation) do you want me to build and get skinned, skinned?
These people are not fit to live in a nice house. Let them go where
they can, and let my house stand."

In spite of the genuine anguish of the appeal, it was downright amusing
to find that his anger was provoked less by the anticipated waste of
luxury on his tenants than by distrust of his own kind, the builder.
He knew intuitively what to expect. The result showed that Mr. Murphy
had gauged his tenants correctly. The cleaning up process apparently
destroyed the home-feeling of the alley; many of the blind people moved
away and did not return. Some remained, however, and the name has clung
to the place.

Some idea of what is meant by a sanitary "cleaning up" in these slums
may be gained from the account of a mishap I met with once, in taking a
flash-light picture of a group of blind beggars in one of the tenements
down here. With unpractised hands I managed to set fire to the house.
When the blinding effect of the flash had passed away and I could see
once more, I discovered that a lot of paper and rags that hung on the
wall were ablaze. There were six of us, five blind men and women who
knew nothing of their danger, and myself, in an attic room with a
dozen crooked, rickety stairs between us and the street, and as many
households as helpless as the one whose guest I was all about us. The
thought: how were they ever to be got out? made my blood run cold as I
saw the flames creeping up the wall, and my first impulse was to bolt
for the street and shout for help. The next was to smother the fire
myself, and I did, with a vast deal of trouble. Afterward, when I came
down to the street I told a friendly policeman of my trouble. For some
reason he thought it rather a good joke, and laughed immoderately at my
concern lest even then sparks should be burrowing in the rotten wall
that might yet break out in flame and destroy the house with all that
were in it. He told me why, when he found time to draw breath. "Why,
don't you know," he said, "that house is the Dirty Spoon? It caught
fire six times last winter, but it wouldn't burn. The dirt was so thick
on the walls, it smothered the fire!" Which, if true, shows that water
and dirt, not usually held to be harmonious elements, work together for
the good of those who insure houses.

Sunless and joyless though it be, Blind Man's Alley has that which its
compeers of the slums vainly yearn for. It has a pay-day. Once a year
sunlight shines into the lives of its forlorn crew, past and present.
In June, when the Superintendent of Out-door Poor distributes the
twenty thousand dollars annually allowed the poor blind by the city, in
half-hearted recognition of its failure to otherwise provide for them,
Blindman's Alley takes a day off and goes to "see" Mr. Blake. That
night it is noisy with unwonted merriment. There is scraping of squeaky
fiddles in the dark rooms, and cracked old voices sing long-forgotten
songs. Even the blind landlord rejoices, for much of the money goes
into his coffers.


From their perch up among the rafters Mrs. Gallagher's blind boarders
might hear, did they listen, the tramp of the policeman always on
duty in Gotham Court, half a stone's throw away. His beat, though it
takes in but a small portion of a single block, is quite as lively
as most larger patrol rounds. A double row of five-story tenements,
back to back under a common roof, extending back from the street two
hundred and thirty-four feet, with barred openings in the dividing
wall, so that the tenants may see but cannot get at each other from
the stairs, makes the "court." Alleys--one wider by a couple of feet
than the other, whence the distinction Single and Double Alley--skirt
the barracks on either side. Such, briefly, is the tenement that has
challenged public attention more than any other in the whole city and
tested the power of sanitary law and rule for forty years. The name of
the pile is not down in the City Directory, but in the public records
it holds an unenviable place. It was here the mortality rose during the
last great cholera epidemic to the unprecedented rate of 195 in 1,000
inhabitants. In its worst days a full thousand could not be packed into
the court, though the number did probably not fall far short of it.
Even now, under the management of men of conscience, and an agent, a
King's Daughter, whose practical energy, kindliness and good sense have
done much to redeem its foul reputation, the swarms it shelters would
make more than one fair-sized country village. The mixed character of
the population, by this time about equally divided between the Celtic
and the Italian stock, accounts for the iron bars and the policeman. It
was an eminently Irish suggestion that the latter was to be credited
to the presence of two German families in the court, who "made trouble
all the time." A Chinaman whom I questioned as he hurried past the iron
gate of the alley, put the matter in a different light. "Lem Ilish
velly bad," he said. Gotham Court has been the entering wedge for the
Italian element, who until recently had not attained a foothold in the
Fourth Ward, but are now trailing across Chatham Street from their
stronghold in "the Bend" in ever increasing numbers, seeking, according
to their wont, the lowest level.

It is curious to find that this notorious block, whose name was so long
synonymous with all that was desperately bad, was originally built (in
1851) by a benevolent Quaker for the express purpose of rescuing the
poor people from the dreadful rookeries they were then living in. How
long it continued a model tenement is not on record. It could not have
been very long, for already in 1862, ten years after it was finished, a
sanitary official counted 146 cases of sickness in the court, including
"all kinds of infectious disease," from small-pox down, and reported
that of 138 children born in it in less than three years 61 had died,
mostly before they were one year old. Seven years later the inspector
of the district reported to the Board of Health that "nearly ten per
cent. of the population is sent to the public hospitals each year."
When the alley was finally taken in hand by the authorities, and, as a
first step toward its reclamation, the entire population was driven out
by the police, experience dictated, as one of the first improvements to
be made, the putting in of a kind of sewer-grating, so constructed, as
the official report patiently puts it, "as to prevent the ingress of
persons disposed to make a hiding-place" of the sewer and the cellars
into which they opened. The fact was that the big vaulted sewers had
long been a runway for thieves--the Swamp Angels--who through them
easily escaped when chased by the police, as well as a storehouse for
their plunder. The sewers are there to-day; in fact the two alleys are
nothing but the roofs of these enormous tunnels in which a man may
walk upright the full distance of the block and into the Cherry Street
sewer--if he likes the fun and is not afraid of rats. Could their grimy
walls speak, the big canals might tell many a startling tale. But they
are silent enough, and so are most of those whose secrets they might
betray. The flood-gates connecting with the Cherry Street main are
closed now, except when the water is drained off. Then there were no
gates, and it is on record that the sewers were chosen as a short cut
habitually by residents of the court whose business lay on the line
of them, near a manhole, perhaps, in Cherry Street, or at the river
mouth of the big pipe when it was clear at low tide. "Me Jimmy," said
one wrinkled old dame, who looked in while we were nosing about under
Double Alley, "he used to go to his work along down Cherry Street that
way every morning and come back at night." The associations must have
been congenial. Probably "Jimmy" himself fitted into the landscape.

Half-way back from the street in this latter alley is a tenement,
facing the main building, on the west side of the way, that was
not originally part of the court proper. It stands there a curious
monument to a Quaker's revenge, a living illustration of the power of
hate to perpetuate its bitter fruit beyond the grave. The lot upon
which it is built was the property of John Wood, brother of Silas,
the builder of Gotham Court. He sold the Cherry Street front to a man
who built upon it a tenement with entrance only from the street. Mr.
Wood afterward quarrelled about the partition line with his neighbor,
Alderman Mullins, who had put up a long tenement barrack on his lot
after the style of the Court, and the Alderman knocked him down.
Tradition records that the Quaker picked himself up with the quiet
remark, "I will pay thee for that, friend Alderman," and went his
way. His manner of paying was to put up the big building in the rear
of 34 Cherry Street with an immense blank wall right in front of the
windows of Alderman Mullins's tenements, shutting out effectually
light and air from them. But as he had no access to the street from
his building for many years it could not be let or used for anything,
and remained vacant until it passed under the management of the Gotham
Court property. Mullins's Court is there yet, and so is the Quaker's
vengeful wall that has cursed the lives of thousands of innocent people
since. At its farther end the alley between the two that begins inside
the Cherry Street tenement, six or seven feet wide, narrows down to
less than two feet. It is barely possible to squeeze through; but few
care to do it, for the rift leads to the jail of the Oak Street police
station, and therefore is not popular with the growing youth of the

There is crape on the door of the Alderman's court as we pass out, and
upstairs in one of the tenements preparations are making for a wake. A
man lies dead in the hospital who was cut to pieces in a "can racket"
in the alley on Sunday. The sway of the excise law is not extended to
these back alleys. It would matter little if it were. There are secret
by-ways, and some it is not held worth while to keep secret, along
which the "growler" wanders at all hours and all seasons unmolested.
It climbed the stairs so long and so often that day that murder
resulted. It is nothing unusual on Cherry Street, nothing to "make a
fuss" about. Not a week before, two or three blocks up the street, the
police felt called upon to interfere in one of these can rackets at
two o'clock in the morning, to secure peace for the neighborhood. The
interference took the form of a general fusillade, during which one of
the disturbers fell off the roof and was killed. There was the usual
wake and nothing more was heard of it. What, indeed, was there to say?

The "Rock of Ages" is the name over the door of a low saloon that
blocks the entrance to another alley, if possible more forlorn and
dreary than the rest, as we pass out of the Alderman's court. It sounds
like a jeer from the days, happily past, when the "wickedest man in New
York" lived around the corner a little way and boasted of his title.
One cannot take many steps in Cherry Street without encountering some
relic of past or present prominence in the ways of crime, scarce one
that does not turn up specimen bricks of the coming thief. The Cherry
Street tough is all-pervading. Ask Superintendent Murray, who, as
captain of the Oak Street squad, in seven months secured convictions
for theft, robbery, and murder aggregating no less than five hundred
and thirty years of penal servitude, and he will tell you his opinion
that the Fourth Ward, even in the last twenty years, has turned out
more criminals than all the rest of the city together.

But though the "Swamp Angels" have gone to their reward, their
successors carry on business at the old stand as successfully, if not
as boldly. There goes one who was once a shining light in thiefdom.
He has reformed since, they say. The policeman on the corner, who is
addicted to a professional unbelief in reform of any kind, will tell
you that while on the Island once he sailed away on a shutter, paddling
along until he was picked up in Hell Gate by a schooner's crew, whom
he persuaded that he was a fanatic performing some sort of religious
penance by his singular expedition. Over yonder, Tweed, the arch-thief,
worked in a brush-shop and earned an honest living before he took
to politics. As we stroll from one narrow street to another the odd
contrast between the low, old-looking houses in front and the towering
tenements in the back yards grows even more striking, perhaps because
we expect and are looking for it. Nobody who was not would suspect the
presence of the rear houses, though they have been there long enough.
Here is one seven stories high behind one with only three floors. Take
a look into this Roosevelt Street alley; just about one step wide,
with a five-story house on one side that gets its light and air--God
help us for pitiful mockery!--from this slit between brick walls.
There are no windows in the wall on the other side; it is perfectly
blank. The fire-escapes of the long tenement fairly touch it; but the
rays of the sun, rising, setting, or at high noon, never do. It never
shone into the alley from the day the devil planned and man built it.
There was once an English doctor who experimented with the sunlight
in the soldiers' barracks, and found that on the side that was shut
off altogether from the sun the mortality was one hundred per cent.
greater than on the light side, where its rays had free access. But
then soldiers are of some account, have a fixed value, if not a very
high one. The people who live here have not. The horse that pulls the
dirt-cart one of these laborers loads and unloads is of ever so much
more account to the employer of his labor than he and all that belongs
to him. Ask the owner; he will not attempt to deny it, if the horse
is worth anything. The man too knows it. It is the one thought that
occasionally troubles the owner of the horse in the enjoyment of his
prosperity, built of and upon the successful assertion of the truth
that all men are created equal.

With what a shock did the story of yonder Madison Street alley come
home to New Yorkers one morning, eight or ten years ago, when a fire
that broke out after the men had gone to their work swept up those
narrow stairs and burned up women and children to the number of a
full half score. There were fire-escapes, yes! but so placed that
they could not be reached. The firemen had to look twice before they
could find the opening that passes for a thoroughfare; a stout man
would never venture in. Some wonderfully heroic rescues were made at
that fire by people living in the adjoining tenements. Danger and
trouble--of the imminent kind, not the everyday sort that excites
neither interest nor commiseration--run even this common clay into
heroic moulds on occasion; occasions that help us to remember that
the gap that separates the man with the patched coat from his wealthy
neighbor is, after all, perhaps but a tenement. Yet, what a gap! and of
whose making? Here, as we stroll along Madison Street, workmen are busy
putting the finishing touches to the brown-stone front of a tall new
tenement. This one will probably be called an apartment house. They are
carving satyrs' heads in the stone, with a crowd of gaping youngsters
looking on in admiring wonder. Next door are two other tenements,
likewise with brown-stone fronts, fair to look at. The youngest of the
children in the group is not too young to remember how their army of
tenants was turned out by the health officers because the houses had
been condemned as unfit for human beings to live in. The owner was a
wealthy builder who "stood high in the community." Is it only in our
fancy that the sardonic leer on the stone faces seems to list that
way? Or is it an introspective grin? We will not ask if the new house
belongs to the same builder. He too may have reformed.

We have crossed the boundary of the Seventh Ward. Penitentiary Row,
suggestive name for a block of Cherry Street tenements, is behind us.
Within recent days it has become peopled wholly with Hebrews, the
overflow from Jewtown adjoining, pedlars and tailors, all of them. It
is odd to read this legend from other days over the door: "No pedlars
allowed in this house." These thrifty people are not only crowding into
the tenements of this once exclusive district--they are buying them.
The Jew runs to real estate as soon as he can save up enough for a
deposit to clinch the bargain. As fast as the old houses are torn down,
towering structures go up in their place, and Hebrews are found to be
the builders. Here is a whole alley nicknamed after the intruder, Jews'
Alley. But abuse and ridicule are not weapons to fight the Israelite
with. He pockets them quietly with the rent and bides his time. He
knows from experience, both sweet and bitter, that all things come to
those who wait, including the houses and lands of their persecutors.

Here comes a pleasure party, as gay as any on the avenue, though the
carry-all is an ash-cart. The father is the driver and he has taken
his brown-legged boy for a ride. How proud and happy they both look
up there on their perch! The queer old building they have halted in
front of is "The Ship," famous for fifty years as a ramshackle tenement
filled with the oddest crowd. No one knows why it is called "The Ship,"
though there is a tradition that once the river came clear up here
to Hamilton Street, and boats were moored along-side it. More likely
it is because it is as bewildering inside as a crazy old ship, with
its ups and downs of ladders parading as stairs, and its unexpected
pitfalls. But Hamilton Street, like Water Street, is not what it was.
The missions drove from the latter the worst of its dives. A sailors'
mission has lately made its appearance in Hamilton Street, but there
are no dives there, nothing worse than the ubiquitous saloon and tough

Enough of them everywhere. Suppose we look into one? No. -- Cherry
Street. Be a little careful, please! The hall is dark and you might
stumble over the children pitching pennies back there. Not that it
would hurt them; kicks and cuffs are their daily diet. They have little
else. Here where the hall turns and dives into utter darkness is a
step, and another, another. A flight of stairs. You can feel your way,
if you cannot see it. Close? Yes! What would you have? All the fresh
air that ever enters these stairs comes from the hall-door that is
forever slamming, and from the windows of dark bedrooms that in turn
receive from the stairs their sole supply of the elements God meant to
be free, but man deals out with such niggardly hand. That was a woman
filling her pail by the hydrant you just bumped against. The sinks
are in the hallway, that all the tenants may have access--and all be
poisoned alike by their summer stenches. Hear the pump squeak! It is
the lullaby of tenement-house babes. In summer, when a thousand thirsty
throats pant for a cooling drink in this block, it is worked in vain.
But the saloon, whose open door you passed in the hall, is always
there. The smell of it has followed you up. Here is a door. Listen!
That short hacking cough, that tiny, helpless wail--what do they mean?
They mean that the soiled bow of white you saw on the door downstairs
will have another story to tell--Oh! a sadly familiar story--before
the day is at an end. The child is dying with measles. With half a
chance it might have lived; but it had none. That dark bedroom killed

"It was took all of a suddint," says the mother, smoothing the
throbbing little body with trembling hands. There is no unkindness in
the rough voice of the man in the jumper, who sits by the window grimly
smoking a clay pipe, with the little life ebbing out in his sight,
bitter as his words sound: "Hush, Mary! If we cannot keep the baby,
need we complain--such as we?"


Such as we! What if the words ring in your ears as we grope our way
up the stairs and down from floor to floor, listening to the sounds
behind the closed doors--some of quarrelling, some of coarse songs,
more of profanity. They are true. When the summer heats come with their
suffering they have meaning more terrible than words can tell. Come
over here. Step carefully over this baby--it is a baby, spite of its
rags and dirt--under these iron bridges called fire-escapes, but loaded
down, despite the incessant watchfulness of the firemen, with broken
household goods, with wash-tubs and barrels, over which no man could
climb from a fire. This gap between dingy brick-walls is the yard. That
strip of smoke-colored sky up there is the heaven of these people. Do
you wonder the name does not attract them to the churches? That baby's
parents live in the rear tenement here. She is at least as clean as
the steps we are now climbing. There are plenty of houses with half a
hundred such in. The tenement is much like the one in front we just
left, only fouler, closer, darker--we will not say more cheerless. The
word is a mockery. A hundred thousand people lived in rear tenements in
New York last year. Here is a room neater than the rest. The woman, a
stout matron with hard lines of care in her face, is at the wash-tub.
"I try to keep the childer clean," she says, apologetically, but with
a hopeless glance around. The spice of hot soap-suds is added to the
air already tainted with the smell of boiling cabbage, of rags and
uncleanliness all about. It makes an overpowering compound. It is
Thursday, but patched linen is hung upon the pulley-line from the
window. There is no Monday cleaning in the tenements. It is washday
all the week round, for a change of clothing is scarce among the poor.
They are poverty's honest badge, these perennial lines of rags hung
out to dry, those that are not the washerwoman's professional shingle.
The true line to be drawn between pauperism and honest poverty is the
clothes-line. With it begins the effort to be clean that is the first
and the best evidence of a desire to be honest.

What sort of an answer, think you, would come from these tenements to
the question "Is life worth living?" were they heard at all in the
discussion? It may be that this, cut from the last report but one of
the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor, a
long name for a weary task, has a suggestion of it: "In the depth of
winter the attention of the Association was called to a Protestant
family living in a garret in a miserable tenement in Cherry Street.
The family's condition was most deplorable. The man, his wife, and
three small children shivering in one room through the roof of which
the pitiless winds of winter whistled. The room was almost barren of
furniture; the parents slept on the floor, the elder children in boxes,
and the baby was swung in an old shawl attached to the rafters by cords
by way of a hammock. The father, a seaman, had been obliged to give up
that calling because he was in consumption, and was unable to provide
either bread or fire for his little ones."

Perhaps this may be put down as an exceptional case, but one that came
to my notice some months ago in a Seventh Ward tenement was typical
enough to escape that reproach. There were nine in the family: husband,
wife, an aged grandmother, and six children; honest, hard-working
Germans, scrupulously neat, but poor. All nine lived in two rooms, one
about ten feet square that served as parlor, bedroom, and eating-room,
the other a small hall-room made into a kitchen. The rent was seven
dollars and a half a month, more than a week's wages for the husband
and father, who was the only bread-winner in the family. That day the
mother had thrown herself out of the window, and was carried up from
the street dead. She was "discouraged," said some of the other women
from the tenement, who had come in to look after the children while
a messenger carried the news to the father at the shop. They went
stolidly about their task, although they were evidently not without
feeling for the dead woman. No doubt she was wrong in not taking life
philosophically, as did the four families a city missionary found
housekeeping in the four corners of one room. They got along well
enough together until one of the families took a boarder and made
trouble. Philosophy, according to my optimistic friend, naturally
inhabits the tenements. The people who live there come to look upon
death in a different way from the rest of us--do not take it as hard.
He has never found time to explain how the fact fits into his general
theory that life is not unbearable in the tenements. Unhappily for the
philosophy of the slums, it is too apt to be of the kind that readily
recognizes the saloon, always handy, as the refuge from every trouble,
and shapes its practice according to the discovery.

                               CHAPTER V.

                        THE ITALIAN IN NEW YORK.

Certainly a picturesque, if not very tidy, element has been added to
the population in the "assisted" Italian immigrant who claims so large
a share of public attention, partly because he keeps coming at such a
tremendous rate, but chiefly because he elects to stay in New York,
or near enough for it to serve as his base of operations, and here
promptly reproduces conditions of destitution and disorder which, set
in the frame-work of Mediterranean exuberance, are the delight of the
artist, but in a matter-of-fact American community become its danger
and reproach. The reproduction is made easier in New York because he
finds the material ready to hand in the worst of the slum tenements;
but even where it is not he soon reduces what he does find to his own
level, if allowed to follow his natural bent.[7] The Italian comes in
at the bottom, and in the generation that came over the sea he stays
there. In the slums he is welcomed as a tenant who "makes less trouble"
than the contentious Irishman or the order-loving German, that is to
say: is content to live in a pig-sty and submits to robbery at the
hands of the rent-collector without murmur. Yet this very tractability
makes of him in good hands, when firmly and intelligently managed, a
really desirable tenant. But it is not his good fortune often to fall
in with other hospitality upon his coming than that which brought him
here for its own profit, and has no idea of letting go its grip upon
him as long as there is a cent to be made out of him.

[Footnote 7: The process can be observed in the Italian tenements in
Harlem (Little Italy), which, since their occupation by these people,
have been gradually sinking to the slum level.]

Recent Congressional inquiries have shown the nature of the
"assistance" he receives from greedy steamship agents and "bankers,"
who persuade him by false promises to mortgage his home, his few
belongings, and his wages for months to come for a ticket to the land
where plenty of work is to be had at princely wages. The padrone--the
"banker," is nothing else--having made his ten per cent. out of him
en route, receives him at the landing and turns him to double account
as a wage-earner and a rent-payer. In each of these rôles he is made
to yield a profit to his unscrupulous countryman, whom he trusts
implicitly with the instinct of utter helplessness. The man is so
ignorant that, as one of the sharpers who prey upon him put it once,
it "would be downright sinful not to take him in." His ignorance and
unconquerable suspicion of strangers dig the pit into which he falls.
He not only knows no word of English, but he does not know enough to
learn. Rarely only can he write his own language. Unlike the German,
who begins learning English the day he lands as a matter of duty, or
the Polish Jew, who takes it up as soon as he is able as an investment,
the Italian learns slowly, if at all. Even his boy, born here, often
speaks his native tongue indifferently. He is forced, therefore, to
have constant recourse to the middle-man, who makes him pay handsomely
at every turn. He hires him out to the railroad contractor, receiving a
commission from the employer as well as from the laborer, and repeats
the performance monthly, or as often as he can have him dismissed. In
the city he contracts for his lodging, subletting to him space in the
vilest tenements at extortionate rents, and sets an example that does
not lack imitators. The "princely wages" have vanished with his coming,
and in their place hardships and a dollar a day, beheft with the
padrone's merciless mortgage, confront him. Bred to even worse fare, he
takes both as a matter of course, and, applying the maxim that it is
not what one makes but what he saves that makes him rich, manages to
turn the very dirt of the streets into a hoard of gold, with which he
either returns to his Southern home, or brings over his family to join
in his work and in his fortunes the next season.


The discovery was made by earlier explorers that there is money in New
York's ash-barrel, but it was left to the genius of the padrone to
develop the full resources of the mine that has become the exclusive
preserve of the Italian immigrant. Only a few years ago, when
rag-picking was carried on in a desultory and irresponsible sort of
way, the city hired gangs of men to trim the ash-scows before they were
sent out to sea. The trimming consisted in levelling out the dirt as
it was dumped from the carts, so that the scow might be evenly loaded.
The men were paid a dollar and a half a day, kept what they found
that was worth having, and allowed the swarms of Italians who hung
about the dumps to do the heavy work for them, letting them have their
pick of the loads for their trouble. To-day Italians contract for the
work, paying large sums to be permitted to do it. The city received
not less than $80,000 last year for the sale of this privilege to the
contractors, who in addition have to pay gangs of their countrymen for
sorting out the bones, rags, tin cans and other waste that are found
in the ashes and form the staples of their trade and their sources of
revenue. The effect has been vastly to increase the power of the
padrone, or his ally, the contractor, by giving him exclusive control
of the one industry in which the Italian was formerly an independent
"dealer," and reducing him literally to the plane of the dump. Whenever
the back of the sanitary police is turned, he will make his home in the
filthy burrows where he works by day, sleeping and eating his meals
under the dump, on the edge of slimy depths and amid surroundings full
of unutterable horror. The city did not bargain to house, though it
is content to board, him so long as he can make the ash-barrels yield
the food to keep him alive, and a vigorous campaign is carried on at
intervals against these unlicensed dump settlements; but the temptation
of having to pay no rent is too strong, and they are driven from one
dump only to find lodgement under another a few blocks farther up or
down the river. The fiercest warfare is waged over the patronage of the
dumps by rival factions represented by opposing contractors, and it has
happened that the defeated party has endeavored to capture by strategy
what he failed to carry by assault. It augurs unsuspected adaptability
in the Italian to our system of self-government that these rivalries
have more than once been suspected of being behind the sharpening of
city ordinances, that were apparently made in good faith to prevent
meddling with the refuse in the ash-barrels or in transit.

Did the Italian always adapt himself as readily to the operation of the
civil law as to the manipulation of political "pull" on occasion, he
would save himself a good deal of unnecessary trouble. Ordinarily he is
easily enough governed by authority--always excepting Sunday, when he
settles down to a game of cards and lets loose all his bad passions.
Like the Chinese, the Italian is a born gambler. His soul is in the
game from the moment the cards are on the table, and very frequently
his knife is in it too before the game is ended. No Sunday has passed
in New York since "the Bend" became a suburb of Naples without one or
more of these murderous affrays coming to the notice of the police. As
a rule that happens only when the man the game went against is either
dead or so badly wounded as to require instant surgical help. As to the
other, unless he be caught red-handed, the chances that the police will
ever get him are slim indeed. The wounded man can seldom be persuaded
to betray him. He wards off all inquiries with a wicked "I fix him
myself," and there the matter rests until he either dies or recovers.
If the latter, the community hears after a while of another Italian
affray, a man stabbed in a quarrel, dead or dying, and the police know
that "he" has been fixed, and the account squared.

With all his conspicuous faults, the swarthy Italian immigrant has
his redeeming traits. He is as honest as he is hot-headed. There are
no Italian burglars in the Rogues' Gallery; the ex-brigand toils
peacefully with pickaxe and shovel on American ground. His boy
occasionally shows, as a pick-pocket, the results of his training with
the toughs of the Sixth Ward slums. The only criminal business to which
the father occasionally lends his hand, outside of murder, is a bunco
game, of which his confiding countrymen, returning with their hoard to
their native land, are the victims. The women are faithful wives and
devoted mothers. Their vivid and picturesque costumes lend a tinge of
color to the otherwise dull monotony of the slums they inhabit. The
Italian is gay, light-hearted and, if his fur is not stroked the wrong
way, inoffensive as a child. His worst offence is that he keeps the
stale-beer dives. Where his headquarters is, in the Mulberry Street
Bend, these vile dens flourish and gather about them all the wrecks,
the utterly wretched, the hopelessly lost, on the lowest slope of
depraved humanity. And out of their misery he makes a profit.


                              CHAPTER VI.

                               THE BEND.

Where Mulberry Street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old
depravity of the Five Points, is "the Bend," foul core of New York's
slums. Long years ago the cows coming home from the pasture trod a
path over this hill. Echoes of tinkling bells linger there still, but
they do not call up memories of green meadows and summer fields; they
proclaim the home-coming of the rag-picker's cart. In the memory of man
the old cow-path has never been other than a vast human pig-sty. There
is but one "Bend" in the world, and it is enough. The city authorities,
moved by the angry protests of ten years of sanitary reform effort,
have decided that it is too much and must come down. Another Paradise
Park will take its place and let in sunlight and air to work such
transformation as at the Five Points, around the corner of the next
block. Never was change more urgently needed. Around "the Bend" cluster
the bulk of the tenements that are stamped as altogether bad, even
by the optimists of the Health Department. Incessant raids cannot
keep down the crowds that make them their home. In the scores of back
alleys, of stable lanes and hidden byways, of which the rent collector
alone can keep track, they share such shelter as the ramshackle
structures afford with every kind of abomination rifled from the dumps
and ash barrels of the city. Here, too, shunning the light, skulks the
unclean beast of dishonest idleness. "The Bend" is the home of the
tramp as well as the rag-picker.

It is not much more than twenty years since a census of "the Bend"
district returned only twenty-four of the six hundred and nine
tenements as in decent condition. Three-fourths of the population of
the "Bloody Sixth" Ward were then Irish. The army of tramps that grew
up after the disbandment of the armies in the field, and has kept up
its muster roll, together with the in-rush of the Italian tide, have
ever since opposed a stubborn barrier to all efforts at permanent
improvement. The more that has been done, the less it has seemed to
accomplish in the way of real relief, until it has at last become clear
that nothing short of entire demolition will ever prove of radical
benefit. Corruption could not have chosen ground for its stand with
better promise of success. The whole district is a maze of narrow,
often unsuspected passage-ways--necessarily, for there is scarce a
lot that has not two, three, or four tenements upon it, swarming with
unwholesome crowds. What a birds-eye view of "the Bend" would be like
is a matter of bewildering conjecture. Its everyday appearance, as seen
from the corner of Bayard Street on a sunny day, is one of the sights
of New York.

Bayard Street is the high road to Jewtown across the Bowery, picketed
from end to end with the outposts of Israel. Hebrew faces, Hebrew
signs, and incessant chatter in the queer lingo that passes for
Hebrew on the East Side attend the curious wanderer to the very
corner of Mulberry Street. But the moment he turns the corner the
scene changes abruptly. Before him lies spread out what might better
be the market-place in some town in Southern Italy than a street in
New York--all but the houses; they are still the same old tenements
of the unromantic type. But for once they do not make the foreground
in a slum picture from the American metropolis. The interest centres
not in them, but in the crowd they shelter only when the street is
not preferable, and that with the Italian is only when it rains or he
is sick. When the sun shines the entire population seeks the street,
carrying on its household work, its bargaining, its love-making on
street or sidewalk, or idling there when it has nothing better to do,
with the reverse of the impulse that makes the Polish Jew coop himself
up in his den with the thermometer at stewing heat. Along the curb
women sit in rows, young and old alike with the odd head-covering, pad
or turban, that is their badge of servitude--her's to bear the burden
as long as she lives--haggling over baskets of frowsy weeds, some sort
of salad probably, stale tomatoes, and oranges not above suspicion.
Ash-barrels serve them as counters, and not infrequently does the
arrival of the official cart en route for the dump cause a temporary
suspension of trade until the barrels have been emptied and restored.
Hucksters and pedlars' carts make two rows of booths in the street
itself, and along the houses is still another--a perpetual market doing
a very lively trade in its own queer staples, found nowhere on American
ground save in "the Bend." Two old hags, camping on the pavement, are
dispensing stale bread, baked not in loaves, but in the shape of big
wreaths like exaggerated crullers, out of bags of dirty bed-tick. There
is no use disguising the fact: they look like and they probably are
old mattresses mustered into service under the pressure of a rush of
trade. Stale bread was the one article the health officers, after a
raid on the market, once reported as "not unwholesome." It was only
disgusting. Here is a brawny butcher, sleeves rolled up above the
elbows and clay pipe in mouth, skinning a kid that hangs from his hook.
They will tell you with a laugh at the Elizabeth Street police station
that only a few days ago when a dead goat had been reported lying in
Pell Street it was mysteriously missing by the time the offal-cart came
to take it away. It turned out that an Italian had carried it off in
his sack to a wake or feast of some sort in one of the back alleys.

  [Illustration: THE BEND.]

On either side of the narrow entrance to Bandit's Roost, one of the
most notorious of these, is a shop that is a fair sample of the sort
of invention necessity is the mother of in "the Bend." It is not
enough that trucks and ash-barrels have provided four distinct lines
of shops that are not down on the insurance maps, to accommodate the
crowds. Here have the very hallways been made into shops. Three feet
wide by four deep, they have just room for one, the shop-keeper, who,
himself within, does his business outside, his wares displayed on a
board hung across what was once the hall door. Back of the rear wall of
this unique shop a hole has been punched from the hall into the alley
and the tenants go that way. One of the shops is a "tobacco bureau,"
presided over by an unknown saint, done in yellow and red--there is
not a shop, a stand, or an ash-barrel doing duty for a counter, that
has not its patron saint--the other is a fish-stand full of slimy,
odd-looking creatures, fish that never swam in American waters, or
if they did, were never seen on an American fish-stand, and snails.
Big, awkward sausages, anything but appetizing, hang in the grocer's
doorway, knocking against the customer's head as if to remind him
that they are there waiting to be bought. What they are I never had
the courage to ask. Down the street comes a file of women carrying
enormous bundles of fire-wood on their heads, loads of decaying
vegetables from the market wagons in their aprons, and each a baby at
the breast supported by a sort of sling that prevents it from tumbling
down. The women do all the carrying, all the work one sees going on
in "the Bend." The men sit or stand in the streets, on trucks, or in
the open doors of the saloons smoking black clay pipes, talking and
gesticulating as if forever on the point of coming to blows. Near a
particularly boisterous group, a really pretty girl with a string of
amber beads twisted artlessly in the knot of her raven hair has been
bargaining long and earnestly with an old granny, who presides over
a wheel-barrow load of second-hand stockings and faded cotton yarn,
industriously darning the biggest holes while she extols the virtues of
her stock. One of the rude swains, with patched overalls tucked into
his boots, to whom the girl's eyes have strayed more than once, steps
up and gallantly offers to pick her out the handsomest pair, whereat
she laughs and pushes him away with a gesture which he interprets as an
invitation to stay; and he does, evidently to the satisfaction of the
beldame, who forthwith raises her prices fifty per cent. without being
detected by the girl.

Red bandannas and yellow kerchiefs are everywhere; so is the Italian
tongue, infinitely sweeter than the harsh gutturals of the Russian Jew
around the corner. So are the "ristorantes" of innumerable Pasquales;
half of the people in "the Bend" are christened Pasquale, or get the
name in some other way. When the police do not know the name of an
escaped murderer, they guess at Pasquale and send the name out on
alarm; in nine cases out of ten it fits. So are the "banks" that hang
out their shingle as tempting bait on every hand. There are half a
dozen in the single block, steamship agencies, employment offices, and
savings-banks, all in one. So are the toddling youngsters, bow-legged
half of them, and so are no end of mothers, present and prospective,
some of them scarce yet in their teens. Those who are not in the street
are hanging half way out of the windows, shouting at some one below.
All "the Bend" must be, if not altogether, at least half out of doors
when the sun shines.

In the street, where the city wields the broom, there is at least an
effort at cleaning up. There has to be, or it would be swamped in
filth overrunning from the courts and alleys where the rag-pickers
live. It requires more than ordinary courage to explore these on a hot
day. The undertaker has to do it then, the police always. Right here,
in this tenement on the east side of the street, they found little
Antonia Candia, victim of fiendish cruelty, "covered," says the account
found in the records of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children, "with sores, and her hair matted with dried blood." Abuse is
the normal condition of "the Bend," murder its everyday crop, with the
tenants not always the criminals. In this block between Bayard, Park,
Mulberry, and Baxter Streets, "the Bend" proper, the late Tenement
House Commission counted 155 deaths of children[8] in a specimen year
(1882). Their per centage of the total mortality in the block was
68.28, while for the whole city the proportion was only 46.20. The
infant mortality in any city or place as compared with the whole number
of deaths is justly considered a good barometer of its general sanitary
condition. Here, in this tenement, No. 59½, next to Bandits' Roost,
fourteen persons died that year, and eleven of them were children; in
No. 61 eleven, and eight of them not yet five years old. According to
the records in the Bureau of Vital Statistics only thirty-nine people
lived in No. 59½ in the year 1888, nine of them little children.
There were five baby funerals in that house the same year. Out of
the alley itself, No. 59, nine dead were carried in 1888, five in
baby coffins. Here is the record of the year for the whole block, as
furnished by the Registrar of Vital Statistics, Dr. Roger S. Tracy:

 _Deaths and Death-rates in 1888 in Baxter and Mulberry Streets,
                   between Park and Bayard Streets._

 A = Five years old and over.
 B = Under five years.
 C = Total.
 D = General.

                 |    POPULATION.   |   DEATHS.  |     DEATH-RATE.
                 |   A  |  B |   C  | A | B |  C |   A  |    B  |   D
 Baxter Street   | 1,918| 315| 2,233| 26| 46|  72| 13.56| 146.02| 32.24
 Mulberry Street | 2,788| 629| 3,417| 44| 86| 130| 15.78| 136.70| 38.05
     Total       | 4,706| 944| 5,650| 70|132| 202| 14.87| 139.83| 35.75

The general death-rate for the whole city that year was 26.27.

These figures speak for themselves, when it is shown that in the model
tenement across the way at Nos. 48 and 50, where the same class of
people live in greater swarms (161, according to the record), but under
good management, and in decent quarters, the hearse called that year
only twice, once for a baby. The agent of the Christian people who
built that tenement will tell you that Italians are good tenants, while
the owner of the alley will oppose every order to put his property in
repair with the claim that they are the worst of a bad lot. Both are
right, from their different stand-points. It is the stand-point that
makes the difference--and the tenant.

[Illustration: BANDITS' ROOST.]

What if I were to tell you that this alley, and more tenement property
in "the Bend," all of it notorious for years as the vilest and worst
to be found anywhere, stood associated on the tax-books all through
the long struggle to make its owners responsible, which has at last
resulted in a qualified victory for the law, with the name of an
honored family, one of the "oldest and best," rich in possessions and
in influence, and high in the councils of the city's government? It
would be but the plain truth. Nor would it be the only instance by very
many that stand recorded on the Health Department's books of a kind
that has come near to making the name of landlord as odious in New York
as it has become in Ireland.

Bottle Alley is around the corner in Baxter Street; but it is a fair
specimen of its kind, wherever found. Look into any of these houses,
everywhere the same piles of rags, of malodorous bones and musty paper,
all of which the sanitary police flatter themselves they have banished
to the dumps and the warehouses. Here is a "flat" of "parlor" and two
pitch-dark coops called bedrooms. Truly, the bed is all there is room
for. The family tea-kettle is on the stove, doing duty for the time
being as a wash-boiler. By night it will have returned to its proper
use again, a practical illustration of how poverty in "the Bend" makes
both ends meet. One, two, three beds are there, if the old boxes and
heaps of foul straw can be called by that name; a broken stove with
crazy pipe from which the smoke leaks at every joint, a table of
rough boards propped up on boxes, piles of rubbish in the corner.
The closeness and smell are appalling. How many people sleep here?
The woman with the red bandanna shakes her head sullenly, but the
bare-legged girl with the bright face counts on her fingers--five, six!

"Six, sir!" Six grown people and five children.

"Only five," she says with a smile, swathing the little one on her
lap in its cruel bandage. There is another in the cradle--actually a
cradle. And how much the rent?

Nine and a half, and "please, sir! he won't put the paper on."

"He" is the landlord. The "paper" hangs in musty shreds on the wall.

Well do I recollect the visit of a health inspector to one of these
tenements on a July day when the thermometer outside was climbing
high in the nineties; but inside, in that awful room, with half a
dozen persons washing, cooking, and sorting rags, lay the dying baby
alongside the stove, where the doctors thermometer ran up to 115°!
Perishing for the want of a breath of fresh air in this city of untold
charities! Did not the manager of the Fresh Air Fund write to the
pastor of an Italian Church only last year[9] that "no one asked for
Italian children," and hence he could not send any to the country?

[Footnote 9: See City Mission Report, February, 1890, page 77.]

[Illustration: BOTTLE ALLEY.]

Half a dozen blocks up Mulberry Street there is a rag-picker's
settlement, a sort of overflow from "the Bend," that exists to-day
in all its pristine nastiness. Something like forty families are
packed into five old two-story and attic houses that were built to
hold five, and out in the yards additional crowds are, or were until
very recently, accommodated in sheds built of all sorts of old boards
and used as drying racks for the Italian tenants' "stock." I found
them empty when I visited the settlement while writing this. The
last two tenants had just left. Their fate was characteristic. The
"old man," who lived in the corner coop, with barely room to crouch
beside the stove--there would not have been room for him to sleep had
not age crooked his frame to fit his house--had been taken to the
"crazy-house," and the woman who was his neighbor and had lived in
her shed for years had simply disappeared. The agent and the other
tenants "guessed," doubtless correctly, that she might be found on the
"island," but she was decrepit anyhow from rheumatism, and "not much
good," and no one took the trouble to inquire for her. They had all
they could do attending to their own business and raising the rent.
No wonder; I found that for one front room and two "bedrooms" in the
shameful old wrecks of buildings the tenant was paying $10 a month, for
the back-room and one bedroom $9, and for the attic rooms, according to
size, from $3.75 to $5.50.

There is a standing quarrel between the professional--I mean now the
official--sanitarian and the unsalaried agitator for sanitary reform
over the question of overcrowded tenements. The one puts the number a
little vaguely at four or five hundred, while the other asserts that
there are thirty-two thousand, the whole number of houses classed as
tenements at the census of two years ago, taking no account of the
better kind of flats. It depends on the angle from which one sees it
which is right. At best the term overcrowding is a relative one, and
the scale of official measurement conveniently sliding. Under the
pressure of the Italian influx the standard of breathing space required
for an adult by the health officers has been cut down from six to four
hundred cubic feet. The "needs of the situation" is their plea, and no
more perfect argument could be advanced for the reformer's position.

It is in "the Bend" the sanitary policeman locates the bulk of his
four hundred, and the sanitary reformer gives up the task in despair.
Of its vast homeless crowds the census takes no account. It is their
instinct to shun the light, and they cannot be corralled in one place
long enough to be counted. But the houses can, and the last count
showed that in "the Bend" district, between Broadway and the Bowery and
Canal and Chatham Streets, in a total of four thousand three hundred
and sixty-seven "apartments" only nine were for the moment vacant,
while in the old "Africa," west of Broadway, that receives the overflow
from Mulberry Street and is rapidly changing its character, the notice
"standing room only" is up. Not a single vacant room was found there.
Nearly a hundred and fifty "lodgers" were driven out of two adjoining
Mulberry Street tenements, one of them aptly named "the House of
Blazes," during that census. What squalor and degradation inhabit these
dens the health officers know. Through the long summer days their carts
patrol "the Bend," scattering disinfectants in streets and lanes, in
sinks and cellars, and hidden hovels where the tramp burrows. From
midnight till far into the small hours of the morning the policeman's
thundering rap on closed doors is heard, with his stern command, "_Apri
port'!_" on his rounds gathering evidence of illegal overcrowding. The
doors are opened unwillingly enough--but the order means business, and
the tenant knows it even if he understands no word of English--upon
such scenes as the one presented in the picture. It was photographed
by flash-light on just such a visit. In a room not thirteen feet
either way slept twelve men and women, two or three in bunks set in a
sort of alcove, the rest on the floor. A kerosene lamp burned dimly
in the fearful atmosphere, probably to guide other and later arrivals
to their "beds," for it was only just past midnight. A baby's fretful
wail came from an adjoining hall-room, where, in the semi-darkness,
three recumbent figures could be made out. The "apartment" was one of
three in two adjoining buildings we had found, within half an hour,
similarly crowded. Most of the men were lodgers, who slept there for
five cents a spot.


Another room on the top floor, that had been examined a few nights
before, was comparatively empty. There were only four persons in it,
two men, an old woman, and a young girl. The landlord opened the
door with alacrity, and exhibited with a proud sweep of his hand the
sacrifice he had made of his personal interests to satisfy the law. Our
visit had been anticipated. The policeman's back was probably no sooner
turned than the room was re-opened for business.

                              CHAPTER VII.

                    A RAID ON THE STALE-BEER DIVES.

Midnight roll-call was over in the Elizabeth Street police-station,
but the reserves were held under orders. A raid was on foot, but
whether on the Chinese fan-tan games, on the opium joints of Mott and
Pell Streets, or on dens of even worse character, was a matter of
guess-work in the men's room. When the last patrolman had come in from
his beat, all doubt was dispelled by the brief order "To the Bend!" The
stale-beer dives were the object of the raid. The policemen buckled
their belts tighter, and with expressive grunts of disgust took up
their march toward Mulberry Street. Past the heathen temples of Mott
Street--there was some fun to be gotten out of a raid _there_--they
trooped, into "the Bend," sending here and there a belated tramp
scurrying in fright toward healthier quarters, and halted at the
mouth of one of the hidden alleys. Squads were told off and sent
to make a simultaneous descent on all the known tramps' burrows in
the block. Led by the sergeant, ours--I went along as a kind of war
correspondent--groped its way in single file through the narrow rift
between slimy walls to the tenements in the rear. Twice during our trip
we stumbled over tramps, both women, asleep in the passage. They were
quietly passed to the rear, receiving sundry prods and punches on the
trip, and headed for the station in the grip of a policeman as a sort
of advance guard of the coming army. After what seemed half a mile of
groping in the dark we emerged finally into the alley proper, where
light escaping through the cracks of closed shutters on both sides
enabled us to make out the contour of three rickety frame tenements.
Snatches of ribald songs and peals of coarse laughter reached us from
now this, now that of the unseen burrows.

"School is in," said the Sergeant drily as we stumbled down the worn
steps of the next cellar-way. A kick of his boot-heel sent the door
flying into the room.

A room perhaps a dozen feet square, with walls and ceiling that might
once have been clean--assuredly the floor had not in the memory of
man, if indeed there was other floor than hard-trodden mud--but were
now covered with a brown crust that, touched with the end of a club,
came off in shuddering showers of crawling bugs, revealing the blacker
filth beneath. Grouped about a beer-keg that was propped on the wreck
of a broken chair, a foul and ragged host of men and women, on boxes,
benches, and stools. Tomato-cans filled at the keg were passed from
hand to hand. In the centre of the group a sallow, wrinkled hag,
evidently the ruler of the feast, dealt out the hideous stuff. A pile
of copper coins rattled in her apron, the very pennies received with
such showers of blessings upon the giver that afternoon; the faces of
some of the women were familiar enough from the streets as those of
beggars forever whining for a penny, "to keep a family from starving."
Their whine and boisterous hilarity were alike hushed now. In sullen,
cowed submission they sat, evidently knowing what to expect. At the
first glimpse of the uniform in the open door some in the group,
customers with a record probably, had turned their heads away to avoid
the searching glance of the officer; while a few, less used to such
scenes, stared defiantly.

A single stride took the sergeant into the middle of the room, and
with a swinging blow of his club he knocked the faucet out of the keg
and the half-filled can from the boss hag's hand. As the contents of
both splashed upon the floor, half a dozen of the group made a sudden
dash, and with shoulders humped above their heads to shield their
skulls against the dreaded locust broke for the door. They had not
counted upon the policemen outside. There was a brief struggle, two or
three heavy thumps, and the runaways were brought back to where their
comrades crouched in dogged silence.

"Thirteen!" called the sergeant, completing his survey. "Take them out.
'Revolvers' all but one. Good for six months on the island, the whole
lot." The exception was a young man not much if any over twenty, with a
hard look of dissipation on his face. He seemed less unconcerned than
the rest, but tried hard to make up for it by putting on the boldest
air he could. "Come down early," commented the officer, shoving him
along with his stick. "There is need of it. They don't last long at
this. That stuff is brewed to kill at long range."

At the head of the cellar-steps we encountered a similar procession
from farther back in the alley, where still another was forming to take
up its march to the station. Out in the street was heard the tramp of
the hosts already pursuing that well-trodden path, as with a fresh
complement of men we entered the next stale-beer alley. There were
four dives in one cellar here. The filth and the stench were utterly
unbearable; even the sergeant turned his back and fled after scattering
the crowd with his club and starting them toward the door. The very
dog in the alley preferred the cold flags for a berth to the stifling
cellar. We found it lying outside. Seventy-five tramps, male and
female, were arrested in the four small rooms. In one of them, where
the air seemed thick enough to cut with a knife, we found a woman, a
mother with a new-born babe on a heap of dirty straw. She was asleep
and was left until an ambulance could be called to take her to the

Returning to the station with this batch, we found every window in the
building thrown open to the cold October wind, and the men from the
sergeant down smoking the strongest cigars that could be obtained by
way of disenfecting the place. Two hundred and seventy-five tramps had
been jammed into the cells to be arraigned next morning in the police
court on the charge of vagrancy, with the certain prospect of six
months "on the Island." Of the sentence at least they were sure. As to
the length of the men's stay the experienced official at the desk was
sceptical, it being then within a month of an important election. If
tramps have nothing else to call their own they have votes, and votes
that are for sale cheap for cash. About election time this gives them
a "pull," at least by proxy. The sergeant observed, as if it were the
most natural thing in the world, that he had more than once seen the
same tramp sent to Blackwell's Island twice in twenty-four hours for
six months at a time.


As a thief never owns to his calling, however devoid of moral scruples,
preferring to style himself a speculator, so this real home-product
of the slums, the stale-beer dive, is known about "the Bend" by the
more dignified name of the two-cent restaurant. Usually, as in this
instance, it is in some cellar giving on a back alley. Doctored,
unlicensed beer is its chief ware. Sometimes a cup of "coffee"
and a stale roll may be had for two cents. The men pay the score.
To the women--unutterable horror of the suggestion--the place is
free. The beer is collected from the kegs put on the sidewalk by the
saloon-keeper to await the brewer's cart, and is touched up with drugs
to put a froth on it. The privilege to sit all night on a chair, or
sleep on a table, or in a barrel, goes with each round of drinks.
Generally an Italian, sometimes a negro, occasionally a woman, "runs"
the dive. Their customers, alike homeless and hopeless in their utter
wretchedness, are the professional tramps, and these only. The meanest
thief is infinitely above the stale-beer level. Once upon that plane
there is no escape. To sink below it is impossible; no one ever rose
from it. One night spent in a stale-beer dive is like the traditional
putting on of the uniform of the caste, the discarded rags of an old
tramp. That stile once crossed, the lane has no longer a turn; and
contrary to the proverb, it is usually not long either.

With the gravitation of the Italian tramp landlord toward the old
stronghold of the African on the West Side, a share of the stale-beer
traffic has left "the Bend;" but its headquarters will always remain
there, the real home of trampdom, just as Fourteenth Street is its
limit. No real tramp crosses that frontier after nightfall and in the
daytime only to beg. Repulsive as the business is, its profits to the
Italian dive-keeper are considerable; in fact, barring a slight outlay
in the ingredients that serve to give "life" to the beer-dregs, it
is all profit. The "banker" who curses the Italian colony does not
despise taking a hand in it, and such a thing as a stale-beer trust
on a Mulberry Street scale may yet be among the possibilities. One of
these bankers, who was once known to the police as the keeper of one
notorious stale-beer dive and the active backer of others, is to-day an
extensive manufacturer of macaroni, the owner of several big tenements
and other real estate; and the capital, it is said, has all come out of
his old business. Very likely it is true.

On hot summer nights it is no rare experience when exploring the worst
of the tenements in "the Bend" to find the hallways occupied by rows of
"sitters," tramps whom laziness or hard luck has prevented from earning
enough by their day's "labor" to pay the admission fee to a stale-beer
dive, and who have their reasons for declining the hospitality of the
police station lodging-rooms. Huddled together in loathsome files,
they squat there over night, or until an inquisitive policeman breaks
up the congregation with his club, which in Mulberry Street has always
free swing. At that season the woman tramp predominates. The men, some
of them at least, take to the railroad track and to camping out when
the nights grow warm, returning in the fall to prey on the city and to
recruit their ranks from the lazy, the shiftless, and the unfortunate.
Like a foul loadstone, "the Bend" attracts and brings them back, no
matter how far they have wandered. For next to idleness the tramp loves
rum; next to rum stale beer, its equivalent of the gutter. And the
first and last go best together.

As "sitters" they occasionally find a job in the saloons about Chatham
and Pearl Streets on cold winter nights, when the hallway is not
practicable, that enables them to pick up a charity drink now and then
and a bite of an infrequent sandwich. The barkeeper permits them to
sit about the stove and by shivering invite the sympathy of transient
customers. The dodge works well, especially about Christmas and
election time, and the sitters are able to keep comfortably filled
up to the advantage of their host. But to look thoroughly miserable
they must keep awake. A tramp placidly dozing at the fire would not be
an object of sympathy. To make sure that they do keep awake, the wily
bartender makes them sit constantly swinging one foot like the pendulum
of a clock. When it stops the slothful "sitter" is roused with a kick
and "fired out." It is said by those who profess to know that habit has
come to the rescue of oversleepy tramps and that the old rounders can
swing hand or foot in their sleep without betraying themselves. In some
saloons "sitters" are let in at these seasons in fresh batches every

On one of my visits to "the Bend" I came across a particularly ragged
and disreputable tramp, who sat smoking his pipe on the rung of a
ladder with such evident philosophic contentment in the busy labor of a
score of rag-pickers all about him, that I bade him sit for a picture,
offering him ten cents for the job. He accepted the offer with hardly a
nod, and sat patiently watching me from his perch until I got ready for
work. Then he took the pipe out of his mouth and put it in his pocket,
calmly declaring that it was not included in the contract, and that it
was worth a quarter to have it go in the picture. The pipe, by the way,
was of clay, and of the two-for-a-cent kind. But I had to give in. The
man, scarce ten seconds employed at honest labor, even at sitting down,
at which he was an undoubted expert, had gone on strike. He knew his
rights and the value of "work," and was not to be cheated out of either.

[Illustration: THE TRAMP.]

Whence these tramps, and why the tramping? are questions oftener asked
than answered. Ill-applied charity and idleness answer the first
query. They are the whence, and to a large extent the why also. Once
started on the career of a tramp, the man keeps to it because it is
the laziest. Tramps and toughs profess the same doctrine, that the
world owes them a living, but from stand-points that tend in different
directions. The tough does not become a tramp, save in rare instances,
when old and broken down. Even then usually he is otherwise disposed
of. The devil has various ways of taking care of his own. Nor is the
tramps' army recruited from any certain class. All occupations and
most grades of society yield to it their contingent of idleness.
Occasionally, from one cause or another, a recruit of a better stamp is
forced into the ranks; but the first acceptance of alms puts a brand on
the able-bodied man which his moral nature rarely hold out to efface.
He seldom recovers his lost caste. The evolution is gradual, keeping
step with the increasing shabbiness of his clothes and corresponding
loss of self-respect, until he reaches the bottom in "the Bend."

Of the tough the tramp doctrine that the world owes him a living makes
a thief; of the tramp a coward. Numbers only make him bold unless he
has to do with defenceless women. In the city the policemen keep him
straight enough. The women rob an occasional clothes-line when no one
is looking, or steal the pail and scrubbing-brush with which they are
set to clean up in the station-house lodging-rooms after their night's
sleep. At the police station the roads of the tramp and the tough again
converge. In mid-winter, on the coldest nights, the sanitary police
corral the tramps here and in their lodging-houses and vaccinate them,
despite their struggles and many oaths that they have recently been
"scraped." The station-house is the sieve that sifts out the chaff from
the wheat, if there be any wheat there. A man goes from his first
night's sleep on the hard slab of a police station lodging-room to a
deck-hand's berth on an out-going steamer, to the recruiting office, to
any work that is honest, or he goes "to the devil or the dives, same
thing," says my friend, the Sergeant, who knows.



When it comes to the question of numbers with this tramps' army,
another factor of serious portent has to be taken into account: the
cheap lodging-houses. In the caravanseries that line Chatham Street and
the Bowery, harboring nightly a population as large as that of many a
thriving town, a home-made article of tramp and thief is turned out
that is attracting the increasing attention of the police, and offers
a field for the missionary's labors beside which most others seem of
slight account. Within a year they have been stamped as nurseries of
crime by the chief of the Secret Police,[10] the sort of crime that
feeds especially on idleness and lies ready to the hand of fatal
opportunity. In the same strain one of the justices on the police court
bench sums up his long experience as a committing magistrate: "The
ten-cent lodging-houses more than counterbalance the good done by the
free reading-room, lectures, and all other agencies of reform. Such
lodging-houses have caused more destitution, more beggary and crime
than any other agency I know of." A very slight acquaintance with the
subject is sufficient to convince the observer that neither authority
overstates the fact. The two officials had reference, however, to two
different grades of lodging-houses. The cost of a night's lodging makes
the difference. There is a wider gap between the "hotel"--they are all
hotels--that charges a quarter and the one that furnishes a bed for a
dime than between the bridal suite and the every-day hall bedroom of
the ordinary hostelry.

[Footnote 10: Inspector Byrnes on Lodging-houses, in the North American
Review, September, 1889.]

The metropolis is to lots of people like a lighted candle to the moth.
It attracts them in swarms that come year after year with the vague
idea that they can get along here if anywhere; that something is bound
to turn up among so many. Nearly all are young men, unsettled in life,
many--most of them, perhaps--fresh from good homes, beyond a doubt
with honest hopes of getting a start in the city and making a way for
themselves. Few of them have much money to waste while looking around,
and the cheapness of the lodging offered is an object. Fewer still know
anything about the city and its pitfalls. They have come in search
of crowds, of "life," and they gravitate naturally to the Bowery,
the great democratic highway of the city, where the twenty-five-cent
lodging-houses take them in. In the alleged reading-rooms of these
great barracks, that often have accommodations, such as they are,
for two, three, and even four hundred guests, they encounter three
distinct classes of associates: the great mass adventurers like
themselves, waiting there for something to turn up; a much smaller
class of respectable clerks or mechanics, who, too poor or too lonely
to have a home of their own, live this way from year to year; and
lastly the thief in search of recruits for his trade. The sights the
young stranger sees, and the company he keeps, in the Bowery are not
of a kind to strengthen any moral principle he may have brought away
from home, and by the time his money is gone, with no work yet in
sight, and he goes down a step, a long step, to the fifteen-cent
lodging-house, he is ready for the tempter whom he finds waiting for
him there, reinforced by the contingent of ex-convicts returning from
the prisons after having served out their sentences for robbery or
theft. Then it is that the something he has been waiting for turns
up. The police returns have the record of it. "In nine cases out of
ten," says Inspector Byrnes, "he turns out a thief, or a burglar, if,
indeed, he does not sooner or later become a murderer." As a matter
of fact, some of the most atrocious of recent murders have been the
result of schemes of robbery hatched in these houses, and so frequent
and bold have become the depredations of the lodging-house thieves,
that the authorities have been compelled to make a public demand for
more effective laws that shall make them subject at all times to police

Inspector Byrnes observes that in the last two or three years at
least four hundred young men have been arrested for petty crimes that
originated in the lodging-houses, and that in many cases it was their
first step in crime. He adds his testimony to the notorious fact that
three-fourths of the young men called on to plead to generally petty
offences in the courts are under twenty years of age, poorly clad, and
without means. The bearing of the remark is obvious. One of the, to the
police, well-known thieves who lived, when out of jail, at the Windsor,
a well-known lodging-house in the Bowery, went to Johnstown after the
flood and was shot and killed there while robbing the dead.

An idea of just how this particular scheme of corruption works, with
an extra touch of infamy thrown in, may be gathered from the story
of David Smith, the "New York Fagin," who was convicted and sent to
prison last year through the instrumentality of the Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Here is the account from the
Society's last report:

"The boy, Edward Mulhearn, fourteen years old, had run away from his
home in Jersey City, thinking he might find work and friends in New
York. He may have been a trifle wild. He met Smith on the Bowery and
recognized him as an acquaintance. When Smith offered him a supper
and bed he was only too glad to accept. Smith led the boy to a vile
lodging-house on the Bowery, where he introduced him to his 'pals' and
swore he would make a man of him before he was a week older. Next day
he took the unsuspecting Edward all over the Bowery and Grand Street,
showed him the sights and drew his attention to the careless way the
ladies carried their bags and purses and the easy thing it was to get
them. He induced Edward to try his hand. Edward tried and won. He was
richer by three dollars! It did seem easy. 'Of course it is,' said his
companion. From that time Smith took the boy on a number of thieving
raids, but he never seemed to become adept enough to be trusted out
of range of the 'Fagin's' watchful eye. When he went out alone he
generally returned empty-handed. This did not suit Smith. It was then
he conceived the idea of turning this little inferior thief into a
superior beggar. He took the boy into his room and burned his arms
with a hot iron. The boy screamed and entreated in vain. The merciless
wretch pressed the iron deep into the tender flesh, and afterward
applied acid to the raw wound.

"Thus prepared, with his arm inflamed, swollen, and painful, Edward was
sent out every day by this fiend, who never let him out of his sight,
and threatened to burn his arm off if he did not beg money enough. He
was instructed to tell people the wound had been caused by acid falling
upon his arm at the works. Edward was now too much under the man's
influence to resist or disobey him. He begged hard and handed Smith the
pennies faithfully. He received in return bad food and worse treatment."

The reckoning came when the wretch encountered the boy's father, in
search of his child, in the Bowery, and fell under suspicion of knowing
more than he pretended of the lad's whereabouts. He was found in his
den with a half dozen of his chums revelling on the proceeds of the
boy's begging for the day.

The twenty-five cent lodging-house keeps up the pretence of a bedroom,
though the head-high partition enclosing a space just large enough to
hold a cot and a chair and allow the man room to pull off his clothes
is the shallowest of all pretences. The fifteen-cent bed stands boldly
forth without screen in a room full of bunks with sheets as yellow and
blankets as foul. At the ten-cent level the locker for the sleeper's
clothes disappears. There is no longer need of it. The tramp limit is
reached, and there is nothing to lock up save, on general principles,
the lodger. Usually the ten- and seven-cent lodgings are different
grades of the same abomination. Some sort of an apology for a bed, with
mattress and blanket, represents the aristocratic purchase of the tramp
who, by a lucky stroke of beggary, has exchanged the chance of an empty
box or ash-barrel for shelter on the quality floor of one of these
"hotels." A strip of canvas, strung between rough timbers, without
covering of any kind, does for the couch of the seven-cent lodger who
prefers the questionable comfort of a red-hot stove close to his elbow
to the revelry of the stale-beer dive. It is not the most secure perch
in the world. Uneasy sleepers roll off at intervals, but they have not
far to fall to the next tier of bunks, and the commotion that ensues
is speedily quieted by the boss and his club. On cold winter nights,
when every bunk had its tenant, I have stood in such a lodging-room
more than once, and listening to the snoring of the sleepers like the
regular strokes of an engine, and the slow creaking of the beams under
their restless weight, imagined myself on shipboard and experienced the
very real nausea of sea-sickness. The one thing that did not favor the
deception was the air; its character could not be mistaken.


The proprietor of one of these seven-cent houses was known to me
as a man of reputed wealth and respectability. He "ran" three such
establishments and made, it was said, $8,000 a year clear profit on
his investment. He lived in a handsome house quite near to the stylish
precincts of Murray Hill, where the nature of his occupation was not
suspected. A notice that was posted on the wall of the lodgers' room
suggested at least an effort to maintain his up-town standing in the
slums. It read: "No swearing or loud talking after nine o'clock."
Before nine no exceptions were taken to the natural vulgarity of the
place; but that was the limit.

There are no licensed lodging-houses known to me which charge less than
seven cents for even such a bed as this canvas strip, though there are
unlicensed ones enough where one may sleep on the floor for five cents
a spot, or squat in a sheltered hallway for three. The police station
lodging-house, where the soft side of a plank is the regulation couch,
is next in order. The manner in which this police bed is "made up" is
interesting in its simplicity. The loose planks that make the platform
are simply turned over, and the job is done, with an occasional coat
of white-wash thrown in to sweeten things. I know of only one easier
way, but, so far as I am informed, it has never been introduced in this
country. It used to be practised, if report spoke truly, in certain
old-country towns. The "bed" was represented by clothes-lines stretched
across the room upon which the sleepers hung by the arm-pits for a
penny a night. In the morning the boss woke them up by simply untying
the line at one end and letting it go with its load; a labor-saving
device certainly, and highly successful in attaining the desired end.

According to the police figures, 4,974,025 separate lodgings were
furnished last year by these dormitories, between two and three
hundred in number, and, adding the 147,634 lodgings furnished by the
station-houses, the total of the homeless army was 5,121,659, an
average of over fourteen thousand homeless men[11] for every night
in the year! The health officers, professional optimists always in
matters that trench upon their official jurisdiction, insist that
the number is not quite so large as here given. But, apart from any
slight discrepancy in the figures, the more important fact remains
that last year's record of lodgers is an all round increase over the
previous year's of over three hundred thousand, and that this has
been the ratio of growth of the business during the last three years,
the period of which Inspector Byrnes complains as turning out so many
young criminals with the lodging-house stamp upon them. More than half
of the lodging-houses are in the Bowery district, that is to say, the
Fourth, Sixth, and Tenth Wards, and they harbor nearly three-fourths
of their crowds. The calculation that more than nine thousand homeless
young men lodge nightly along Chatham Street and the Bowery, between
the City Hall and the Cooper Union, is probably not far out of the way.
The City Missionary finds them there far less frequently than the thief
in need of helpers. Appropriately enough, nearly one-fifth of all the
pawn-shops in the city and one-sixth of all the saloons are located
here, while twenty-seven per cent. of all the arrests on the police
books have been credited to the district for the last two years.

[Footnote 11: Deduct 69,111 women lodgers in the police stations.]

About election time, especially in Presidential elections, the
lodging-houses come out strong on the side of the political boss who
has the biggest "barrel." The victory in political contests, in the
three wards I have mentioned of all others, is distinctly to the
general with the strongest battalions, and the lodging-houses are his
favorite recruiting ground. The colonization of voters is an evil of
the first magnitude, none the less because both parties smirch their
hands with it, and for that reason next to hopeless. Honors are easy,
where the two "machines," intrenched in their strongholds, outbid each
other across the Bowery in open rivalry as to who shall commit the most
flagrant frauds at the polls. Semi-occasionally a champion offender is
caught and punished, as was, not long ago, the proprietor of one of the
biggest Bowery lodging-houses. But such scenes are largely spectacular,
if not prompted by some hidden motive of revenge that survives from
the contest. Beyond a doubt Inspector Byrnes speaks by the card when
he observes that "usually this work is done in the interest of some
local political boss, who stands by the owner of the house, in case the
latter gets into trouble." For standing by, read twisting the machinery
of outraged justice so that its hand shall fall not too heavily upon
the culprit, or miss him altogether. One of the houses that achieved
profitable notoriety in this way in many successive elections, a
notorious tramps' resort in Houston Street, was lately given up, and
has most appropriately been turned into a bar-factory, thus still
contributing, though in a changed form, to the success of "the cause."
It must be admitted that the black tramp who herds in the West Side
"hotels" is more discriminating in this matter of electioneering
than his white brother. He at least exhibits some real loyalty in
invariably selling his vote to the Republican bidder for a dollar,
while he charges the Democratic boss a dollar and a half. In view of
the well-known facts, there is a good deal of force in the remark made
by a friend of ballot reform during the recent struggle over that
hotly contested issue, that real ballot reform will do more to knock
out cheap lodging-houses than all the regulations of police and health
officers together.

The experiment made by a well-known stove manufacturer a winter or two
ago in the way of charity, might have thrown much desired light on
the question of the number of tramps in the city, could it have been
carried to a successful end. He opened a sort of breakfast shop for
the idle and unemployed in the region of Washington Square, offering
to all who had no money a cup of coffee and a roll for nothing. The
first morning he had a dozen customers, the next about two hundred. The
number kept growing until one morning, at the end of two weeks, found
by actual count 2,014 shivering creatures in line waiting their turn
for a seat at his tables. The shop was closed that day. It was one of
the rare instances of too great a rush of custom wrecking a promising
business, and the great problem remained unsolved.



Between the tabernacles of Jewry and the shrines of the Bend, Joss
has cheekily planted his pagan worship of idols, chief among which
are the celestial worshipper's own gain and lusts. Whatever may be
said about the Chinaman being a thousand years behind the age on his
own shores, here he is distinctly abreast of it in his successful
scheming to "make it pay." It is doubtful if there is anything he does
not turn to a paying account, from his religion down, or up, as one
prefers. At the risk of distressing some well-meaning, but, I fear,
too trustful people, I state it in advance as my opinion, based on the
steady observation of years, that all attempts to make an effective
Christian of John Chinaman will remain abortive in this generation; of
the next I have, if anything, less hope. Ages of senseless idolatry,
a mere grub-worship, have left him without the essential qualities
for appreciating the gentle teachings of a faith whose motive and
unselfish spirit are alike beyond his grasp. He lacks the handle of a
strong faith in something, anything however wrong, to catch him by.
There is nothing strong about him, except his passions when aroused.
I am convinced that he adopts Christianity, when he adopts it at all,
as he puts on American clothes, with what the politicians would call
an ulterior motive, some sort of gain in the near prospect--washing, a
Christian wife, perhaps, anything he happens to rate for the moment
above his cherished pigtail. It may be that I judge him too harshly.
Exceptions may be found. Indeed, for the credit of the race, I hope
there are such. But I am bound to say my hope is not backed by lively

Chinatown as a spectacle is disappointing. Next-door neighbor to
the Bend, it has little of its outdoor stir and life, none of its
gayly-colored rags or picturesque filth and poverty. Mott Street is
clean to distraction: the laundry stamp is on it, though the houses
are chiefly of the conventional tenement-house type, with nothing to
rescue them from the everyday dismal dreariness of their kind save
here and there a splash of dull red or yellow, a sign, hung endways
and with streamers of red flannel tacked on, that announces in Chinese
characters that Dr. Chay Yen Chong sells Chinese herb medicines, or
that Won Lung & Co.--queer contradiction--take in washing, or deal
out tea and groceries. There are some gimcracks in the second story
fire-escape of one of the houses, signifying that Joss or a club has a
habitation there. An American patent medicine concern has seized the
opportunity to decorate the back-ground with its cabalistic trade-mark,
that in this company looks as foreign as the rest. Doubtless the
privilege was bought for cash. It will buy anything in Chinatown, Joss
himself included, as indeed, why should it not? He was bought for cash
across the sea and came here under the law that shuts out the live
Chinaman, but lets in his dead god on payment of the statutory duty
on bric-à-brac. Red and yellow are the holiday colors of Chinatown as
of the Bend, but they do not lend brightness in Mott Street as around
the corner in Mulberry. Rather, they seem to descend to the level of
the general dulness, and glower at you from doors and windows, from
the telegraph pole that is the official organ of Chinatown and from
the store signs, with blank, un-meaning stare, suggesting nothing,
asking no questions, and answering none. Fifth Avenue is not duller on
a rainy day than Mott Street to one in search of excitement. Whatever
is on foot goes on behind closed doors. Stealth and secretiveness are
as much part of the Chinaman in New York as the cat-like tread of his
felt shoes. His business, as his domestic life, shuns the light, less
because there is anything to conceal than because that is the way of
the man. Perhaps the attitude of American civilization toward the
stranger, whom it invited in, has taught him that way. At any rate,
the very doorways of his offices and shops are fenced off by queer,
forbidding partitions suggestive of a continual state of siege. The
stranger who enters through the crooked approach is received with
sudden silence, a sullen stare, and an angry "Vat you vant?" that
breathes annoyance and distrust.

Trust not him who trusts no one, is as safe a rule in Chinatown as out
of it. Were not Mott Street overawed in its isolation, it would not be
safe to descend this open cellar-way, through which come the pungent
odor of burning opium and the clink of copper coins on the table. As
it is, though safe, it is not profitable to intrude. At the first
foot-fall of leather soles on the steps the hum of talk ceases, and the
group of celestials, crouching over their game of fan tan, stop playing
and watch the comer with ugly looks. Fan tan is their ruling passion.
The average Chinaman, the police will tell you, would rather gamble
than eat any day, and they have ample experience to back them. Only
the fellow in the bunk smokes away, indifferent to all else but his
pipe and his own enjoyment. It is a mistake to assume that Chinatown is
honeycombed with opium "joints." There are a good many more outside
of it than in it. The celestials do not monopolize the pipe. In Mott
Street there is no need of them. Not a Chinese home or burrow there,
but has its bunk and its lay-out, where they can be enjoyed safe from
police interference. The Chinaman smokes opium as Caucasians smoke
tobacco, and apparently with little worse effect upon himself. But woe
unto the white victim upon which his pitiless drug gets its grip!

The bloused pedlars who, with arms buried half to the elbow in their
trousers' pockets, lounge behind their stock of watermelon seed and
sugar-cane, cut in lengths to suit the purse of the buyer, disdain to
offer the barbarian their wares. Chinatown, that does most things by
contraries, rules it holiday style to carry its hands in its pockets,
and its denizens follow the fashion, whether in blue blouse, in gray,
or in brown, with shining and braided pig-tail dangling below the
knees, or with hair cropped short above a coat collar of "Melican"
cut. All kinds of men are met, but no women--none at least with almond
eyes. The reason is simple: there are none. A few, a very few, Chinese
merchants have wives of their own color, but they are seldom or never
seen in the street. The "wives" of Chinatown are of a different stock
that comes closer home.

From the teeming tenements to the right and left of it come the white
slaves of its dens of vice and their infernal drug, that have infused
into the "Bloody Sixth" Ward a subtler poison than ever the stale-beer
dives knew, or the "sudden death" of the Old Brewery. There are houses,
dozens of them, in Mott and Pell Streets, that are literally jammed,
from the "joint" in the cellar to the attic, with these hapless victims
of a passion which, once acquired, demands the sacrifice of every
instinct of decency to its insatiate desire. There is a church in Mott
Street, at the entrance to Chinatown, that stands as a barrier between
it and the tenements beyond. Its young men have waged unceasing war
upon the monstrous wickedness for years, but with very little real
result. I have in mind a house in Pell Street that has been raided no
end of times by the police, and its population emptied upon Blackwell's
Island, or into the reformatories, yet is to-day honeycombed with
scores of the conventional households of the Chinese quarter: the men
worshippers of Joss; the women, all white, girls hardly yet grown to
womanhood, worshipping nothing save the pipe that has enslaved them
body and soul. Easily tempted from homes that have no claim upon the
name, they rarely or never return. Mott Street gives up its victims
only to the Charity Hospital or the Potter's Field. Of the depth of
their fall no one is more thoroughly aware than these girls themselves;
no one less concerned about it. The calmness with which they discuss
it, while insisting illogically upon the fiction of a marriage that
deceives no one, is disheartening. Their misery is peculiarly fond of
company, and an amount of visiting goes on in these households that
makes it extremely difficult for the stranger to untangle them. I came
across a company of them "hitting the pipe" together, on a tour through
their dens one night with the police captain of the precinct. The girls
knew him, called him by name, offered him a pipe, and chatted with
him about the incidents of their acquaintance, how many times he had
"sent them up," and their chances of "lasting" much longer. There was
no shade of regret in their voices, nothing but utter indifference and

One thing about them was conspicuous: their scrupulous neatness. It
is the distinguishing mark of Chinatown, outwardly and physically. It
is not altogether by chance the Chinaman has chosen the laundry as
his distinctive field. He is by nature as clean as the cat, which he
resembles in his traits of cruel cunning, and savage fury when aroused.
On this point of cleanliness he insists in his domestic circle,
yielding in others with crafty submissiveness to the caprice of the
girls, who "boss" him in a very independent manner, fretting vengefully
under the yoke they loathe, but which they know right well they can
never shake off, once they have put the pipe to their lips and given
Mott Street a mortgage upon their souls for all time. To the priest,
whom they call in when the poison racks the body, they pretend that
they are yet their own masters; but he knows that it is an idle boast,
least of all believed by themselves. As he walks with them the few
short steps to the Potter's Field, he hears the sad story he has heard
told over and over again, of father, mother, home, and friends given
up for the accursed pipe, and stands hopeless and helpless before the
colossal evil for which he knows no remedy.

The frequent assertions of the authorities that at least no girls under
age are wrecked on this Chinese shoal, are disproved by the observation
of those who go frequently among these dens, though the smallest girl
will invariably, and usually without being asked, insist that she is
sixteen, and so of age to choose the company she keeps. Such assertions
are not to be taken seriously. Even while I am writing, the morning
returns from one of the precincts that pass through my hands report the
arrest of a Chinaman for "inveigling little girls into his laundry,"
one of the hundred outposts of Chinatown that are scattered all over
the city, as the outer threads of the spider's web that holds its prey
fast. Reference to case No. 39,499 in this year's report of the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, will discover one of the
much travelled roads to Chinatown. The girl whose story it tells was
thirteen, and one of six children abandoned by a dissipated father. She
had been discharged from an Eighth Avenue store, where she was employed
as cash girl, and, being afraid to tell her mother, floated about until
she landed in a Chinese laundry. The judge heeded her tearful prayer,
and sent her home with her mother, but she was back again in a little
while despite all promises of reform.

  [Illustration: IN A CHINESE JOINT.]

Her tyrant knows well that she will come, and patiently bides his time.
When her struggles in the web have ceased at last, he rules no longer
with gloved hand. A specimen of celestial logic from the home circle at
this period came home to me with a personal application, one evening
when I attempted, with a policeman, to stop a Chinaman whom we found
beating his white "wife" with a broom-handle in a Mott Street cellar.
He was angry at our interference, and declared vehemently that she was

"S'ppose your wifee bad, you no lickee her?" he asked, as if there
could be no appeal from such a common-sense proposition as that. My
assurance that I did not, that such a thing could not occur to me,
struck him dumb with amazement. He eyed me a while in stupid silence,
poked the linen in his tub, stole another look, and made up his mind. A
gleam of intelligence shone in his eye, and pity and contempt struggled
in his voice. "Then, I guess, she lickee you," he said.

No small commotion was caused in Chinatown once upon the occasion of an
expedition I undertook, accompanied by a couple of police detectives,
to photograph Joss. Some conscienceless wag spread the report, after
we were gone, that his picture was wanted for the Rogues' Gallery
at Headquarters. The insult was too gross to be passed over without
atonement of some sort. Two roast pigs made matters all right with
his offended majesty of Mott Street, and with his attendant priests,
who bear a very practical hand in the worship by serving as the
divine stomach, as it were. They eat the good things set before their
rice-paper master, unless, as once happened, some sacrilegious tramp
sneaks in and gets ahead of them. The practical way in which this
people combine worship with business is certainly admirable. I was
told that the scrawl covering the wall on both sides of the shrine
stood for the names of the pillars of the church or club--the Joss
House is both--that they might have their reward in this world, no
matter what happened to them in the next. There was another inscription
overhead that needed no interpreter. In familiar English letters,
copied bodily from the trade dollar, was the sentiment: "In God we
trust." The priest pointed to it with undisguised pride and attempted
an explanation, from which I gathered that the inscription was intended
as a diplomatic courtesy, a delicate international compliment to the
"Melican Joss," the almighty dollar.


Chinatown has enlisted the telegraph for the dissemination of public
intelligence, but it has got hold of the contrivance by the wrong
end. As the wires serve us in newspaper-making, so the Chinaman makes
use of the pole for the same purpose. The telegraph pole, of which I
spoke as the real official organ of Chinatown, stands not far from
the Joss House in Mott Street, in full view from Chatham Square. In
it centres the real life of the colony, its gambling news. Every day
yellow and red notices are posted upon it by unseen hands, announcing
that in such and such a cellar a fan tan game will be running that
night, or warning the faithful that a raid is intended on this or that
game through the machination of a rival interest. A constant stream
of plotting and counter-plotting makes up the round of Chinese social
and political existence. I do not pretend to understand the exact
political structure of the colony, or its internal government. Even
discarding as idle the stories of a secret cabal with power over life
and death, and authority to enforce its decrees, there is evidence
enough that the Chinese consider themselves subject to the laws of the
land only when submission is unavoidable, and that they are governed
by a code of their own, the very essence of which is rejection of all
other authority except under compulsion. If now and then some horrible
crime in the Chinese colony, a murder of such hideous ferocity as
one I have a very vivid recollection of, where the murderer stabbed
his victim (both Chinamen, of course) in the back with a meat-knife,
plunging it in to the hilt no less than seventeen times, arouses the
popular prejudice to a suspicion that it was "ordered," only the
suspected themselves are to blame, for they appear to rise up as one
man to shield the criminal. The difficulty of tracing the motive of the
crime and the murderer is extreme, and it is the rarest of all results
that the police get on the track of either. The obstacles in the way
of hunting down an Italian murderer are as nothing to the opposition
encountered in Chinatown. Nor is the failure of the pursuit wholly to
be ascribed to the familiar fact that to Caucasian eyes "all Chinamen
look alike," but rather to their acting "alike," in a body, to defeat
discovery at any cost.

Withal the police give the Chinese the name of being the "quietest
people down there," meaning in the notoriously turbulent Sixth Ward;
and they are. The one thing they desire above all is to be let alone,
a very natural wish perhaps, considering all the circumstances. If it
were a laudable, or even an allowable ambition that prompts it, they
might be humored with advantage, probably, to both sides. But the facts
show too plainly that it is not, and that in their very exclusiveness
and reserve they are a constant and terrible menace to society, wholly
regardless of their influence upon the industrial problems which
their presence confuses. The severest official scrutiny, the harshest
repressive measures are justifiable in Chinatown, orderly as it appears
on the surface, even more than in the Bend, and the case is infinitely
more urgent. To the peril that threatens there all the senses are
alert, whereas the poison that proceeds from Mott Street puts mind and
body to sleep, to work out its deadly purpose in the corruption of the

This again may be set down as a harsh judgment. I may be accused of
inciting persecution of an unoffending people. Far from it. Granted,
that the Chinese are in no sense a desirable element of the population,
that they serve no useful purpose here, whatever they may have done
elsewhere in other days, yet to this it is a sufficient answer that
they are here, and that, having let them in, we must make the best of
it. This is a time for very plain speaking on this subject. Rather than
banish the Chinaman, I would have the door opened wider--for his wife;
make it a condition of his coming or staying that he bring his wife
with him. Then, at least, he might not be what he now is and remains, a
homeless stranger among us. Upon this hinges the real Chinese question,
in our city at all events, as I see it. To assert that the victims of
his drug and his base passions would go to the bad anyhow, is begging
the question. They might and they might not. The chance is the span
between life and death. From any other form of dissipation than that
for which Chinatown stands there is recovery: for the victims of any
other vice, hope. For these there is neither hope nor recovery; nothing
but death--moral, mental, and physical death.


                               CHAPTER X.


The tenements grow taller, and the gaps in their ranks close up rapidly
as we cross the Bowery and, leaving Chinatown and the Italians behind,
invade the Hebrew quarter. Baxter Street, with its interminable rows
of old clothes shops and its brigades of pullers-in--nicknamed "the
Bay" in honor, perhaps, of the tars who lay to there after a cruise to
stock up their togs, or maybe after the "schooners" of beer plentifully
bespoke in that latitude--Bayard Street, with its synagogues and its
crowds, gave us a foretaste of it. No need of asking here where we
are. The jargon of the street, the signs of the sidewalk, the manner
and dress of the people, their unmistakable physiognomy, betray their
race at every step. Men with queer skull-caps, venerable beard, and the
outlandish long-skirted kaftan of the Russian Jew, elbow the ugliest
and the handsomest women in the land. The contrast is startling. The
old women are hags; the young, houris. Wives and mothers at sixteen, at
thirty they are old. So thoroughly has the chosen people crowded out
the Gentiles in the Tenth Ward that, when the great Jewish holidays
come around every year, the public schools in the district have
practically to close up. Of their thousands of pupils scarce a handful
come to school. Nor is there any suspicion that the rest are playing
hookey. They stay honestly home to celebrate. There is no mistaking
it: we are in Jewtown.

It is said that nowhere in the world are so many people crowded
together on a square mile as here. The average five-story tenement adds
a story or two to its stature in Ludlow Street and an extra building
on the rear lot, and yet the sign "To Let" is the rarest of all there.
Here is one seven stories high. The sanitary policeman whose beat
this is will tell you that it contains thirty-six families, but the
term has a widely different meaning here and on the avenues. In this
house, where a case of small-pox was reported, there were fifty-eight
babies and thirty-eight children that were over five years of age. In
Essex Street two small rooms in a six-story tenement were made to hold
a "family" of father and mother, twelve children, and six boarders.
The boarder plays as important a part in the domestic economy of
Jewtown as the lodger in the Mulberry Street Bend. These are samples
of the packing of the population that has run up the record here to
the rate of three hundred and thirty thousand per square mile. The
densest crowding of Old London, I pointed out before, never got beyond
a hundred and seventy-five thousand. Even the alley is crowded out.
Through dark hallways and filthy cellars, crowded, as is every foot
of the street, with dirty children, the settlements in the rear are
reached. Thieves know how to find them when pursued by the police,
and the tramps that sneak in on chilly nights to fight for the warm
spot in the yard over some baker's oven. They are out of place in this
hive of busy industry, and they know it. It has nothing in common with
them or with their philosophy of life, that the world owes the idler
a living. Life here means the hardest kind of work almost from the
cradle. The world as a debtor has no credit in Jewtown. Its promise
to pay wouldn't buy one of the old hats that are hawked about Hester
Street, unless backed by security representing labor done at lowest
market rates. But this army of workers must have bread. It is cheap and
filling, and bakeries abound. Wherever they are in the tenements the
tramp will skulk in, if he can. There is such a tramps' roost in the
rear of a tenement near the lower end of Ludlow Street, that is never
without its tenants in winter. By a judicious practice of flopping over
on the stone pavement at intervals, and thus warming one side at a
time, and with an empty box to put the feet in, it is possible to keep
reasonably comfortable there even on a rainy night. In summer the yard
is the only one in the neighborhood that does not do duty as a public


Thrift is the watchword of Jewtown, as of its people the world over. It
is at once its strength and its fatal weakness, its cardinal virtue and
its foul disgrace. Become an over-mastering passion with these people
who come here in droves from Eastern Europe to escape persecution,
from which freedom could be bought only with gold, it has enslaved
them in bondage worse than that from which they fled. Money is their
God. Life itself is of little value compared with even the leanest
bank account. In no other spot does life wear so intensely bald and
materialistic an aspect as in Ludlow Street. Over and over again I
have met with instances of these Polish or Russian Jews deliberately
starving themselves to the point of physical exhaustion, while working
night and day at a tremendous pressure to save a little money. An
avenging Nemesis pursues this headlong hunt for wealth; there is no
worse paid class anywhere. I once put the question to one of their
own people, who, being a pawnbroker, and an unusually intelligent and
charitable one, certainly enjoyed the advantage of a practical view of
the situation: "Whence the many wretchedly poor people in such a colony
of workers, where poverty, from a misfortune, has become a reproach,
dreaded as the plague?"

"Immigration," he said, "brings us a lot. In five years it has averaged
twenty-five thousand a year, of which more than seventy per cent. have
stayed in New York. Half of them require and receive aid from the
Hebrew Charities from the very start, lest they starve. That is one
explanation. There is another class than the one that cannot get work:
those who have had too much of it; who have worked and hoarded and
lived, crowded together like pigs, on the scantiest fare and the worst
to be got, bound to save whatever their earnings, until, worn out, they
could work no longer. Then their hoards were soon exhausted. That is
their story." And I knew that what he said was true.

Penury and poverty are wedded everywhere to dirt and disease, and
Jewtown is no exception. It could not well be otherwise in such crowds,
considering especially their low intellectual status. The managers of
the Eastern Dispensary, which is in the very heart of their district,
told the whole story when they said: "The diseases these people suffer
from are not due to intemperance or immorality, but to ignorance, want
of suitable food, and the foul air in which they live and work."[12]
The homes of the Hebrew quarter are its workshops also. Reference
will be made to the economic conditions under which they work in a
succeeding chapter. Here we are concerned simply with the fact. You
are made fully aware of it before you have travelled the length of
a single block in any of these East Side streets, by the whir of a
thousand sewing-machines, worked at high pressure from earliest dawn
till mind and muscle give out together. Every member of the family,
from the youngest to the oldest, bears a hand, shut in the qualmy
rooms, where meals are cooked and clothing washed and dried besides,
the live-long day. It is not unusual to find a dozen persons--men,
women, and children--at work in a single small room. The fact accounts
for the contrast that strikes with wonder the observer who comes across
from the Bend. Over there the entire population seems possessed of
an uncontrollable impulse to get out into the street; here all its
energies appear to be bent upon keeping in and away from it. Not that
the streets are deserted. The overflow from these tenements is enough
to make a crowd anywhere. The children alone would do it. Not old
enough to work and no room for play, that is their story. In the home
the child's place is usurped by the lodger, who performs the service
of the Irishman's pig--pays the rent. In the street the army of
hucksters crowd him out. Typhus fever and small-pox are bred here, and
help solve the question what to do with him. Filth diseases both, they
sprout naturally among the hordes that bring the germs with them from
across the sea, and whose first instinct is to hide their sick lest the
authorities carry them off to the hospital to be slaughtered, as they
firmly believe. The health officers are on constant and sharp lookout
for hidden fever-nests. Considering that half of the ready-made clothes
that are sold in the big stores, if not a good deal more than half, are
made in these tenement rooms, this is not excessive caution. It has
happened more than once that a child recovering from small-pox, and in
the most contagious stage of the disease, has been found crawling among
heaps of half-finished clothing that the next day would be offered for
sale on the counter of a Broadway store; or that a typhus fever patient
has been discovered in a room whence perhaps a hundred coats had been
sent home that week, each one with the wearer's death-warrant, unseen
and unsuspected, basted in the lining.

[Footnote 12: Report of Eastern Dispensary for 1889.]

The health officers call the Tenth the typhus ward; in the office where
deaths are registered it passes as the "suicide ward," for reasons
not hard to understand; and among the police as the "crooked ward,"
on account of the number of "crooks," petty thieves and their allies,
the "fences," receivers of stolen goods, who find the dense crowds
congenial. The nearness of the Bowery, the great "thieves' highway,"
helps to keep up the supply of these, but Jewtown does not support
its dives. Its troubles with the police are the characteristic crop
of its intense business rivalries. Oppression, persecution, have not
shorn the Jew of his native combativeness one whit. He is as ready
to fight for his rights, or what he considers his rights, in a
business transaction--synonymous generally with his advantage--as if
he had not been robbed of them for eighteen hundred years. One strong
impression survives with him from his days of bondage: the power of
the law. On the slightest provocation he rushes off to invoke it for
his protection. Doubtless the sensation is novel to him, and therefore
pleasing. The police at the Eldridge Street station are in a constant
turmoil over these everlasting fights. Somebody is always denouncing
somebody else, and getting his enemy or himself locked up; frequently
both, for the prisoner, when brought in, has generally as plausible
a story to tell as his accuser, and as hot a charge to make. The day
closes on a wild conflict of rival interests. Another dawns with the
prisoner in court, but no complainant. Over night the case has been
settled on a business basis, and the police dismiss their prisoner in
deep disgust.

These quarrels have sometimes a comic aspect. Thus, with the numerous
dancing-schools that are scattered among the synagogues, often keeping
them company in the same tenement. They are generally kept by some
man who works in the daytime at tailoring, cigarmaking, or something
else. The young people in Jewtown are inordinately fond of dancing,
and after their day's hard work will flock to these "schools" for a
night's recreation. But even to their fun they carry their business
preferences, and it happens that a school adjourns in a body to make
a general raid on the rival establishment across the street, without
the ceremony of paying the admission fee. Then the dance breaks up in
a general fight, in which, likely enough, someone is badly hurt. The
police come in, as usual, and ring down the curtain.


Bitter as are his private feuds, it is not until his religious life
is invaded that a real inside view is obtained of this Jew, whom the
history of Christian civilization has taught nothing but fear and
hatred. There are two or three missions in the district conducting a
hopeless propagandism for the Messiah whom the Tenth Ward rejects,
and they attract occasional crowds, who come to hear the Christian
preacher as the Jews of old gathered to hear the apostles expound the
new doctrine. The result is often strikingly similar. "For once," said
a certain well-known minister of an uptown church to me, after such an
experience, "I felt justified in comparing myself to Paul preaching
salvation to the Jews. They kept still until I spoke of Jesus Christ as
the Son of God. Then they got up and fell to arguing among themselves
and to threatening me, until it looked as if they meant to take me out
in Hester Street and stone me." As at Jerusalem, the Chief Captain
was happily at hand with his centurions, in the person of a sergeant
and three policemen, and the preacher was rescued. So, in all matters
pertaining to their religious life that tinges all their customs, they
stand, these East Side Jews, where the new day that dawned on Calvary
left them standing, stubbornly refusing to see the light. A visit to
a Jewish house of mourning is like bridging the gap of two thousand
years. The inexpressibly sad and sorrowful wail for the dead, as it
swells and rises in the hush of all sounds of life, comes back from
the ages like a mournful echo of the voice of Rachel "weeping for her
children and refusing to be comforted, because they are not."

Attached to many of the synagogues, which among the poorest Jews
frequently consist of a scantily furnished room in a rear tenement,
with a few wooden stools or benches for the congregation, are Talmudic
schools that absorb a share of the growing youth. The school-master
is not rarely a man of some attainments who has been stranded there,
his native instinct for money-making having been smothered in the
process that has made of him a learned man. It was of such a school
in Eldridge Street that the wicked Isaac Iacob, who killed his enemy,
his wife, and himself in one day, was janitor. But the majority of the
children seek the public schools, where they are received sometimes
with some misgivings on the part of the teachers, who find it necessary
to inculcate lessons of cleanliness in the worst cases by practical
demonstration with wash-bowl and soap. "He took hold of the soap as
if it were some animal," said one of these teachers to me after such
an experiment upon a new pupil, "and wiped three fingers across his
face. He called that washing." In the Allen Street public school the
experienced principal has embodied among the elementary lessons, to
keep constantly before the children the duty that clearly lies next to
their hands, a characteristic exercise. The question is asked daily
from the teacher's desk: "What must I do to be healthy?" and the whole
school responds:

            "I must keep my skin clean,
            Wear clean clothes,
            Breathe pure air,
            And live in the sunlight."

It seems little less than biting sarcasm to hear them say it, for to
not a few of them all these things are known only by name. In their
everyday life there is nothing even to suggest any of them. Only the
demand of religious custom has power to make their parents clean up at
stated intervals, and the young naturally are no better. As scholars,
the children of the most ignorant Polish Jew keep fairly abreast of
their more favored playmates, until it comes to mental arithmetic, when
they leave them behind with a bound. It is surprising to see how strong
the instinct of dollars and cents is in them. They can count, and
correctly, almost before they can talk.

Within a few years the police captured on the East Side a band of
firebugs who made a business of setting fire to tenements for the
insurance on their furniture. There has, unfortunately, been some
evidence in the past year that another such conspiracy is on foot. The
danger to which these fiends expose their fellow-tenants is appalling.
A fire-panic at night in a tenement, by no means among the rare
experiences in New York, with the surging, half-smothered crowds on
stairs and fire-escapes, the frantic mothers and crying children, the
wild struggle to save the little that is their all, is a horror that
has few parallels in human experience.

I cannot think without a shudder of one such scene in a First Avenue
tenement. It was in the middle of the night. The fire had swept up
with sudden fury from a restaurant on the street floor, cutting off
escape. Men and women threw themselves from the windows, or were
carried down senseless by the firemen. Thirteen half-clad, apparently
lifeless bodies were laid on the floor of an adjoining coal-office,
and the ambulance surgeons worked over them with sleeves rolled up to
the elbows. A half-grown girl with a baby in her arms walked about
among the dead and dying with a stunned, vacant look, singing in a low,
scared voice to the child. One of the doctors took her arm to lead her
out, and patted the cheek of the baby soothingly. It was cold. The
baby had been smothered with its father and mother; but the girl, her
sister, did not know it. Her reason had fled.

Thursday night and Friday morning are bargain days in the "Pig-market."
Then is the time to study the ways of this peculiar people to the best
advantage. A common pulse beats in the quarters of the Polish Jews
and in the Mulberry Bend, though they have little else in common.
Life over yonder in fine weather is a perpetual holiday, here a
veritable tread-mill of industry. Friday brings out all the latent
color and picturesqueness of the Italians, as of these Semites. The
crowds and the common poverty are the bonds of sympathy between them.
The Pig-market is in Hester Street, extending either way from Ludlow
Street, and up and down the side streets two or three blocks, as the
state of trade demands. The name was given to it probably in derision,
for pork is the one ware that is not on sale in the Pig-market. There
is scarcely anything else that can be hawked from a wagon that is not
to be found, and at ridiculously low prices. Bandannas and tin cups
at two cents, peaches at a cent a quart, "damaged" eggs for a song,
hats for a quarter, and spectacles, warranted to suit the eye, at the
optician's who has opened shop on a Hester Street door-step, for thirty
five cents; frowsy-looking chickens and half-plucked geese, hung by the
neck and protesting with wildly strutting feet even in death against
the outrage, are the great staple of the market. Half or a quarter of a
chicken can be bought here by those who cannot afford a whole. It took
more than ten years of persistent effort on the part of the sanitary
authorities to drive the trade in live fowl from the streets to the
fowl-market on Gouverneur Slip, where the killing is now done according
to Jewish rite by priests detailed for the purpose by the chief rabbi.
Since then they have had a characteristic rumpus, that involved the
entire Jewish community, over the fees for killing and the mode of
collecting them. Here is a woman churning horse-radish on a machine she
has chained and padlocked to a tree on the sidewalk, lest someone steal
it. Beside her a butcher's stand with cuts at prices the avenues never
dreamed of. Old coats are hawked for fifty cents, "as good as new,"
and "pants"--there are no trousers in Jewtown, only pants--at anything
that can be got. There is a knot of half a dozen "pants" pedlars in the
middle of the street, twice as many men of their own race fingering
their wares and plucking at the seams with the anxious scrutiny of
would-be buyers, though none of them has the least idea of investing
in a pair. Yes, stop! This baker, fresh from his trough, bare-headed
and with bare arms, has made an offer: for this pair thirty cents; a
dollar and forty was the price asked. The pedlar shrugs his shoulders,
and turns up his hands with a half pitying, wholly indignant air. What
does the baker take him for? Such pants--. The baker has turned to go.
With a jump like a panther's, the man with the pants has him by the
sleeve. Will he give eighty cents? Sixty? Fifty? So help him, they are
dirt cheap at that. Lose, will he, on the trade, lose all the profit
of his day's pedling. The baker goes on unmoved. Forty then? What, not
forty? Take them then for thirty, and wreck the life of a poor man. And
the baker takes them and goes, well knowing that at least twenty cents
of the thirty, two hundred per cent., were clear profit, if indeed the
"pants" cost the pedlar anything.


The suspender pedlar is the mystery of the Pig-market, omnipresent and
unfathomable. He is met at every step with his wares dangling over his
shoulder, down his back, and in front. Millions of suspenders thus
perambulate Jewtown all day on a sort of dress parade. Why suspenders,
is the puzzle, and where do they all go to? The "pants" of Jewtown
hang down with a common accord, as if they had never known the support
of suspenders. It appears to be as characteristic a trait of the race
as the long beard and the Sabbath silk hat of ancient pedigree. I
have asked again and again. No one has ever been able to tell me what
becomes of the suspenders of Jewtown. Perhaps they are hung up as
bric-à-brac in its homes, or laid away and saved up as the equivalent
of cash. I cannot tell. I only know that more suspenders are hawked
about the Pig-market every day than would supply the whole of New York
for a year, were they all bought and turned to use.

The crowds that jostle each other at the wagons and about the sidewalk
shops, where a gutter plank on two ash-barrels does duty for a counter!
Pushing, struggling, babbling, and shouting in foreign tongues, a
veritable Babel of confusion. An English word falls upon the ear
almost with a sense of shock, as something unexpected and strange.
In the midst of it all there is a sudden wild scattering, a hustling
of things from the street into dark cellars, into back-yards and
by-ways, a slamming and locking of doors hidden under the improvised
shelves and counters. The health officers' cart is coming down the
street, preceded and followed by stalwart policemen, who shovel up
with scant ceremony the eatables--musty bread, decayed fish and stale
vegetables--indifferent to the curses that are showered on them from
stoops and windows, and carry them off to the dump. In the wake of the
wagon, as it makes its way to the East River after the raid, follow a
line of despoiled hucksters shouting defiance from a safe distance.
Their clamor dies away with the noise of the market. The endless
panorama of the tenements, rows upon rows, between stony streets,
stretches to the north, to the south, and to the west as far as the eye

                              CHAPTER XI.

                        THE SWEATERS OF JEWTOWN.

Anything like an exhaustive discussion of the economical problem
presented by the Tenth Ward[13] is beset by difficulties that increase
in precise proportion to the efforts put forth to remove them. I have
too vivid a recollection of weary days and nights spent in those
stewing tenements, trying to get to the bottom of the vexatious
question only to find myself in the end as far from the truth as at
the beginning, asking with rising wrath Pilate's question, "What is
truth?" to attempt to weary the reader by dragging him with me over
that sterile and unprofitable ground. Nor are these pages the place for
such a discussion. In it, let me confess it at once and have done with
it, I should be like the blind leading the blind; between the real and
apparent poverty, the hidden hoards and the unhesitating mendacity of
these people, where they conceive their interests to be concerned in
one way or another, the reader and I would fall together into the ditch
of doubt and conjecture in which I have found company before.

[Footnote 13: I refer to the Tenth Ward always as typical. The district
embraced in the discussion really includes the Thirteenth Ward, and in
a growing sense large portions of the Seventh and contiguous wards as

The facts that lie on the surface indicate the causes as clearly as
the nature of the trouble. In effect both have been already stated. A
friend of mine who manufactures cloth once boasted to me that nowadays,
on cheap clothing, New York "beats the world." "To what," I asked, "do
you attribute it?" "To the cutter's long knife[14] and the Polish Jew,"
he said. Which of the two has cut deepest into the workman's wages
is not a doubtful question. Practically the Jew has monopolized the
business since the battle between East Broadway and Broadway ended in a
complete victory for the East Side and cheap labor, and transferred to
it the control of the trade in cheap clothing. Yet, not satisfied with
having won the field, he strives as hotly with his own for the profit
of half a cent as he fought with his Christian competitor for the
dollar. If the victory is a barren one, the blame is his own. His price
is not what he can get, but the lowest he can live for and underbid his
neighbor. Just what that means we shall see. The manufacturer knows it,
and is not slow to take advantage of his knowledge. He makes him hungry
for work by keeping it from him as long as possible; then drives the
closest bargain he can with the sweater.

[Footnote 14: An invention that cuts many garments at once, where the
scissors could cut only a few.]

Many harsh things have been said of the "sweater," that really apply to
the system in which he is a necessary, logical link. It can at least be
said of him that he is no worse than the conditions that created him.
The sweater is simply the middleman, the sub-contractor, a workman like
his fellows, perhaps with the single distinction from the rest that he
knows a little English; perhaps not even that, but with the accidental
possession of two or three sewing-machines, or of credit enough to hire
them, as his capital, who drums up work among the clothing-houses.
Of workmen he can always get enough. Every ship-load from German
ports brings them to his door in droves, clamoring for work. The sun
sets upon the day of the arrival of many a Polish Jew, finding him
at work in an East Side tenement, treading the machine and "learning
the trade." Often there are two, sometimes three, sets of sweaters on
one job. They work with the rest when they are not drumming up trade,
driving their "hands" as they drive their machine, for all they are
worth, and making a profit on their work, of course, though in most
cases not nearly as extravagant a percentage, probably, as is often
supposed. If it resolves itself into a margin of five or six cents,
or even less, on a dozen pairs of boys' trousers, for instance, it is
nevertheless enough to make the contractor with his thrifty instincts
independent. The workman growls, not at the hard labor, or poor pay,
but over the pennies another is coining out of his sweat, and on the
first opportunity turns sweater himself, and takes his revenge by
driving an even closer bargain than his rival tyrant, thus reducing his

The sweater knows well that the isolation of the workman in his
helpless ignorance is his sure foundation, and he has done what he
could--with merciless severity where he could--to smother every symptom
of awakening intelligence in his slaves. In this effort to perpetuate
his despotism he has had the effectual assistance of his own system and
the sharp competition that keep the men on starvation wages; of their
constitutional greed, that will not permit the sacrifice of temporary
advantage, however slight, for permanent good, and above all, of the
hungry hordes of immigrants to whom no argument appeals save the cry
for bread. Within very recent times he has, however, been forced to
partial surrender by the organization of the men to a considerable
extent into trades unions, and by experiments in co-operation, under
intelligent leadership, that presage the sweater's doom. But as long as
the ignorant crowds continue to come and to herd in these tenements,
his grip can never be shaken off. And the supply across the seas is
apparently inexhaustible. Every fresh persecution of the Russian or
Polish Jew on his native soil starts greater hordes hitherward to
confound economical problems, and recruit the sweater's phalanx. The
curse of bigotry and ignorance reaches halfway across the world, to sow
its bitter seed in fertile soil in the East Side tenements. If the Jew
himself was to blame for the resentment he aroused over there, he is
amply punished. He gathers the first-fruits of the harvest here.

The bulk of the sweater's work is done in the tenements, which the
law that regulates factory labor does not reach. To the factories
themselves that are taking the place of the rear tenements in rapidly
growing numbers, letting in bigger day-crowds than those the health
officers banished, the tenement shops serve as a supplement through
which the law is successfully evaded. Ten hours is the legal work-day
in the factories, and nine o'clock the closing hour at the latest.
Forty-five minutes at least must be allowed for dinner, and children
under sixteen must not be employed unless they can read and write
English; none at all under fourteen. The very fact that such a law
should stand on the statute book, shows how desperate the plight of
these people. But the tenement has defeated its benevolent purpose. In
it the child works unchallenged from the day he is old enough to pull
a thread. There is no such thing as a dinner hour; men and women eat
while they work, and the "day" is lengthened at both ends far into
the night. Factory hands take their work with them at the close of the
lawful day to eke out their scanty earnings by working overtime at
home. Little chance on this ground for the campaign of education that
alone can bring the needed relief; small wonder that there are whole
settlements on this East Side where English is practically an unknown
tongue, though the people be both willing and anxious to learn. "When
shall we find time to learn?" asked one of them of me once. I owe him
the answer yet.

Take the Second Avenue Elevated Railroad at Chatham Square and ride up
half a mile through the sweaters' district. Every open window of the
big tenements, that stand like a continuous brick wall on both sides of
the way, gives you a glimpse of one of these shops as the train speeds
by. Men and women bending over their machines, or ironing clothes at
the window, half-naked. Proprieties do not count on the East Side;
nothing counts that cannot be converted into hard cash. The road is
like a big gangway through an endless work-room where vast multitudes
are forever laboring. Morning, noon, or night, it makes no difference;
the scene is always the same. At Rivington Street let us get off and
continue our trip on foot. It is Sunday evening west of the Bowery.
Here, under the rule of Mosaic law, the week of work is under full
headway, its first day far spent. The hucksters' wagons are absent or
stand idle at the curb; the saloons admit the thirsty crowds through
the side-door labelled "Family Entrance;" a tin sign in a store-window
announces that a "Sunday School" gathers in stray children of the new
dispensation; but beyond these things there is little to suggest the
Christian Sabbath. Men stagger along the sidewalk groaning under heavy
burdens of unsewn garments, or enormous black bags stuffed full of
finished coats and trousers. Let us follow one to his home and see how
Sunday passes in a Ludlow Street tenement.

Up two flights of dark stairs, three, four, with new smells of cabbage,
of onions, of frying fish, on every landing, whirring sewing machines
behind closed doors betraying what goes on within, to the door that
opens to admit the bundle and the man. A sweater, this, in a small way.
Five men and a woman, two young girls, not fifteen, and a boy who says
unasked that he is fifteen, and lies in saying it, are at the machines
sewing knickerbockers, "knee-pants" in the Ludlow Street dialect. The
floor is littered ankle-deep with half-sewn garments. In the alcove, on
a couch of many dozens of "pants" ready for the finisher, a bare-legged
baby with pinched face is asleep. A fence of piled-up clothing keeps
him from rolling off on the floor. The faces, hands, and arms to the
elbows of everyone in the room are black with the color of the cloth
on which they are working. The boy and the woman alone look up at our
entrance. The girls shoot sidelong glances, but at a warning look from
the man with the bundle they tread their machines more energetically
than ever. The men do not appear to be aware even of the presence of a

They are "learners," all of them, says the woman, who proves to be the
wife of the boss, and have "come over" only a few weeks ago. She is
disinclined to talk at first, but a few words in her own tongue from
our guide[15] set her fears, whatever they are, at rest, and she grows
almost talkative. The learners work for week's wages, she says. How
much do they earn? She shrugs her shoulders with an expressive gesture.
The workers themselves, asked in their own tongue, say indifferently,
as though the question were of no interest: from two to five dollars.
The children--there are four of them--are not old enough to work.
The oldest is only six. They turn out one hundred and twenty dozen
"knee-pants" a week, for which the manufacturer pays seventy cents a
dozen. Five cents a dozen is the clear profit, but her own and her
husband's work brings the family earnings up to twenty-five dollars a
week, when they have work all the time. But often half the time is put
in looking for it. They work no longer than to nine o'clock at night,
from daybreak. There are ten machines in the room; six are hired at
two dollars a month. For the two shabby, smoke-begrimed rooms, one
somewhat larger than ordinary, they pay twenty dollars a month. She
does not complain, though "times are not what they were, and it costs a
good deal to live." Eight dollars a week for the family of six and two
boarders. How do they do it? She laughs, as she goes over the bill of
fare, at the silly question: Bread, fifteen cents a day, of milk two
quarts a day at four cents a quart, one pound of meat for dinner at
twelve cents, butter one pound a week at "eight cents a quarter of a
pound." Coffee, potatoes, and pickles complete the list. At the least
calculation, probably, this sweater's family hoards up thirty dollars
a month, and in a few years will own a tenement somewhere and profit
by the example set by their landlord in rent-collecting. It is the way
the savings of Jewtown are universally invested, and with the natural
talent of its people for commercial speculation the investment is
enormously profitable.

[Footnote 15: I was always accompanied on these tours of inquiry by
one of their own people who knew of and sympathized with my mission.
Without that precaution my errand would have been fruitless; even with
him it was often nearly so.]

                 STREET SWEATER'S SHOP.]

On the next floor, in a dimly lighted room with a big red-hot stove
to keep the pressing irons ready for use, is a family of man, wife,
three children, and a boarder. "Knee-pants" are made there too, of a
still lower grade. Three cents and a half is all he clears, says the
man, and lies probably out of at least two cents. The wife makes a
dollar and a half finishing, the man about nine dollars at the machine.
The boarder pays sixty-five cents a week. He is really only a lodger,
getting his meals outside. The rent is two dollars and twenty-five
cents a week, cost of living five dollars. Every floor has at least
two, sometimes four, such shops. Here is one with a young family for
which life is bright with promise. Husband and wife work together;
just now the latter, a comely young woman, is eating her dinner of dry
bread and green pickles. Pickles are favorite food in Jewtown. They are
filling, and keep the children from crying with hunger. Those who have
stomachs like ostriches thrive in spite of them and grow strong--plain
proof that they are good to eat. The rest? "Well, they die," says our
guide, dryly. No thought of untimely death comes to disturb this family
with life all before it. In a few years the man will be a prosperous
sweater. Already he employs an old man as ironer at three dollars a
week, and a sweet-faced little Italian girl as finisher at a dollar and
a half. She is twelve, she says, and can neither read nor write; will
probably never learn. How should she? The family clears from ten to
eleven dollars a week in brisk times, more than half of which goes into
the bank.

A companion picture from across the hall. The man works on the
machine for his sweater twelve hours a day, turning out three dozen
"knee-pants," for which he receives forty-two cents a dozen. The
finisher who works with him gets ten, and the ironer eight cents a
dozen; buttonholes are extra, at eight to ten cents a hundred. This
operator has four children at his home in Stanton Street, none old
enough to work, and a sick wife. His rent is twelve dollars a month;
his wages for a hard week's work less than eight dollars. Such as he,
with their consuming desire for money thus smothered, recruit the ranks
of the anarchists, won over by the promise of a general "divide;"
and an enlightened public sentiment turns up its nose at the vicious
foreigner for whose perverted notions there is no room in this land of

Turning the corner into Hester Street, we stumble upon a nest of
cloak-makers in their busy season. Six months of the year the
cloak-maker is idle, or nearly so. Now is his harvest. Seventy-five
cents a cloak, all complete, is the price in this shop. The cloak is
of cheap plush, and might sell for eight or nine dollars over the
store-counter. Seven dollars is the weekly wage of this man with wife
and two children, and nine dollars and a half rent to pay per month.
A boarder pays about a third of it. There was a time when he made ten
dollars a week and thought himself rich. But wages have come down
fearfully in the last two years. Think of it: "come down" to this. The
other cloak-makers aver that they can make as much as twelve dollars a
week, when they are employed, by taking their work home and sewing till
midnight. One exhibits his account-book with a Ludlow Street sweater.
It shows that he and his partner, working on first-class garments
for a Broadway house in the four busiest weeks of the season, made
together from $15.15 to $19.20 a week by striving from 6 A.M.
to 11 P.M., that is to say, from $7.58 to $9.60 each.[16]
The sweater on this work probably made as much as fifty per cent. at
least on their labor. Not far away is a factory in a rear yard where
the factory inspector reports teams of tailors making men's coats at an
average of twenty-seven cents a coat, all complete except buttons and

[Footnote 16: The strike of the cloakmakers last summer, that ended in
victory, raised their wages considerably, at least for the time being.]

Turning back, we pass a towering double tenement in Ludlow Street,
owned by a well-known Jewish liquor dealer and politician, a triple
combination that bodes ill for his tenants. As a matter of fact, the
cheapest "apartment," three rear rooms on the sixth floor, only one of
which deserves the name, is rented for $13 a month. Here is a reminder
of the Bend, a hallway turned into a shoemaker's shop. Two hallways
side by side in adjoining tenements, would be sinful waste in Jewtown,
when one would do as well by knocking a hole in the wall. But this
shoemaker knows a trick the Italian's ingenuity did not suggest. He has
his "flat" as well as his shop there. A curtain hung back of his stool
in the narrow passage half conceals his bed that fills it entirely from
wall to wall. To get into it he has to crawl over the foot-board, and
he must come out the same way. Expedients more odd than this are born
of the East Side crowding. In one of the houses we left, the coal-bin
of a family on the fourth floor was on the roof of the adjoining
tenement. A quarter of a ton of coal was being dumped there while we
talked with the people.

We have reached Broome Street. The hum of industry in this six-story
tenement on the corner leaves no doubt of the aspect Sunday wears
within it. One flight up, we knock at the nearest door. The grocer,
who keeps the store, lives on the "stoop," the first floor in East
Side parlance. In this room a suspender-maker sleeps and works with his
family of wife and four children. For a wonder there are no boarders.
His wife and eighteen years old daughter share in the work, but the
girl's eyes are giving out from the strain. Three months in the year,
when work is very brisk, the family makes by united efforts as high as
fourteen and fifteen dollars a week. The other nine months it averages
from three to four dollars. The oldest boy, a young man, earns from
four to six dollars in an Orchard Street factory, when he has work.
The rent is ten dollars a month for the room and a miserable little
coop of a bedroom where the old folks sleep. The girl makes her bed
on the lounge in the front room; the big boys and the children sleep
on the floor. Coal at ten cents a small pail, meat at twelve cents a
pound, one and a half pound of butter a week at thirty-six cents, and a
quarter of a pound of tea in the same space of time, are items of their
house-keeping account as given by the daughter. Milk at four and five
cents a quart, "according to quality." The sanitary authorities know
what that means, know how miserably inadequate is the fine of fifty or
a hundred dollars for the murder done in cold blood by the wretches
who poison the babes of these tenements with the stuff that is half
water, or swill. Their defence is that the demand is for "cheap milk."
Scarcely a wonder that this suspender-maker will hardly be able to save
up the _dot_ for his daughter, without which she stands no chance of
marrying in Jewtown, even with her face that would be pretty had it a
healthier tinge.

Up under the roof three men are making boys' jackets at twenty cents a
piece, of which the sewer takes eight, the ironer three, the finisher
five cents, and the button-hole-maker two and a quarter, leaving a
cent and three-quarters to pay for the drumming up, the fetching and
bringing back of the goods. They bunk together in a room for which
they pay eight dollars a month. All three are single here, that is:
their wives are on the other side yet, waiting for them to earn
enough to send for them. Their breakfast, eaten at the work-bench,
consists of a couple of rolls at a cent a piece, and a draught of
water, milk when business has been very good, a square meal at noon in
a restaurant, and the morning meal over again at night. This square
meal, that is the evidence of a very liberal disposition on the part
of the consumer, is an affair of more than ordinary note; it may be
justly called an institution. I know of a couple of restaurants at
the lower end of Orchard Street that are favorite resorts for the
Polish Jews, who remember the injunction that the ox that treadeth
out the corn shall not be muzzled. Being neighbors, they are rivals
of course, and cutting under. When I was last there one gave a dinner
of soup, meat-stew, bread, pie, pickles, and a "schooner" of beer for
thirteen cents; the other charged fifteen cents for a similar dinner,
but with two schooners of beer and a cigar, or a cigarette, as the
extra inducement. The two cents had won the day, however, and the
thirteen-cent restaurant did such a thriving business that it was about
to spread out into the adjoining store to accommodate the crowds of
customers. At this rate the lodger of Jewtown can "live like a lord,"
as he says himself, for twenty-five cents a day, including the price of
his bed, that ranges all the way from thirty to forty and fifty cents a
week, and save money, no matter what his earnings. He does it, too, so
long as work is to be had at any price, and by the standard he sets up
Jewtown must abide.

It has thousands upon thousands of lodgers who help to pay its
extortionate rents. At night there is scarce a room in all the district
that has not one or more of them, some above half a score, sleeping on
cots, or on the floor. It is idle to speak of privacy in these "homes."
The term carries no more meaning with it than would a lecture on social
ethics to an audience of Hottentots. The picture is not overdrawn. In
fact, in presenting the home life of these people I have been at some
pains to avoid the extreme of privation, taking the cases just as they
came to hand on the safer middle-ground of average earnings. Yet even
the direst apparent poverty in Jewtown, unless dependent on absolute
lack of work, would, were the truth known, in nine cases out of ten
have a silver lining in the shape of a margin in bank.

These are the economical conditions that enable my manufacturing friend
to boast that New York can "beat the world" on cheap clothing. In
support of his claim he told me that a single Bowery firm last year
sold fifteen thousand suits at $1.95 that averaged in cost $1.12½.
With the material at fifteen cents a yard, he said, children's suits
of assorted sizes can be sold at wholesale for seventy-five cents, and
boys' cape overcoats at the same price. They are the same conditions
that have perplexed the committee of benevolent Hebrews in charge of
Baron de Hirsch's munificent gift of ten thousand dollars a month for
the relief of the Jewish poor in New York. To find proper channels
through which to pour this money so that it shall effect its purpose
without pauperizing, and without perpetuating the problem it is sought
to solve, by attracting still greater swarms, is indeed no easy task.
Colonization has not in the past been a success with these people.
The great mass of them are too gregarious to take kindly to farming,
and their strong commercial instinct hampers the experiment. To herd
them in model tenements, though it relieve the physical suffering in a
measure, would be to treat a symptom of the disease rather than strike
at its root, even if land could be got cheap enough where they gather
to build on a sufficiently large scale to make the plan a success.
Trade schools for manual training could hardly be made to reach the
adults, who in addition would have to be supported for months while
learning. For the young this device has proved most excellent under the
wise management of the United Hebrew Charities, an organization that
gathers to its work the best thought and effort of many of our most
public-spirited citizens. One, or all, of these plans may be tried,
probably will. I state but the misgivings as to the result of some
of the practical minds that have busied themselves with the problem.
Its keynote evidently is the ignorance of the immigrants. They must
be taught the language of the country they have chosen as their home,
as the first and most necessary step. Whatever may follow, that is
essential, absolutely vital. That done, it may well be that the case in
its new aspect will not be nearly so hard to deal with.

Evening has worn into night as we take up our homeward journey through
the streets, now no longer silent. The thousands of lighted windows in
the tenements glow like dull red eyes in a huge stone wall. From every
door multitudes of tired men and women pour forth for a half-hour's
rest in the open air before sleep closes the eyes weary with incessant
working. Crowds of half-naked children tumble in the street and on the
sidewalk, or doze fretfully on the stone steps. As we stop in front
of a tenement to watch one of these groups, a dirty baby in a single
brief garment--yet a sweet, human little baby despite its dirt and
tatters--tumbles off the lowest step, rolls over once, clutches my leg
with unconscious grip, and goes to sleep on the flagstones, its curly
head pillowed on my boot.

                              CHAPTER XII.


Evil as the part is which the tenement plays in Jewtown as the pretext
for circumventing the law that was made to benefit and relieve the
tenant, we have not far to go to find it in even a worse rôle. If
the tenement is here continually dragged into the eye of public
condemnation and scorn, it is because in one way or another it is found
directly responsible for, or intimately associated with, three-fourths
of the miseries of the poor. In the Bohemian quarter it is made the
vehicle for enforcing upon a proud race a slavery as real as any that
ever disgraced the South. Not content with simply robbing the tenant,
the owner, in the dual capacity of landlord and employer, reduces him
to virtual serfdom by making his becoming _his_ tenant, on such terms
as he sees fit to make, the condition of employment at wages likewise
of his own making. It does not help the case that this landlord
employer, almost always a Jew, is frequently of the thrifty Polish race
just described.

Perhaps the Bohemian quarter is hardly the proper name to give to the
colony, for though it has distinct boundaries it is scattered over a
wide area on the East Side, in wedge-like streaks that relieve the
monotony of the solid German population by their strong contrasts.
The two races mingle no more on this side of the Atlantic than on the
rugged slopes of the Bohemian mountains; the echoes of the thirty
years' war ring in New York, after two centuries and a half, with
as fierce a hatred as the gigantic combat bred among the vanquished
Czechs. A chief reason for this is doubtless the complete isolation of
the Bohemian immigrant. Several causes operate to bring this about: his
singularly harsh and unattractive language, which he can neither easily
himself unlearn nor impart to others, his stubborn pride of race, and
a popular prejudice which has forced upon him the unjust stigma of
a disturber of the public peace and an enemy of organized labor. I
greatly mistrust that the Bohemian on our shores is a much-abused man.
To his traducer, who casts up anarchism against him, he replies that
the last census (1880) shows his people to have the fewest criminals of
all in proportion to numbers. In New York a Bohemian criminal is such a
rarity that the case of two firebugs of several years ago is remembered
with damaging distinctness. The accusation that he lives like the "rat"
he is, cutting down wages by his underpaid labor, he throws back in the
teeth of the trades unions with the counter-charge that they are the
first cause of his attitude to the labor question.

A little way above Houston Street the first of his colonies is
encountered, in Fifth Street and thereabouts. Then for a mile and a
half scarce a Bohemian is to be found, until Thirty-eighth Street is
reached. Fifty-fourth and Seventy-third Streets in their turn are the
centres of populous Bohemian settlements. The location of the cigar
factories, upon which he depends for a living, determines his choice
of home, though there is less choice about it than with any other
class in the community, save perhaps the colored people. Probably more
than half of all the Bohemians in this city are cigarmakers, and it
is the herding of these in great numbers in the so-called tenement
factories, where the cheapest grade of work is done at the lowest
wages, that constitutes at once their greatest hardship and the chief
grudge of other workmen against them. The manufacturer who owns, say,
from three or four, to a dozen or more tenements contiguous to his
shop, fills them up with these people, charging them outrageous rents,
and demanding often even a preliminary deposit of five dollars "key
money;" deals them out tobacco by the week, and devotes the rest of
his energies to the paring down of wages to within a peg or two of the
point where the tenant rebels in desperation. When he does rebel, he
is given the alternative of submission, or eviction with entire loss
of employment. His needs determine the issue. Usually he is not in a
position to hesitate long. Unlike the Polish Jew, whose example of
untiring industry he emulates, he has seldom much laid up against a
rainy day. He is fond of a glass of beer, and likes to live as well as
his means will permit. The shop triumphs, and fetters more galling than
ever are forged for the tenant. In the opposite case, the newspapers
have to record the throwing upon the street of a small army of people,
with pitiful cases of destitution and family misery.

Men, women and children work together seven days in the week in these
cheerless tenements to make a living for the family, from the break of
day till far into the night. Often the wife is the original cigarmaker
from the old home, the husband having adopted her trade here as a
matter of necessity, because, knowing no word of English, he could
get no other work. As they state the cause of the bitter hostility
of the trades unions, she was the primary bone of contention in the
day of the early Bohemian immigration. The unions refused to admit
the women, and, as the support of the family depended upon her to
a large extent, such terms as were offered had to be accepted. The
manufacturer has ever since industriously fanned the antagonism between
the unions and his hands, for his own advantage. The victory rests with
him, since the Court of Appeals decided that the law, passed a few
years ago, to prohibit cigarmaking in tenements was unconstitutional,
and thus put an end to the struggle. While it lasted, all sorts of
frightful stories were told of the shocking conditions under which
people lived and worked in these tenements, from a sanitary point of
view especially, and a general impression survives to this day that
they are particularly desperate. The Board of Health, after a careful
canvass, did not find them so then. I am satisfied from personal
inspection, at a much later day, guided in a number of instances by the
union cigarmakers themselves to the tenements which they considered
the worst, that the accounts were greatly exaggerated. Doubtless the
people are poor, in many cases very poor; but they are not uncleanly,
rather the reverse; they live much better than the clothing-makers
in the Tenth Ward, and in spite of their sallow look, that may be
due to the all-pervading smell of tobacco, they do not appear to
be less healthy than other in-door workers. I found on my tours of
investigation several cases of consumption, of which one at least was
said by the doctor to be due to the constant inhalation of tobacco
fumes. But an examination of the death records in the Health Department
does not support the claim that the Bohemian cigarmakers are peculiarly
prone to that disease. On the contrary, the Bohemian percentage of
deaths from consumption appears quite low. This, however, is a line of
scientific inquiry which I leave others to pursue, along with the more
involved problem whether the falling off in the number of children,
sometimes quite noticeable in the Bohemian settlements, is, as has been
suggested, dependent upon the character of the parents' work. The sore
grievances I found were the miserable wages and the enormous rents
exacted for the minimum of accommodation. And surely these stand for
enough of suffering.

Take a row of houses in East Tenth Street as an instance. They
contained thirty-five families of cigarmakers, with probably not half
a dozen persons in the whole lot of them, outside of the children, who
could speak a word of English, though many had been in the country half
a lifetime. This room with two windows giving on the street, and a rear
attachment without windows, called a bedroom by courtesy, is rented at
$12.25 a month. In the front room man and wife work at the bench from
six in the morning till nine at night. They make a team, stripping the
tobacco leaves together; then he makes the filler, and she rolls the
wrapper on and finishes the cigar. For a thousand they receive $3.75,
and can turn out together three thousand cigars a week. The point has
been reached where the rebellion comes in, and the workers in these
tenements are just now on a strike, demanding $5.00 and $5.50 for their
work. The manufacturer having refused, they are expecting hourly to be
served with notice to quit their homes, and the going of a stranger
among them excites their resentment, until his errand is explained.
While we are in the house, the ultimatum of the "boss" is received.
He will give $3.75 a thousand, not another cent. Our host is a man of
seeming intelligence, yet he has been nine years in New York and knows
neither English nor German. Three bright little children play about the

His neighbor on the same floor has been here fifteen years, but shakes
his head when asked if he can speak English. He answers in a few broken
syllables when addressed in German. With $11.75 rent to pay for like
accommodation, he has the advantage of his oldest boy's work besides
his wife's at the bench. Three properly make a team, and these three
can turn out four thousand cigars a week, at $3.75. This Bohemian has a
large family; there are four children, too small to work, to be cared
for. A comparison of the domestic bill of fare between Tenth and Ludlow
Streets result, in the discovery that this Bohemian's butcher's bill
for the week, with meat at twelve cents a pound as in Ludlow Street,
is from two dollars and a half to three dollars. The Polish Jew fed as
big a family on one pound of meat a day. The difference proves to be
typical. Here is a suit of three rooms, two dark, three flights up.
The ceiling is partly down in one of the rooms. "It is three months
since we asked the landlord to fix it," says the oldest son, a very
intelligent lad who has learned English in the evening school. His
father has not had that advantage, and has sat at his bench, deaf and
dumb to the world about him except his own, for six years. He has
improved his time and become an expert at his trade. Father, mother,
and son together, a full team, make from fifteen to sixteen dollars a

A man with venerable beard and keen eyes answers our questions through
an interpreter, in the next house. Very few brighter faces would be
met in a day's walk among American mechanics, yet he has in nine years
learned no syllable of English. German he probably does not want to
learn. His story supplies the explanation, as did the stories of the
others. In all that time he has been at work grubbing to earn bread.
Wife and he by constant labor make three thousand cigars a week,
earning $11.25 when there is no lack of material; when in winter they
receive from the manufacturer tobacco for only two thousand, the
rent of $10 for two rooms, practically one with a dark alcove, has
nevertheless to be paid in full, and six mouths to be fed. He was
a blacksmith in the old country, but cannot work at his trade here
because he does not understand "Engliska." If he could, he says, with a
bright look, he could do better work than he sees done here. It would
seem happiness to him to knock off at 6 o'clock instead of working, as
he now often has to do, till midnight. But how? He knows of no Bohemian
blacksmith who can understand him; he should starve. Here, with his
wife, he can make a living at least. "Aye," says she, turning, from
listening, to her household duties, "it would be nice for sure to have
father work at his trade." Then what a home she could make for them,
and how happy they would be. Here is an unattainable ideal, indeed, of
a workman in the most prosperous city in the world! There is genuine,
if unspoken, pathos in the soft tap she gives her husband's hand as she
goes about her work with a half-suppressed little sigh.


The very ash-barrels that stand in front of the big rows of tenements
in Seventy-first and Seventy-third Streets advertise the business
that is carried on within. They are filled to the brim with the stems
of stripped tobacco leaves. The rank smell that waited for us on the
corner of the block follows us into the hallways, penetrates every
nook and cranny of the houses. As in the settlement farther down
town, every room here has its work-bench with its stumpy knife and
queer pouch of bed-tick, worn brown and greasy, fastened in front
the whole length of the bench to receive the scraps of waste. This
landlord-employer at all events gives three rooms for $12.50, if two
be dark, one wholly and the other getting some light from the front
room. The mother of the three bare-footed little children we met on
the stairs was taken to the hospital the other day when she could no
longer work. She will never come out alive. There is no waste in these
tenements. Lives, like clothes, are worn through and out before put
aside. Her place at the bench is taken already by another who divides
with the head of the household his earnings of $15.50 a week. He has
just come out successful of a strike that brought the pay of these
tenements up to $4.50 per thousand cigars. Notice to quit had already
been served on them, when the employer decided to give in, frightened
by the prospective loss of rent. Asked how long he works, the man
says: "from they can see till bed-time." Bed-time proves to be eleven
o'clock. Seventeen hours a day, seven days in the week, at thirteen
cents an hour for the two, six cents and a half for each! Good average
earnings for a tenement-house cigarmaker in summer. In winter it is
at least one-fourth less. In spite of it all, the rooms are cleanly
kept. From the bedroom farthest back the woman brings out a pile of
moist tobacco-leaves to be stripped. They are kept there, under cover
lest they dry and crack, from Friday to Friday, when an accounting is
made and fresh supplies given out. The people sleep there too, but the
smell, offensive to the unfamiliar nose, does not bother them. They are
used to it.

In a house around the corner that is not a factory-tenement, lives
now the cigarmaker I spoke of as suffering from consumption which the
doctor said was due to the tobacco-fumes. Perhaps the lack of healthy
exercise had as much to do with it. His case is interesting from its
own stand-point. He too is one with a--for a Bohemian--large family.
Six children sit at his table. By trade a shoemaker, for thirteen
years he helped his wife make cigars in the manufacturer's tenement.
She was a very good hand, and until his health gave out two years ago
they were able to make from $17 to $25 a week, by lengthening the day
at both ends. Now that he can work no more, and the family under the
doctor's orders has moved away from the smell of tobacco, the burden
of its support has fallen upon her alone, for none of the children
are old enough to help. She has work in the shop at eight dollars a
week, and this must go round; it is all there is. Happily, this being
a tenement for revenue only, unmixed with cigars, the rent is cheaper:
seven dollars for two bright rooms on the top floor. No housekeeping
is attempted. A woman in Seventy-second Street supplies their cooking,
which the wife and mother fetches in a basket, her husband being too
weak. Breakfast of coffee and hard-tack, or black bread, at twenty
cents for the whole eight; a good many, the little woman says with a
brave, patient smile, and there is seldom anything to spare, but----.
The invalid is listening, and the sentence remains unfinished. What of
dinner? One of the children brings it from the cook. Oh! it is a good
dinner, meat, soup, greens and bread, all for thirty cents. It is the
principal family meal. Does she come home for dinner? No; she cannot
leave the shop, but gets a bite at her bench. The question: A bite of
what? seems as merciless as the surgeon's knife, and she winces under
it as one shrinks from physical pain. Bread, then. But at night they
all have supper together--sausage and bread. For ten cents they can eat
all they want. Can they not? she says, stroking the hair of the little
boy at her knee; his eyes glisten hungrily at the thought, as he nods
stoutly in support of his mother. Only, she adds, the week the rent is
due, they have to shorten rations to pay the landlord.

But what of his being an Anarchist, this Bohemian--an infidel--I hear
somebody say. Almost one might be persuaded by such facts as these--and
they are everyday facts, not fancy--to retort: what more natural? With
every hand raised against him in the old land and the new, in the land
of his hoped-for freedom, what more logical than that his should be
turned against society that seems to exist only for his oppression?
But the charge is not half true. Naturally the Bohemian loves peace,
as he loves music and song. As someone has said: He does not seek war,
but when attacked knows better how to die than how to surrender. The
Czech is the Irishman of Central Europe, with all his genius and his
strong passions, with the same bitter traditions of landlord-robbery,
perpetuated here where he thought to forget them; like him ever and on
principle in the opposition, "agin the government" wherever he goes.
Among such a people, ground by poverty until their songs have died in
curses upon their oppressors, hopelessly isolated and ignorant of our
language and our laws, it would not be hard for bad men at any time
to lead a few astray. And this is what has been done. Yet, even with
the occasional noise made by the few, the criminal statistics already
alluded to quite dispose of the charge that they incline to turbulence
and riot. So it is with the infidel propaganda, the legacy perhaps of
the fierce contention through hundreds of years between Catholics and
Protestants on Bohemia's soil, of bad faith and savage persecutions
in the name of the Christians' God that disgrace its history. The
Bohemian clergyman, who spoke for his people at the Christian
Conference held in Chickering Hall two years ago, took even stronger
ground. "They are Roman Catholics by birth, infidels by necessity, and
Protestants by history and inclination," he said. Yet he added his
testimony in the same breath to the fact that, though the Freethinkers
had started two schools in the immediate neighborhood of his church
to counteract its influence, his flock had grown in a few years from
a mere handful at the start to proportions far beyond his hopes,
gathering in both Anarchists and Freethinkers, and making good church
members of them.

Thus the whole matter resolves itself once more into a question of
education, all the more urgent because these people are poor, miserably
poor almost to a man. "There is not," said one of them, who knew
thoroughly what he was speaking of, "there is not one of them all, who,
if he were to sell all he was worth to-morrow, would have money enough
to buy a house and lot in the country."

                             CHAPTER XIII.

                      THE COLOR LINE IN NEW YORK.

The color line must be drawn through the tenements to give the picture
its proper shading. The landlord does the drawing, does it with an
absence of pretence, a frankness of despotism, that is nothing if not
brutal. The Czar of all the Russias is not more absolute upon his own
soil than the New York landlord in his dealings with colored tenants.
Where he permits them to live, they go; where he shuts the door, stay
out. By his grace they exist at all in certain localities; his ukase
banishes them from others. He accepts the responsibility, when laid at
his door, with unruffled complacency. It is business, he will tell you.
And it is. He makes the prejudice in which he traffics pay him well,
and that, as he thinks it quite superfluous to tell you, is what he is
there for.

That his pencil does not make quite as black a mark as it did, that
the hand that wields it does not bear down as hard as only a short
half dozen years ago, is the hopeful sign of an awakening public
conscience under the stress of which the line shows signs of wavering.
But for this the landlord deserves no credit. It has come, is coming
about despite him. The line may not be wholly effaced while the name
of the negro, alone among the world's races, is spelled with a small
n. Natural selection will have more or less to do beyond a doubt in
every age with dividing the races; only so, it may be, can they work
out together their highest destiny. But with the despotism that
deliberately assigns to the defenceless Black the lowest level for
the purpose of robbing him there that has nothing to do. Of such
slavery, different only in degree from the other kind that held him
as a chattel, to be sold or bartered at the will of his master, this
century, if signs fail not, will see the end in New York.

Ever since the war New York has been receiving the overflow of colored
population from the Southern cities. In the last decade this migration
has grown to such proportions that it is estimated that our Blacks have
quite doubled in number since the Tenth Census. Whether the exchange
has been of advantage to the negro may well be questioned. Trades of
which he had practical control in his Southern home are not open to
him here. I know that it may be answered that there is no industrial
proscription of color; that it is a matter of choice. Perhaps so. At
all events he does not choose then. How many colored carpenters or
masons has anyone seen at work in New York? In the South there are
enough of them and, if the testimony of the most intelligent of their
people is worth anything, plenty of them have come here. As a matter of
fact the colored man takes in New York, without a struggle, the lower
level of menial service for which his past traditions and natural love
of ease perhaps as yet fit him best. Even the colored barber is rapidly
getting to be a thing of the past. Along shore, at any unskilled labor,
he works unmolested; but he does not appear to prefer the job. His
sphere thus defined, he naturally takes his stand among the poor, and
in the homes of the poor. Until very recent times--the years since a
change was wrought can be counted on the fingers of one hand--he was
practically restricted in the choice of a home to a narrow section
on the West Side, that nevertheless had a social top and bottom to
it--the top in the tenements on the line of Seventh Avenue as far north
as Thirty-second Street, where he was allowed to occupy the houses of
unsavory reputation which the police had cleared and for which decent
white tenants could not be found; the bottom in the vile rookeries
of Thompson Street and South Fifth Avenue, the old "Africa" that is
now fast becoming a modern Italy. To-day there are black colonies in
Yorkville and Morrisania. The encroachment of business and the Italian
below, and the swelling of the population above, have been the chief
agents in working out his second emancipation, a very real one, for
with his cutting loose from the old tenements there has come a distinct
and gratifying improvement in the tenant, that argues louder than
theories or speeches the influence of vile surroundings in debasing
the man. The colored citizen whom this year's census man found in his
Ninety-ninth Street "flat" is a very different individual from the
"nigger" his predecessor counted in the black-and-tan slums of Thompson
and Sullivan Streets. There is no more clean and orderly community in
New York than the new settlement of colored people that is growing up
on the East Side from Yorkville to Harlem.

Cleanliness is the characteristic of the negro in his new surroundings,
as it was his virtue in the old. In this respect he is immensely the
superior of the lowest of the whites, the Italians and the Polish
Jews, below whom he has been classed in the past in the tenant scale.
Nevertheless, he has always had to pay higher rents than even these
for the poorest and most stinted rooms. The exceptions I have come
across, in which the rents, though high, have seemed more nearly on a
level with what was asked for the same number and size of rooms in the
average tenement, were in the case of tumble-down rookeries in which no
one else would live, and were always coupled with the condition that
the landlord should "make no repairs." It can readily be seen, that his
profits were scarcely curtailed by his "humanity." The reason advanced
for this systematic robbery is that white people will not live in the
same house with colored tenants, or even in a house recently occupied
by negroes, and that consequently its selling value is injured. The
prejudice undoubtedly exists, but it is not lessened by the house
agents, who have set up the maxim "once a colored house, always a
colored house."

There is method in the maxim, as shown by an inquiry made last year by
the _Real Estate Record_. It proved agents to be practically unanimous
in the endorsement of the negro as a clean, orderly, and "profitable"
tenant. Here is the testimony of one of the largest real estate firms
in the city: "We would rather have negro tenants in our poorest class
of tenements than the lower grades of foreign white people. We find the
former cleaner than the latter, and they do not destroy the property
so much. We also get higher prices. We have a tenement on Nineteenth
Street, where we get $10 for two rooms which we could not get more
than $7.50 for from white tenants previously. We have a four-story
tenement on our books on Thirty-third Street, between Sixth and Seventh
Avenues, with four rooms per floor--a parlor, two bedrooms, and a
kitchen. We get $20 for the first floor, $24 for the second, $23 for
the third and $20 for the fourth, in all $87 or $1,044 per annum. The
size of the building is only 21+55." Another firm declared that in a
specified instance they had saved fifteen to twenty per cent. on the
gross rentals since they changed their white tenants for colored ones.
Still another gave the following case of a front and rear tenement
that had formerly been occupied by tenants of a "low European type,"
who had been turned out on account of filthy habits and poor pay. The
negroes proved cleaner, better, and steadier tenants. Instead, however,
of having their rents reduced in consequence, the comparison stood as

        _Rents under White Tenants._

                                     Per month.

      Front--     1st floor (store, etc.)   $21
                  2d  "                      13
                  3d  "                      13
                  4th "     (and rear)       21
      Rear--      2d  "                      12
                  3d  "                      12
                  4th "     (see front)      --
      Rear house--1st "                       8
                  2d  "                      10
                  3d  "                       9
                  4th "                       8
           Total                           $127

        _Rents under Colored Tenants._

                                     Per month.

      Front--     1st floor (store, etc.)   $21
                  2d  "                      14
                  3d  "                      14
                  4th "                      14
      Rear--      2d  "                      12
                  3d  "                      13
                  4th "                      13
      Rear house--1st "                      10
                  2d  "                      12
                  3d  "                      11
                  4th "                      10
           Total                           $144

An increased rental of $17 per month, or $204 a year, and an advance of
nearly thirteen and one-half per cent. on the gross rental "in favor"
of the colored tenant. Profitable, surely!

I have quoted these cases at length in order to let in light on the
quality of this landlord despotism that has purposely confused the
public mind, and for its own selfish ends is propping up a waning
prejudice. It will be cause for congratulation if indeed its time has
come at last. Within a year, I am told by one of the most intelligent
and best informed of our colored citizens, there has been evidence,
simultaneous with the colored hegira from the low down-town tenements,
of a movement toward less exorbitant rents. I cannot pass from this
subject without adding a leaf from my own experience that deserves a
place in this record, though, for the credit of humanity, I hope as
an extreme case. It was last Christmas that I had occasion to visit
the home of an old colored woman in Sixteenth Street, as the almoner
of generous friends out of town who wished me to buy her a Christmas
dinner. The old woman lived in a wretched shanty, occupying two mean,
dilapidated rooms at the top of a sort of hen-ladder that went by the
name of stairs. For these she paid ten dollars a month out of her
hard-earned wages as a scrub-woman. I did not find her in and, being
informed that she was "at the agent's," went around to hunt her up. The
agent's wife appeared, to report that Ann was out. Being in a hurry
it occurred to me that I might save time by making her employer the
purveyor of my friend's bounty, and proposed to entrust the money, two
dollars, to her to be expended for Old Ann's benefit. She fell in with
the suggestion at once, and confided to me in the fullness of her heart
that she liked the plan, inasmuch as "I generally find her a Christmas
dinner myself, and this money--she owes Mr. ---- (her husband, the agent)
a lot of rent." Needless to state that there was a change of programme
then and there, and that Ann was saved from the sort of Christmas cheer
that woman's charity would have spread before her. When I had the old
soul comfortably installed in her own den, with a chicken and "fixin's"
and a bright fire in her stove, I asked her how much she owed of her
rent. Her answer was that she did not really owe anything, her month
not being quite up, but that the amount yet unpaid was--two dollars!

Poverty, abuse, and injustice alike the negro accepts with
imperturbable cheerfulness. His philosophy is of the kind that has no
room for repining. Whether lie lives in an Eighth Ward barrack or in
a tenement with a brown-stone front and pretensions to the title of
"flat," he looks at the sunny side of life and enjoys it. He loves fine
clothes and good living a good deal more than he does a bank account.
The proverbial rainy day it would be rank ingratitude, from his point
of view, to look for when the sun shines unclouded in a clear sky.
His home surroundings, except when he is utterly depraved, reflect
his blithesome temper. The poorest negro housekeeper's room in New
York is bright with gaily-colored prints of his beloved "Abe Linkum,"
General Grant, President Garfield, Mrs. Cleveland, and other national
celebrities, and cheery with flowers and singing birds. In the art of
putting the best foot foremost, of disguising his poverty by making
a little go a long way, our negro has no equal. When a fair share of
prosperity is his, he knows how to make life and home very pleasant
to those about him. Pianos and parlor furniture abound in the uptown
homes of colored tenants and give them a very prosperous air. But even
where the wolf howls at the door, he makes a bold and gorgeous front.
The amount of "style" displayed on fine Sundays on Sixth and Seventh
Avenues by colored holiday-makers would turn a pessimist black with
wrath. The negro's great ambition is to rise in the social scale to
which his color has made him a stranger and an outsider, and he is
quite willing to accept the shadow for the substance where that is
the best he can get. The claw-hammer coat and white tie of a waiter
in a first-class summer hotel, with the chance of taking his ease in
six months of winter, are to him the next best thing to mingling with
the white quality he serves, on equal terms. His festive gatherings,
pre-eminently his cake-walks, at which a sugared and frosted cake is
the proud prize of the couple with the most aristocratic step and
carriage, are comic mixtures of elaborate ceremonial and the joyous
abandon of the natural man. With all his ludicrous incongruities, his
sensuality and his lack of moral accountability, his superstition and
other faults that are the effect of temperament and of centuries of
slavery, he has his eminently good points. He is loyal to the backbone,
proud of being an American and of his new-found citizenship. He is at
least as easily moulded for good as for evil. His churches are crowded
to the doors on Sunday nights when the colored colony turns out to
worship. His people own church property in this city upon which they
have paid half a million dollars out of the depth of their poverty,
with comparatively little assistance from their white brethren. He
is both willing and anxious to learn, and his intellectual status is
distinctly improving. If his emotions are not very deeply rooted, they
are at least sincere while they last, and until the tempter gets the
upper hand again.

Of all the temptations that beset him, the one that troubles him and
the police most is his passion for gambling. The game of policy is a
kind of unlawful penny lottery specially adapted to his means, but
patronized extensively by poor white players as well. It is the meanest
of swindles, but reaps for its backers rich fortunes wherever colored
people congregate. Between the fortune-teller and the policy shop,
closely allied frauds always, the wages of many a hard day's work are
wasted by the negro; but the loss causes him few regrets. Penniless,
but with undaunted faith in his ultimate "luck," he looks forward to
the time when he shall once more be able to take a hand at "beating
policy." When periodically the negro's lucky numbers, 4-11-44, come
out on the slips of the alleged daily drawings, that are supposed to
be held in some far-off Western town, intense excitement reigns in
Thompson Street and along the Avenue, where someone is always the
winner. An immense impetus is given then to the bogus business that has
no existence outside of the cigar stores and candy shops where it hides
from the law, save in some cunning Bowery "broker's" back office, where
the slips are printed and the "winnings" apportioned daily with due
regard to the backer's interests.

It is a question whether "Africa" has been improved by the advent of
the Italian, with the tramp from the Mulberry Street Bend in his train.
The moral turpitude of Thompson Street has been notorious for years,
and the mingling of the three elements does not seem to have wrought
any change for the better. The borderland where the white and black
races meet in common debauch, the aptly-named black-and-tan saloon, has
never been debatable ground from a moral stand-point. It has always
been the worst of the desperately bad. Than this commingling of the
utterly depraved of both sexes, white and black, on such ground, there
can be no greater abomination. Usually it is some foul cellar dive,
perhaps run by the political "leader" of the district, who is "in with"
the police. In any event it gathers to itself all the law-breakers
and all the human wrecks within reach. When a fight breaks out during
the dance a dozen razors are handy in as many boot-legs, and there is
always a job for the surgeon and the ambulance. The black "tough" is as
handy with the razor in a fight as his peaceably inclined brother is
with it in pursuit of his honest trade. As the Chinaman hides his knife
in his sleeve and the Italian his stiletto in the bosom, so the negro
goes to the ball with a razor in his boot-leg, and on occasion does
as much execution with it as both of the others together. More than
three-fourths of the business the police have with the colored people
in New York arises in the black-and-tan district, now no longer fairly
representative of their color.

  [Illustration: A BLACK-AND-TAN DIVE IN "AFRICA."]

I have touched briefly upon such facts in the negro's life as may serve
to throw light on the social condition of his people in New York. If,
when the account is made up between the races, it shall be claimed that
he falls short of the result to be expected from twenty-five years of
freedom, it may be well to turn to the other side of the ledger and see
how much of the blame is borne by the prejudice and greed that have
kept him from rising under a burden of responsibility to which he could
hardly be equal. And in this view he may be seen to have advanced much
farther and faster than before suspected, and to promise, after all,
with fair treatment, quite as well as the rest of us, his white-skinned
fellow-citizens, had any right to expect.

                              CHAPTER XIV.

                            THE COMMON HERD.

There is another line not always so readily drawn in the tenements,
yet the real boundary line of the Other Half: the one that defines the
"flat." The law does not draw it at all, accounting all flats tenements
without distinction. The health officer draws it from observation,
lumping all those which in his judgment have nothing, or not enough, to
give them claim upon the name, with the common herd, and his way is,
perhaps, on the whole, the surest and best. The outside of the building
gives no valuable clew. Brass and brown-stone go well sometimes with
dense crowds and dark and dingy rooms; but the first attempt to enter
helps draw the line with tolerable distinctness. A locked door is a
strong point in favor of the flat. It argues that the first step has
been taken to secure privacy, the absence of which is the chief curse
of the tenement. Behind a locked door the hoodlum is not at home,
unless there be a jailor in place of a janitor to guard it. Not that
the janitor and the door-bell are infallible. There may be a tenement
behind a closed door; but never a "flat" without it. The hall that is a
highway for all the world by night and by day is the tenement's proper
badge. The Other Half ever receives with open doors.

  [Illustration: THE OPEN DOOR.]

With this introduction we shall not seek it long anywhere in the city.
Below Houston Street the door-bell in our age is as extinct as the
dodo. East of Second Avenue, and west of Ninth Avenue as far up as
the Park, it is practically an unknown institution. The nearer the
river and the great workshops the more numerous the tenements. The
kind of work carried on in any locality to a large extent determines
their character. Skilled and well-paid labor puts its stamp on a
tenement even in spite of the open door, and usually soon supplies the
missing bell. Gas-houses, slaughter-houses and the docks, that attract
the roughest crowds and support the vilest saloons, invariably form
slum-centres. The city is full of such above the line of Fourteenth
Street, that is erroneously supposed by some to fence off the good
from the bad, separate the chaff from the wheat. There is nothing
below that line that can outdo in wickedness Hell's Kitchen, in the
region of three-cent whiskey, or its counterpoise at the other end
of Thirty-ninth Street, on the East River, the home of the infamous
Rag Gang. Cherry Street is not "tougher" than Battle Row in East
Sixty-third Street, or "the village" at Twenty-ninth Street and First
Avenue, where stores of broken bricks, ammunition for the nightly
conflicts with the police, are part of the regulation outfit of every
tenement. The Mulberry Street Bend is scarce dirtier than Little
Italy in Harlem. Even across the Harlem River, Frog Hollow challenges
the admiration of the earlier slums for the boldness and pernicious
activity of its home gang. There are enough of these sore spots. We
shall yet have occasion to look into the social conditions of some of
them; were I to draw a picture of them here as they are, the subject,
I fear, would outgrow alike the limits of this book and the reader's

It is true that they tell only one side of the story; that there is
another to tell. A story of thousands of devoted lives, laboring
earnestly to make the most of their scant opportunities for good; of
heroic men and women striving patiently against fearful odds and by
their very courage coming off victors in the battle with the tenement;
of womanhood pure and undefiled. That it should blossom in such an
atmosphere is one of the unfathomable mysteries of life. And yet it
is not an uncommon thing to find sweet and innocent girls, singularly
untouched by the evil around them, true wives and faithful mothers,
literally "like jewels in a swine's snout," in the worst of the
infamous barracks. It is the experience of all who have intelligently
observed this side of life in a great city, not to be explained--unless
on the theory of my friend, the priest in the Mulberry Street Bend,
that inherent purity revolts instinctively from the naked brutality of
vice as seen in the slums--but to be thankfully accepted as the one
gleam of hope in an otherwise hopeless desert.


But the relief is not great. In the dull content of life bred on
the tenement-house dead level there is little to redeem it, or to
calm apprehension for a society that has nothing better to offer its
toilers; while the patient efforts of the lives finally attuned to
it to render the situation tolerable, and the very success of these
efforts, serve only to bring out in stronger contrast the general
gloom of the picture by showing how much farther they might have
gone with half a chance. Go into any of the "respectable" tenement
neighborhoods--the fact that there are not more than two saloons on
the corner, nor over three or four in the block will serve as a fair
guide--where live the great body of hard-working Irish and German
immigrants and their descendants, who accept naturally the conditions
of tenement life, because for them there is nothing else in New York;
be with and among its people until you understand their ways, their
aims, and the quality of their ambitions, and unless you can content
yourself with the scriptural promise that the poor we shall have
always with us, or with the menagerie view that, if fed, they have no
cause of complaint, you shall come away agreeing with me that, humanly
speaking, life there does not seem worth the living. Take at random
one of these uptown tenement blocks, not of the worst nor yet of the
most prosperous kind, within hail of what the newspapers would call
a "fine residential section." These houses were built since the last
cholera scare made people willing to listen to reason. The block is
not like the one over on the East Side in which I actually lost my way
once. There were thirty or forty rear houses in the heart of it, three
or four on every lot, set at all sorts of angles, with odd, winding
passages, or no passage at all, only "runways" for the thieves and
toughs of the neighborhood. These yards are clear. There is air there,
and it is about all there is. The view between brick walls outside is
that of a stony street; inside, of rows of unpainted board fences, a
bewildering maze of clothes-posts and lines; underfoot, a desert of
brown, hard-baked soil from which every blade of grass, every stray
weed, every speck of green, has been trodden out, as must inevitably be
every gentle thought and aspiration above the mere wants of the body
in those whose moral natures such home surroundings are to nourish. In
self-defence, you know, all life eventually accommodates itself to its
environment, and human life is no exception. Within the house there is
nothing to supply the want thus left unsatisfied. Tenement-houses have
no æsthetic resources. If any are to be brought to bear on them, they
must come from the outside. There is the common hall with doors opening
softly on every landing as the strange step is heard on the stairs,
the air-shaft that seems always so busy letting out foul stenches from
below that it has no time to earn its name by bringing down fresh air,
the squeaking pumps that hold no water, and the rent that is never
less than one week's wages out of the four, quite as often half of the
family earnings.

Why complete the sketch? It is drearily familiar already. Such as it
is, it is the frame in which are set days, weeks, months, and years of
unceasing toil, just able to fill the mouth and clothe the back. Such
as it is, it is the world, and all of it, to which these weary workers
return nightly to feed heart and brain after wearing out the body at
the bench, or in the shop. To it come the young with their restless
yearnings, perhaps to pass on the threshold one of the daughters of
sin, driven to the tenement by the police when they raided her den,
sallying forth in silks and fine attire after her day of idleness.
These in their coarse garments--girls with the love of youth for
beautiful things, with this hard life before them--who shall save them
from the tempter? Down in the street the saloon, always bright and gay,
gathering to itself all the cheer of the block, beckons the boys. In
many such blocks the census-taker found two thousand men, women, and
children, and over, who called them home.

The picture is faithful enough to stand for its class wherever along
both rivers the Irish brogue is heard. As already said, the Celt
falls most readily victim to tenement influences since shanty-town
and its original free-soilers have become things of the past. If he
be thrifty and shrewd his progress thenceforward is along the plane
of the tenement, on which he soon assumes to manage without improving
things. The German has an advantage over his Celtic neighbor in his
strong love for flowers, which not all the tenements on the East Side
have power to smother. His garden goes with him wherever he goes. Not
that it represents any high moral principle in the man; rather perhaps
the capacity for it. He turns his saloon into a shrubbery as soon as
his back-yard. But wherever he puts it in a tenement block it does
the work of a dozen police clubs. In proportion as it spreads the
neighborhood takes on a more orderly character. As the green dies out
of the landscape and increases in political importance, the police find
more to do. Where it disappears altogether from sight, lapsing into a
mere sentiment, police-beats are shortened and the force patrols double
at night. Neither the man nor the sentiment is wholly responsible for
this. It is the tenement unadorned that is. The changing of Tompkins
Square from a sand lot into a beautiful park put an end for good and
all to the Bread and Blood riots of which it used to be the scene, and
transformed a nest of dangerous agitators into a harmless, beer-craving
band of Anarchists. They have scarcely been heard of since. Opponents
of the small parks system as a means of relieving the congested
population of tenement districts, please take note.

With the first hot nights in June police despatches, that record the
killing of men and women by rolling off roofs and window-sills while
asleep, announce that the time of greatest suffering among the poor
is at hand. It is in hot weather, when life indoors is well-nigh
unbearable with cooking, sleeping, and working, all crowded into the
small rooms together, that the tenement expands, reckless of all
restraint. Then a strange and picturesque life moves upon the flat
roofs. In the day and early evening mothers air their babies there,
the boys fly their kites from the house-tops, undismayed by police
regulations, and the young men and girls court and pass the growler.
In the stifling July nights, when the big barracks are like fiery
furnaces, their very walls giving out absorbed heat, men and women lie
in restless, sweltering rows, panting for air and sleep. Then every
truck in the street, every crowded fire-escape, becomes a bedroom,
infinitely preferable to any the house affords. A cooling shower on
such a night is hailed as a heaven-sent blessing in a hundred thousand


Life in the tenements in July and August spells death to an army of
little ones whom the doctor's skill is powerless to save. When the
white badge of mourning flutters from every second door, sleepless
mothers walk the streets in the gray of the early dawn, trying to stir
a cooling breeze to fan the brow of the sick baby. There is no sadder
sight than this patient devotion striving against fearfully hopeless
odds. Fifty "summer doctors," especially trained to this work, are
then sent into the tenements by the Board of Health, with free advice
and medicine for the poor. Devoted women follow in their track with
care and nursing for the sick. Fresh-air excursions run daily out of
New York on land and water; but despite all efforts the grave-diggers
in Calvary work over-time, and little coffins are stacked mountains
high on the deck of the Charity Commissioners' boat when it makes its
semi-weekly trips to the city cemetery.

Under the most favorable circumstances, an epidemic, which the
well-to-do can afford to make light of as a thing to be got over or
avoided by reasonable care, is excessively fatal among the children of
the poor, by reason of the practical impossibility of isolating the
patient in a tenement. The measles, ordinarily a harmless disease,
furnishes a familiar example. Tread it ever so lightly on the avenues,
in the tenements it kills right and left. Such an epidemic ravaged
three crowded blocks in Elizabeth Street on the heels of the grippe
last winter, and, when it had spent its fury, the death-maps in the
Bureau of Vital Statistics looked as if a black hand had been laid
across those blocks, over-shadowing in part the contiguous tenements
in Mott Street, and with the thumb covering a particularly packed
settlement of half a dozen houses in Mulberry Street. The track of the
epidemic through these teeming barracks was as clearly defined as the
track of a tornado through a forest district. There were houses in
which as many as eight little children had died in five months. The
records showed that respiratory diseases, the common heritage of the
grippe and the measles, had caused death in most cases, discovering the
trouble to be, next to the inability to check the contagion in those
crowds, in the poverty of the parents and the wretched home conditions
that made proper care of the sick impossible. The fact was emphasized
by the occurrence here and there of a few isolated deaths from
diphtheria and scarlet fever. In the case of these diseases, considered
more dangerous to the public health, the health officers exercised
summary powers of removal to the hospital where proper treatment could
be had, and the result was a low death-rate.

These were tenements of the tall, modern type. A little more than a
year ago, when a census was made of the tenements and compared with the
mortality tables, no little surprise and congratulation was caused by
the discovery that as the buildings grew taller the death-rate fell.
The reason is plain, though the reverse had been expected by most
people. The biggest tenements have been built in the last ten years of
sanitary reform rule, and have been brought, in all but the crowding,
under its laws. The old houses that from private dwellings were made
into tenements, or were run up to house the biggest crowds in defiance
of every moral and physical law, can be improved by no device short of
demolition. They will ever remain the worst.

That ignorance plays its part, as well as poverty and bad hygienic
surroundings, in the sacrifice of life is of course inevitable. They
go usually hand in hand. A message came one day last spring summoning
me to a Mott Street tenement in which lay a child dying from some
unknown disease. With the "charity doctor" I found the patient on the
top floor, stretched upon two chairs in a dreadfully stifling room. She
was gasping in the agony of peritonitis that had already written its
death-sentence on her wan and pinched face. The whole family, father,
mother, and four ragged children, sat around looking on with the stony
resignation of helpless despair that had long since given up the fight
against fate as useless. A glance around the wretched room left no
doubt as to the cause of the child's condition. "Improper nourishment,"
said the doctor, which, translated to suit the place, meant starvation.
The father's hands were crippled from lead poisoning. He had not been
able to work for a year. A contagious disease of the eyes, too long
neglected, had made the mother and one of the boys nearly blind. The
children cried with hunger. They had not broken their fast that day,
and it was then near noon. For months the family had subsisted on two
dollars a week from the priest, and a few loaves and a piece of corned
beef which the sisters sent them on Saturday. The doctor gave direction
for the treatment of the child, knowing that it was possible only to
alleviate its sufferings until death should end them, and left some
money for food for the rest. An hour later, when I returned, I found
them feeding the dying child with ginger ale, bought for two cents a
bottle at the pedlar's cart down the street. A pitying neighbor had
proposed it as the one thing she could think of as likely to make the
child forget its misery. There was enough in the bottle to go round to
the rest of the family. In fact, the wake had already begun; before
night it was under way in dead earnest.

                 COAL-HEAVER'S HOME.[17]]

[Footnote 17: Suspicions of murder, in the case of a woman who was
found dead, covered with bruises, after a day's running fight with her
husband, in which the beer jug had been the bone of contention, brought
me to this house, a ramshackle tenement on the tail-end of a lot over
near the North River docks. The family in the picture lived above the
rooms where the dead woman lay on a bed of straw, overrun by rats, and
had been uninterested witnesses of the affray that was an everyday
occurrence in the house. A patched and shaky stairway led up to their
one bare and miserable room, in comparison with which a white-washed
prison-cell seemed a real palace. A heap of old rags, in which the baby
slept serenely, served as the common sleeping-bunk of father, mother,
and children--two bright and pretty girls, singularly out of keeping in
their clean, if coarse, dresses, with their surroundings. The father,
a slow-going, honest English coal-heaver, earned on the average five
dollars a week, "when work was fairly brisk," at the docks. But there
were long seasons when it was very "slack," he said, doubtfully.
Yet the prospect did not seem to discourage them. The mother, a
pleasant-faced woman, was cheerful, even light-hearted. Her smile
seemed the most sadly hopeless of all in the utter wretchedness of
the place, cheery though it was meant to be and really was. It seemed
doomed to certain disappointment--the one thing there that was yet to
know a greater depth of misery.]

Every once in a while a case of downright starvation gets into the
newspapers and makes a sensation. But this is the exception. Were the
whole truth known, it would come home to the community with a shock
that would rouse it to a more serious effort than the spasmodic undoing
of its purse-strings. I am satisfied from my own observation that
hundreds of men, women, and children are every day slowly starving to
death in the tenements with my medical friend's complaint of "improper
nourishment." Within a single week I have had this year three cases
of insanity, provoked directly by poverty and want. One was that of
a mother who in the middle of the night got up to murder her child,
who was crying for food; another was the case of an Elizabeth Street
truck-driver whom the newspapers never heard of. With a family to
provide for, he had been unable to work for many months. There was
neither food, nor a scrap of anything upon which money could be raised,
left in the house; his mind gave way under the combined physical and
mental suffering. In the third case I was just in time with the police
to prevent the madman from murdering his whole family. He had the
sharpened hatchet in his pocket when we seized him. He was an Irish
laborer, and had been working in the sewers until the poisonous gases
destroyed his health. Then he was laid off, and scarcely anything had
been coming in all winter but the oldest child's earnings as cash-girl
in a store, $2.50 a week. There were seven children to provide for, and
the rent of the Mulberry Street attic in which the family lived was $10
a month. They had borrowed as long as anybody had a cent to lend. When
at last the man got an odd job that would just buy the children bread,
the week's wages only served to measure the depth of their misery. "It
came in so on the tail-end of everything," said his wife in telling
the story, with unconscious eloquence. The outlook worried him through
sleepless nights until it destroyed his reason. In his madness he had
only one conscious thought: that the town should not take the children.
"Better that I take care of them myself," he repeated to himself as he
ground the axe to an edge. Help came in abundance from many almost
as poor as they when the desperate straits of the family became known
through his arrest. The readiness of the poor to share what little they
have with those who have even less is one of the few moral virtues of
the tenements. Their enormous crowds touch elbow in a closeness of
sympathy that is scarcely to be understood out of them, and has no
parallel except among the unfortunate women whom the world scorns as
outcasts. There is very little professed sentiment about it to draw a
sentimental tear from the eye of romantic philanthropy. The hard fact
is that the instinct of self-preservation impels them to make common
cause against the common misery.

No doubt intemperance bears a large share of the blame for it; judging
from the stand-point of the policeman perhaps the greater share. Two
such entries as I read in the police returns on successive days last
March, of mothers in West Side tenements, who, in their drunken sleep,
lay upon and killed their infants, go far to support such a position.
And they are far from uncommon. But my experience has shown me another
view of it, a view which the last report of the Society for Improving
the Condition of the Poor seems more than half inclined to adopt in
allotting to "intemperance the cause of distress, or distress the cause
of intemperance," forty per cent. of the cases it is called upon to
deal with. Even if it were all true, I should still load over upon the
tenement the heaviest responsibility. A single factor, the scandalous
scarcity of water in the hot summer when the thirst of the million
tenants must be quenched, if not in that in something else, has in the
past years more than all other causes encouraged drunkenness among the
poor. But to my mind there is a closer connection between the wages
of the tenements and the vices and improvidence of those who dwell
in them than, with the guilt of the tenement upon our heads, we are
willing to admit even to ourselves. Weak tea with a dry crust is not
a diet to nurse moral strength. Yet how much better might the fare be
expected to be in the family of this "widow with seven children, very
energetic and prudent"--I quote again from the report of the Society
for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor--whose "eldest girl
was employed as a learner in a tailor's shop at small wages, and one
boy had a place as 'cash' in a store. There were two other little boys
who sold papers and sometimes earned one dollar. The mother finishes
pantaloons and can do three pairs in a day, thus earning thirty-nine
cents. Here is a family of eight persons with rent to pay and an income
of less than six dollars a week."

And yet she was better off in point of pay than this Sixth Street
mother, who "had just brought home four pairs of pants to finish, at
seven cents a pair. She was required to put the canvas in the bottom,
basting and sewing three times around; to put the linings in the
waist-bands; to tack three pockets, three corners to each; to put on
two stays and eight buttons, and make six button-holes; to put the
buckle on the back strap and sew on the ticket, all for seven cents."
Better off than the "church-going mother of six children," and with a
husband sick to death, who to support the family made shirts, averaging
an income of one dollar and twenty cents a week, while her oldest girl,
aged thirteen, was "employed down-town cutting out Hamburg edgings
at one dollar and a half a week--two and a half cents per hour for
ten hours of steady labor--making the total income of the family two
dollars and seventy cents per week." Than the Harlem woman, who was
"making a brave effort to support a sick husband and two children by
taking in washing at thirty-five cents for the lot of fourteen large
pieces, finding coal, soap, starch, and bluing herself, rather than
depend on charity in any form." Specimen wages of the tenements these,
seemingly inconsistent with the charge of improvidence.

But the connection on second thought is not obscure. There is nothing
in the prospect of a sharp, unceasing battle for the bare necessaries
of life, to encourage looking ahead, everything to discourage the
effort. Improvidence and wastefulness are natural results. The
instalment plan secures to the tenant who lives from hand to mouth his
few comforts; the evil day of reckoning is put off till a to-morrow
that may never come. When it does come, with failure to pay and the
loss of hard-earned dollars, it simply adds another hardship to a life
measured from the cradle by such incidents. The children soon catch
the spirit of this sort of thing. I remember once calling at the home
of a poor washer-woman, living in an East Side tenement, and finding
the door locked. Some children in the hallway stopped their play and
eyed me attentively while I knocked. The biggest girl volunteered the
information that Mrs. Smith was out; but while I was thinking of how
I was to get a message to her, the child put a question of her own:
"Are you the spring man or the clock man?" When I assured her that I
was neither one nor the other, but had brought work for her mother,
Mrs. Smith, who had been hiding from the instalment collector, speedily

Perhaps of all the disheartening experiences of those who have devoted
lives of unselfish thought and effort, and their number is not so
small as often supposed, to the lifting of this great load, the
indifference of those they would help is the most puzzling. They will
not be helped. Dragged by main force out of their misery, they slip
back again on the first opportunity, seemingly content only in the
old rut. The explanation was supplied by two women of my acquaintance
in an Elizabeth Street tenement, whom the city missionaries had taken
from their wretched hovel and provided with work and a decent home
somewhere in New Jersey. In three weeks they were back, saying that
they preferred their dark rear room to the stumps out in the country.
But to me the oldest, the mother, who had struggled along with her
daughter making cloaks at half a dollar apiece, twelve long years since
the daughter's husband was killed in a street accident and the city
took the children, made the bitter confession: "We do get so kind o'
downhearted living this way, that we have to be where something is
going on, or we just can't stand it." And there was sadder pathos to
me in her words than in the whole long story of their struggle with
poverty; for unconsciously she voiced the sufferings of thousands,
misjudged by a happier world, deemed vicious because they are human and

It is a popular delusion, encouraged by all sorts of exaggerated
stories when nothing more exciting demands public attention, that
there are more evictions in the tenements of New York every year "than
in all Ireland." I am not sure that it is doing much for the tenant
to upset this fallacy. To my mind, to be put out of a tenement would
be the height of good luck. The fact is, however, that evictions are
not nearly as common in New York as supposed. The reason is that in
the civil courts, the judges of which are elected in their districts,
the tenant-voter has solid ground to stand upon at last. The law that
takes his side to start with is usually twisted to the utmost to give
him time and save him expense. In the busiest East Side court, that
has been very appropriately dubbed the "Poor Man's Court," fully five
thousand dispossess warrants are issued in a year, but probably not
fifty evictions take place in the district. The landlord has only one
vote, while there may be forty voters hiring his rooms in the house,
all of which the judge takes into careful account as elements that have
a direct bearing on the case. And so they have--on his case. There
are sad cases, just as there are "rounders" who prefer to be moved at
the landlord's expense and save the rent, but the former at least are
unusual enough to attract more than their share of attention.

  [Illustration: DISPOSSESSED.]

If his very poverty compels the tenant to live at a rate if not in a
style that would beggar a Vanderbilt, paying four prices for everything
he needs, from his rent and coal down to the smallest item in his
housekeeping account, fashion, no less inexorable in the tenements
than on the avenue, exacts of him that he must die in a style that is
finally and utterly ruinous. The habit of expensive funerals--I know
of no better classification for it than along with the opium habit
and similar grievous plagues of mankind--is a distinctively Irish
inheritance, but it has taken root among all classes of tenement
dwellers, curiously enough most firmly among the Italians, who have
taken amazingly to the funeral coach, perhaps because it furnishes
the one opportunity of their lives for a really grand turn-out with a
free ride thrown in. It is not at all uncommon to find the hoards of
a whole lifetime of hard work and self denial squandered on the empty
show of a ludicrous funeral parade and a display of flowers that ill
comports with the humble life it is supposed to exalt. It is easier to
understand the wake as a sort of consolation cup for the survivors for
whom there is--as one of them, doubtless a heathenish pessimist, put it
to me once--"no such luck." The press and the pulpit have denounced the
wasteful practice that often entails bitter want upon the relatives of
the one buried with such pomp, but with little or no apparent result.
Rather, the undertaker's business prospers more than ever in the
tenements since the genius of politics has seen its way clear to make
capital out of the dead voter as well as of the living, by making him
the means of a useful "show of strength" and count of noses.

One free excursion awaits young and old whom bitter poverty has denied
the poor privilege of the choice of the home in death they were denied
in life, the ride up the Sound to the Potter's Field, charitably styled
the City Cemetery. But even there they do not escape their fate. In
the common trench of the Poor Burying Ground they lie packed three
stories deep, shoulder to shoulder, crowded in death as they were in
life, to "save space;" for even on that desert island the ground is
not for the exclusive possession of those who cannot afford to pay
for it. There is an odd coincidence in this, that year by year the
lives that are begun in the gutter, the little nameless waifs whom the
police pick up and the city adopts as its wards, are balanced by the
even more forlorn lives that are ended in the river. I do not know how
or why it happens, or that it is more than a mere coincidence. But
there it is. Year by year the balance is struck--a few more, a few
less--substantially the same when the record is closed.


                              CHAPTER XV.

                      THE PROBLEM OF THE CHILDREN.

The problem of the children becomes, in these swarms, to the last
degree perplexing. Their very number make one stand aghast. I have
already given instances of the packing of the child population in East
Side tenements. They might be continued indefinitely until the array
would be enough to startle any community. For, be it remembered, these
children with the training they receive--or do not receive--with the
instincts they inherit and absorb in their growing up, are to be our
future rulers, if our theory of government is worth anything. More
than a working majority of our voters now register from the tenements.
I counted the other day the little ones, up to ten years or so, in a
Bayard Street tenement that for a yard has a triangular space in the
centre with sides fourteen or fifteen feet long, just room enough
for a row of ill-smelling closets at the base of the triangle and a
hydrant at the apex. There was about as much light in this "yard"
as in the average cellar. I gave up my self-imposed task in despair
when I had counted one hundred and twenty-eight in forty families.
Thirteen I had missed, or not found in. Applying the average for the
forty to the whole fifty-three, the house contained one hundred and
seventy children. It is not the only time I have had to give up such
census work. I have in mind an alley--an inlet rather to a row of rear
tenements--that is either two or four feet wide according as the wall
of the crazy old building that gives on it bulges out or in. I tried
to count the children that swarmed there, but could not. Sometimes I
have doubted that anybody knows just how many there are about. Bodies
of drowned children turn up in the rivers right along in summer whom
no one seems to know anything about. When last spring some workmen,
while moving a pile of lumber on a North River pier, found under the
last plank the body of a little lad crushed to death, no one had missed
a boy, though his parents afterward turned up. The truant officer
assuredly does not know, though he spends his life trying to find out,
somewhat illogically, perhaps, since the department that employs him
admits that thousands of poor children are crowded out of the schools
year by year for want of room. There was a big tenement in the Sixth
Ward, now happily appropriated by the beneficent spirit of business
that blots out so many foul spots in New York--it figured not long ago
in the official reports as "an out-and-out hog-pen"--that had a record
of one hundred and two arrests in four years among its four hundred and
seventy-eight tenants, fifty-seven of them for drunken and disorderly
conduct. I do not know how many children there were in it, but the
inspector reported that he found only seven in the whole house who
owned that they went to school. The rest gathered all the instruction
they received running for beer for their elders. Some of them claimed
the "flat" as their home as a mere matter of form. They slept in
the streets at night. The official came upon a little party of four
drinking beer out of the cover of a milk-can in the hallway. They were
of the seven good boys and proved their claim to the title by offering
him some.

The old question, what to do with the boy, assumes a new and serious
phase in the tenements. Under the best conditions found there, it
is not easily answered. In nine cases out of ten he would make an
excellent mechanic, if trained early to work at a trade, for he is
neither dull nor slow, but the short-sighted despotism of the trades
unions has practically closed that avenue to him. Trade-schools,
however excellent, cannot supply the opportunity thus denied him, and
at the outset the boy stands condemned by his own to low and ill-paid
drudgery, held down by the hand that of all should labor to raise him.
Home, the greatest factor of all in the training of the young, means
nothing to him but a pigeon-hole in a coop along with so many other
human animals. Its influence is scarcely of the elevating kind, if it
have any. The very games at which he takes a hand in the street become
polluting in its atmosphere. With no steady hand to guide him, the
boy takes naturally to idle ways. Caught in the street by the truant
officer, or by the agents of the Children's Societies, peddling,
perhaps, or begging, to help out the family resources, he runs the
risk of being sent to a reformatory, where contact with vicious boys
older than himself soon develop the latent possibilities for evil that
lie hidden in him. The city has no Truant Home in which to keep him,
and all efforts of the children's friends to enforce school attendance
are paralyzed by this want. The risk of the reformatory is too great.
What is done in the end is to let him take chances--with the chances
all against him. The result is the rough young savage, familiar from
the street. Rough as he is, if any one doubt that this child of common
clay have in him the instinct of beauty, of love for the ideal of which
his life has no embodiment, let him put the matter to the test. Let
him take into a tenement block a handful of flowers from the fields
and watch the brightened faces, the sudden abandonment of play and
fight that go ever hand in hand where there is no elbow-room, the wild
entreaty for "posies," the eager love with which the little messengers
of peace are shielded, once possessed; then let him change his mind. I
have seen an armful of daisies keep the peace of a block better than
a policeman and his club, seen instincts awaken under their gentle
appeal, whose very existence the soil in which they grew made seem a
mockery. I have not forgotten the deputation of ragamuffins from a
Mulberry Street alley that knocked at my office door one morning on
a mysterious expedition for flowers, not for themselves, but for "a
lady," and having obtained what they wanted, trooped off to bestow
them, a ragged and dirty little band, with a solemnity that was quite
unusual. It was not until an old man called the next day to thank me
for the flowers that I found out they had decked the bier of a pauper,
in the dark rear room where she lay waiting in her pine-board coffin
for the city's hearse. Yet, as I knew, that dismal alley with its bare
brick walls, between which no sun ever rose or set, was the world of
those children. It filled their young lives. Probably not one of them
had ever been out of the sight of it. They were too dirty, too ragged,
and too generally disreputable, too well hidden in their slum besides,
to come into line with the Fresh Air summer boarders.

With such human instincts and cravings, forever unsatisfied, turned
into a haunting curse; with appetite ground to keenest edge by a hunger
that is never fed, the children of the poor grow up in joyless homes
to lives of wearisome toil that claims them at an age when the play of
their happier fellows has but just begun. Has a yard of turf been laid
and a vine been coaxed to grow within their reach, they are banished
and barred out from it as from a heaven that is not for such as they.
I came upon a couple of youngsters in a Mulberry Street yard a while
ago that were chalking on the fence their first lesson in "writin'."
And this is what they wrote: "Keeb of te Grass." They had it by heart,
for there was not, I verily believe, a green sod within a quarter of
a mile. Home to them is an empty name. Pleasure? A gentleman once
catechized a ragged class in a down-town public school on this point,
and recorded the result: Out of forty-eight boys twenty had never seen
the Brooklyn Bridge that was scarcely five minutes' walk away, three
only had been in Central Park, fifteen had known the joy of a ride in
a horse-car. The street, with its ash-barrels and its dirt, the river
that runs foul with mud, are their domain. What training they receive
is picked up there. And they are apt pupils. If the mud and the dirt
are easily reflected in their lives, what wonder? Scarce half-grown,
such lads as these confront the world with the challenge to give them
their due, too long withheld, or----. Our jails supply the answer to
the alternative.

A little fellow who seemed clad in but a single rag was among the
flotsam and jetsam stranded at Police Headquarters one day last
summer. No one knew where he came from or where he belonged. The boy
himself knew as little about it as anybody, and was the least anxious
to have light shed on the subject after he had spent a night in the
matron's nursery. The discovery that beds were provided for boys to
sleep in there, and that he could have "a whole egg" and three slices
of bread for breakfast put him on the best of terms with the world in
general, and he decided that Headquarters was "a bully place." He sang
"McGinty" all through, with Tenth Avenue variations, for the police,
and then settled down to the serious business of giving an account of
himself. The examination went on after this fashion:

"Where do you go to church, my boy?"

"We don't have no clothes to go to church." And indeed his appearance,
as he was, in the door of any New York church would have caused a

"Well, where do you go to school, then?"

"I don't go to school," with a snort of contempt.

"Where do you buy your bread?"

"We don't buy no bread; we buy beer," said the boy, and it was
eventually the saloon that led the police as a landmark to his "home."
It was worthy of the boy. As he had said, his only bed was a heap
of dirty straw on the floor, his daily diet a crust in the morning,
nothing else.

Into the rooms of the Children's Aid Society were led two little girls
whose father had "busted up the house" and put them on the street after
their mother died. Another, who was turned out by her step-mother
"because she had five of her own and could not afford to keep her,"
could not remember ever having been in church or Sunday-school, and
only knew the name of Jesus through hearing people swear by it. She had
no idea what they meant. These were specimens of the overflow from the
tenements of our home-heathen that are growing up in New York's streets
to-day, while tender-hearted men and women are busying themselves with
the socks and the hereafter of well-fed little Hottentots thousands of
miles away. According to Canon Taylor, of York, one hundred and nine
missionaries in the four fields of Persia, Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt
spent one year and sixty thousand dollars in converting one little
heathen girl. If there is nothing the matter with those missionaries,
they might come to New York with a good deal better prospect of success.

By those who lay flattering unction to their souls in the knowledge
that to-day New York has, at all events, no brood of the gutters
of tender years that can be homeless long unheeded, let it be
remembered well through what effort this judgment has been averted. In
thirty-seven years the Children's Aid Society, that came into existence
as an emphatic protest against the tenement corruption of the young,
has sheltered quite three hundred thousand outcast, homeless, and
orphaned children in its lodging-houses, and has found homes in the
West for seventy thousand that had none. Doubtless, as a mere stroke
of finance, the five millions and a half thus spent were a wiser
investment than to have let them grow up thieves and thugs. In the last
fifteen years of this tireless battle for the safety of the State the
intervention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
has been invoked for 138,891 little ones: it has thrown its protection
around more than twenty-five thousand helpless children, and has
convicted nearly sixteen thousand wretches of child-beating and abuse.
Add to this the standing army of fifteen thousand dependent children
in New York's asylums and institutions, and some idea is gained of the
crop that is garnered day by day in the tenements, of the enormous
force employed to check their inroads on our social life, and of the
cause for apprehension that would exist did their efforts flag for ever
so brief a time.

Nothing is now better understood than that the rescue of the children
is the key to the problem of city poverty, as presented for our
solution to-day: that character may be formed where to reform it would
be a hopeless task. The concurrent testimony of all who have to
undertake it at a later stage: that the young are naturally neither
vicious nor hardened, simply weak and undeveloped, except by the bad
influences of the street, makes this duty all the more urgent as well
as hopeful. Helping hands are held out on every side. To private
charity the municipality leaves the entire care of its proletariat
of tender years, lulling its conscience to sleep with liberal
appropriations of money to foot the bills. Indeed, it is held by those
whose opinions are entitled to weight that it is far too liberal a
paymaster for its own best interests and those of its wards. It deals
with the evil in the seed to a limited extent in gathering in the
outcast babies from the streets. To the ripe fruit the gates of its
prisons, its reformatories, and its workhouses are opened wide the year
round. What the showing would be at this end of the line were it not
for the barriers wise charity has thrown across the broad highway to
ruin--is building day by day--may be measured by such results as those
quoted above in the span of a single life.

                              CHAPTER XVI.

                       WAIFS OF THE CITY'S SLUMS.

First among these barriers is the Foundling Asylum. It stands at the
very outset of the waste of life that goes on in a population of nearly
two millions of people; powerless to prevent it, though it gather
in the outcasts by night and by day. In a score of years an army of
twenty-five thousand of these forlorn little waifs have cried out from
the streets of New York in arraignment of a Christian civilization
under the blessings of which the instinct of motherhood even was
smothered by poverty and want. Only the poor abandon their children.
The stories of richly-dressed foundlings that are dished up in the
newspapers at intervals are pure fiction. Not one instance of even a
well-dressed infant having been picked up in the streets is on record.
They come in rags, a newspaper often the only wrap, semi-occasionally
one in a clean slip with some evidence of loving care; a little slip of
paper pinned on, perhaps, with some such message as this I once read,
in a woman's trembling hand: "Take care of Johnny, for God's sake. I
cannot." But even that is the rarest of all happenings.

The city divides with the Sisters of Charity the task of gathering them
in. The real foundlings, the children of the gutter that are picked
up by the police, are the city's wards. In midwinter, when the poor
shiver in their homes, and in the dog-days when the fierce heat and
foul air of the tenements smother their babies by thousands, they
are found, sometimes three and four in a night, in hallways, in areas
and on the doorsteps of the rich, with whose comfort in luxurious
homes the wretched mother somehow connects her own misery. Perhaps,
as the drowning man clutches at a straw, she hopes that these happier
hearts may have love to spare even for her little one. In this she is
mistaken. Unauthorized babies especially are not popular in the abodes
of the wealthy. It never happens outside of the story-books that a baby
so deserted finds home and friends at once. Its career, though rather
more official, is less romantic, and generally brief. After a night
spent at Police Headquarters it travels up to the Infants' Hospital on
Randall's Island in the morning, fitted out with a number and a bottle,
that seldom see much wear before they are laid aside for a fresh
recruit. Few outcast babies survive their desertion long. Murder is
the true name of the mother's crime in eight cases out of ten. Of 508
babies received at the Randall's Island Hospital last year 333 died,
65.55 per cent. But of the 508 only 170 were picked up in the streets,
and among these the mortality was much greater, probably nearer ninety
per cent., if the truth were told. The rest were born in the hospitals.
The high mortality among the foundlings is not to be marvelled at.
The wonder is, rather, that any survive. The stormier the night, the
more certain is the police nursery to echo with the feeble cries of
abandoned babes. Often they come half dead from exposure. One live baby
came in a little pine coffin which a policeman found an inhuman wretch
trying to bury in an up-town lot. But many do not live to be officially
registered as a charge upon the county. Seventy-two dead babies were
picked up in the streets last year. Some of them were doubtless put
out by very poor parents to save funeral expenses. In hard times the
number of dead and live foundlings always increases very noticeably.
But whether travelling by way of the Morgue or the Infants' Hospital,
the little army of waifs meets, reunited soon, in the trench in the
Potter's Field where, if no medical student is in need of a subject,
they are laid in squads of a dozen.

Most of the foundlings come from the East Side, where they are left by
young mothers without wedding-rings or other name than their own to
bestow upon the baby, returning from the island hospital to face an
unpitying world with the evidence of their shame. Not infrequently they
wear the bed-tick regimentals of the Public Charities, and thus their
origin is easily enough traced. Oftener no ray of light penetrates the
gloom, and no effort is made to probe the mystery of sin and sorrow.
This also is the policy pursued in the great Foundling Asylum of the
Sisters of Charity in Sixty-eighth Street, known all over the world
as Sister Irene's Asylum. Years ago the crib that now stands just
inside the street door, under the great main portal, was placed outside
at night; but it filled up too rapidly. The babies took to coming
in little squads instead of in single file, and in self-defence the
sisters were forced to take the cradle in. Now the mother must bring
her child inside and put it in the crib where she is seen by the sister
on guard. No effort is made to question her, or discover the child's
antecedents, but she is asked to stay and nurse her own and another
baby. If she refuses, she is allowed to depart unhindered. If willing,
she enters at once into the great family of the good Sister who in
twenty-one years has gathered as many thousand homeless babies into her
fold. One was brought in when I was last in the asylum, in the middle
of July, that received in its crib the number 20715. The death-rate is
of course lowered a good deal where exposure of the child is prevented.
Among the eleven hundred infants in the asylum it was something over
nineteen per cent. last year; but among those actually received in the
twelvemonth nearer twice that figure. Even the nineteen per cent.,
remarkably low for a Foundling Asylum, was equal to the startling
death-rate of Gotham Court in the cholera scourge.

Four hundred and sixty mothers, who could not or would not keep their
own babies, did voluntary penance for their sin in the asylum last
year by nursing a strange waif besides their own until both should be
strong enough to take their chances in life's battle. An even larger
number than the eleven hundred were "pay babies," put out to be nursed
by "mothers" outside the asylum. The money thus earned pays the rent of
hundreds of poor families. It is no trifle, quite half of the quarter
of a million dollars contributed annually by the city for the support
of the asylum. The procession of these nurse-mothers, when they come to
the asylum on the first Wednesday of each month to receive their pay
and have the babies inspected by the sisters, is one of the sights of
the city. The nurses, who are under strict supervision, grow to love
their little charges and part from them with tears when, at the age of
four or five, they are sent to Western homes to be adopted. The sisters
carefully encourage the home-feeling in the child as their strongest
ally in seeking its mental and moral elevation, and the toddlers depart
happy to join their "papas and mammas" in the far-away, unknown home.

An infinitely more fiendish, if to surface appearances less
deliberate, plan of child-murder than desertion has flourished in New
York for years under the title of baby-farming. The name, put into
plain English, means starving babies to death. The law has fought this
most heinous of crimes by compelling the registry of all baby-farms.
As well might it require all persons intending murder to register
their purpose with time and place of the deed under the penalty of
exemplary fines. Murderers do not hang out a shingle. "Baby-farms,"
said once Mr. Elbridge T. Gerry, the President of the Society charged
with the execution of the law that was passed through his efforts, "are
concerns by means of which persons, usually of disreputable character,
eke out a living by taking two, or three, or four babies to board.
They are the charges of outcasts, or illegitimate children. They feed
them on sour milk, and give them paregoric to keep them quiet, until
they die, when they get some young medical man without experience
to sign a certificate to the Board of Health that the child died of
inanition, and so the matter ends. The baby is dead, and there is no
one to complain." A handful of baby-farms have been registered and
licensed by the Board of Health with the approval of the Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in the last five years, but none
of this kind. The devil keeps the only complete register to be found
anywhere. Their trace is found oftenest by the coroner or the police;
sometimes they may be discovered hiding in the advertising columns of
certain newspapers, under the guise of the scarcely less heartless
traffic in helpless children that is dignified with the pretence of
adoption--for cash. An idea of how this scheme works was obtained
through the disclosures in a celebrated divorce case, a year or two
ago. The society has among its records a very recent case[18] of a
baby a week old (Baby "Blue Eyes") that was offered for sale--adoption,
the dealer called it--in a newspaper. The agent bought it after some
haggling for a dollar, and arrested the woman slave-trader; but the law
was powerless to punish her for her crime. Twelve unfortunate women
awaiting dishonored motherhood were found in her house.

[Footnote 18: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Case
42,028, May 16, 1889.]

One gets a glimpse of the frightful depths to which human nature,
perverted by avarice bred of ignorance and rasping poverty, can
descend, in the mere suggestion of systematic insurance _for profit_
of children's lives. A woman was put on trial in this city last year
for incredible cruelty in her treatment of a step-child. The evidence
aroused a strong suspicion that a pitifully small amount of insurance
on the child's life was one of the motives for the woman's savagery.
A little investigation brought out the fact that three companies that
were in the business of insuring children's lives, for sums varying
from $17 up, had issued not less than a million such policies! The
premiums ranged from five to twenty-five cents a week. What untold
horrors this business may conceal was suggested by a formal agreement
entered into by some of the companies, "for the purpose of preventing
speculation in the insurance of children's lives." By the terms of
this compact, "no higher premium than ten cents could be accepted on
children under six years old." Barbarism forsooth! Did ever heathen
cruelty invent a more fiendish plot than the one written down between
the lines of this legal paper?

It is with a sense of glad relief that one turns from this misery to
the brighter page of the helping hands stretched forth on every side
to save the young and the helpless. New York is, I firmly believe,
the most charitable city in the world. Nowhere is there so eager a
readiness to help, when it is known that help is worthily wanted;
nowhere are such armies of devoted workers, nowhere such abundance of
means ready to the hand of those who know the need and how rightly to
supply it. Its poverty, its slums, and its suffering are the result of
unprecedented growth with the consequent disorder and crowding, and the
common penalty of metropolitan greatness. If the structure shows signs
of being top-heavy, evidences are not wanting--they are multiplying day
by day--that patient toilers are at work among the underpinnings. The
Day Nurseries, the numberless Kindergartens and charitable schools in
the poor quarters, the Fresh Air Funds, the thousand and one charities
that in one way or another reach the homes and the lives of the poor
with sweetening touch, are proof that if much is yet to be done, if the
need only grows with the effort, hearts and hands will be found to do
it in ever-increasing measure. Black as the cloud is it has a silver
lining, bright with promise. New York is to-day a hundredfold cleaner,
better, purer, city than it was even ten years ago.

Two powerful agents that were among the pioneers in this work of moral
and physical regeneration stand in Paradise Park to-day as milestones
on the rocky, uphill road. The handful of noble women, who braved
the foul depravity of the Old Brewery to rescue its child victims,
rolled away the first and heaviest bowlder, which legislatures and
city councils had tackled in vain. The Five Points Mission and the
Five Points House of Industry have accomplished what no machinery of
government availed to do. Sixty thousand children have been rescued
by them from the streets and had their little feet set in the better
way. Their work still goes on, increasing and gathering in the waifs,
instructing and feeding them, and helping their parents with advice and
more substantial aid. Their charity knows not creed or nationality.
The House of Industry is an enormous nursery-school with an average of
more than four hundred day scholars and constant boarders--"outsiders"
and "insiders." Its influence is felt for many blocks around in that
crowded part of the city. It is one of the most touching sights in
the world to see a score of babies, rescued from homes of brutality
and desolation, where no other blessing than a drunken curse was ever
heard, saying their prayers in the nursery at bedtime. Too often their
white night-gowns hide tortured little bodies and limbs cruelly bruised
by inhuman hands. In the shelter of this fold they are safe, and a
happier little group one may seek long and far in vain.


                             CHAPTER XVII.

                            THE STREET ARAB.

Not all the barriers erected by society against its nether life, not
the labor of unnumbered societies for the rescue and relief of its
outcast waifs, can dam the stream of homelessness that issues from a
source where the very name of home is a mockery. The Street Arab is
as much of an institution in New York as Newspaper Row, to which he
gravitates naturally, following his Bohemian instinct. Crowded out
of the tenements to shift for himself, and quite ready to do it, he
meets there the host of adventurous runaways from every State in the
Union and from across the sea, whom New York attracts with a queer
fascination, as it attracts the older emigrants from all parts of the
world. A census of the population in the Newsboys' Lodging-house on any
night will show such an odd mixture of small humanity as could hardly
be got together in any other spot. It is a mistake to think that they
are helpless little creatures, to be pitied and cried over because they
are alone in the world. The unmerciful "guying" the good man would
receive, who went to them with such a programme, would soon convince
him that that sort of pity was wasted, and would very likely give him
the idea that they were a set of hardened little scoundrels, quite
beyond the reach of missionary effort.

But that would only be his second mistake. The Street Arab has all the
faults and all the virtues of the lawless life he leads. Vagabond that
he is, acknowledging no authority and owing no allegiance to anybody or
anything, with his grimy fist raised against society whenever it tries
to coerce him, he is as bright and sharp as the weasel, which, among
all the predatory beasts, he most resembles. His sturdy independence,
love of freedom and absolute self-reliance, together with his rude
sense of justice that enables him to govern his little community, not
always in accordance with municipal law or city ordinances, but often
a good deal closer to the saving line of "doing to others as one would
be done by"--these are strong handles by which those who know how can
catch the boy and make him useful. Successful bankers, clergymen, and
lawyers all over the country, statesmen in some instances of national
repute, bear evidence in their lives to the potency of such missionary
efforts. There is scarcely a learned profession, or branch of honorable
business, that has not in the last twenty years borrowed some of its
brightest light from the poverty and gloom of New York's streets.

Anyone, whom business or curiosity has taken through Park Row or across
Printing House Square in the midnight hour, when the air is filled with
the roar of great presses spinning with printers' ink on endless rolls
of white paper the history of the world in the twenty-four hours that
have just passed away, has seen little groups of these boys hanging
about the newspaper offices; in winter, when snow is on the streets,
fighting for warm spots around the grated vent-holes that let out
the heat and steam from the underground press-rooms with their noise
and clatter, and in summer playing craps and 7-11 on the curb for
their hard-earned pennies, with all the absorbing concern of hardened
gamblers. This is their beat. Here the agent of the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children finds those he thinks too young for
"business," but does not always capture them. Like rabbits in their
burrows, the little ragamuffins sleep with at least one eye open,
and every sense alert to the approach of danger: of their enemy, the
policeman, whose chief business in life is to move them on, and of the
agent bent on robbing them of their cherished freedom. At the first
warning shout they scatter and are off. To pursue them would be like
chasing the fleet-footed mountain goat in his rocky fastnesses. There
is not an open door, a hidden turn or runway which they do not know,
with lots of secret passages and short cuts no one else ever found.
To steal a march on them is the only way. There is a coal chute from
the sidewalk to the boiler-room in the sub-cellar of the Post Office
which the Society's officer found the boys had made into a sort of
toboggan slide to a snug berth in wintry weather. They used to slyly
raise the cover in the street, slide down in single file, and snuggle
up to the warm boiler out of harm's way, as they thought. It proved a
trap, however. The agent slid down himself one cold night--there was
no other way of getting there--and, landing right in the midst of the
sleeping colony, had it at his mercy. After repeated raids upon their
headquarters, the boys forsook it last summer, and were next found
herding under the shore-end of one of the East River banana docks,
where they had fitted up a regular club-room that was shared by thirty
or forty homeless boys and about a million rats.

Newspaper Row is merely their headquarters. They are to be found all
over the city, these Street Arabs, where the neighborhood offers a
chance of picking up a living in the daytime and of "turning in"
at night with a promise of security from surprise. In warm weather
a truck in the street, a convenient out-house, or a dug-out in a
hay-barge at the wharf make good bunks. Two were found making their
nest once in the end of a big iron pipe up by the Harlem Bridge,
and an old boiler at the East River served as an elegant flat for
another couple, who kept house there with a thief the police had long
sought, little suspecting that he was hiding under their very noses
for months together. When the Children's Aid Society first opened
its lodging-houses, and with some difficulty persuaded the boys that
their charity was no "pious dodge" to trap them into a treasonable
"Sunday-school racket," its managers overheard a laughable discussion
among the boys in their unwontedly comfortable beds--perhaps the first
some of them had ever slept in--as to the relative merits of the
different styles of their everyday berths. Preferences were divided
between the steam-grating and a sand-box; but the weight of the
evidence was decided to be in favor of the sand-box, because, as its
advocate put it, "you could curl all up in it." The new "find" was
voted a good way ahead of any previous experience, however. "My eyes,
ain't it nice!" said one of the lads, tucked in under his blanket up
to the chin, and the roomful of boys echoed the sentiment. The compact
silently made that night between the Street Arabs and their hosts has
never been broken. They have been fast friends ever since.

Whence this army of homeless boys? is a question often asked. The
answer is supplied by the procession of mothers that go out and in at
Police Headquarters the year round, inquiring for missing boys, often
not until they have been gone for weeks and months, and then sometimes
rather as a matter of decent form than from any real interest in the
lad's fate. The stereotyped promise of the clerks who fail to find
his name on the books among the arrests, that he "will come back when
he gets hungry," does not always come true. More likely he went away
because he was hungry. Some are orphans, actually or in effect, thrown
upon the world when their parents were "sent up" to the island or to
Sing Sing, and somehow overlooked by the "Society," which thenceforth
became the enemy to be shunned until growth and dirt and the hardships
of the street, that make old early, offer some hope of successfully
floating the lie that they are "sixteen." A drunken father explains
the matter in other cases, as in that of John and Willie, aged ten
and eight, picked up by the police. They "didn't live nowhere," never
went to school, could neither read nor write. Their twelve-year-old
sister kept house for the father, who turned the boys out to beg, or
steal, or starve. Grinding poverty and hard work beyond the years of
the lad; blows and curses for breakfast, dinner, and supper; all these
are recruiting agents for the homeless army. Sickness in the house, too
many mouths to feed:

  [Illustration: "DIDN'T LIVE NOWHERE."]

"We wuz six," said an urchin of twelve or thirteen I came across in the
Newsboys' Lodging House, "and we ain't got no father. Some on us had
to go." And so he went, to make a living by blacking boots. The going
is easy enough. There is very little to hold the boy who has never
known anything but a home in a tenement. Very soon the wild life in
the streets holds him fast, and thenceforward by his own effort there
is no escape. Left alone to himself, he soon enough finds a place in
the police books, and there would be no other answer to the second
question: "what becomes of the boy?" than that given by the criminal
courts every day in the week.

But he is not left alone. Society in our day has no such suicidal
intention. Right here, at the parting of the ways, it has thrown up
the strongest of all its defences for itself and for the boy. What
the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is to the
baby-waif, the Children's Aid Society is to the homeless boy at this
real turning-point in his career. The good it has done cannot easily
be over-estimated. Its lodging-houses, its schools and its homes block
every avenue of escape with their offer of shelter upon terms which
the boy soon accepts, as on the whole cheap and fair. In the great
Duane Street lodging-house for newsboys, they are succinctly stated
in a "notice" over the door that reads thus: "Boys who swear and chew
tobacco cannot sleep here." There is another unwritten condition, viz.:
that the boy shall be really without a home; but upon this the managers
wisely do not insist too obstinately, accepting without too close
inquiry his account of himself where that seems advisable, well knowing
that many a home that sends forth such lads far less deserves the name
than the one they are able to give them.


With these simple preliminaries the outcast boy may enter. Rags do
not count; to ignorance the door is only opened wider. Dirt does not
survive long, once within the walls of the lodging-house. It is the
settled belief of the men who conduct them that soap and water are as
powerful moral agents in their particular field as preaching, and they
have experience to back them. The boy may come and go as he pleases,
so long as he behaves himself. No restraint of any sort is put on his
independence. He is as free as any other guest at a hotel, and, like
him, he is expected to pay for what he gets. How wisely the men planned
who laid the foundation of this great rescue work and yet carry it on,
is shown by no single feature of it better than by this. No pauper
was ever bred within these houses. Nothing would have been easier with
such material, or more fatal. But charity of the kind that pauperizes
is furthest from their scheme. Self-help is its very key-note, and it
strikes a response in the boy's sturdiest trait that raises him at
once to a level with the effort made in his behalf. Recognized as an
independent trader, capable of and bound to take care of himself, he is
in a position to ask trust if trade has gone against him and he cannot
pay cash for his "grub" and his bed, and to get it without question.
He can even have the loan of the small capital required to start him
in business with a boot-black's kit, or an armful of papers, if he is
known or vouched for; but every cent is charged to him as carefully
as though the transaction involved as many hundreds of dollars, and
he is expected to pay back the money as soon as he has made enough to
keep him going without it. He very rarely betrays the trust reposed in
him. Quite on the contrary, around this sound core of self-help, thus
encouraged, habits of thrift and ambitious industry are seen to grow up
in a majority of instances. The boy is "growing" a character, and he
goes out to the man's work in life with that which for him is better
than if he had found a fortune.

Six cents for his bed, six for his breakfast of bread and coffee, and
six for his supper of pork and beans, as much as he can eat, are the
rates of the boys' "hotel" for those who bunk together in the great
dormitories that sometimes hold more than a hundred berths, two tiers
high, made of iron, clean and neat. For the "upper ten," the young
financiers who early take the lead among their fellows, hire them to
work for wages and add a share of their profits to their own, and for
the lads who are learning a trade and getting paid by the week, there
are ten-cent beds with a locker and with curtains hung about. Night
schools and Sunday night meetings are held in the building and are
always well attended, in winter especially, when the lodging-houses
are crowded. In summer the tow-path and the country attract their
share of the bigger boys. The "Sunday-school racket" has ceased to
have terror for them. They follow the proceedings with the liveliest
interest, quick to detect cant of any sort, should any stray in. No
one has any just conception of what congregational singing is until
he has witnessed a roomful of these boys roll up their sleeves and
start in on "I am a lily of the valley." The swinging trapeze in the
gymnasium on the top floor is scarcely more popular with the boys than
this tremendously vocal worship. The Street Arab puts his whole little
soul into what interests him for the moment, whether it be pulverizing
a rival who has done a mean trick to a smaller boy, or attending at the
"gospel shop" on Sundays. This characteristic made necessary some extra
supervision when recently the lads in the Duane Street Lodging House
"chipped in" and bought a set of boxing gloves. The trapeze suffered a
temporary eclipse until this new toy had been tested to the extent of
several miniature black eyes upon which soap had no effect, and sundry
little scores had been settled that evened things up, as it were, for a
fresh start.


I tried one night, not with the best of success I confess, to
photograph the boys in their wash-room, while they were cleaning up
for supper. They were quite turbulent, to the disgust of one of their
number who assumed, unasked, the office of general manager of the show,
and expressed his mortification to me in very polite language. "If
they would only behave, sir!" he complained, "you could make a good

"Yes," I said, "but it isn't in them, I suppose."

"No, b'gosh!" said he, lapsing suddenly from grace under the
provocation, "them kids ain't got no sense, nohow!"

The Society maintains five of these boys' lodging houses, and one
for girls, in the city. The Duane Street Lodging House alone has
sheltered since its foundation in 1855 nearly a quarter of a million
different boys, at a total expense of a good deal less than half a
million dollars. Of this amount, up to the beginning of the present
year, the boys and the earnings of the house had contributed no less
than $172,776.38. In all of the lodging-houses together, 12,153 boys
and girls were sheltered and taught last year. The boys saved up no
inconsiderable amount of money in the savings banks provided for them
in the houses, a simple system of lock-boxes that are emptied for
their benefit once a month. Besides these, the Society has established
and operates in the tenement districts twenty-one industrial schools,
co-ordinate with the public schools in authority, for the children
of the poor who cannot find room in the city's school-houses, or are
too ragged to go there; two free reading-rooms, a dressmaking and
typewriting school and a laundry for the instruction of girls; a
sick-children's mission in the city and two on the sea-shore, where
poor mothers may take their babies; a cottage by the sea for crippled
girls, and a brush factory for crippled boys in Forty-fourth Street.
The Italian school in Leonard Street, alone, had an average attendance
of over six hundred pupils last year. The daily average attendance
at all of them was 4,105, while 11,331 children were registered and
taught. When the fact that there were among these 1,132 children of
drunken parents, and 416 that had been found begging in the street,
is contrasted with the showing of $1,337.21 deposited in the school
savings banks by 1,745 pupils, something like an adequate idea is
gained of the scope of the Society's work in the city.

A large share of it, in a sense the largest, certainly that productive
of the happiest results, lies outside of the city, however. From the
lodging-houses and the schools are drawn the battalions of young
emigrants that go every year to homes in the Far West, to grow up
self-supporting men and women safe from the temptations and the vice of
the city. Their number runs far up in the thousands. The Society never
loses sight of them. The records show that the great mass, with this
start given them, become useful citizens, an honor to the communities
in which their lot is cast. Not a few achieve place and prominence in
their new surroundings. Rarely bad reports come of them. Occasionally
one comes back, lured by homesickness even for the slums; but the
briefest stay generally cures the disease for good. I helped once to
see a party off for Michigan, the last sent out by that great friend of
the homeless children, Mrs. Astor, before she died. In the party was
a boy who had been an "Insider" at the Five Points House of Industry,
and brought along as his only baggage a padlocked and iron-bound box
that contained all his wealth, two little white mice of the friendliest
disposition. They were going with him out to live on the fat of the
land in the fertile West, where they would never be wanting for a
crust. Alas! for the best-laid plans of mice and men. The Western diet
did not agree with either. I saw their owner some months later in the
old home at the Five Points. He had come back, walking part of the
way, and was now pleading to be sent out once more. He had at last
had enough of the city. His face fell when I asked him about the mice.
It was a sad story, indeed. "They had so much corn to eat," he said,
"and they couldn't stand it. They burned all up inside, and then they

Mrs. Astor set an example during her noble and useful life in gathering
every year a company of homeless boys from the streets and sending them
to good homes, with decent clothes on their backs--she had sent out no
less than thirteen hundred when she died, and left funds to carry on
her work--that has been followed by many who, like her, had the means
and the heart for such a labor of love. Most of the lodging-houses
and school-buildings of the society were built by some one rich man
or woman who paid all the bills, and often objected to have even the
name of the giver made known to the world. It is one of the pleasant
experiences of life that give one hope and courage in the midst of
all this misery to find names, that stand to the unthinking mass
only for money-getting and grasping, associated with such unheralded
benefactions that carry their blessings down to generations yet unborn.
It is not so long since I found the carriage of a woman, whose name is
synonymous with millions, standing in front of the boys' lodging-house
in Thirty-fifth Street. Its owner was at that moment busy with a
surgeon making a census of the crippled lads in the brush-shop, the
most miserable of all the Society's charges, as a preliminary to
fitting them out with artificial limbs.

Farther uptown than any reared by the Children's Aid Society, in
Sixty-seventh Street, stands a lodging-house intended for boys of a
somewhat larger growth than most of those whom the Society shelters.
Unlike the others, too, it was built by the actual labor of the young
men it was designed to benefit. In the day when more of the boys
from our streets shall find their way to it and to the New York Trade
Schools, of which it is a kind of home annex, we shall be in a fair
way of solving in the most natural of all ways the question what to
do with this boy, in spite of the ignorant opposition of the men
whose tyrannical policy is now to blame for the showing that, out of
twenty-three millions of dollars paid annually to mechanics in the
building trades in this city, less than six millions go to the workman
born in New York, while his boy roams the streets with every chance of
growing up a vagabond and next to none of becoming an honest artisan.
Colonel Auchmuty is a practical philanthropist to whom the growing
youth of New York will one day owe a debt of gratitude not easily paid.
The progress of the system of trade schools established by him, at
which a young man may acquire the theory as well as the practice of a
trade in a few months at a merely nominal outlay, has not been nearly
as rapid as was to be desired, though the fact that other cities are
copying the model, with their master mechanics as the prime movers in
the enterprise, testifies to its excellence. But it has at last taken
a real start, and with union men and even the officers of unions now
sending their sons to the trade schools to be taught,[19] one may
perhaps be permitted to hope that an era of better sense is dawning
that shall witness a rescue work upon lines which, when the leaven has
fairly had time to work, will put an end to the existence of the New
York Street Arab, of the native breed at least.

[Footnote 19: Colonel Auchmuty's own statement.]

                             CHAPTER XVIII.

                           THE REIGN OF RUM.

Where God builds a church the devil builds next door--a saloon, is
an old saying that has lost its point in New York. Either the devil
was on the ground first, or he has been doing a good deal more in the
way of building. I tried once to find out how the account stood, and
counted to 111 Protestant churches, chapels, and places of worship of
every kind below Fourteenth Street, 4,065 saloons. The worst half of
the tenement population lives down there, and it has to this day the
worst half of the saloons. Uptown the account stands a little better,
but there are easily ten saloons to every church to-day. I am afraid,
too, that the congregations are larger by a good deal; certainly the
attendance is steadier and the contributions more liberal the week
round, Sunday included. Turn and twist it as we may, over against every
bulwark for decency and morality which society erects, the saloon
projects its colossal shadow, omen of evil wherever it falls into the
lives of the poor.

Nowhere is its mark so broad or so black. To their misery it sticketh
closer than a brother, persuading them that within its doors only is
refuge, relief. It has the best of the argument, too, for it is true,
worse pity, that in many a tenement-house block the saloon is the one
bright and cheery and humanly decent spot to be found. It is a sorry
admission to make, that to bring the rest of the neighborhood up to
the level of the saloon would be one way of squelching it; but it is
so. Wherever the tenements thicken, it multiplies. Upon the direst
poverty of their crowds it grows fat and prosperous, levying upon it
a tax heavier than all the rest of its grievous burdens combined. It
is not yet two years since the Excise Board made the rule that no
three corners of any street-crossing, not already so occupied, should
thenceforward be licensed for rum-selling. And the tardy prohibition
was intended for the tenement districts. Nowhere else is there need of
it. One may walk many miles through the homes of the poor searching
vainly for an open reading-room, a cheerful coffee-house, a decent club
that is not a cloak for the traffic in rum. The dramshop yawns at every
step, the poor man's club, his forum and his haven of rest when weary
and disgusted with the crowding, the quarrelling, and the wretchedness
at home. With the poison dealt out there he takes his politics, in
quality not far apart. As the source, so the stream. The rumshop turns
the political crank in New York. The natural yield is rum politics. Of
what that means, successive Boards of Aldermen, composed in a measure,
if not of a majority, of dive-keepers, have given New York a taste. The
disgrace of the infamous "Boodle Board" will be remembered until some
corruption even fouler crops out and throws it into the shade.

What relation the saloon bears to the crowds, let me illustrate by a
comparison. Below Fourteenth Street were, when the Health Department
took its first accurate census of the tenements a year and a half ago,
13,220 of the 32,390 buildings classed as such in the whole city.
Of the eleven hundred thousand tenants, not quite half a million,
embracing a host of more than sixty-three thousand children under
five years of age, lived below that line. Below it, also, were 234 of
the cheap lodging-houses accounted for by the police last year, with
a total of four millions and a half of lodgers for the twelvemonth,
59 of the city's 110 pawnshops, and 4,065 of its 7,884 saloons. The
four most densely peopled precincts, the Fourth, Sixth, Tenth, and
Eleventh, supported together in round numbers twelve hundred saloons,
and their returns showed twenty-seven per cent. of the whole number
of arrests for the year. The Eleventh Precinct, that has the greatest
and the poorest crowds of all--it is the Tenth Ward--and harbored
one-third of the army of homeless lodgers and fourteen per cent. of
all the prisoners of the year, kept 485 saloons going in 1889. It
is not on record that one of them all failed for want of support. A
number of them, on the contrary, had brought their owners wealth and
prominence. From their bars these eminent citizens stepped proudly into
the councils of the city and the State. The very floor of one of the
bar-rooms, in a neighborhood that lately resounded with the cry for
bread of starving workmen, is paved with silver dollars!

East Side poverty is not alone in thus rewarding the tyrants that
sweeten its cup of bitterness with their treacherous poison. The Fourth
Ward points with pride to the honorable record of the conductors of
its "Tub of Blood," and a dozen bar-rooms with less startling titles;
the West Side to the wealth and "social" standing of the owners of
such resorts as the "Witches' Broth" and the "Plug Hat" in the region
of Hell's Kitchen three-cent whiskey, names ominous of the concoctions
brewed there and of their fatally generous measure. Another ward,
that boasts some of the best residences and the bluest blood on
Manhattan Island, honors with political leadership in the ruling
party the proprietor of one of the most disreputable Black-and-Tan
dives and dancing-hells to be found anywhere. Criminals and policemen
alike do him homage. The list might be strung out to make texts for
sermons with a stronger home flavor than many that are preached in
our pulpits on Sunday. But I have not set out to write the political
history of New York. Besides, the list would not be complete. Secret
dives are skulking in the slums and out of them, that are not labelled
respectable by a Board of Excise and support no "family entrance."
Their business, like that of the stale-beer dives, is done through
a side-door the week through. No one knows the number of unlicensed
saloons in the city. Those who have made the matter a study estimate
it at a thousand, more or less. The police make occasional schedules
of a few and report them to headquarters. Perhaps there is a farce in
the police court, and there the matter ends. Rum and "influence" are
synonymous terms. The interests of the one rarely suffer for the want
of attention from the other.

  [Illustration: A DOWNTOWN "MORGUE."]

With the exception of these free lances that treat the law openly
with contempt, the saloons all hang out a sign announcing in fat
type that no beer or liquor is sold to children. In the down-town
"morgues" that make the lowest degradation of tramp-humanity pan out a
paying interest, as in the "reputable resorts" uptown where Inspector
Byrnes's men spot their worthier quarry elbowing citizens whom the
idea of associating with a burglar would give a shock they would not
get over for a week, this sign is seen conspicuously displayed. Though
apparently it means submission to a beneficent law, in reality the sign
is a heartless, cruel joke. I doubt if one child in a thousand, who
brings his growler to be filled at the average New York bar, is sent
away empty-handed, if able to pay for what he wants. I once followed a
little boy, who shivered in bare feet on a cold November night so that
he seemed in danger of smashing his pitcher on the icy pavement, into
a Mulberry Street saloon where just such a sign hung on the wall, and
forbade the barkeeper to serve the boy. The man was as astonished at
my interference as if I had told him to shut up his shop and go home,
which in fact I might have done with as good a right, for it was after
1 A.M., the legal closing hour. He was mighty indignant too,
and told me roughly to go away and mind my business, while he filled
the pitcher. The law prohibiting the selling of beer to minors is about
as much respected in the tenement-house districts as the ordinance
against swearing. Newspaper readers will recall the story, told little
more than a year ago, of a boy who after carrying beer a whole day
for a shopful of men over on the East Side, where his father worked,
crept into the cellar to sleep off the effects of his own share in the
rioting. It was Saturday evening. Sunday his parents sought him high
and low; but it was not until Monday morning, when the shop was opened,
that he was found, killed and half-eaten by the rats that overran the

All the evil the saloon does in breeding poverty and in corrupting
politics; all the suffering it brings into the lives of its thousands
of innocent victims, the wives and children of drunkards it sends forth
to curse the community; its fostering of crime and its shielding of
criminals--it is all as nothing to this, its worst offence. In its
affinity for the thief there is at least this compensation that, as
it makes, it also unmakes him. It starts him on his career only to
trip him up and betray him into the hands of the law, when the rum
he exchanged for his honesty has stolen his brains as well. For the
corruption of the child there is no restitution. None is possible. It
saps the very vitals of society; undermines its strongest defences, and
delivers them over to the enemy. Fostered and filled by the saloon, the
"growler" looms up in the New York street boy's life, baffling the most
persistent efforts to reclaim him. There is no escape from it; no hope
for the boy, once its blighting grip is upon him. Thenceforward the
logic of the slums, that the world which gave him poverty and ignorance
for his portion "owes him a living," is his creed, and the career of
the "tough" lies open before him, a beaten track to be blindly followed
to a bad end in the wake of the growler.

                              CHAPTER XIX.

                         THE HARVEST OF TARES.

The "growler" stood at the cradle of the tough. It bosses him through
his boyhood apprenticeship in the "gang," and leaves him, for a time
only, at the door of the jail that receives him to finish his training
and turn him loose upon the world a thief, to collect by stealth or by
force the living his philosophy tells him that it owes him, and will
not voluntarily surrender without an equivalent in the work which he
hates. From the moment he, almost a baby, for the first time carries
the growler for beer, he is never out of its reach, and the two soon
form a partnership that lasts through life. It has at least the merit,
such as it is, of being loyal. The saloon is the only thing that
takes kindly to the lad. Honest play is interdicted in the streets.
The policeman arrests the ball-tossers, and there is no room in the
back-yard. In one of these, between two enormous tenements that swarmed
with children, I read this ominous notice: "_All boys caught in this
yard will be delt with accorden to law._"

Along the water-fronts, in the holes of the dock-rats, and on the
avenues, the young tough finds plenty of kindred spirits. Every corner
has its gang, not always on the best of terms with the rivals in the
next block, but all with a common programme: defiance of law and
order, and with a common ambition: to get "pinched," _i.e._, arrested,
so as to pose as heroes before their fellows. A successful raid on
the grocer's till is a good mark, "doing up" a policeman cause for
promotion. The gang is an institution in New York. The police deny
its existence while nursing the bruises received in nightly battles
with it that tax their utmost resources. The newspapers chronicle its
doings daily, with a sensational minuteness of detail that does its
share toward keeping up its evil traditions and inflaming the ambition
of its members to be as bad as the worst. The gang is the ripe fruit
of tenement-house growth. It was born there, endowed with a heritage
of instinctive hostility to restraint by a generation that sacrificed
home to freedom, or left its country for its country's good. The
tenement received and nursed the seed. The intensity of the American
temper stood sponsor to the murderer in what would have been the common
"bruiser" of a more phlegmatic clime. New York's tough represents the
essence of reaction against the old and the new oppression, nursed in
the rank soil of its slums. Its gangs are made up of the American-born
sons of English, Irish, and German parents. They reflect exactly the
conditions of the tenements from which they sprang. Murder is as
congenial to Cherry Street or to Battle Row, as quiet and order to
Murray Hill. The "assimilation" of Europe's oppressed hordes, upon
which our Fourth of July orators are fond of dwelling, is perfect. The
product is our own.

Such is the genesis of New York's gangs. Their history is not so easily
written. It would embrace the largest share of our city's criminal
history for two generations back, every page of it dyed red with blood.
The guillotine Paris set up a century ago to avenge its wrongs was
not more relentless, or less discriminating, than this Nemesis of New
York. The difference is of intent. Murder with that was the serious
purpose; with ours it is the careless incident, the wanton brutality of
the moment. Bravado and robbery are the real purposes of the gangs; the
former prompts the attack upon the policeman, the latter that upon the
citizen. Within a single week last spring, the newspapers recorded six
murderous assaults on unoffending people, committed by young highwaymen
in the public streets. How many more were suppressed by the police, who
always do their utmost to hush up such outrages "in the interests of
justice," I shall not say. There has been no lack of such occurrences
since, as the records of the criminal courts show. In fact, the past
summer has seen, after a period of comparative quiescence of the gangs,
a reawakening to renewed turbulence of the East Side tribes, and over
and over again the reserve forces of a precinct have been called out
to club them into submission. It is a peculiarity of the gangs that
they usually break out in spots, as it were. When the West Side is
in a state of eruption, the East Side gangs "lie low," and when the
toughs along the North River are nursing broken heads at home, or their
revenge in Sing Sing, fresh trouble breaks out in the tenements east
of Third Avenue. This result is brought about by the very efforts made
by the police to put down the gangs. In spite of local feuds, there is
between them a species of ruffianly Freemasonry that readily admits to
full fellowship a hunted rival in the face of the common enemy. The
gangs belt the city like a huge chain from the Battery to Harlem--the
collective name of the "chain gang" has been given to their scattered
groups in the belief that a much closer connection exists between them
than commonly supposed--and the ruffian for whom the East Side has
became too hot, has only to step across town and change his name, a
matter usually much easier for him than to change his shirt, to find a
sanctuary in which to plot fresh outrages. The more notorious he is,
the warmer the welcome, and if he has "done" his man he is by common
consent accorded the leadership in his new field.

From all this it might be inferred that the New York tough is a
very fierce individual, of indomitable courage and naturally as
blood-thirsty as a tiger. On the contrary he is an arrant coward. His
instincts of ferocity are those of the wolf rather than the tiger.
It is only when he hunts with the pack that he is dangerous. Then
his inordinate vanity makes him forget all fear or caution in the
desire to distinguish himself before his fellows, a result of his
swallowing all the flash literature and penny-dreadfuls he can beg,
borrow, or steal--and there is never any lack of them--and of the
strongly dramatic element in his nature that is nursed by such a diet
into rank and morbid growth. He is a queer bundle of contradictions
at all times. Drunk and foul-mouthed, ready to cut the throat of a
defenceless stranger at the toss of a cent, fresh from beating his
decent mother black and blue to get money for rum,[20] he will resent
as an intolerable insult the imputation that he is "no gentleman."
Fighting his battles with the coward's weapons, the brass-knuckles and
the deadly sand-bag, or with brick-bats from the housetops, he is
still in all seriousness a lover of fair play, and as likely as not,
when his gang has downed a policeman in a battle that has cost a dozen
broken heads, to be found next saving a drowning child or woman at the
peril of his own life. It depends on the angle at which he is seen,
whether he is a cowardly ruffian, or a possible hero with different
training and under different social conditions. Ready wit he has at all
times, and there is less meanness in his make-up than in that of the
bully of the London slums; but an intense love of show and applause,
that carries him to any length of bravado, which his twin-brother
across the sea entirely lacks. I have a very vivid recollection of
seeing one of his tribe, a robber and murderer before he was nineteen,
go to the gallows unmoved, all fear of the rope overcome, as it seemed,
by the secret, exultant pride of being the centre of a first-class
show, shortly to be followed by that acme of tenement-life bliss, a
big funeral. He had his reward. His name is to this day a talisman
among West Side ruffians, and is proudly borne by the gang of which, up
till the night when he "knocked out his man," he was an obscure though
aspiring member.

[Footnote 20: This very mother will implore the court with tears, the
next morning, to let her renegade son off. A poor woman, who claimed
to be the widow of a soldier, applied to the Tenement-house Relief
Committee of the King's Daughters last summer, to be sent to some home,
as she had neither kith nor kin to care for her. Upon investigation
it was found that she had four big sons, all toughs, who beat her
regularly and took from her all the money she could earn or beg; she
was "a respectable woman, of good habits," the inquiry developed, and
lied only to shield her rascally sons.]

  [Illustration: A GROWLER GANG IN SESSION.]

The crime that made McGloin famous was the cowardly murder of an
unarmed saloonkeeper who came upon the gang while it was sacking his
bar-room at the dead of night. McGloin might easily have fled, but
disdained to "run for a Dutchman." His act was a fair measure of the
standard of heroism set up by his class in its conflicts with society.
The finish is worthy of the start. The first long step in crime taken
by the half-grown boy, fired with ambition to earn a standing in his
gang, is usually to rob a "lush," _i.e._, a drunken man who has strayed
his way, likely enough is lying asleep in a hallway. He has served
an apprenticeship on copper-bottom wash-boilers and like articles
found lying around loose, and capable of being converted into cash
enough to give the growler a trip or two; but his first venture at
robbery moves him up into full fellowship at once. He is no longer
a "kid," though his years may be few, but a tough with the rest. He
may even in time--he is reasonably certain of it--get his name in the
papers as a murderous scoundrel, and have his cup of glory filled
to the brim. I came once upon a gang of such young rascals passing
the growler after a successful raid of some sort, down at the West
Thirty-seventh Street dock, and, having my camera along, offered
to "take" them. They were not old and wary enough to be shy of the
photographer, whose acquaintance they usually first make in handcuffs
and the grip of a policeman; or their vanity overcame their caution.
It is entirely in keeping with the tough's character that he should
love of all things to pose before a photographer, and the ambition is
usually the stronger the more repulsive the tough. These were of that
sort, and accepted the offer with great readiness, dragging into their
group a disreputable-looking sheep that roamed about with them (the
slaughter-houses were close at hand) as one of the band. The homeliest
ruffian of the lot, who insisted on being taken with the growler to his
"mug," took the opportunity to pour what was left in it down his throat
and this caused a brief unpleasantness, but otherwise the performance
was a success. While I was getting the camera ready, I threw out a
vague suggestion of cigarette-pictures, and it took root at once.
Nothing would do then but that I must take the boldest spirits of the
company "in character." One of them tumbled over against a shed, as if
asleep, while two of the others bent over him, searching his pockets
with a deftness that was highly suggestive. This, they explained
for my benefit, was to show how they "did the trick." The rest of
the band were so impressed with the importance of this exhibition
that they insisted on crowding into the picture by climbing upon the
shed, sitting on the roof with their feet dangling over the edge, and
disposing themselves in every imaginable manner within view, as they
thought. Lest any reader be led into the error of supposing them to
have been harmless young fellows enjoying themselves in peace, let me
say that within half an hour after our meeting, when I called at the
police station three blocks away, I found there two of my friends of
the "Montgomery Guards" under arrest for robbing a Jewish pedlar who
had passed that way after I left them, and trying to saw his head off,
as they put it, "just for fun. The sheeny cum along an' the saw was
there, an' we socked it to him." The prisoners were described to me by
the police as Dennis, "the Bum," and "Mud" Foley.

It is not always that their little diversions end as harmlessly as did
this, even from the standpoint of the Jew, who was pretty badly hurt.
Not far from the preserves of the Montgomery Guards, in Poverty Gap,
directly opposite the scene of the murder to which I have referred in
a note explaining the picture of the Cunningham family (p. 169), a
young lad, who was the only support of his aged parents, was beaten to
death within a few months by the "Alley Gang," for the same offence
that drew down the displeasure of its neighbors upon the pedlar: that
of being at work trying to earn an honest living. I found a part of the
gang asleep the next morning, before young Healey's death was known,
in a heap of straw on the floor of an unoccupied room in the same row
of rear tenements in which the murdered boy's home was. One of the
tenants, who secretly directed me to their lair, assuring me that no
worse scoundrels went unhung, ten minutes later gave the gang, to its
face, an official character for sobriety and inoffensiveness that very
nearly startled me into an unguarded rebuke of his duplicity. I caught
his eye in time and held my peace. The man was simply trying to protect
his own home, while giving such aid as he safely could toward bringing
the murderous ruffians to justice. The incident shows to what extent a
neighborhood may be terrorized by a determined gang of these reckless

In Poverty Gap there were still a few decent people left. When it
comes to Hell's Kitchen, or to its compeers at the other end of
Thirty-ninth Street over by the East River, and further down First
Avenue in "the Village," the Rag Gang and its allies have no need of
fearing treachery in their periodical battles with the police. The
entire neighborhood takes a hand on these occasions, the women in the
front rank, partly from sheer love of the "fun," but chiefly because
husbands, brothers, and sweet-hearts are in the fight to a man and
need their help. Chimney-tops form the staple of ammunition then, and
stacks of loose brick and paving-stones, carefully hoarded in upper
rooms as a prudent provision against emergencies. Regular patrol posts
are established by the police on the housetops in times of trouble in
these localities, but even then they do not escape whole-skinned, if,
indeed, with their lives; neither does the gang. The policeman knows of
but one cure for the tough, the club, and he lays it on without stint
whenever and wherever he has the chance, knowing right well that, if
caught at a disadvantage, he will get his outlay back with interest.
Words are worse than wasted in the gang-districts. It is a blow at
sight, and the tough thus accosted never stops to ask questions.
Unless he is "wanted" for some signal outrage, the policeman rarely
bothers with arresting him. He can point out half a dozen at sight
against whom indictments are pending by the basketful, but whom no
jail ever held many hours. They only serve to make him more reckless,
for he knows that the political backing that has saved him in the past
can do it again. It is a commodity that is only exchangeable "for
value received," and it is not hard to imagine what sort of value is
in demand. The saloon, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, stands
behind the bargain.

For these reasons, as well as because he knows from frequent experience
his own way to be the best, the policeman lets the gangs alone except
when they come within reach of his long night-stick. They have their
"club-rooms" where they meet, generally in a tenement, sometimes under
a pier or a dump, to carouse, play cards, and plan their raids; their
"fences," who dispose of the stolen property. When the necessity
presents itself for a descent upon the gang after some particularly
flagrant outrage, the police have a task on hand that is not of the
easiest. The gangs, like foxes, have more than one hole to their
dens. In some localities, where the interior of a block is filled
with rear tenements, often set at all sorts of odd angles, surprise
alone is practicable. Pursuit through the winding ways and passages is
impossible. The young thieves know them all by heart. They have their
runways over roofs and fences which no one else could find. Their lair
is generally selected with special reference to its possibilities
of escape. Once pitched upon, its occupation by the gang, with its
ear-mark of nightly symposiums, "can-rackets" in the slang of the
street, is the signal for a rapid deterioration of the tenement, if
that is possible. Relief is only to be had by ousting the intruders.
An instance came under my notice in which valuable property had been
well-nigh ruined by being made the thoroughfare of thieves by night
and by day. They had chosen it because of a passage that led through
the block by way of several connecting halls and yards. The place
came soon to be known as "Murderers Alley." Complaint was made to the
Board of Health, as a last resort, of the condition of the property.
The practical inspector who was sent to report upon it suggested to
the owner that he build a brick-wall in a place where it would shut
off communication between the streets, and he took the advice. Within
the brief space of a few months the house changed character entirely,
and became as decent as it had been before the convenient runway was


This was in the Sixth Ward, where the infamous Whyo Gang until a few
years ago absorbed the worst depravity of the Bend and what is left of
the Five Points. The gang was finally broken up when its leader was
hanged for murder after a life of uninterrupted and unavenged crimes,
the recital of which made his father confessor turn pale, listening
in the shadow of the scaffold, though many years of labor as chaplain
of the Tombs had hardened him to such rehearsals. The great Whyo had
been a "power in the ward," handy at carrying elections for the party
or faction that happened to stand in need of his services and was
willing to pay for them in money or in kind. Other gangs have sprung
up since with as high ambition and a fair prospect of outdoing their
predecessor. The conditions that bred it still exist, practically
unchanged. Inspector Byrnes is authority for the statement that
throughout the city the young tough has more "ability" and "nerve" than
the thief whose example he successfully emulates. He begins earlier,
too. Speaking of the increase of the native element among criminal
prisoners exhibited in the census returns of the last thirty years,[21]
the Rev. Fred. H. Wines says, "their youth is a very striking fact."
Had he confined his observations to the police courts of New York,
he might have emphasized that remark and found an explanation of the
discovery that "the ratio of prisoners in cities is two and one-quarter
times as great as in the country at large," a computation that takes
no account of the reformatories for juvenile delinquents, or the
exhibit would have been still more striking. Of the 82,200 persons
arrested by the police in 1889, 10,505 were under twenty years old.
The last report of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children enumerates, as "a few typical cases," eighteen "professional
cracksmen," between nine and fifteen years old, who had been caught
with burglars' tools, or in the act of robbery. Four of them, hardly
yet in long trousers, had "held up" a wayfarer in the public street and
robbed him of $73. One, aged sixteen, "was the leader of a noted gang
of young robbers in Forty-ninth Street. He committed murder, for which
he is now serving a term of nineteen years in State's Prison." Four of
the eighteen were girls and quite as bad as the worst. In a few years
they would have been living with the toughs of their choice without the
ceremony of a marriage, egging them on by their pride in their lawless
achievements, and fighting side by side with them in their encounters
with the "cops."

[Footnote 21: "The percentage of foreign-born prisoners in 1850, as
compared with that of natives, was more than five times that of native
prisoners, now (1880) it is less than double."--American Prisons in the
Tenth Census.]

The exploits of the Paradise Park Gang in the way of highway robbery
showed last summer that the embers of the scattered Whyo Gang, upon
the wreck of which it grew, were smouldering still. The hanging of
Driscoll broke up the Whyos because they were a comparatively small
band, and, with the incomparable master-spirit gone, were unable to
resist the angry rush of public indignation that followed the crowning
outrage. This is the history of the passing away of famous gangs from
time to time. The passing is more apparent than real, however. Some
other daring leader gathers the scattered elements about him soon,
and the war on society is resumed. A bare enumeration of the names of
the best-known gangs would occupy pages of this book. The Rock Gang,
the Rag Gang, the Stable Gang, and the Short Tail Gang down about the
"Hook" have all achieved bad eminence, along with scores of others
that have not paraded so frequently in the newspapers. By day they
loaf in the corner-groggeries on their beat, at night they plunder the
stores along the avenues, or lie in wait at the river for unsteady feet
straying their way. The man who is sober and minds his own business
they seldom molest, unless he be a stranger inquiring his way, or a
policeman and the gang twenty against the one. The tipsy wayfarer is
their chosen victim, and they seldom have to look for him long. One
has not far to go to the river from any point in New York. The man who
does not know where he is going is sure to reach it sooner or later.
Should he foolishly resist or make an outcry--dead men tell no tales.
"Floaters" come ashore every now and then with pockets turned inside
out, not always evidence of a post-mortem inspection by dock-rats.
Police patrol the rivers as well as the shore on constant look-out
for these, but seldom catch up with them. If overtaken after a race
during which shots are often exchanged from the boats, the thieves have
an easy way of escaping and at the same time destroying the evidence
against them; they simply upset the boat. They swim, one and all, like
real rats; the lost plunder can be recovered at leisure the next day by
diving or grappling. The loss of the boat counts for little. Another is
stolen, and the gang is ready for business again.

  [Illustration: HUNTING RIVER THIEVES.]

The fiction of a social "club," which most of the gangs keep up, helps
them to a pretext for blackmailing the politicians and the storekeepers
in their bailiwick at the annual seasons of their picnic, or ball.
The "thieves' ball" is as well known and recognized an institution
on the East Side as the Charity Ball in a different social stratum,
although it does not go by that name, in print at least. Indeed,
the last thing a New York tough will admit is that he is a thief.
He dignifies his calling with the pretence of gambling. He does
not steal: he "wins" your money or your watch, and on the police
returns he is a "speculator." If, when he passes around the hat for
"voluntary" contributions, any storekeeper should have the temerity
to refuse to chip in, he may look for a visit from the gang on the
first dark night, and account himself lucky if his place escapes
being altogether wrecked. The Hell's Kitchen Gang and the Rag Gang
have both distinguished themselves within recent times by blowing up
objectionable stores with stolen gunpowder. But if no such episode mar
the celebration, the excursion comes off and is the occasion for a
series of drunken fights that as likely as not end in murder. No season
has passed within my memory that has not seen the police reserves
called out to receive some howling pandemonium returning from a picnic
grove on the Hudson or on the Sound. At least one peaceful community up
the river, that had borne with this nuisance until patience had ceased
to be a virtue, received a boat-load of such picnickers in a style
befitting the occasion and the cargo. The outraged citizens planted
a howitzer on the dock, and bade the party land at their peril. With
the loaded gun pointed dead at them, the furious toughs gave up and
the peace was not broken on the Hudson that day, at least not ashore.
It is good cause for congratulation that the worst of all forms of
recreation popular among the city's toughs, the moonlight picnic, has
been effectually discouraged. Its opportunities for disgraceful revelry
and immorality were unrivalled anywhere.

In spite of influence and protection, the tough reaches eventually
the end of his rope. Occasionally--not too often--there is a noose on
it. If not, the world that owes him a living, according to his creed,
will insist on his earning it on the safe side of a prison wall. A
few, a very few, have been clubbed into an approach to righteousness
from the police standpoint. The condemned tough goes up to serve his
"bit" or couple of "stretches," followed by the applause of his gang.
In the prison he meets older thieves than himself, and sits at their
feet listening with respectful admiration to their accounts of the
great doings that sent them before. He returns with the brand of the
jail upon him, to encounter the hero-worship of his old associates
as an offset to the cold shoulder given him by all the rest of the
world. Even if he is willing to work, disgusted with the restraint and
hard labor of prison life, and in a majority of cases that thought is
probably uppermost in his mind, no one will have him around. If, with
the assistance of Inspector Byrnes, who is a philanthropist in his own
practical way, he secures a job, he is discharged on the slightest
provocation, and for the most trifling fault. Very soon he sinks back
into his old surroundings, to rise no more until he is lost to view in
the queer, mysterious way in which thieves and fallen women disappear.
No one can tell how. In the ranks of criminals he never rises above
that of the "laborer," the small thief or burglar, or general crook,
who blindly does the work planned for him by others, and runs the
biggest risk for the poorest pay. It cannot be said that the "growler"
brought him luck, or its friendship fortune. And yet, if his misdeeds
have helped to make manifest that all effort to reclaim his kind must
begin with the conditions of life against which his very existence is a
protest, even the tough has not lived in vain. This measure of credit
at least should be accorded him, that, with or without his good-will,
he has been a factor in urging on the battle against the slums that
bred him. It is a fight in which eternal vigilance is truly the price
of liberty and the preservation of society.

                              CHAPTER XX.

                     THE WORKING GIRLS OF NEW YORK.

Of the harvest of tares, sown in iniquity and reaped in wrath, the
police returns tell the story. The pen that wrote the "Song of the
Shirt" is needed to tell of the sad and toil-worn lives of New York's
working-women. The cry echoes by night and by day through its tenements:

      Oh, God! that bread should be so dear,
      And flesh and blood so cheap!

Six months have not passed since at a great public meeting in this
city, the Working Women's Society reported: "It is a known fact that
men's wages cannot fall below a limit upon which they can exist, but
woman's wages have no limit, since the paths of shame are always
open to her. It is simply impossible for any woman to live without
assistance on the low salary a saleswoman earns, without depriving
herself of real necessities.... It is inevitable that they must in
many instances resort to evil." It was only a few brief weeks before
that verdict was uttered, that the community was shocked by the story
of a gentle and refined woman who, left in direst poverty to earn her
own living alone among strangers, threw herself from her attic window,
preferring death to dishonor. "I would have done any honest work, even
to scrubbing," she wrote, drenched and starving, after a vain search
for work in a driving storm. She had tramped the streets for weeks on
her weary errand, and the only living wages that were offered her were
the wages of sin. The ink was not dry upon her letter before a woman in
an East Side tenement wrote down her reason for self-murder: "Weakness,
sleeplessness, and yet obliged to work. My strength fails me. Sing
at my coffin: 'Where does the soul find a home and rest?'" Her story
may be found as one of two typical "cases of despair" in one little
church community, in the _City Mission Society's Monthly_ for last
February. It is a story that has many parallels in the experience of
every missionary, every police reporter and every family doctor whose
practice is among the poor.

It is estimated that at least one hundred and fifty thousand women
and girls earn their own living in New York; but there is reason to
believe that this estimate falls far short of the truth when sufficient
account is taken of the large number who are not wholly dependent upon
their own labor, while contributing by it to the family's earnings.
These alone constitute a large class of the women wage-earners, and it
is characteristic of the situation that the very fact that some need
not starve on their wages condemns the rest to that fate. The pay they
are willing to accept all have to take. What the "everlasting law of
supply and demand," that serves as such a convenient gag for public
indignation, has to do with it, one learns from observation all along
the road of inquiry into these real woman's wrongs. To take the case
of the saleswomen for illustration: The investigation of the Working
Women's Society disclosed the fact that wages averaging from $2 to
$4.50 a week were reduced by excessive fines, the employers placing a
value upon time lost that is not given to services rendered." A little
girl, who received two dollars a week, made cash-sales amounting to
$167 in a single day, while the receipts of a fifteen-dollar male
clerk in the same department footed up only $125; yet for some trivial
mistake the girl was fined sixty cents out of her two dollars. The
practice prevailed in some stores of dividing the fines between the
superintendent and the time-keeper at the end of the year. In one
instance they amounted to $3,000, and "the superintendent was heard to
charge the time-keeper with not being strict enough in his duties."
One of the causes for fine in a certain large store was sitting down.
The law requiring seats for saleswomen, generally ignored, was obeyed
faithfully in this establishment. The seats were there, but the girls
were fined when found using them.

Cash-girls receiving $1.75 a week for work that at certain seasons
lengthened their day to sixteen hours were sometimes required to pay
for their aprons. A common cause for discharge from stores in which, on
account of the oppressive heat and lack of ventilation, "girls fainted
day after day and came out looking like corpses," was too long service.
No other fault was found with the discharged saleswomen than that they
had been long enough in the employ of the firm to justly expect an
increase of salary. The reason was even given with brutal frankness, in
some instances.

These facts give a slight idea of the hardships and the poor pay of
a business that notoriously absorbs child-labor. The girls are sent
to the store before they have fairly entered their teens, because the
money they can earn there is needed for the support of the family.
If the boys will not work, if the street tempts them from home,
among the girls at least there must be no drones. To keep their
places they are told to lie about their age and to say that they are
over fourteen. The precaution is usually superfluous. The Women's
Investigating Committee found the majority of the children employed
in the stores to be under age, but heard only in a single instance
of the truant officers calling. In that case they came once a year
and sent the youngest children home; but in a month's time they were
all back in their places, and were not again disturbed. When it comes
to the factories, where hard bodily labor is added to long hours,
stifling rooms, and starvation wages, matters are even worse. The
Legislature has passed laws to prevent the employment of children, as
it has forbidden saloon-keepers to sell them beer, and it has provided
means of enforcing its mandate, so efficient, that the very number of
factories in New York is _guessed_ at as in the neighborhood of twelve
thousand. Up till this summer, a single inspector was charged with the
duty of keeping the run of them all, and of seeing to it that the law
was respected by the owners.


Sixty cents is put as the average day's earnings of the 150,000, but
into this computation enters the stylish "cashier's" two dollars a day,
as well as the thirty cents of the poor little girl who pulls threads
in an East Side factory, and, if anything, the average is probably too
high. Such as it is, however, it represents board, rent, clothing,
and "pleasure" to this army of workers. Here is the case of a woman
employed in the manufacturing department of a Broadway house. It stands
for a hundred like her own. She averages three dollars a week. Pays
$1.50 for her room; for breakfast she has a cup of coffee; lunch she
cannot afford. One meal a day is her allowance. This woman is young,
she is pretty. She has "the world before her." Is it anything less
than a miracle if she is guilty of nothing worse than the "early and
improvident marriage," against which moralists exclaim as one of the
prolific causes of the distress of the poor? Almost any door might seem
to offer welcome escape from such slavery as this. "I feel so much
healthier since I got three square meals a day," said a lodger in one
of the Girls' Homes. Two young sewing-girls came in seeking domestic
service, so that they might get enough to eat. They had been only
half-fed for some time, and starvation had driven them to the one door
at which the pride of the American-born girl will not permit her to
knock, though poverty be the price of her independence.

The tenement and the competition of public institutions and farmers'
wives and daughters, have done the tyrant shirt to death, but they
have not bettered the lot of the needle-women. The sweater of the East
Side has appropriated the flannel shirt. He turns them out to-day at
forty-five cents a dozen, paying his Jewish workers from twenty to
thirty-five cents. One of these testified before the State Board of
Arbitration, during the shirtmakers' strike, that she worked eleven
hours in the shop and four at home, and had never in the best of times
made over six dollars a week. Another stated that she worked from 4
o'clock in the morning to 11 at night. These girls had to find their
own thread and pay for their own machines out of their wages. The white
shirt has gone to the public and private institutions that shelter
large numbers of young girls, and to the country. There are not half as
many shirtmakers in New York to-day as only a few years ago, and some
of the largest firms have closed their city shops. The same is true of
the manufacturers of underwear. One large Broadway firm has nearly all
its work done by farmers' girls in Maine, who think themselves well off
if they can earn two or three dollars a week to pay for a Sunday silk,
or the wedding outfit, little dreaming of the part they are playing in
starving their city sisters. Literally, they sew "with double thread,
a shroud as well as a shirt." Their pin-money sets the rate of wages
for thousands of poor sewing-girls in New York. The average earnings of
the worker on underwear to-day do not exceed the three dollars which
her competitor among the Eastern hills is willing to accept as the
price of her play. The shirtmaker's pay is better only because the very
finest custom work is all there is left for her to do.

Calico wrappers at a dollar and a half a dozen--the very expert sewers
able to make from eight to ten, the common run five or six--neckties
at from 25 to 75 cents a dozen, with a dozen as a good day's work, are
specimens of women's wages. And yet people persist in wondering at the
poor quality of work done in the tenements! Italian cheap labor has
come of late also to possess this poor field, with the sweater in its
train. There is scarce a branch of woman's work outside of the home
in which wages, long since at low-water mark, have not fallen to the
point of actual starvation. A case was brought to my notice recently
by a woman doctor, whose heart as well as her life-work is with the
poor, of a widow with two little children she found at work in an East
Side attic, making paper-bags. Her father, she told the doctor, had
made good wages at it; but she received only five cents for six hundred
of the little three-cornered bags, and her fingers had to be very
swift and handle the paste-brush very deftly to bring her earnings up
to twenty-five and thirty cents a day. She paid four dollars a month
for her room. The rest went to buy food for herself and the children.
The physician's purse, rather than her skill, had healing for their

I have aimed to set down a few dry facts merely. They carry their own
comment. Back of the shop with its weary, grinding toil--the home in
the tenement, of which it was said in a report of the State Labor
Bureau: "Decency and womanly reserve cannot be maintained there--what
wonder so many fall away from virtue?" Of the outlook, what? Last
Christmas Eve my business took me to an obscure street among the
West Side tenements. An old woman had just fallen on the doorstep,
stricken with paralysis. The doctor said she would never again move her
right hand or foot. The whole side was dead. By her bedside, in their
cheerless room, sat the patient's aged sister, a hopeless cripple, in
dumb despair. Forty years ago the sisters had come, five in number
then, with their mother, from the North of Ireland to make their home
and earn a living among strangers. They were lace embroiderers and
found work easily at good wages. All the rest had died as the years
went by. The two remained and, firmly resolved to lead an honest life,
worked on though wages fell and fell as age and toil stiffened their
once nimble fingers and dimmed their sight. Then one of them dropped
out, her hands palsied and her courage gone. Still the other toiled on,
resting neither by night nor by day, that the sister might not want.
Now that she too had been stricken, as she was going to the store for
the work that was to keep them through the holidays, the battle was
over at last. There was before them starvation, or the poor-house. And
the proud spirits of the sisters, helpless now, quailed at the outlook.

These were old, with life behind them. For them nothing was left but to
sit in the shadow and wait. But of the thousands, who are travelling
the road they trod to the end, with the hot blood of youth in their
veins, with the love of life and of the beautiful world to which not
even sixty cents a day can shut their eyes--who is to blame if their
feet find the paths of shame that are "always open to them?" The very
paths that have effaced the saving "limit," and to which it is declared
to be "inevitable that they must in many instances resort." Let the
moralist answer. Let the wise economist apply his rule of supply
and demand, and let the answer be heard in this city of a thousand
charities where justice goes begging.

To the everlasting credit of New York's working-girl let it be said
that, rough though her road be, all but hopeless her battle with life,
only in the rarest instances does she go astray. As a class she is
brave, virtuous, and true. New York's army of profligate women is not,
as in some foreign cities, recruited from her ranks. She is as plucky
as she is proud. That "American girls never whimper" became a proverb
long ago, and she accepts her lot uncomplainingly, doing the best she
can and holding her cherished independence cheap at the cost of a meal,
or of half her daily ration, if need be. The home in the tenement and
the traditions of her childhood have neither trained her to luxury nor
predisposed her in favor of domestic labor in preference to the shop.
So, to the world she presents a cheerful, uncomplaining front that
sometimes deceives it. Her courage will not be without its reward.
Slowly, as the conviction is thrust upon society that woman's work
must enter more and more into its planning, a better day is dawning.
The organization of working girls' clubs, unions, and societies with a
community of interests, despite the obstacles to such a movement, bears
testimony to it, as to the devotion of the unselfish women who have
made their poorer sisters' cause their own, and will yet wring from an
unfair world the justice too long denied her.

                              CHAPTER XXI.

                      PAUPERISM IN THE TENEMENTS.

The reader who has followed with me the fate of the Other Half thus
far, may not experience much of a shock at being told that in eight
years 135,595 families in New York were registered as asking or
receiving charity. Perhaps, however, the intelligence will rouse him
that for five years past one person in every ten who died in this city
was buried in the Potter's Field. These facts tell a terrible story.
The first means that in a population of a million and a half, very
nearly, if not quite, half a million persons were driven, or chose, to
beg for food, or to accept it in charity at some period of the eight
years, if not during the whole of it. There is no mistake about these
figures. They are drawn from the records of the Charity Organization
Society, and represent the time during which it has been in existence.
It is not even pretended that the record is complete. To be well within
the limits, the Society's statisticians allow only three and a half to
the family, instead of the four and a half that are accepted as the
standard of calculations which deal with New York's population as a
whole. They estimate upon the basis of their every-day experience that,
allowing for those who have died, moved away, or become for the time
being at least self-supporting, eighty-five per cent. of the registry
are still within, or lingering upon, the borders of dependence.
Precisely how the case stands with this great horde of the indigent
is shown by a classification of 5,169 cases that were investigated by
the Society in one year. This was the way it turned out: 327 worthy of
continuous relief, or 6.4 per cent.; 1,269 worthy of temporary relief,
or 24.4 per cent.; 2,698 in need of work, rather than relief, or 52.2
per cent.; 875 unworthy of relief, or 17 per cent.

That is, nearly six and a half per cent, of all were utterly
helpless--orphans, cripples, or the very aged; nearly one-fourth needed
just a lift to start them on the road of independence, or of permanent
pauperism, according to the wisdom with which the lever was applied.
More than half were destitute because they had no work and were unable
to find any, and one-sixth were frauds, professional beggars, training
their children to follow in their foot-steps--a veritable "tribe of
Ishmael," tightening its grip on society as the years pass, until
society shall summon up pluck to say with Paul, "if any man will not
work neither shall he eat," and stick to it. It is worthy of note that
almost precisely the same results followed a similar investigation in
Boston. There were a few more helpless cases of the sort true charity
accounts it a gain to care for, but the proportion of a given lot that
was crippled for want of work, or unworthy, was exactly the same as in
this city. The bankrupt in hope, in courage, in purse, and in purpose,
are not peculiar to New York. They are found the world over, but we
have our full share. If further proof were wanted, it is found in the
prevalence of pauper burials. The Potter's Field stands ever for utter,
hopeless surrender. The last the poor will let go, however miserable
their lot in life, is the hope of a decent burial. But for the five
years ending with 1888 the average of burials in the Potter's Field
has been 10.03 per cent. of all. In 1889 it was 9.64. In that year
the proportion to the total mortality of those who died in hospitals,
institutions, and in the Almshouse was as 1 in 5.


The 135,595 families inhabited no fewer than 31,000 different
tenements. I say tenements advisedly, though the society calls them
buildings, because at least ninety-nine per cent. were found in the big
barracks, the rest in shanties scattered here and there, and now and
then a fraud or an exceptional case of distress in a dwelling-house
of better class. Here, undoubtedly, allowance must be made for the
constant moving about of those who live on charity, which enables
one active beggar to blacklist a dozen houses in the year. Still the
great mass of the tenements are shown to be harboring alms-seekers.
They might almost as safely harbor the small-pox. That scourge is not
more contagious than the alms-seeker's complaint. There are houses that
have been corrupted through and through by this pestilence, until their
very atmosphere breathes beggary. More than a hundred and twenty pauper
families have been reported from time to time as living in one such

The truth is that pauperism grows in the tenements as naturally as
weeds in a garden lot. A moral distemper, like crime, it finds there
its most fertile soil. All the surroundings of tenement-house life
favor its growth, and where once it has taken root it is harder to
dislodge than the most virulent of physical diseases. The thief is
infinitely easier to deal with than the pauper, because the very fact
of his being a thief presupposes some bottom to the man. Granted that
it is bad, there is still something, a possible handle by which to
catch him. To the pauper there is none. He is as hopeless as his own
poverty. I speak of the _pauper_, not of the honestly poor. There is
a sharp line between the two; but athwart it stands the tenement, all
the time blurring and blotting it out. "It all comes down to character
in the end," was the verdict of a philanthropist whose life has been
spent wrestling with this weary problem. And so it comes down to the
tenement, the destroyer of individuality and character everywhere.
"In nine years," said a wise and charitable physician, sadly, to me,
"I have known of but a single case of permanent improvement in a poor
tenement family." I have known of some, whose experience, extending
over an even longer stretch, was little better.

The beggar follows the "tough's" rule of life that the world owes him
a living, but his scheme of collecting it stops short of violence. He
has not the pluck to rob even a drunken man. His highest flights take
in at most an unguarded clothes-line, or a little child sent to buy
bread or beer with the pennies he clutches tightly as he skips along.
Even then he prefers to attain his end by stratagem rather than by
force, though occasionally, when the coast is clear, he rises to the
height of the bully. The ways he finds of "collecting" under the cloak
of undeserved poverty are numberless, and often reflect credit on the
man's ingenuity, if not on the man himself. I remember the shock with
which my first experience with his kind--her kind, rather, in this
case: the beggar was a woman--came home to me. On my way to and from
the office I had been giving charity regularly, as I fondly believed,
to an old woman who sat in Chatham Square with a baby done up in a
bundle of rags, moaning piteously in sunshine and rain, "Please, help
the poor." It was the baby I pitied and thought I was doing my little
to help, until one night I was just in time to rescue it from rolling
out of her lap, and found the bundle I had been wasting my pennies upon
just rags and nothing more, and the old hag dead drunk. Since then I
have encountered bogus babies, borrowed babies, and drugged babies
in the streets, and fought shy of them all. Most of them, I am glad
to say, have been banished from the street since; but they are still
occasionally to be found. It was only last winter that the officers
of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children arrested an
Italian woman who was begging along Madison Avenue with a poor little
wreck of a girl, whose rags and pinched face were calculated to tug
hard at the purse-strings of a miser. Over five dollars in nickles
and pennies were taken from the woman's pockets, and when her story of
poverty and hunger was investigated at the family's home in a Baxter
Street tenement, bank-books turned up that showed the Masonis to be
regular pauper capitalists, able to draw their check for three thousand
dollars, had they been so disposed. The woman was fined $250, a worse
punishment undoubtedly than to have sent her to prison for the rest of
her natural life. Her class has, unhappily, representatives in New York
that have not yet been brought to grief.

Nothing short of making street begging a crime has availed to clear
our city of this pest to an appreciable extent. By how much of an
effort this result has been accomplished may be gleaned from the fact
that the Charity Organization Society alone, in five years, caused the
taking up of 2,594 street beggars, and the arrest and conviction of
1,474 persistent offenders. Last year it dealt with 612 perambulating
mendicants. The police report only 19 arrests for begging during the
year 1889, but the real facts of the case are found under the heading
"vagrancy." In all, 2,633 persons were charged with this offence, 947
of them women. A goodly proportion of these latter came from the low
groggeries of the Tenth Ward, where a peculiar variety of the female
tramp-beggar is at home, the "scrub." The scrub is one degree perhaps
above the average pauper in this, that she is willing to work at least
one day in the week, generally the Jewish Sabbath. The orthodox Jew can
do no work of any sort from Friday evening till sunset on Saturday,
and this interim the scrub fills out in Ludlow Street. The pittance
she receives for this vicarious sacrifice of herself upon the altar
of the ancient faith buys her rum for at least two days of the week
at one of the neighborhood "morgues." She lives through the other
four by begging. There are distilleries in Jewtown, or just across its
borders, that depend almost wholly on her custom. Recently, when one
in Hester Street was raided because the neighbors had complained of
the boisterous hilarity of the hags over their beer, thirty two aged
"scrubs" were marched off to the station-house.

It is curious to find preconceived notions quite upset in a review of
the nationalities that go to make up this squad of street beggars. The
Irish head the list with fifteen per cent., and the native American
is only a little way behind with twelve per cent., while the Italian,
who in his own country turns beggary into a fine art, has less than
two per cent. Eight per cent. were Germans. The relative prevalence of
the races in our population does not account for this showing. Various
causes operate, no doubt, to produce it. Chief among them is, I think,
the tenement itself. It has no power to corrupt the Italian, who comes
here in almost every instance to work--no beggar would ever emigrate
from anywhere unless forced to do so. He is distinctly on its lowest
level from the start. With the Irishman the case is different. The
tenement, especially its lowest type, appears to possess a peculiar
affinity for the worse nature of the Celt, to whose best and strongest
instincts it does violence, and soonest and most thoroughly corrupts
him. The "native" twelve per cent. represent the result of this
process, the hereditary beggar of the second or third generation in the

The blind beggar alone is winked at in New York's streets, because the
authorities do not know what else to do with him. There is no provision
for him anywhere after he is old enough to strike out for himself.
The annual pittance of thirty or forty dollars which he receives
from the city serves to keep his landlord in good humor; for the rest
his misfortune and his thin disguise of selling pencils on the street
corners must provide. Until the city affords him some systematic way
of earning his living by work (as Philadelphia has done, for instance)
to banish him from the street would be tantamount to sentencing him to
death by starvation. So he possesses it in peace, that is, if he is
blind in good earnest, and begs without "encumbrance." Professional
mendicancy does not hesitate to make use of the greatest of human
afflictions as a pretence for enlisting the sympathy upon which it
thrives. Many New Yorkers will remember the French school-master who
was "blinded by a shell at the siege of Paris," but miraculously
recovered his sight when arrested and deprived of his children by the
officers of Mr. Gerry's society. When last heard of he kept a "museum"
in Hartford, and acted the overseer with financial success. His sign
with its pitiful tale, that was a familiar sight in our streets
for years and earned for him the capital upon which he started his
business, might have found a place among the curiosities exhibited
there, had it not been kept in a different sort of museum here as a
memento of his rascality. There was another of his tribe, a woman, who
begged for years with a deformed child in her arms, which she was found
to have hired at an almshouse in Genoa for fifteen francs a month. It
was a good investment, for she proved to be possessed of a comfortable
fortune. Some time before that, the Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children, that found her out, had broken up the dreadful
padrone system, a real slave trade in Italian children, who were
bought of poor parents across the sea and made to beg their way on
foot through France to the port whence they were shipped to this city,
to be beaten and starved here by their cruel masters and sent out to
beg, often after merciless mutilation to make them "take" better with a
pitying public.

But, after all, the tenement offers a better chance of fraud on
impulsive but thoughtless charity, than all the wretchedness of the
street, and with fewer risks. To the tender-hearted and unwary it
is, in itself, the strongest plea for help. When such a cry goes up
as was heard recently from a Mott Street den, where the family of a
"sick" husband, a despairing mother, and half a dozen children in
rags and dirt were destitute of the "first necessities of life," it
is not to be wondered at that a stream of gold comes pouring in to
relieve. It happens too often, as in that case, that a little critical
inquiry or reference to the "black list" of the Charity Organization
Society, justly dreaded only by the frauds, discovers the "sickness"
to stand for laziness, and the destitution to be the family's stock in
trade; and the community receives a shock that for once is downright
wholesome, if it imposes a check on an undiscriminating charity that is
worse than none at all.

The case referred to furnished an apt illustration of how thoroughly
corrupting pauperism is in such a setting. The tenement woke up early
to the gold mine that was being worked under its roof, and before the
day was three hours old the stream of callers who responded to the
newspaper appeal found the alley blocked by a couple of "toughs," who
exacted toll of a silver quarter from each tearful sympathizer with the
misery in the attic.

A volume might be written about the tricks of the professional beggar,
and the uses to which he turns the tenement in his trade. The Boston
"widow" whose husband turned up alive and well after she had buried
him seventeen times with tears and lamentation, and made the public
pay for the weekly funerals, is not without representatives in New
York. The "gentleman tramp" is a familiar type from our streets, and
the "once respectable Methodist" who patronized all the revivals in
town with his profitable story of repentance, only to fall from grace
into the saloon door nearest the church after the service was over,
merely transferred the scene of his operations from the tenement to the
church as the proper setting for his specialty. There is enough of real
suffering in the homes of the poor to make one wish that there were
some effective way of enforcing Paul's plan of starving the drones into
the paths of self-support: no work, nothing to eat.

  [Illustration: COFFEE AT ONE CENT.]

The message came from one of the Health Department's summer doctors,
last July, to the King's Daughters' Tenement-house Committee, that
a family with a sick child was absolutely famishing in an uptown
tenement. The address was not given. The doctor had forgotten to
write it down, and before he could be found and a visitor sent to the
house the baby was dead, and the mother had gone mad. The nurse found
the father, who was an honest laborer long out of work, packing the
little corpse in an orange-box partly filled with straw, that he might
take it to the Morgue for pauper burial. There was absolutely not a
crust to eat in the house, and the other children were crying for
food. The great immediate need in that case, as in more than half of
all according to the record, was work and living wages. Alms do not
meet the emergency at all. They frequently aggravate it, degrading
and pauperizing where true help should aim at raising the sufferer
to self-respect and self-dependence. The experience of the Charity
Organization Society in raising, in eight years, 4,500 families out of
the rut of pauperism into proud, if modest, independence, without alms,
but by a system of "friendly visitation," and the work of the Society
for Improving the Condition of the Poor and kindred organizations along
the same line, shows what can be done by well-directed effort. It is
estimated that New York spends in public and private charity every year
a round $8,000,000. A small part of this sum intelligently invested
in a great labor bureau, that would bring the seeker of work and the
one with work to give together under auspices offering some degree of
mutual security, would certainly repay the amount of the investment in
the saving of much capital now worse than wasted, and would be prolific
of the best results. The ultimate and greatest need, however, the
real remedy, is to remove the cause--the tenement that was built for
"a class of whom nothing was expected," and which has come fully up to
the expectation. Tenement-house reform holds the key to the problem
of pauperism in the city. We can never get rid of either the tenement
or the pauper. The two will always exist together in New York. But by
reforming the one, we can do more toward exterminating the other than
can be done by all other means together that have yet been invented, or
ever will be.

                             CHAPTER XXII.

                       THE WRECKS AND THE WASTE.

Pauperdom is to blame for the unjust yoking of poverty with punishment,
"charities" with "correction," in our municipal ministering to the
needs of the Nether Half. The shadow of the workhouse points like a
scornful finger toward its neighbor, the almshouse, when the sun sets
behind the teeming city across the East River, as if, could its stones
speak, it would say before night drops its black curtain between them:
"You and I are brothers. I am not more bankrupt in moral purpose than
you. A common parent begat us. Twin breasts, the tenement and the
saloon, nourished us. Vice and unthrift go hand in hand. Pauper, behold
thy brother!" And the almshouse owns the bitter relationship in silence.

Over on the islands that lie strung along the river and far up the
Sound the Nether Half hides its deformity, except on show-days, when
distinguished visitors have to be entertained and the sore is uncovered
by the authorities with due municipal pride in the exhibit. I shall
spare the reader the sight. The aim of these pages has been to lay bare
its source. But a brief glance at our proscribed population is needed
to give background and tone to the picture. The review begins with
the Charity Hospital with its thousand helpless human wrecks; takes
in the penitentiary, where the "tough" from Battle Row and Poverty
Gap is made to earn behind stone walls the living the world owes him;
a thoughtless, jolly convict-band with opportunity at last "to think"
behind the iron bars, but little desire to improve it; governed like
unruly boys, which in fact most of them are. Three of them were taken
from the dinner-table while I was there one day, for sticking pins
into each other, and were set with their faces to the wall in sight
of six hundred of their comrades for punishment. Pleading incessantly
for tobacco, when the keeper's back is turned, as the next best thing
to the whiskey they cannot get, though they can plainly make out the
saloon-signs across the stream where they robbed or "slugged" their
way to prison. Every once in a while the longing gets the best of some
prisoner from the penitentiary or the workhouse, and he risks his life
in the swift currents to reach the goal that tantilizes him with the
promise of "just one more drunk." The chances are at least even of his
being run down by some passing steamer and drowned, even if he is not
overtaken by the armed guards who patrol the shore in boats, or his
strength does not give out.

This workhouse comes next, with the broken-down hordes from the dives,
the lodging-houses, and the tramps' nests, the "hell-box"[22] rather
than the repair-shop of the city. In 1889 the registry at the workhouse
footed up 22,477, of whom some had been there as many as twenty times
before. It is the popular summer resort of the slums, but business is
brisk at this stand the year round. Not a few of its patrons drift
back periodically without the formality of a commitment, to take their
chances on the island when there is no escape from the alternative of
work in the city. Work, but not too much work, is the motto of the
establishment. The "workhouse step" is an institution that must be
observed on the island, in order to draw any comparison between it and
the snail's pace that shall do justice to the snail. Nature and man's
art have made these islands beautiful; but weeds grow luxuriantly in
their gardens, and spiders spin their cobwebs unmolested in the borders
of sweet-smelling box. The work which two score of hired men could do
well is too much for these thousands.

[Footnote 22: In printing-offices the broken, worn-out, and useless
type is thrown into the "hell-box," to be recast at the foundry.]

Rows of old women, some smoking stumpy, black clay-pipes, others
knitting or idling, all grumbling, sit or stand under the trees that
hedge in the almshouse, or limp about in the sunshine, leaning on
crutches or bean-pole staffs. They are a "growler-gang" of another
sort than may be seen in session on the rocks of the opposite shore at
that very moment. They grumble and growl from sunrise to sunset, at
the weather, the breakfast, the dinner, the supper; at pork and beans
as at corned beef and cabbage; at their Thanksgiving dinner as at the
half rations of the sick ward; at the past that had no joy, at the
present whose comfort they deny, and at the future without promise. The
crusty old men in the next building are not a circumstance to them. The
warden, who was in charge of the almshouse for many years, had become
so snappish and profane by constant association with a thousand cross
old women that I approached him with some misgivings, to request his
permission to "take" a group of a hundred or so who were within shot of
my camera. He misunderstood me.

"Take them?" he yelled. "Take the thousand of them and be welcome. They
will never be still, by ----, till they are sent up on Hart's Island in
a box, and I'll be blamed if I don't think they will growl then at the
style of the funeral."

And he threw his arms around me in an outburst of enthusiasm over the
wondrous good luck that had sent a friend indeed to his door. I felt it
to be a painful duty to undeceive him. When I told him that I simply
wanted the old women's picture, he turned away in speechless disgust,
and to his dying day, I have no doubt, remembered my call as the day of
the champion fool's visit to the island.

When it is known that many of these old people have been sent to the
almshouse to die by their heartless children, for whom they had worked
faithfully as long as they were able, their growling and discontent is
not hard to understand. Bitter poverty threw them all "on the county,"
often on the wrong county at that. Very many of them are old-country
poor, sent, there is reason to believe, to America by the authorities
to get rid of the obligation to support them. "The almshouse," wrote a
good missionary, "affords a sad illustration of St. Paul's description
of the 'last days.' The class from which comes our poorhouse population
is to a large extent 'without natural affection.'" I was reminded by
his words of what my friend, the doctor, had said to me a little while
before: "Many a mother has told me at her child's death-bed, 'I cannot
afford to lose it. It costs too much to bury it.' And when the little
one did die there was no time for the mother's grief. The question
crowded on at once, 'where shall the money come from?' Natural feelings
and affections are smothered in the tenements." The doctor's experience
furnished a sadly appropriate text for the priest's sermon.

Pitiful as these are, sights and sounds infinitely more saddening
await us beyond the gate that shuts this world of woe off from one
whence the light of hope and reason have gone out together. The
shuffling of many feet on the macadamized roads heralds the approach
of a host of women, hundreds upon hundreds--beyond the turn in the
road they still keep coming, marching with the faltering step, the
unseeing look and the incessant, senseless chatter that betrays the
darkened mind. The lunatic women of the Blackwell's Island Asylum are
taking their afternoon walk. Beyond, on the wide lawn, moves another
still stranger procession, a file of women in the asylum dress of dull
gray, hitched to a queer little wagon that, with its gaudy adornments,
suggests a cross between a baby-carriage and a circus-chariot. One
crazy woman is strapped in the seat; forty tug at the rope to which
they are securely bound. This is the "chain-gang," so called once
in scoffing ignorance of the humane purpose the contrivance serves.
These are the patients afflicted with suicidal mania, who cannot be
trusted at large for a moment with the river in sight, yet must have
their daily walk as a necessary part of their treatment. So this wagon
was invented by a clever doctor to afford them at once exercise and
amusement. A merry-go-round in the grounds suggests a variation of this
scheme. Ghastly suggestion of mirth, with that stricken host advancing
on its aimless journey! As we stop to see it pass, the plaintive
strains of a familiar song float through a barred window in the gray
stone building. The voice is sweet, but inexpressibly sad: "Oh, how my
heart grows weary, far from----" The song breaks off suddenly in a low,
troubled laugh. She has forgotten, forgotten----. A woman in the ranks,
whose head has been turned toward the window, throws up her hands
with a scream. The rest stir uneasily. The nurse is by her side in
an instant with words half soothing, half stern. A messenger comes in
haste from the asylum to ask us not to stop. Strangers may not linger
where the patients pass. It is apt to excite them. As we go in with him
the human file is passing yet, quiet restored. The troubled voice of
the unseen singer still gropes vainly among the lost memories of the
past for the missing key: "Oh! how my heart grows weary, far from----"

"Who is she, doctor?"

"Hopeless case. She will never see home again."

An average of seventeen hundred women this asylum harbors; the asylum
for men up on Ward's Island even more. Altogether 1,419 patients
were admitted to the city asylums for the insane in 1889, and at the
end of the year 4,913 remained in them. There is a constant ominous
increase in this class of helpless unfortunates that are thrown on
the city's charity. Quite two hundred are added year by year, and the
asylums were long since so overcrowded that a great "farm" had to
be established on Long Island to receive the surplus. The strain of
our hurried, over-worked life has something to do with this. Poverty
has more. For these are all of the poor. It is the harvest of sixty
and a hundred-fold, the "fearful rolling up and rolling down from
generation to generation, through all the ages, of the weakness, vice,
and moral darkness of the past."[23] The curse of the island haunts
all that come once within its reach. "No man or woman," says Dr. Louis
L. Seaman, who speaks from many years' experience in a position that
gave him full opportunity to observe the facts, "who is 'sent up' to
these colonies ever returns to the city scot-free. There is a lien,
visible or hidden, upon his or her present or future, which too often
proves stronger than the best purposes and fairest opportunities of
social rehabilitation. The under world holds in rigorous bondage every
unfortunate or miscreant who has once 'served time.' There is often
tragic interest in the struggles of the ensnared wretches to break
away from the meshes spun about them. But the maelstrom has no bowels
of mercy; and the would-be fugitives are flung back again and again
into the devouring whirlpool of crime and poverty, until the end is
reached on the dissecting-table, or in the Potter's Field. What can the
moralist or scientist do by way of resuscitation? Very little at best.
The flotsam and jetsam are mere shreds and fragments of wasted lives.
Such a ministry must begin at the sources--is necessarily prophylactic,
nutritive, educational. On these islands there are no flexible twigs,
only gnarled, blasted, blighted trunks, insensible to moral or social

[Footnote 23: Dr. Louis L. Seaman, late chief of staff of the
Blackwell's Island hospitals: "Social Waste of a Great City," read
before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1886.]

Sad words, but true. The commonest keeper soon learns to pick out
almost at sight the "cases" that will leave the penitentiary, the
workhouse, the almshouse, only to return again and again, each time
more hopeless, to spend their wasted lives in the bondage of the island.

The alcoholic cells in Bellevue Hospital are a way-station for a goodly
share of them on their journeys back and forth across the East River.
Last year they held altogether 3,694 prisoners, considerably more
than one-fourth of the whole number of 13,813 patients that went in
through the hospital gates. The daily average of "cases" in this, the
hospital of the poor, is over six hundred. The average daily census of
all the prisons, hospitals, workhouses, and asylums in the charge of
the Department of Charities and Correction last year was about 14,000,
and about one employee was required for every ten of this army to keep
its machinery running smoothly. The total number admitted in 1889 to
all the jails and institutions in the city and on the islands was
138,332. To the almshouse alone 38,600 were admitted; 9,765 were there
to start the new year with, and 553 were born with the dark shadow of
the poorhouse overhanging their lives, making a total of 48,918. In
the care of all their wards the commissioners expended $2,343,372. The
appropriation for the police force in 1889 was $4,409,550.94, and for
the criminal courts and their machinery $403,190. Thus the first cost
of maintaining our standing army of paupers, criminals, and sick poor,
by direct taxation, was last year $7,156,112.94.

                             CHAPTER XXIII.

                        THE MAN WITH THE KNIFE.

A man stood at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street the
other day, looking gloomily at the carriages that rolled by, carrying
the wealth and fashion of the avenues to and from the big stores down
town. He was poor, and hungry, and ragged. This thought was in his
mind: "They behind their well-fed teams have no thought for the morrow;
they know hunger only by name, and ride down to spend in an hour's
shopping what would keep me and my little ones from want a whole year."
There rose up before him the picture of those little ones crying for
bread around the cold and cheerless hearth--then he sprang into the
throng and slashed about him with a knife, blindly seeking to kill, to

The man was arrested, of course, and locked up. To-day he is probably
in a mad-house, forgotten. And the carriages roll by to and from the
big stores with their gay throng of shoppers. The world forgets easily,
too easily, what it does not like to remember.

Nevertheless the man and his knife had a mission. They spoke in their
ignorant, impatient way the warning one of the most conservative,
dispassionate of public bodies had sounded only a little while
before: "Our only fear is that reform may come in a burst of public
indignation destructive to property and to good morals."[24] They
represented, one solution of the problem of ignorant poverty _versus_
ignorant wealth that has come down to us unsolved, the danger-cry
of which we have lately heard in the shout that never should have
been raised on American soil--the shout of "the masses against the
classes"--the solution of violence.

[Footnote 24: Forty-fourth Annual Report of the Association for
Improving the Condition of the Poor. 1887.]

There is another solution, that of justice. The choice is between the
two. Which shall it be?

"Well!" say some well-meaning people; "we don't see the need of putting
it in that way. We have been down among the tenements, looked them
over. There are a good many people there; they are not comfortable,
perhaps. What would you have? They are poor. And their houses are not
such hovels as we have seen and read of in the slums of the Old World.
They are decent in comparison. Why, some of them have brown-stone
fronts. You will own at least that they make a decent show."

Yes! that is true. The worst tenements in New York do not, as a rule,
_look bad_. Neither Hell's Kitchen, nor Murderers' Row bears its true
character stamped on the front. They are not quite old enough, perhaps.
The same is true of their tenants. The New York tough may be ready to
kill where his London brother would do little more than scowl; yet,
as a general thing he is less repulsively brutal in looks. Here again
the reason may be the same: the breed is not so old. A few generations
more in the slums, and all that will be changed. To get at the pregnant
facts of tenement-house life one must look beneath the surface. Many
an apple has a fair skin and a rotten core. There is a much better
argument for the tenements in the assurance of the Registrar of Vital
Statistics that the death-rate of these houses has of late been brought
below the general death-rate of the city, and that it is lowest in
the biggest houses. This means two things: one, that the almost
exclusive attention given to the tenements by the sanitary authorities
in twenty years has borne some fruit, and that the newer tenements
are better than the old--there is some hope in that; the other, that
the whole strain of tenement-house dwellers has been bred down to the
conditions under which it exists, that the struggle with corruption
has begotten the power to resist it. This is a familiar law of nature,
necessary to its first and strongest impulse of self-preservation. To
a certain extent, we are all creatures of the conditions that surround
us, physically and morally. But is the knowledge reassuring? In the
light of what we have seen, does not the question arise: what sort of
creature, then, this of the tenement? I tried to draw his likeness from
observation in telling the story of the "tough." Has it nothing to
suggest the man with the knife?

I will go further. I am not willing even to admit it to be an
unqualified advantage that our New York tenements have less of the slum
look than those of older cities. It helps to delay the recognition of
their true character on the part of the well-meaning, but uninstructed,
who are always in the majority.

The "dangerous classes" of New York long ago compelled recognition.
They are dangerous less because of their own crimes than because of
the criminal ignorance of those who are not of their kind. The danger
to society comes not from the poverty of the tenements, but from the
ill-spent wealth that reared them, that it might earn a usurious
interest from a class from which "nothing else was expected." That
was the broad foundation laid down, and the edifice built upon it
corresponds to the groundwork. That this is well understood on the
"unsafe" side of the line that separates the rich from the poor, much
better than by those who have all the advantages of discriminating
education, is good cause for disquietude. In it a keen foresight may
again dimly discern the shadow of the man with the knife.

Two years ago a great meeting was held at Chickering Hall--I have
spoken of it before--a meeting that discussed for days and nights
the question how to banish this spectre; how to lay hold with good
influences of this enormous mass of more than a million people, who
were drifting away faster and faster from the safe moorings of the
old faith. Clergymen and laymen from all the Protestant denominations
took part in the discussion; nor was a good word forgotten for the
brethren of the other great Christian fold who labor among the poor.
Much was said that was good and true, and ways were found of reaching
the spiritual needs of the tenement population that promise success.
But at no time throughout the conference was the real key-note of
the situation so boldly struck as has been done by a few far-seeing
business men, who had listened to the cry of that Christian builder:
"How shall the love of God be understood by those who have been
nurtured in sight only of the greed of man?" Their practical programme
of "Philanthropy and five per cent." has set examples in tenement
building that show, though they are yet few and scattered, what may in
time be accomplished even with such poor, opportunities as New York
offers to-day of undoing the old wrong. This is the gospel of justice,
the solution that must be sought as the one alternative to the man
with the knife.

"Are you not looking too much to the material condition of these
people," said a good minister to me after a lecture in a Harlem
church last winter, "and forgetting the inner man?" I told him, "No!
for you cannot expect to find an inner man to appeal to in the worst
tenement-house surroundings. You must first put the man where he can
respect himself. To reverse the argument of the apple: you cannot
expect to find a sound core in a rotten fruit."

                             CHAPTER XXIV.

                          WHAT HAS BEEN DONE.

In twenty years what has been done in New York to solve the
tenement-house problem?

The law has done what it could. That was not always a great deal,
seldom more than barely sufficient for the moment. An aroused municipal
conscience endowed the Health Department with almost autocratic powers
in dealing with this subject, but the desire to educate rather than
force the community into a better way dictated their exercise with
a slow conservatism that did not always seem wise to the impatient
reformer. New York has its St. Antoine, and it has often sadly missed
a Napoleon III. to clean up and make light in the dark corners. The
obstacles, too, have been many and great. Nevertheless the authorities
have not been idle, though it is a grave question whether all the
improvements made under the sanitary regulations of recent years
deserve the name. Tenements quite as bad as the worst are too numerous
yet; but one tremendous factor for evil in the lives of the poor has
been taken by the throat, and something has unquestionably been done,
where that was possible, to lift those lives out of the rut where they
were equally beyond the reach of hope and of ambition. It is no longer
lawful to construct barracks to cover the whole of a lot. Air and
sunlight have a legal claim, and the day of rear tenements is past.
Two years ago a hundred thousand people burrowed in these inhuman
dens; but some have been torn down since. Their number will decrease
steadily until they shall have become a bad tradition of a heedless
past. The dark, unventilated bedroom is going with them, and the open
sewer. The day is at hand when the greatest of all evils that now curse
life in the tenements--the dearth of water in the hot summer days--will
also have been remedied, and a long step taken toward the moral and
physical redemption of their tenants.


                 Old Style Tenement.

                 Single Lot Tenement of To-day.]

Public sentiment has done something also, but very far from enough.
As a rule, it has slumbered peacefully until some flagrant outrage
on decency and the health of the community aroused it to noisy but
ephemeral indignation, or until a dreaded epidemic knocked at our door.
It is this unsteadiness of purpose that has been to a large extent
responsible for the apparent lagging of the authorities in cases not
involving immediate danger to the general health. The law needs a
much stronger and readier backing of a thoroughly enlightened public
sentiment to make it as effective as it might be made. It is to be
remembered that the health officers, in dealing with this subject of
dangerous houses, are constantly trenching upon what each landlord
considers his private rights, for which he is ready and bound to fight
to the last. Nothing short of the strongest pressure will avail to
convince him that these individual rights are to be surrendered for
the clear benefit of the whole. It is easy enough to convince a man
that he ought not to harbor the thief who steals people's property;
but to make him see that he has no right to slowly kill his neighbors,
or his tenants, by making a death-trap of his house, seems to be the
hardest of all tasks. It is apparently the slowness of the process that
obscures his mental sight. The man who will fight an order to repair
the plumbing in his house through every court he can reach, would
suffer tortures rather than shed the blood of a fellow-man by actual
violence. Clearly, it is a matter of education on the part of the
landlord no less than the tenant.

In spite of this, the landlord has done his share; chiefly perhaps by
yielding--not always gracefully--when it was no longer of any use to
fight. There have been exceptions, however: men and women who have
mended and built with an eye to the real welfare of their tenants as
well as to their own pockets. Let it be well understood that the two
are inseparable, if any good is to come of it. The business of housing
the poor, if it is to amount to anything, must be business, as it was
business with our fathers to put them where they are. As charity,
pastime, or fad, it will miserably fail, always and everywhere. This
is an inexorable rule, now thoroughly well understood in England and
continental Europe, and by all who have given the matter serious
thought here. Call it poetic justice, or divine justice, or anything
else, it is a hard fact, not to be gotten over. Upon any other plan
than the assumption that the workman has a just claim to a decent home,
and the right to demand it, any scheme for his relief fails. It must
be a fair exchange of the man's money for what he can afford to buy at
a reasonable price. Any charity scheme merely turns him into a pauper,
however it may be disguised, and drowns him hopelessly in the mire out
of which it proposed to pull him. And this principle must pervade the
whole plan. Expert management of model tenements succeeds where amateur
management, with the best intentions, gives up the task, discouraged,
as a flat failure. Some of the best-conceived enterprises, backed
by abundant capital and good-will, have been wrecked on this rock.
Sentiment, having prompted the effort, forgot to stand aside and let
business make it.

Business, in a wider sense, has done more than all other agencies
together to wipe out the worst tenements. It has been New York's real
Napoleon III., from whose decree there was no appeal. In ten years I
have seen plague-spots disappear before its onward march, with which
health officers, police, and sanitary science had struggled vainly
since such struggling began as a serious business. And the process
goes on still. Unfortunately, the crowding in some of the most densely
packed quarters down town has made the property there so valuable,
that relief from this source is less confidently to be expected, at
all events in the near future. Still, their time may come also. It
comes so quickly sometimes as to fairly take one's breath away. More
than once I have returned, after a few brief weeks, to some specimen
rookery in which I was interested, to find it gone and an army of
workmen delving twenty feet underground to lay the foundation of a
mighty warehouse. That was the case with the "Big Flat" in Mott Street.
I had not had occasion to visit it for several months last winter, and
when I went there, entirely unprepared for a change, I could not find
it. It had always been conspicuous enough in the landscape before, and
I marvelled much at my own stupidity until, by examining the number of
the house, I found out that I had gone right. It was the "flat" that
had disappeared. In its place towered a six-story carriage factory with
business going on on every floor, as if it had been there for years and

This same "Big Flat" furnished a good illustration of why some
well-meant efforts in tenement building have failed. Like Gotham Court,
it was originally built as a model tenement, but speedily came to
rival the Court in foulness. It became a regular hot-bed of thieves
and peace-breakers, and made no end of trouble for the police. The
immediate reason, outside of the lack of proper supervision, was that
it had open access to two streets in a neighborhood where thieves and
"toughs" abounded. These took advantage of an arrangement that had
been supposed by the builders to be a real advantage as a means of
ventilation, and their occupancy drove honest folk away. Murderers'
Alley, of which I have spoken elsewhere, and the sanitary inspector's
experiment with building a brick wall athwart it to shut off travel
through the block, is a parallel case.

The causes that operate to obstruct efforts to better the lot of
the tenement population are, in our day, largely found among the
tenants themselves. This is true particularly of the poorest. They
are shiftless, destructive, and stupid; in a word, they are what the
tenements have made them. It is a dreary old truth that those who would
fight for the poor must fight the poor to do it. It must be confessed
that there is little enough in their past experience to inspire
confidence in the sincerity of the effort to help them. I recall the
discomfiture of a certain well-known philanthropist, since deceased,
whose heart beat responsive to other suffering than that of human
kind. He was a large owner of tenement property, and once undertook
to fit out his houses with stationary tubs, sanitary plumbing,
wood-closets, and all the latest improvements. He introduced his rough
tenants to all this magnificence without taking the precaution of
providing a competent housekeeper, to see that the new acquaintances
got on together. He felt that his tenants ought to be grateful for
the interest he took in them. They were. They found the boards in the
wood-closets fine kindling wood, while the pipes and faucets were as
good as cash at the junk shop. In three months the owner had to remove
what was left of his improvements. The pipes were cut and the houses
running full of water, the stationary tubs were put to all sorts of
uses except washing, and of the wood-closets not a trace was left. The
philanthropist was ever after a firm believer in the total depravity
of tenement-house people. Others have been led to like reasoning by
as plausible arguments, without discovering that the shiftlessness
and ignorance that offended them were the consistent crop of the
tenement they were trying to reform, and had to be included in the
effort. The owners of a block of model tenements uptown had got their
tenants comfortably settled, and were indulging in high hopes of their
redemption under proper management, when a contractor ran up a row of
"skin" tenements, shaky but fair to look at, with brown-stone trimmings
and gewgaws. The result was to tempt a lot of the well-housed tenants
away. It was a very astonishing instance of perversity to the planners
of the benevolent scheme; but, after all, there was nothing strange in
it. It is all a matter of education, as I said about the landlord.

That the education comes slowly need excite no surprise. The forces
on the other side are ever active. The faculty of the tenement for
appropriating to itself every foul thing that comes within its reach,
and piling up and intensifying its corruption until out of all
proportion to the beginning, is something marvellous. Drop a case of
scarlet fever, of measles, or of diphtheria into one of these barracks,
and, unless it is caught at the very start and stamped out, the
contagion of the one case will sweep block after block, and half people
a graveyard. Let the police break up a vile dive, goaded by the angry
protests of the neighborhood--forthwith the outcasts set in circulation
by the raid betake themselves to the tenements, where in their hired
rooms, safe from interference, they set up as many independent centres
of contagion, infinitely more destructive, each and every one, than was
the known dive before. I am not willing to affirm that this is the
police reason for letting so many of the dives alone; but it might well
be. They are perfectly familiar with the process, and entirely helpless
to prevent it.

This faculty, as inherent in the problem itself--the prodigious
increase of the tenement-house population that goes on without
cessation, and its consequent greater crowding--is the chief obstacle
to its solution. In 1869 there were 14,872 tenements in New York, with
a population of 468,492 persons. In 1879 the number of the tenements
was estimated at 21,000, and their tenants had passed the half-million
mark. At the end of the year 1888, when a regular census was made for
the first time since 1869, the showing was: 32,390 tenements, with
a population of 1,093,701 souls. To-day we have 37,316 tenements,
including 2,630 rear houses, and their population is over 1,250,000. A
large share of this added population, especially of that which came to
us from abroad, crowds in below Fourteenth Street, where the population
is already packed beyond reason, and confounds all attempts to make
matters better there. At the same time new slums are constantly growing
up uptown, and have to be kept down with a firm hand. This drift of
the population to the great cities has to be taken into account as a
steady factor. It will probably increase rather than decrease for many
years to come. At the beginning of the century the percentage of our
population that lived in cities was as one in twenty-five. In 1880
it was one in four and one-half, and in 1890 the census will in all
probability show it to be one in four. Against such tendencies, in
the absence of suburban outlets for the crowding masses, all remedial
measures must prove more or less ineffective. The "confident belief"
expressed by the Board of Health in 1874, that rapid transit would
solve the problem, is now known to have been a vain hope.

Workingmen, in New York at all events, will live near their work, no
matter at what sacrifice of comfort--one might almost say at whatever
cost, and the city will never be less crowded than it is. To distribute
the crowds as evenly as possible is the effort of the authorities,
where nothing better can be done. In the first six months of the
present year 1,068 persons were turned out of not quite two hundred
tenements below Houston Street by the sanitary police on their midnight
inspections, and this covered only a very small part of that field. The
uptown tenements were practically left to take care of themselves in
this respect.

The quick change of economic conditions in the city that often
out-paces all plans of relief, rendering useless to-day what met the
demands of the situation well enough yesterday, is another cause of
perplexity. A common obstacle also--I am inclined to think quite as
common as in Ireland, though we hear less of it in the newspapers--is
the absentee landlord. The home article, who fights for his rights,
as he chooses to consider them, is bad enough; but the absentee
landlord is responsible for no end of trouble. He was one of the first
obstructions the sanitary reformers stumbled over, when the Health
Department took hold. It reported in 1869 that many of the tenants were
entirely uncared for, and that the only answer to their requests to
have the houses put in order was an invitation to pay their rent or get
out. "Inquiry often disclosed the fact that the owner of the property
was a wealthy gentleman or lady, either living in an aristocratic part
of the city, or in a neighboring city, or, as was occasionally found to
be the case, in Europe. The property is usually managed entirely by
an agent, whose instructions are simple but emphatic: Collect the rent
in advance, or, failing, eject the occupants." The Committee having
the matter in charge proposed to compel owners of tenements with ten
families or more to put a housekeeper in the house, who should be held
responsible to the Health Department. Unluckily the powers of the Board
gave out at that point, and the proposition was never acted upon. Could
it have been, much trouble would have been spared the Health Board,
and untold suffering the tenants in many houses. The tribe of absentee
landlords is by no means extinct in New York. Not a few who fled from
across the sea to avoid being crushed by his heel there have groaned
under it here, scarcely profiting by the exchange. Sometimes--it can
hardly be said in extenuation--the heel that crunches is applied in
saddening ignorance. I recall the angry indignation of one of these
absentee landlords, a worthy man who, living far away in the country,
had inherited city property, when he saw the condition of his slum
tenements. The man was shocked beyond expression, all the more because
he did not know whom to blame except himself for the state of things
that had aroused his wrath, and yet, conscious of the integrity of his
intentions, felt that he should not justly be held responsible.

The experience of this landlord points directly to the remedy which the
law failed to supply to the early reformers. It has since been fully
demonstrated that a competent agent on the premises, a man of the best
and the highest stamp, who knows how to instruct and guide with a firm
hand, is a prerequisite to the success of any reform tenement scheme.
This is a plain business proposition, that has been proved entirely
sound in some notable instances of tenement building, of which more
hereafter. Even among the poorer tenements, those are always the best
in which the owner himself lives. It is a hopeful sign in any case.
The difficulty of procuring such assistance without having to pay a
ruinous price, is one of the obstructions that have vexed in this city
efforts to solve the problem of housing the poor properly, because it
presupposes that the effort must be made on a larger scale than has
often been attempted.

The readiness with which the tenants respond to intelligent efforts
in their behalf, when made under fair conditions, is as surprising as
it is gratifying, and fully proves the claim that tenants are only
satisfied in filthy and unwholesome surroundings because nothing better
is offered. The moral effect is as great as the improvement of their
physical health. It is clearly discernible in the better class of
tenement dwellers to-day. The change in the character of the colored
population in the few years since it began to move out of the wicked
rookeries of the old "Africa" to the decent tenements in Yorkville,
furnishes a notable illustration, and a still better one is found in
the contrast between the model tenement in the Mulberry Street Bend and
the barracks across the way, of which I spoke in the chapter devoted to
the Italian. The Italian himself is the strongest argument of all. With
his fatal contentment in the filthiest surroundings, he gives undoubted
evidence of having in him the instinct of cleanliness that, properly
cultivated, would work his rescue in a very little while. It is a queer
contradiction, but the fact is patent to anyone who has observed the
man in his home-life. And he is not alone in this. I came across an
instance, this past summer, of how a refined, benevolent personality
works like a leaven in even the roughest tenement-house crowd. This
was no model tenement; far from it. It was a towering barrack in the
Tenth Ward, sheltering more than twenty families. All the light and air
that entered its interior came through an air-shaft two feet square,
upon which two bedrooms and the hall gave in every story. In three
years I had known of two domestic tragedies, prompted by poverty and
justifiable disgust with life, occurring in the house, and had come
to look upon it as a typically bad tenement, quite beyond the pale
of possible improvement. What was my surprise, when chance led me to
it once more after a while, to find the character of the occupants
entirely changed. Some of the old ones were there still, but they did
not seem to be the same people. I discovered the secret to be the new
housekeeper, a tidy, mild-mannered, but exceedingly strict little body,
who had a natural faculty of drawing her depraved surroundings within
the beneficent sphere of her strong sympathy, and withal of exacting
respect for her orders. The worst elements had been banished from the
house in short order under her management, and for the rest a new era
of self-respect had dawned. They were, as a body, as vastly superior to
the general run of their class as they had before seemed below it. And
this had been effected in the short space of a single year.

My observations on this point are more than confirmed by those of
nearly all the practical tenement reformers I have known, who have
patiently held to the course they had laid down. One of these, whose
experience exceeds that of all of the rest together, and whose
influence for good has been very great, said to me recently: "I hold
that not ten per cent. of the people now living in tenements would
refuse to avail themselves of the best improved conditions offered,
and come fully up to the use of them, properly instructed; but they
cannot get them. They are up to them now, fully, if the chances were
only offered. They don't have to come up. It is all a gigantic mistake
on the part of the public, of which these poor people are the victims.
I have built homes for more than five hundred families in fourteen
years, and I have been getting daily more faith in human nature from
my work among the poor tenants, though approaching that nature on a
plane and under conditions that could scarcely promise better for
disappointment." It is true that my friend has built his houses in
Brooklyn; but human nature does not differ greatly on the two shores of
the East River. For those who think it does, it may be well to remember
that only five years ago the Tenement House Commission summed up the
situation in this city in the declaration that, "the condition of the
tenants is in advance of the houses which they occupy," quite the
severest arraignment of the tenement that had yet been uttered.

The many philanthropic efforts that have been made in the last few
years to render less intolerable the lot of the tenants in the homes
where many of them must continue to live, have undoubtedly had their
effect in creating a disposition to accept better things, that will
make plainer sailing for future builders of model tenements. In
many ways, as in the "College Settlement" of courageous girls, the
Neighborhood Guilds, through the efforts of the King's Daughters,
and numerous other schemes of practical mission work, the poor and
the well-to-do have been brought closer together, in an every-day
companionship that cannot but be productive of the best results, to the
one who gives no less than to the one who receives. And thus, as a good
lady wrote to me once, though the problem stands yet unsolved, more
perplexing than ever; though the bright spots in the dreary picture
be too often bright only by comparison, and many of the expedients hit
upon for relief sad makeshifts, we can dimly discern behind it all that
good is somehow working out of even this slough of despond the while
it is deepening and widening in our sight, and in His own good season,
if we labor on with courage and patience, will bear fruit sixty and a
hundred fold.

                              CHAPTER XXV.

                          HOW THE CASE STANDS.

What, then, are the bald facts with which we have to deal in New York?

I. That we have a tremendous, ever swelling crowd of wage-earners which
it is our business to house decently.

II. That it is not housed decently.

III. That it must be so housed _here_ for the present, and for a long
time to come, all schemes of suburban relief being as yet utopian,

IV. That it pays high enough rents to entitle it to be so housed, as a

V. That nothing but our own slothfulness is in the way of so housing
it, since "the condition of the tenants is in advance of the condition
of the houses which they occupy" (Report of Tenement-house Commission).

VI. That the security of the one no less than of the other half
demands, on sanitary, moral, and economic grounds, that it be decently

VII. That it will pay to do it. As an investment, I mean, and in hard
cash. This I shall immediately proceed to prove.

VIII. That the tenement has come to stay, and must itself be the
solution of the problem with which it confronts us.

This is the fact from which we cannot get away, however we may deplore
it. Doubtless the best would be to get rid of it altogether; but as
we cannot, all argument on that score may at this time be dismissed as
idle. The practical question is what to do with the tenement. I watched
a Mott Street landlord, the owner of a row of barracks that have
made no end of trouble for the health authorities for twenty years,
solve that question for himself the other day. His way was to give
the wretched pile a coat of paint, and put a gorgeous tin cornice on
with the year 1890 in letters a yard long. From where I stood watching
the operation, I looked down upon the same dirty crowds camping on
the roof, foremost among them an Italian mother with two stark-naked
children who had apparently never made the acquaintance of a wash-tub.
That was a landlord's way, and will not get us out of the mire.

The "flat" is another way that does not solve the problem. Rather, it
extends it. The flat is not a model, though it is a modern, tenement.
It gets rid of some of the nuisances of the low tenement, and of the
worst of them, the overcrowding--if it gets rid of them at all--at
a cost that takes it at once out of the catalogue of "homes for the
poor," while imposing some of the evils from which they suffer upon
those who ought to escape from them.

There are three effective ways of dealing with the tenements in New

I. By law.

II. By remodelling and making the most out of the old houses.

III. By building new, model tenements.

Private enterprise--conscience, to put it in the category of duties,
where it belongs--must do the lion's share under these last two
heads. Of what the law has effected I have spoken already. The
drastic measures adopted in Paris, in Glasgow, and in London are not
practicable here on anything like as large a scale. Still it can, under
strong pressure of public opinion, rid us of the worst plague-spots.
The Mulberry Street Bend will go the way of the Five Points when all
the red tape that binds the hands of municipal effort has been unwound.
Prizes were offered in public competition, some years ago, for the best
plans of modern tenement-houses. It may be that we shall see the day
when the building of model tenements will be encouraged by subsidies
in the way of a rebate of taxes. Meanwhile the arrest and summary
punishment of landlords, or their agents, who persistently violate
law and decency, will have a salutary effect. If a few of the wealthy
absentee landlords, who are the worst offenders, could be got within
the jurisdiction of the city, and by arrest be compelled to employ
proper overseers, it would be a proud day for New York. To remedy the
overcrowding, with which the night inspections of the sanitary police
cannot keep step, tenements may eventually have to be licensed, as now
the lodging-houses, to hold so many tenants, and no more; or the State
may have to bring down the rents that cause the crowding, by assuming
the right to regulate them as it regulates the fares on the elevated
roads. I throw out the suggestion, knowing quite well that it is open
to attack. It emanated originally from one of the brightest minds that
have had to struggle officially with this tenement-house question in
the last ten years. In any event, to succeed, reform by law must aim
at making it unprofitable to own a bad tenement. At best, it is apt to
travel at a snail's pace, while the enemy it pursues is putting the
best foot foremost.

In this matter of profit the law ought to have its strongest ally in
the landlord himself, though the reverse is the case. This condition
of things I believe to rest on a monstrous error. It cannot be that
tenement property that is worth preserving at all can continue to yield
larger returns, if allowed to run down, than if properly cared for
and kept in good repair. The point must be reached, and soon, where
the cost of repairs, necessary with a house full of the lowest, most
ignorant tenants, must overbalance the saving of the first few years
of neglect; for this class is everywhere the most destructive, as well
as the poorest paying. I have the experience of owners, who have found
this out to their cost, to back me up in the assertion, even if it
were not the statement of a plain business fact that proves itself. I
do not include tenement property that is deliberately allowed to fall
into decay because at some future time the ground will be valuable
for business or other purposes. There is unfortunately enough of that
kind in New York, often leasehold property owned by wealthy estates or
soul-less corporations that oppose all their great influence to the
efforts of the law in behalf of their tenants.

There is abundant evidence, on the other hand, that it can be made to
pay to improve and make the most of the worst tenement property, even
in the most wretched locality. The example set by Miss Ellen Collins
in her Water Street houses will always stand as a decisive answer to
all doubts on this point. It is quite ten years since she bought three
old tenements at the corner of Water and Roosevelt Streets, then as now
one of the lowest localities in the city. Since then she has leased
three more adjoining her purchase, and so much of Water Street has at
all events been purified. Her first effort was to let in the light
in the hallways, and with the darkness disappeared, as if by magic,
the heaps of refuse that used to be piled up beside the sinks. A
few of the most refractory tenants disappeared with them, but a very
considerable proportion stayed, conforming readily to the new rules,
and are there yet. It should here be stated that Miss Collins's tenants
are distinctly of the poorest. Her purpose was to experiment with this
class, and her experiment has been more than satisfactory. Her plan
was, as she puts it herself, fair play between tenant and landlord.
To this end the rents were put as low as consistent with the idea of
a business investment that must return a reasonable interest to be
successful. The houses were thoroughly refitted with proper plumbing. A
competent janitor was put in charge to see that the rules were observed
by the tenants, when Miss Collins herself was not there. Of late years
she has had to give very little time to personal superintendence, and
the care-taker told me only the other day that very little was needed.
The houses seemed to run themselves in the groove once laid down. Once
the reputed haunt of thieves, they have become the most orderly in the
neighborhood. Clothes are left hanging on the lines all night with
impunity, and the pretty flower-beds in the yard where the children
not only from the six houses, but of the whole block, play, skip, and
swing, are undisturbed. The tenants, by the way, provide the flowers
themselves in the spring, and take all the more pride in them because
they are their own. The six houses contain forty-five families, and
there "has never been any need of putting up a bill." As to the income
from the property, Miss Collins said to me last August: "I have had six
and even six and three-quarters per cent. on the capital invested; on
the whole, you may safely say five and a half per cent. This I regard
as entirely satisfactory." It should be added that she has persistently
refused to let the corner-store, now occupied by a butcher, as a
saloon; or her income from it might have been considerably increased.

Miss Collins's experience is of value chiefly as showing what can be
accomplished with the worst possible material, by the sort of personal
interest in the poor that alone will meet their real needs. All the
charity in the world, scattered with the most lavish hand, will not
take its place. "Fair play" between landlord and tenant is the key, too
long mislaid, that unlocks the door to success everywhere as it did
for Miss Collins. She has not lacked imitators whose experience has
been akin to her own. The case of Gotham Court has been already cited.
On the other hand, instances are not wanting of landlords who have
undertaken the task, but have tired of it or sold their property before
it had been fully redeemed, with the result that it relapsed into its
former bad condition faster than it had improved, and the tenants with
it. I am inclined to think that such houses are liable to fall even
below the average level. Backsliding in brick and mortar does not
greatly differ from similar performances in flesh and blood.

Backed by a strong and steady sentiment, such as these pioneers have
evinced, that would make it the personal business of wealthy owners
with time to spare to look after their tenants, the law would be
able in a very short time to work a salutary transformation in the
worst quarters, to the lasting advantage, I am well persuaded, of the
landlord no less than the tenant. Unfortunately, it is in this quality
of personal effort that the sentiment of interest in the poor, upon
which we have to depend, is too often lacking. People who are willing
to give money feel that that ought to be enough. It is not. The money
thus given is too apt to be wasted along with the sentiment that
prompted the gift.

Even when it comes to the third of the ways I spoke of as effective
in dealing with the tenement-house problem, the building of model
structures, the personal interest in the matter must form a large share
of the capital invested, if it is to yield full returns. Where that
is the case, there is even less doubt about its paying, with ordinary
business management, than in the case of reclaiming an old building,
which is, like putting life into a defunct newspaper, pretty apt to
be up-hill work. Model tenement building has not been attempted in
New York on anything like as large a scale as in many other great
cities, and it is perhaps owing to this, in a measure, that a belief
prevails that it cannot succeed here. This is a wrong notion entirely.
The various undertakings of that sort that have been made here under
intelligent management have, as far as I know, all been successful.

From the managers of the two best-known experiments in model tenement
building in the city, the Improved Dwellings Association and the
Tenement-house Building Company, I have letters dated last August,
declaring their enterprises eminently successful. There is no reason
why their experience should not be conclusive. That the Philadelphia
plan is not practicable in New York is not a good reason why our own
plan, which is precisely the reverse of our neighbor's, should not
be. In fact it is an argument for its success. The very reason why
we cannot house our working masses in cottages, as has been done in
Philadelphia--viz., that they must live on Manhattan Island, where
the land is too costly for small houses--is the best guarantee of the
success of the model tenement house, properly located and managed.
The drift in tenement building, as in everything else, is toward
concentration, and helps smooth the way. Four families on the floor,
twenty in the house, is the rule of to-day. As the crowds increase,
the need of guiding this drift into safe channels becomes more urgent.
The larger the scale upon which the model tenement is planned, the
more certain the promise of success. The utmost ingenuity cannot
build a house for sixteen or twenty families on a lot 25 × 100 feet
in the middle of a block like it, that shall give them the amount
of air and sunlight to be had by the erection of a dozen or twenty
houses on a common plan around a central yard. This was the view
of the committee that awarded the prizes for the best plan for the
conventional tenement, ten years ago. It coupled its verdict with the
emphatic declaration that, in its view, it was "impossible to secure
the requirements of physical and moral health within these narrow and
arbitrary limits." Houses have been built since on better plans than
any the committee saw, but its judgment stands unimpaired. A point,
too, that is not to be overlooked, is the reduced cost of expert
superintendence--the first condition of successful management--in the
larger buildings.

The Improved Dwellings Association put up its block of thirteen houses
in East Seventy-second Street nine years ago. Their cost, estimated at
about $240,000 with the land, was increased to $285,000 by troubles
with the contractor engaged to build them. Thus the Association's task
did not begin under the happiest auspices. Unexpected expenses came
to deplete its treasury. The neighborhood was new and not crowded at
the start. No expense was spared, and the benefit of all the best and
most recent experience in tenement building was given to the tenants.
The families were provided with from two to four rooms, all "outer"
rooms, of course, at rents ranging from $14 per month for the four
on the ground floor, to $6.25 for two rooms on the top floor. Coal
lifts, ash-chutes, common laundries in the basement, and free baths,
are features of these buildings that were then new enough to be looked
upon with suspicion by the doubting Thomases who predicted disaster.
There are rooms in the block for 218 families, and when I looked in
recently all but nine of the apartments were let. One of the nine was
rented while I was in the building. The superintendent told me that
he had little trouble with disorderly tenants, though the buildings
shelter all sorts of people. Mr. W. Bayard Cutting, the President of
the Association, writes to me:

"By the terms of subscription to the stock before incorporation,
dividends were limited to five per cent. on the stock of the Improved
Dwellings Association. These dividends have been paid (two per cent.
each six months) ever since the expiration of the first six months
of the buildings operation. All surplus has been expended upon the
buildings. New and expensive roofs have been put on for the comfort
of such tenants as might choose to use them. The buildings have been
completely painted inside and out in a manner not contemplated at
the outset. An expensive set of fire-escapes has been put on at the
command of the Fire Department, and a considerable number of other
improvements made. _I regard the experiment as eminently successful and
satisfactory_, particularly when it is considered that the buildings
were the first erected in this city upon anything like a large scale,
where it was proposed to meet the architectural difficulties that
present themselves in the tenement-house problem. I have no doubt
that the experiment could be tried to-day with the improved knowledge
which has come with time, and a much larger return be shown upon the
investment. The results referred to have been attained in spite of the
provision which prevents the selling of liquor upon the Association's
premises. You are aware, of course, how much larger rent can be
obtained for a liquor saloon than for an ordinary store. An investment
at five per cent. net upon real estate security worth more than the
principal sum, ought to be considered desirable."

The Tenement House Building Company made its "experiment" in a much
more difficult neighborhood, Cherry Street, some six years later.
Its houses shelter many Russian Jews, and the difficulty of keeping
them in order is correspondingly increased, particularly as there are
no ash-chutes in the houses. It has been necessary even to shut the
children out of the yards upon which the kitchen windows give, lest
they be struck by something thrown out by the tenants, and killed.
It is the Cherry Street style, not easily got rid of. Nevertheless,
the houses are well kept. Of the one hundred and six "apartments,"
only four were vacant in August. Professor Edwin R. A. Seligman,
the secretary of the company, writes to me: "The tenements are now
a decided success." In the three years since they were built, they
have returned an interest of from five to five and a half per cent.
on the capital invested. The original intention of making the tenants
profit-sharers on a plan of rent insurance, under which all earnings
above four per cent. would be put to the credit of the tenants, has not
yet been carried out.

                 (A. T. WHITE'S) IN BROOKLYN.]


A scheme of dividends to tenants on a somewhat similar plan has
been carried out by a Brooklyn builder, Mr. A. T. White, who has
devoted a life of beneficent activity to tenement building, and whose
experience, though it has been altogether across the East River, I
regard as justly applying to New York as well. He so regards it
himself. Discussing the cost of building, he says: "There is not the
slightest reason to doubt that the financial result of a similar
undertaking in any tenement-house district of New York City would be
equally good.... High cost of land is no detriment, provided the value
is made by the pressure of people seeking residence there. Rents in
New York City bear a higher ratio to Brooklyn rents than would the
cost of land and building in the one city to that in the other." The
assertion that Brooklyn furnishes a better class of tenants than the
tenement districts in New York would not be worth discussing seriously,
even if Mr. White did not meet it himself with the statement that the
proportion of day-laborers and sewing-women in his houses is greater
than in any of the London model tenements, showing that they reach the
humblest classes.

Mr. White has built homes for five hundred poor families since he began
his work, and has made it pay well enough to allow good tenants a share
in the profits, averaging nearly one month's rent out of the twelve, as
a premium upon promptness and order. The plan of his last tenements,
reproduced on p. 292, may be justly regarded as the _beau ideal_ of
the model tenement for a great city like New York. It embodies all the
good features of Sir Sydney Waterlow's London plan, with improvements
suggested by the builder's own experience. Its chief merit is that it
gathers three hundred real homes, not simply three hundred families,
under one roof. Three tenants, it will be seen, everywhere live
together. Of the rest of the three hundred they may never know, rarely
see, one. Each has his private front-door. The common hall, with all
that it stands for, has disappeared. The fire-proof stairs are outside
the house, a perfect fire-escape. Each tenant has his own scullery and
ash-flue. There are no air-shafts, for they are not needed. Every room,
under the admirable arrangement of the plan, looks out either upon
the street or the yard, that is nothing less than a great park with a
play-ground set apart for the children, where they may dig in the sand
to their heart's content. Weekly concerts are given in the park by a
brass band. The drying of clothes is done on the roof, where racks
are fitted up for the purpose. The outside stairways end in turrets
that give the buildings a very smart appearance. Mr. White never has
any trouble with his tenants, though he gathers in the poorest; nor
do his tenements have anything of the "institution character" that
occasionally attaches to ventures of this sort, to their damage. They
are like a big village of contented people, who live in peace with one
another because they have elbow-room even under one big roof.

Enough has been said to show that model tenements can be built
successfully and made to pay in New York, if the owner will be content
with the five or six per cent. he does not even dream of when investing
his funds in "governments" at three or four. It is true that in the
latter case he has only to cut off his coupons and cash them. But the
extra trouble of looking after his tenement property, that is the
condition of his highest and lasting success, is the penalty exacted
for the sins of our fathers that "shall be visited upon the children,
unto the third and fourth generation." We shall indeed be well off, if
it stop there. I fear there is too much reason to believe that our own
iniquities must be added to transmit the curse still further. And yet,
such is the leavening influence of a good deed in that dreary desert
of sin and suffering, that the erection of a single good tenement has
the power to change, gradually but surely, the character of a whole bad
block. It sets up a standard to which the neighborhood must rise, if it
cannot succeed in dragging it down to its own low level.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so this task, too, has come to an end. Whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap. I have aimed to tell the truth as I saw it.
If this book shall have borne ever so feeble a hand in garnering a
harvest of justice, it has served its purpose. While I was writing
these lines I went down to the sea, where thousands from the city were
enjoying their summer rest. The ocean slumbered under a cloudless sky.
Gentle waves washed lazily over the white sand, where children fled
before them with screams of laughter. Standing there and watching their
play, I was told that during the fierce storms of winter it happened
that this sea, now so calm, rose in rage and beat down, broke over the
bluff, sweeping all before it. No barrier built by human hands had
power to stay it then. The sea of a mighty population, held in galling
fetters, heaves uneasily in the tenements. Once already our city,
to which have come the duties and responsibilities of metropolitan
greatness before it was able to fairly measure its task, has felt the
swell of its resistless flood. If it rise once more, no human power
may avail to check it. The gap between the classes in which it surges,
unseen, unsuspected by the thoughtless, is widening day by day. No
tardy enactment of law, no political expedient, can close it. Against
all other dangers our system of government may offer defence and
shelter; against this not. I know of but one bridge that will carry us
over safe, a bridge founded upon justice and built of human hearts.
I believe that the danger of such conditions as are fast growing up
around us is greater for the very freedom which they mock. The words of
the poet, with whose lines I prefaced this book, are truer to-day, have
far deeper meaning to us, than when they were penned forty years ago:

          "--Think ye that building shall endure
          Which shelters the noble and crushes the poor?"



Statistics of population were left out of the text in the hope that
the results of this year's census would be available as a basis for
calculation before the book went to press. They are now at hand,
but their correctness is disputed. The statisticians of the Health
Department claim that New York's population has been underestimated
a hundred thousand at least, and they appear to have the best of the
argument. A re-count is called for, and the printer will not wait.
Such statistics as follow have been based on the Health Department
estimates, except where the census source is given. The extent of the
quarrel of official figures may be judged from this one fact, that the
ordinarily conservative and careful calculations of the Sanitary Bureau
make the death-rate of New York, in 1889, 25.19 for the thousand of
a population of 1,575,073, while the census would make it 26.76 in a
population of 1,482,273.

 Population of New York, 1880 (census)                       1,206,299
      "        London, 1881       "                          3,816,483
      "        Philadelphia, 1880 "                            846,980
      "        Brooklyn, 1880     "                            566,689
      "        Boston, 1880       "                            362,535
      "        New York, 1889 (estimated)                    1,575,073
      "        London, 1889        "                         4,351,738
      "        Philadelphia, 1889  "                         1,040,245
      "        Brooklyn,       "   "                           814,505
      "        Boston,         "   "                           420,000
      "        New York under five years of age, in 1880       140,327
      "            "     "        "        "        1889
                 (estimated)                                   182,770

 Population of tenements in New York in 1869[25] (census)      468,492
      "            "     "      "       1888[26]    "        1,093,701
      "            "     "      "        " under five
        years of age                                          143,243
 Population of New York in 1880 (census)                    1,206,299
      "        Manhattan Island in 1880 (census)            1,164,673
      "        Tenth Ward in 1880 (census)                     47,554
      "        Eleventh Ward   "     "                         68,778
      "        Thirteenth Ward in 1880 (census)                37,797
      "        New York in 1890 (census)                    1,513,501
      "        Manhattan Island in 1890 (census)            1,440,101
      "        Tenth Ward in 1890 (census)                     57,514
      "        Eleventh Ward   "     "                         75,708
      "        Thirteenth Ward in 1890 (census)                45,882

 Number of acres in New York City                              24,890
   "        "       Manhattan Island                           12,673
   "        "       Tenth Ward                                    110
   "        "       Eleventh Ward                                 196
   "        "       Thirteenth Ward                               107
 Density of population per acre in 1880, New York City           48.4
 Density of population per acre in 1880, Manhattan Island        92.6
 Density of population per acre in 1880, Tenth Ward             432.3
 Density of population per acre in 1880, Eleventh Ward          350.9
 Density of population per acre in 1880, Thirteenth Ward        353.2
 Density of population per acre in 1890, New York City (census) 60.08
 Density of population per acre in 1890, Manhattan Island
    (census)                                                   114.53
 Density of population per acre in 1890, Tenth Ward (census)   522.00
 Density of population per acre in 1890, Eleventh Ward
     (census)                                                  386.00
 Density of population per acre in 1890, Thirteenth Ward
     (census)                                                   428.8
 Density of population to the square mile in 1880, New
     York City (census)                                        30,976
 Density of population to the square mile in 1880, Manhattan
     Island (census)                                           41,264
 Density of population to the square mile in 1880, Tenth
     Ward (census)                                            276,672
 Density of population to the square mile in 1880, Eleventh
     Ward (census)                                            224,576
 Density of population to the square mile in 1880, Thirteenth
     Ward (census)                                            226,048
 Density of population to the square mile in 1890, New
     York City (census)                                        38,451
 Density of population to the square mile in 1890, Manhattan
     Island (census)                                           73,299
 Density of population to the square mile in 1890, Tenth
     Ward (census)                                            334,080
 Density of population to the square mile in 1890, Eleventh
     Ward (census)                                            246,040
 Density of population to the square mile in 1890, Thirteenth
     Ward (census)                                            274,432
 Number of persons to a dwelling in New York, 1880
    (census)                                                    16.37
 Number of persons to a dwelling in London, 1881 (census)        7.9
 Number of persons to a dwelling in Philadelphia, 1880
    (census)                                                     5.79
 Number of persons to a dwelling in Brooklyn, 1880
    (census)                                                     9.11
 Number of persons to a dwelling in Boston, 1880 (census)        8.26
 Number of deaths in New York, 1880                            31,937
    "        "       London, 1881                              81,431
    "        "       Philadelphia, 1880                        17,711
    "        "       Brooklyn, 1880                            13,222
    "        "       Boston, 1880                               8,612
 Death-rate of New York, 1880                                   26.47
     "         London, 1881                                      21.3
     "         Philadelphia, 1880                               20.91
     "         Brooklyn, 1880                                   23.33
     "         Boston, 1880                                     23.75
 Number of deaths in New York, 1889                            39,679
 Number of deaths in London, 1889                              75,683
   "         "       Philadelphia, 1889                        20,536
   "         "       Brooklyn, 1889                            18,288
   "         "       Boston, 1889                              10,259
 Death-rate of New York, 1889                                   25.19
      "        London, 1889                                      17.4
      "        Philadelphia, 1889                                19.7
      "        Brooklyn, 1889                                    22.5
      "        Boston, 1889                                     24.42

[Footnote 25: In 1869, a tenement was a house occupied by four families
or more]

[Footnote 26: In 1888, a tenement was a house occupied by three
families or more]

For every person who dies there are always two disabled by illness, so
that there was a regular average of 79,358 New Yorkers on the sick-list
at any moment last year. It is usual to count 28 cases of sickness the
year round for every death, and this would give a total for the year
1889 of 1,111,082 of illness of all sorts.

 Number of deaths in tenements in New York, 1869               13,285
    "         "    "     "      "    "      1888               24,842
 Death-rate in tenements in New York, 1869                      28.35
     "       "     "      "    "      1888                      22.71

This is exclusive of deaths in institutions, properly referable to the
tenements in most cases. The adult death-rate is found to decrease
in the larger tenements of newer construction. The child mortality
increases, reaching 114.04 per cent. of 1,000 living in houses
containing between 60 and 80 tenants. From this point it decreases with
the adult death-rate.

 Number of deaths in prisons, New York, 1889                       85
    "       "        hospitals, New York, 1889                  6,102
    "       "        lunatic asylums, New York, 1889              448
    "       "        institutions for children, New York, 1889    522
    "       "        homes for aged, New York, 1889               238
    "       "        almshouse, New York, 1889                    424
    "       "        other institutions, New York, 1889           162
 Number of burials in city cemetery (paupers), New York, 1889   3,815
 Percentage of such burials on total                             9.64
 Number of tenants weeded out of overcrowded tenements,
    New York, 1889                                              1,246
 Number of tenants weeded out of overcrowded tenements,
    in first half of 1890[27]                                   1,068
 Number of sick poor visited by summer corps of doctors,
    New York, 1890                                             16,501

[Footnote 27: These figures represent less than two hundred of the
worst tenements below Houston Street.]

                           POLICE STATISTICS.

                                                     Males.   Females.

 Arrests made by the police in 1889                  62,274    19,926
 Number of arrests for drunkenness and disorderly
                                                     20,253     8,981
 Number of arrests for disorderly conduct            10,953     7,477
    "         "        assault and battery            4,534       497
    "         "        theft                          4,399       721
    "         "        robbery                          247        10
    "         "        vagrancy                       1,686       947
 Prisoners unable to read or write                    2,399     1,281
 Number of lost children found in the streets, 1889             2,968
    "      sick and destitute cared for, 1889                   2,753
 Found sick in the streets                                      1,211
 Number of pawnshops in city, 1889                                110
    "      cheap lodging-houses, 1889                             270
    "      saloons, 1889                                        7,884


 Immigrants landed at Castle Garden in 20 years, ending
      with 1889                                             5,335,396
 Immigrants landed at Castle Garden in 1889                   349,233
 Immigrants from England landed at Castle Garden in
     1889                                                      46,214
 Immigrants from Scotland landed at Castle Garden in
     1889                                                      11,415
 Immigrants from Ireland landed at Castle Garden in
     1889                                                      43,090
 Immigrants from Germany landed at Castle Garden in
     1889                                                      75,458

         | 1883.  | 1884.  | 1885.  | 1886.  | 1887.  | 1888.  | 1889.
 Italy   | 25,485 | 14,076 | 16,033 | 29,312 | 44,274 | 43,927 | 28,810
 Russia} |  7,577 | 12,432 | 16,578 | 23,987 | 33,203 | 33,052 | 31,329
 Poland} |        |        |        |        |        |        |
 Hungary | 13,160 | 15,797 | 11,129 | 18,135 | 17,719 | 12,905 | 15,678
 Bohemia |  4,877 |  7,093 |  6,697 |  4,222 |  6,449 |  3,982 |  5,412


 Number of tenements in New York, December 1, 1888               32,390
 Number built from June 1, 1888, to August 1, 1890                3,733
 Rear tenements in existence, August 1, 1890                      2,630
 Total number of tenements, August 1, 1890                       37,316
 Estimated population of tenements, August 1, 1890            1,250,000
 Estimated number of children under five years in tenements,
     1890                                                       163,712

Corner tenements may cover all of the lot, except 4 feet at the rear.
Tenements in the block may only cover seventy-eight per cent. of the
lot. They must have a rear yard 10 feet wide, and air-shafts or open
courts equal to twelve per cent. of the lot.

Tenements or apartment houses must not be built over 70 feet high in
streets 60 feet wide.

Tenements or apartment houses must not be built over 80 feet high in
streets wider than 60 feet.

Transcriber's Note

Incidental inconsistencies of punctuation are resolved silently. The
following list contains other textual issues that are encountered.
If there were no other correct instances of misspelled words (in
current usage) they were allowed to stand.

p.  74  disenfecting                  _sic_

p.  77  loadstone                     _sic_

p.  82  caravanseries                 _sic_

p. 107  tha[t/n]                      Corrected.

p. 256  tantilizes                    _sic_

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "How the Other Half Lives - Studies Among the Tenements of New York" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.