"How the other half lives" and "Twenty years of Hull House"

Topics: Jane Addams
  1. “The staircase is too often a dark well in the center of the house,[…] The dim light admitted by the air- shaft shines upon greater crowds than ever.” This part first introduced me to the “air- shaft”. I guess it was somehow an “iconic” of the tenements in New York back in those days. It affected me because it made me wonder why people installed them in the structures of these tenements. Because, instead of bringing in air and light inside, these became a source of disease, darkness, and dysfunction,… It was unsafe for people’s health because of the poor quality of air from food scraps or human waste.

    This description of the environment that these poor people had to live in was just too terrible and uncomfortable. As a foreigner, I was wrong when thinking about how fancy New York is, compared to the history of the city. I once heard this quote when researching America, “If you can survive in New York, you can survive anywhere.

    ” It must be true in this case.

  2. The data that Riis collected shocked me, for example, “ … between seventy and eighty children had been found in one tenement. 101 adults and 91 children in a Crosby Street house.” I don’t know what word should I use for this – nearly 100 humans were in one tenement. Probably not living because personally, this was too harsh for a person to live. Some must have slept on the street. They strived to survive but they could not thrive in this place.

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  3. In The Mixed Crowd chapter, Riis listed many nationalities here. The interesting point to me is that there were different people from all over the world, but no native New Yorkers lived among these people. “The one thing you shall vainly ask for in the chief city of America is distinctively American community.” It is ironic. New Yorkers saw these poor immigrants as beggars. On the other hand, I feel that these immigrants lived or stuck together because they needed a sense of community, a social bond. They clung to what is familiar to them. They may feel safer by that. And that makes this city has more diversity and cultures. I also like how Riis compares people here as heterogeneous elements- like whiskey and water in one glass.
  4. In the same chapter, Riis suggested that the failure of the system of the tenement was the greed and ignorance of luckier and wealthier people. “… 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.” I feel pity for this man. This paragraph stood out to me because I could see how people, who used to be once immigrants, treat other immigrants in such an autocratic way like this. These immigrants came to America with the hope of better freedom. Nevertheless, poverty and some upper-class people did prevent them from pursuing it.
  5. “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.” When I read this sentence, I admired these people. They suffered from all kinds of things after arriving in New York. They left their countries for better lives in America. They were willing to risk everything for the opportunities here. They did not have all they wanted, but they were trying to make the best out of what they had by working harder or opening businesses.
  6. In chapter XXV, Riis suggested his idea to improve the tenement system. I found it interesting reading about Miss Ellen Collins. In my opinion, she was such a smart and brave woman. Like Jane Addams tried to clean up the streets surrounding the Hull House, Miss Collins firstly attempted to “let in the light in the hallways.” She was not scared of losing the profit. And she was fair play with her tenants. How generous she was to set the rent as low as possible. That was the key to bringing cheer to the poorest immigrant living there.
  7. In Twenty Years at Hull House, chapter XIII, Jane Addams described how the huge wooden garbage boxes existed in the neighborhood. I was not surprised by the dirty them but I was breathless by how people “interact” with them in daily life. They did not run away from the trash, “the children played their games in and around these huge garbage boxes. They were the first objects that the toddling child learned to climb; their bulk afforded a barricade and their contents provided missiles in all the battles of the older boys, and finally, they became the seats upon which absorbed lovers held enchanted converse.” To me, it is like, throughout their lives, the garbage boxes had a role in every moment. People did not question or clean them up. And that made those garbage boxes and the smell of them familiar with the neighbor to the point that they dated near there or let the kid eat whatever was in the boxes.
  8. I agree with Jane Addams when she shared, “the immigrants must therefore not only keep their own houses clean but must also help the authorities to keep the city clean.” It reminded me of a lesson in my Civic Education class years ago. I believe that she also taught this to many people at Hull House. Her idea stood out to me because everyone should keep our environment clean for the sake of our health and others. It is a basic idea for a higher civic and social life.
  9. With her influence and effort, Addams was appointed to be the garbage inspector of the ward. This impressed me because once again, she proved that she is a woman of action. She did not plan anything without doing it. I also like how she used the word “we” when talking about how the community attempted to clean up the streets. She was a true leader who uplifted the community.
  10. The role of women was mentioned at the end of the excerpt. ‘It took a great deal of explanation to convey the idea even remotely that if it were a womanly task to go about in tenement houses to nurse the sick.’ I think women have the instinct to take care of other people. However, it was limited at this time because they believed their places are at home. Jane Addams tried to ‘twist’ these sexual stereotypes by acting in the traditional roles for women: play and teach children, and take care of the sick,… The excerpt did not reveal more but I believe that she successfully inspired others to take on the role like her to care for other people so that the people in the community have a better chance to grow together.


I chose these two excerpts because they gave me interesting glimpses into the history of the United States in two famous cities in the Progressive Era. “How the Other Half Lives” is the study among the tenement in New York and “Twenty Years of Hull House” is the study among urban areas in Chicago. Two places that both Riis and Addams focused on were full of poor immigrants. Although each individual chose different ways to improve their communities, both were successful with their goals. They were able to move the government to act, and they were responsible for many important changes in the immigrants’ lives. Riis’ goal was to expose to “the other half who doesn’t know” the horrible living condition of poor people and suggested his idea to solve the tenement problem between the landlord and the immigrants. He aimed to bring up the quality of life for these people. Interestingly, he was an immigrant too and he could see the problem of the rapid industrialization. On the other hand, Addams chose to live among the poor immigrants to embrace them and help them gain access to the American Dream. She also showed how powerful a woman can be. I was drawn to these two documents because the backgrounds were nearly the same despite different locations, both Riis and Addams opened the windows into a world unknown to most people, like me. I am now clear and aware of the poverty back in that time, and the difficulties of the social workers had to deal with. Overall, these two were fascinating readings.

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"How the other half lives" and "Twenty years of Hull House". (2022, May 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/how-the-other-half-lives-and-twenty-years-of-hull-house/

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