NYPL Exhibitions

Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis (1849–1914), a journalist at the New York Tribune, believed that the horrifying conditions he had seen in the city’s immigrant neighborhoods were important enough to merit a sermon—so he wrote one, offering it to every New York church he knew. Many of them, including his own, turned it down, but an editor at the newly launched Scribner’s Magazine took notice of the unsettling stories and grisly photographs and published them as a 20-page essay in the 1889 Christmas issue. The magazine’s parent company, Scribner & Sons, asked Riis to expand the material, and his enormously influential book on tenement conditions, How the Other Half Lives, appeared in 1890.