Immigrants Choose New York


1894 New York Tenement House Committee Maps courtesy Wikimedia Commons


New York grew to prominence only seventy years after Unites States independence. “By … 1853, English visitors marveled that Broadway’s stores and hotels were ‘more like the palaces of kings than places for the transaction of business.’ scarlet and yellow omnibuses thundered up and down Broadway with private carriages, hotel stagecoaches, and two-horse hackneys …

“And yet there was another side of New York, one that could be glimpsed by peering down Broadway’s side streets where ragged women carried bundles of broken boards and old timbers from demolished buildings trailed by children loaded down with only slightly lighter burdens. … In 1851, a fourth of the 16,000 criminals sent to City Prison were younger than 21 — 800 were younger than 15, and 175 were younger than 10.

“Many of the poorest New Yorkers were recent immigrants — by 1850 nearly half of the city’s residents had been born overseas. The newcomers, most of them Irish and German, were packed into squalid, suffocating tenements … where cholera, typhus, and tuberculosis were rampant and the murder rate was the highest in the Western world … fewer than half of the children born in the 1850s survived to the age of six.”

Agitation for reform brought new laws that culminated in the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 that banned construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings. The law required that new buildings must be built with outward-facing windows in every room, an open courtyard, proper ventilation systems, indoor toilets, and fire safeguards.

The opening of the West gave immigrants new choices if they could face the arduous  journey and settlement requirements.

We have made some progress in the way we treat pioneering immigrants.


From Delancy Place’s December 8, 2017 blog, excerpt from The Unexpected President by Scott S. Greenberger.

New York State Tenement House act, Wikipedia.



4 responses

  1. I am so glad to add that a great Dane helped to get rid of some the worst slum tenements in New York together with his friend Ted Roosevelt. J.R. lived at the same time as your father! I wrote about Jacob Riis when I just started blogging and once more as his famous photos that helped change the opinion on the immigrant situation were exhibited in his hometown Ribe last year:

    • I remember your post about the great humanitarian Jacob Riis. And this month my book club is reading “Mornings on Horseback,” a biography of President Theodore Roosevelt. I have only started it, but have read that he was more interested in helping the poor of New York than he was in managing the family business.

  2. Fascinating and yet horrifying information here (I also really enjoy the excerpts in Delancy Place). As horrible as conditions can seem in our cities now, we’ve still come a long way, thanks to caring humanitarians and people in power like Teddy Roosevelt.

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