6. Hell’s Kitchen

Under the Dump at West 47th Street.Photo by Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York Collection

While investigating a murder at the East River dump, Riis discovered that a group of Italian men and boys had taken up residence there. For an article for The New York Sun entitled “Real Wharf Rats: Human Rodents That Live on Garbage Under the Wharves,” Jacob Riis visited numerous of the city’s garbage dumps – Rivington Street, Rutgers Street, West 35th Street, and West 47th Street. The above photograph shows a “wharf rat” scavenging under the 47th Street dump in Hell’s Kitchen.

"I Scrubs," Little Katie from the W. 52nd Street Industrial SchoLittle Katie from the West 52nd Street Industrial School, 1891-1892. Photo by Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York Collection

Riis evolves his strategy after his book How the Other Half Lives. In The Children of the Poor he begins to incorporate data and statistics behind child mortality, public health and education rates – information he gets from a friend who works as a statistician at the New York City Board of Health. Correspondingly, he also reverses his photographic strategy. Instead of surprise flash visits, Riis “meets the child, and talks to the child, and is a reporter. And then in his writings, it’s a word and picture portrait,” describes Yochelson. The above portrait of “Little Katie” was taken at the West 52nd Street Industrial School, established by the Children’s Aid Society.