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Jacob Riis


Jacob Riis Jacob "Jake" Riis, the Danish-born journalist and photographer, was among the most dedicated advocates for America's oppressed, exploited, and downtrodden. Riis's 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, documented through word and image the lives of those who lived in New York's slums in a brutal, uncensored fashion. Among those moved by Riis's reportage was Theodore Roosevelt, then New York police commissioner. Alerted to the inhumane conditions endured by many of New York's inhabitants, Theodore Roosevelt accompanied Riis on his rounds of tenement houses and back alleys. Roosevelt grew to consider Riis "the most useful citizen in America."

By 1900, Riis's mission began to yield results: city water was purified, incidences of yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera were waning, and efforts to establish child labor laws were underway. Still, Riis was realistic about how far the "haves" would go toward helping the "have-nots." Reflecting on the prospect of charging a small tax on tenement owners to fund the hiring of additional sanitation inspectors, Riis concluded, "The delicate task is to propose (a tax) that will do the least violence to the Anglo-Saxon reverence for property."
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