Millions of European immigrants came to America in the nineteenth century looking for personal freedom and the opportunity to make a better life. Buffeted by a series of post-Civil War economic depressions, however, many were left jobless, hungry, and psychologically beaten down, barely existing in disease-plagued New York City tenements.1 Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914), who came penniless to New York from Denmark in 1870, suffered the degradations of spending nights in police lodging for the homeless, when he was robbed of his gold locket keepsake and had his dog clubbed to death. Riis tramped the streets in search of work, did chores for food, and even walked to Philadelphia to look for a job, before finding employment in 1873 with a New York news bureau. In 1877, Riis became a police reporter in Mulberry Bend, the East Side’s worst slum district. Here more than a million people lived in 37,000 airless, dark, and unhygienic tenement buildings. Forty thousand people a year entered workhouses or asylums while thousands of homeless children scavenged for food until they were old enough to join criminal gangs.2 Reporting on the scandalous conditions as a journalist was not enough for Riis, who wanted to bring about reform: windows in every tenement room, indoor plumbing, tenant rights. Realizing that

words could not fully convey the horrid conditions, he turned to photography to document the evidence and used the photographs as weapons for social change. Riis’s pioneering efforts at social reform would lead Theodore Roosevelt, then NYC police commissioner, to call him “the most useful citizen in New York.” The exposing of political and social corruption that Riis and other reformers engaged in during the Gilded Age became known as muckraking.3