|Location(s):||NEW YORK, New York|
|Tag(s):||Immigration, Health, Labor, New York|
|Course:||“U.S. History: 1812 - 1914,” Foothill College|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
During the 19th century New York City was a populous municipality, with over 220,000 inhabitants by the 1830s. It was diverse, consisting of both prosperous and impoverished areas. Many buildings were beautifully created with an artistic impression, while others were insignificant and deplorable. Prince Maximilian of Wied’s chronicled his travels in New York during this time and described the contrast between its beauty and unattractiveness. This proved the strong gap that existed between the wealthy and poor, with both groups calling the city their home. Additionally, it was easily accessible to travelers because of its convenient location on the ocean’s edge. With all its activity and work, in a boisterous setting, immigrants from several areas of the globe, especially Europe, congregated in New York City. Recent immigrants as well as second and third generation natives made up the city’s lower working class. The people adjusted to American urban life, inhabited residences, and took up whatever jobs were available throughout the city. These circumstances enabled a prevalent, dynamic, and industrious commerce.
With the perception of the American dream in mind, people’s natural ambition was to get money, become successful, and reach happiness in life. What better place to aspire for and live out this dream than New York City? Immigrants exhibited the strong desire to obtain a good job that paid well and expectations of achieving the American dream. The jobs attainable by the lower working class consisted of industrial and factory work. These were tedious roles that demanded back breaking work and paid minimal wages. Additional occupations like maids and seamstresses were also typical for the lower working class of New York City. The hours entailed in these jobs were long and once again pay was minimal, yet the labor required was arduous and physically demanding. Seamstresses were paid only by the pieces of their work, as opposed to an hourly rate, and this was oftentimes unpredictable. Other jobs for the lower working class included lamplighters, chimney sweepers, and couriers.
Residential circumstances were not always optimum for the lower working class. Greed driven landlords found it unprofitable to rent to that specific type of family. However, there were some landlords that did rent out to working class families. Their property consisted of two-room apartments located in brick buildings, known as tenements. One apartment would get rented out to two separate families, resulting in communal living. Unfortunately many of them were left to rent in wooden buildings. These variations were typically neglected, rundown and dilapidated because the landlords felt it was inconsequential to repair or replace anything. Their main purpose was to gain as much profit as possible by cramming families into living quarters, and the families had no choice. New York had a shortage of tenements, and it was imperative for the inhabitants to reside within walking distance to their job locations.
Public hygiene conditions were far from sanitary, and with the combination of families residing in cramped living situations, the repercussions were repugnant. Since plumbing had yet to reach the tenements, human waste was kept in large containers, just below outhouses. When the containers would become backed up or storm flooding would occur, human waste would wash into the streets among the other debris and, occasionally, seep into homes. This brought forth exposure to many infectious diseases. This was particularly dire because the medical field was still developing. They were still researching what caused epidemics, while recognizing newer ones brought from overseas. People were unaware how to prevent and treat these diseases. Consequently, several illnesses ran rampant through the population, including cholera. The proliferation of the population, inadequate transportation and cramped and unsanitary living conditions made lving in the city for the lower working class almost unbearable.