Gilded Age

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The era commonly known the “Gilded Age” received this descriptive name for several reasons. One reason the term “gilded” was used was to describe how society appeared shiny and unblemished from the outside, however, the inside did not reflect the same condition. Jacob Riis’ novel, How the Other Half Lives, written amid the Gilded Age in 1890, explored the hardships of the unappreciated populations that embody the unpolished appearance responsible for the name, “the Gilded Age.” Riis used photojournalism to uncover the realities of living in the cramped tenements of New York City along with the causes of exploitation of these inhabitants. As a Danish-American, Riis was set on trying to improve the lives of the immigrants who populated the overcrowded…show more content…
As the population kept increasing, families from different countries would travel over to find the rest of their family members and congregate together in the same housing units. This trend created communities that were primarily composed of people of the same ethnicity which gave rise to nicknames like “Chinatown” and “Jewtown” for these specific areas. These areas attracted more and more people from the same ethnic background which furthered the degree of overcrowding. The rapid growth of New York is ultimately what led to the poor conditions of the tenements. Riis described the over crowdedness of the tenements certain disgust saying, “something like forty families are packed into five old two-story and attic houses that were built to hold five.” Families had no other choice than to live crammed into small spaces if they wanted to live close to their work. Immigrant workers were going to endure whatever conditions they had to as their goal was to make enough money to send home or bring the rest of their family…show more content…
There is no denying that this part of history is the reason health and housing regulations are as strong as we experience today. With Riis’s novel acting as a valuable primary source documenting first-hand experiences, it is easy to conclude that life in the tenements were not desirable in any aspect. This way of life arose because there was no quicker way to deal with such a rapidly growing demand for cheap housing close to the city. Life in the tenements does not compare to anything seen in modern times. Riis’s illustrations of this life confirm what we know as history, but what many others knew as
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