Children of the Tenements
by Jacob A. Riis
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"Ah!" said Mr. Sabsovich, emerging from a wrangle with his client about matters agricultural, "he has not learned to 'make him good.' Come over to the school, and I will show you stock. You can't afford to keep poor cows. They cost too much."

The other shook his head energetically. "Them's the seven finest cows in the country," he yelled after us as we started. The superintendent laughed a little.

"You see what they are—stubborn; will have their way in an argument. But that fellow will be over to Woodbine before the week is out, to see what he can learn. He is not going to let me crow if he can help it. Not to be driven, they can be led, though it is not always easy. Suspicious, hard at driving a bargain as the Russian Jew is, I sometimes think I can see his better nature coming out already."

As we drove along, I thought so, too, more than once. From every farm and byway came men to have a word with the superintendent. For me they had a sidelong look, and a question, put in Hebrew. To the answer they often shook their heads, demanding another. After such a conference, I asked what it was about.

"You," said Mr. Sabsovich. "They are asking, 'Who is he?' I tell them that you are not a Jew. This is the answer they give: 'I don't care if he is a Jew. Is he a good man?'"

Over the supper table that night, I caught the burning eyes of a young nihilist fixed upon me with a look I have not yet got over. I had been telling of my affection for the Princess Dagmar, whom I knew at Copenhagen in my youth. I meant it as something we had in common; she became Empress of Russia in after years. I forgot that it was by virtue of marrying Alexander III. I heard afterward that he protested vehemently that I could not possibly be a good man. Well for me I did not tell him my opinion of the Czar himself! It was gleaned from Copenhagen, where they thought him the prince of good fellows.

At Carmel I found the hands in the clothing factory making from $10 to $13 a week at human hours, and the population growing. Forty families had come from Philadelphia, where the authorities were helping the colonies by rigidly enforcing the sweat-shop ordinances. Inquiries I made as to the relative cost of living in the city and in the country brought out the following facts: A contractor with a family of eight paid shop rent in Sheriff Street, New York, $20 per month; for four rooms in a Monroe Street tenement, $15; household expenses, $60. Here he pays shop rent (whole house), $6; dwelling on farm, $4; household, $35. This family enjoys greater comfort in the country for $50 a month less. A working family of eight paid $11 for three rooms in an Essex Street tenement, $35 for the household; here the rent is $5, and the household expenses $24—better living for $17 less a month.

Near the village a Jewish farmer who had tracked us from one of the other villages caught up with us to put before Mr. Sabsovich his request for more land. We halted to debate it in the road beside a seven-acre farm worked by a Lithuanian brickmaker. The old man in his peaked cap and sheepskin jacket was hoeing in the back lot. His wife, crippled and half blind, sat in the sunshine with a smile upon her wrinkled face, and listened to the birds. They came down together, when they heard our voices, to say that four of the seven acres were worked up. The other three would come. They had plenty, and were happy. Only their boy, who should help, was gone.

It was the one note of disappointment I heard: the boys would not stay on the farm. To the aged it gave a new purpose, new zest in life. There was a place for them, whereas the tenement had none. The young could not be made to stay. It was the old story. I had heard it in New England in explanation of its abandoned farms; the work was too hard, was without a break. The good sense of the Jew recognizes the issue and meets it squarely. In Woodbine strenuous efforts were being made to develop the social life by every available means. No opportunity is allowed to pass that will "give the boy a chance." Here on the farms there were wiser fathers than the Lithuanian. Let one of them speak for himself.

His was one of a little settlement of fifteen families that had fought it out alone, being some distance from any of the villages. In the summer they farmed, and in the winter tailoring for the Philadelphia shops helped them out. Radetzky was a presser in the city ten years. There were nine in his house. "Seven to work on the farm," said the father, proudly, surveying the brown, muscular troop, "but the two little ones are good in summer at berry-picking." They had just then come in from the lima-bean field, where they had planted poles. Even the baby had helped.

"I put two beans in a hill instead of four. I tell you why," said the farmer; "I wait three days, and see if they come up. If they do not, I put down two more. Most of them come up, and I save two beans. A farmer has got to make money on saving expenses."

The sound of a piano interrupted him. "It is my daughter," he said. "They help me, and I let them have in turn what young people want—piano, music lessons, a good horse to drive. It pays. They are all here yet. In the beginning we starved together, had to eat corn with the cows, but the winter tailoring pulled us through. Now I want to give it up. I want to buy the next farm. With our 34 acres, it will make 60, and we can live like men, and let those that need the tailoring get it. I wouldn't exchange this farm for the best property in the city."

His two eldest sons nodded assent to his words.

Late that night, when we were returning to Woodbine, we came suddenly upon a crowd of boys filling the road. They wore the uniform of the Hirsch School. It was within ten minutes of closing-time, and they were half a mile from home. The superintendent pulled up and asked them where they were going. There was a brief silence, then the hesitating answer:—

"It is a surprise party."

Mr. Sabsovich eyed the crowd sharply and thought awhile.

"Oh," he said, remembering all at once, "it is Mr. Billings and his new wife. Go ahead, boys!"

To me, trying vainly to sleep in the village hotel in the midnight hour with a tin-pan serenade to the newly married teacher going on under the window, there came in a lull, with the challenge of the loudest boy, "Mr. Billings! If you don't come down, we will never go home," an appreciation of the Woodbine system of discipline which I had lacked till then. It was the Radetzky plan over again, of giving the boys a chance, to make them stay on the farm.

If it is difficult to make the boy stay, it is sometimes even harder to make the father go. Out of a hundred families picked on New York's East Side as in especial need of transplanting to the land, just seven consented when it came to the journey. They didn't relish the "society of the stumps." The Jews' colonies need many things before they can hope to rival the attraction of the city to the man whom the slum has robbed of all resources. They sum themselves up in the social life of which the tenement has such unsuspected stores in the closest of touch with one's fellows. The colonies need business opportunities to boom them, facilities for marketing produce in the cities, canning-factories, store cellars for the product of the vineyards—all of which time must supply. Though they have given to hundreds the chance of life, it cannot be said for them that they have demonstrated yet the Jews' ability to stand alone upon the land, backed as they are by the Hirsch Fund millions. In fact, I have heard no such claim advanced. But it can at least be said that for these they have solved the problem of life and of the slum. And that is something!

Nor is it all. Because of its being a concerted movement, this of south Jersey, it has been, so to speak, easier to make out. But already, upon the experience gained there, 700 families, with some previous training and fitness for farming, have been settled upon New England farms and are generally doing well. More than $2,000,000 worth of property in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and their sister states is owned by Jewish husbandmen. They are mostly dairy-farmers, poultrymen, sheep breeders. The Russian Jew will not in this generation be fit for what might be called long-range farming. He needs crops that turn his money over quickly. With that in sight, he works hard and faithfully. The Yankee, as a rule, welcomes him. He has the sagacity to see that his coming will improve economic conditions, now none too good. As shrewd traders, the two are well matched. The public school brings the children together on equal terms, levelling out any roughness that might remain.

If the showing that the Jewish population of New England has increased in 17 years from 9000 to 74,000 gives anybody pause, it is not at least without its compensation. The very need of the immigrant to which objection is made, plus the energy that will not let him sit still and starve, make a way for him that opens it at the same time for others. In New York he made the needle industry, which he monopolized. He brought its product up from $30,000,000 to $300,000,000 a year, that he might live, and founded many a great fortune by his midnight toil. In New England, while peopling its abandoned farms, in self-defence he takes up on occasion abandoned manufacturing plants to make the work he wants. At Colchester, Connecticut, 120 Jewish families settled about the great rubber-works. The workings of a trust shut it down after 40 years' successful operation, causing loss of wages and much suffering to 1500 hands. The Christian employees, who must have been in overwhelming majority, probably took it out in denouncing trusts. I didn't hear that they did much else, except go away, I suppose, in search of another job. The Jews did not go away. Perhaps they couldn't. They cast about for some concern to supply the place of the rubber-works. At last accounts I heard of them negotiating with a large woollen concern in Leeds to move its plant across the Atlantic to Colchester. How it came out, I do not know.

The attempt to colonize Jewish immigrants had two objects: to relieve the man and to drain the Ghetto. In this last it failed. In 18 years 1200 families had been moved out. In five months just before I wrote this 12,000 came to stay in New York City. The number of immigrant Jews during those months was 15,233, of whom only 3881 went farther. The population of the Ghetto passed already 250,000. It was like trying to bail out the ocean. The Hirsch Fund people saw it and took another tack. Instead of arguing with unwilling employees to take the step they dreaded, they tried to persuade manufacturers to move out of the city, depending upon the workers to follow their work.

They did bring out one, and built homes for his hands. The argument was briefly that the clothing industry makes the Ghetto by lending itself most easily to tenement manufacture. The Ghetto, with its crowds and unhealthy competition, makes the sweat-shop in turn, with all the bad conditions that disturb the trade. To move the crowds out is at once to kill the Ghetto and the sweat-shops, and to restore the industry to healthy ways. The argument is correct. The economic gains by such an exodus are equally clear, provided the philanthropy that starts it will maintain a careful watch to prevent the old slum conditions being reproduced in the new places and unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of the isolation of their workers. With this chance removed, strikes are not so readily fomented by home-owners. The manufacturer secures steady labor, the worker a steady job. The young are removed from the contamination of the tenement. The experiment was interesting, but the fraction of a cent that was added by the freight to the cost of manufacture killed it. The factory moved back and the crowds with it.

Very recently, the B'nai B'rith has taken the lead in a movement that goes straight to the heart of the matter. It is now proposed to head off the Ghetto. Places are found for the immigrants all over the country, and they are not allowed to stop in New York on coming over, but are sent out at once. Where they go others follow instead of plunging into the city maelstrom and being swallowed up by it. Soon, it is argued, a rut will have been made for so much of the immigration to follow to the new places, and so much will have been diverted from the cities. To that extent, then, a real "way out" of the slum will have been found.


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