Select here to view illustration
depicting where Jacob Riis spent his time writing while living in Richmond
Photo of Jacob Riis
Poster Replica of Jacob Riis (1905)
''It could not have been long after I wrote 'How the Other
Half Lives' that he came to the Evening Sun office one day looklng for
me. I was out and he left his card merely writing on the back of it that
he had read my book and had "come to help". That was all, and it tells
the whole story of the man. I loved him from the day I first saw him; nor
ever in all the years that have passed has he failed of the promise made
then. No one ever helped as he did. For two years, we were brothers on
-Jacob Riis, Making of An American
(Published by Harper & Row, New York, 1901)
Photo of Theodore Roosevelt
Taken by Jacob Riis
''It is difficult for me to write of Jacob Riis only from
the public standpoint. He was one of my truest and closest friends. I have
ever prized the fact that once, in speaking of me, he said, "since I met
him he has been my brother." I have not only admired and respected him
beyond measure, but I have loved him dearly…and I mourn him as if he were
one of my own family."
(From introduction to Making of An American)
Other books written by Jacob Riis include
"Children of the Tenements" (1903)
"Children of the Poor" (1892)
|About Jacob Riis
From the Book 'Victorian
by The Richmond Hill Chapter of The Queens Historical Society ©1980
Born in Ribe, Denmark on May 3, 1849;
Died March 26, 1914
Jacob Riis National Park in New York is named in his honor
Jacob Riis wrote of his times for a big city newspaper, the New York
Evening Sun. One of the early residents of Richmond Hill, NY, he came to
this country as a young immigrant from his native Denmark at the age of
21, in 1870. He loved this country and never ceased to look at it with
an eye to making it better. With unfailing accuracy, he questioned some
of the things he saw here and didn't like. He used his pen and was a pioneer
in photo journalism, using his own photography to fully illustrate his
documentaries to indict the slums and tenements of a New York in the dawn
of a new century. He visited stench-ridden tenements on hot summer nights
when they were at their worst. Ahead of his time, he was one of the best
investigative reporters this city ever produced.
Sometimes he brought his friend Theodore Roosevelt
with him on these trips into tenement streets. Riis came to Roosevelt's
attention through his documentary book on How the Other
Half Lives. It was a call to action and Roosevelt responded.
Both men shared a conviction that slums and freedom lacked compatibility.
"Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? Wind! says the slum, and the slum
is right if we let it be. We cannot get rid of the tenements that shelter
two million souls in New York today," said Riis in the Making
of An American, "but we can set about making them at least
as nearly fit to harbor human souls as might be."
Often these men—one the reporter in the modern, investigative tradition,
the other one someday to be our 26th President of the United States but
then the head of the New York Police Board of Commissioners—would go off
into the gas-lighted night without hint of what they would find. Together,
both men fought the injustices they witnessed on those turn of the century
nights while the city slept. "It is long since," Riis would later relate,
"I have enjoyed anything so much as I did those patrol trips of ours in
the "lost Hour" between midnight and sunrise, which earned him the name
al Roosevelt. I had at last found one who was willing to get up when
other people slept—including too often the police—and see what the town
looked like then. He was more than willing."
When Roosevelt became President of the United States, Jacob Riis never
aspired for an appointment to office. "…to represent is not my business.
To write is; I can do it much better and back up the other; so we are two
for one. Not that I would be understood as being insensible of the real
honor intended to be conferred by such tokens. I do not hold them lightly.
I value the good opinion of my fellow-men for with it comes increased power
to do things. But I would reserve the honors for those on whom they sit
easy. They don't on me. I am not ornamental by nature". (From the Making
of An American).
So, altllough friend to a President, Riis stayed in New York. His long
standing friendship with the President surfaced from time to time, such
as when Theodore Roosevelt came to Richmond Hill in 1900 to attend the
wedding of Riis' daughter Kate at the Church of the Resurrection.
Located on Church Street which is now 118 Street, this church was the
first established in Richmond Hill and is still there today.
Richmond Hill rang with excitement when Roosvelt took a train to Richmond
Hill and walked along 85th Avenue, then Central Avenue, to the church
where he once again shared a special moment in the life of his friend,
Jacob Riis Delegation - Ribe, Denmark
Lela Riis Article
Tribute to Jacob Riis
About Theodore Roosevelt
Maple Grove Cemetery
Church of the Resurrection