During a recent trip to New York City, I was struck with the diversity of the metropolitan. The people, the architecture, the mix of historical and modern elements were all small parts of one massive city. This made me realize how much and how little the city has changed.
In the mid-nineteenth century, New York City’s Fourth Ward overflowed with poor, unhealthy, working class people, and was located where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands. These were some of the worst slums in New York City’s history, only to be surpassed by the Sixth Ward.
This area along the East River in what is now lower Manhattan teamed with disease and pestilence of Biblical proportions. Sickness and disease ran rampant due to open sewers flowing down the middle of the streets. Privies brimming to overflowing were adjacent to potable water sinks, and over crowed and unkempt animal stables contributed to typhoid, dysentery and various skin infections.
Filthy factories, unkempt brothels, and liquor stores lined every street. Of those people willing and/or able to work in factories, most faced hazardous conditions, long working hours and extremely low wages. Many runaway girls were lured into a house of ill-reputed with the promise of safety—that is, until their money ran out. Alcoholism reared its ugliness, luring husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, daughters, and sons to use the vices of liquor to drown out the realities of the Fourth Ward.
|Depiction of life in 1800's slum|
Like many sectors of large cities, the Fourth Ward was a miniaturized international society. Most inhabitants were poor Irish immigrants. Though, a Chinese area was host to brothels and opium dens. In the Native-American and African-American sector, inhabitants were wary of any outsiders and prejudice among the Irish eventually forced the African-American folks to leave the Fourth Ward by the mid-eighteen sixties.
So, why didn’t anyone do anything about these appalling living conditions? Many tried. But the typical tenement owner lived in a mansion somewhere in one of the wealthy areas of New York City and either wasn’t aware of the conditions of their buildings or didn’t care. Not until years of health and sanitation reports were filed, and pleading from health professionals, did the city decide to implement laws to clean up the tenements and create safer living conditions for poor New Yorkers.
|Life in the Fifth Ward|
Though through all the awful living condition, alcoholism, sickness and disease, there was a sense of community and family that ran strong in the Fourth Ward. Every day, children were born, couples married, and funerals held. Life was life. Maybe, it was because people had so little material possessions that they counted on each other to get by.
Do you think banning together in times of need could be a survival instinct God built into us? Looking back through history, I tend to think that’s true.
Have you been to New York City? Or would you like to visit someday? What were your thoughts about the city and its very visible and rich history?
Award winning author, Michele K. Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. She grew up riding horses and spending her free time in the woods of mid-Michigan. Married to her high school sweetheart, they are living happily-ever-after with their six children, three in-loves, and eight grandchildren in Florida, the sunshine state. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at HHHistory.com