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Jacob Riis (1849—1914) was a crusading journalist who brought New York City's overcrowded, decrepit slums to the consciousness and conscience of middle-class America. Best known for his photograph-filled 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, Riis spurred housing, school, and neighborhood reforms in cities throughout the United States.

Riis was born in Ribe, Denmark, a schoolmaster's son. His modestly comfortable childhood and its rural village were roots of his later advocacy of urban housing reform, as was his Christian faith and sense of morality. Riis's fondness for stories, particularly those by Charles Dickens, motivated him to learn English, but he disliked school and pursued carpentry. Crushed by romantic rejection and angling for adventure, Riis left for the United States in 1870.

Work in short-term carpentry, construction, and ...

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