News | January 22, 2014

N-YHS Acquires First Edition of <i>How the Other Half Lives</i>, Annotated by Author Jacob Riis

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New York, NY, January 21, 2014—The New-York Historical Society has acquired a first edition of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, heavily annotated by the author with pages scrawled with moral indignation towards slumlords, asides about tenement residents, and copyedits. It was donated by Ted Gup, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed on his purchase of the volume and the continuing resonance of a work that attacked the conscience of America’s Gilded Age, invigorating generations of investigative journalists and social reformers.

“I cannot imagine a more appropriate home for this Jacob Riis volume than the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library of the New-York Historical Society,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, Vice President and Director of the Klingenstein Library. “Our collection holds over 200 original prints of his photographs, all first editions of his books, and still larger holdings of the social service agencies and organizations that were ignited by his work. We are grateful to Mr. Gup for donating this volume to New-York Historical to mark the centennial of Riis’s death.”

Prior to being purchased by Ted Gup from a Washington, D.C. bookseller, the book was passed down through several generations of Riis’s descendants, most recently his great-granddaughter, Gretchen Moore Cooke.

Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) immigrated to the United States in 1870 and lived in poverty for several years before becoming a newspaper police reporter on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In the 1880s, he began his effective crusade to improve immigrants' living conditions through tenement house law reform and programs for children. Riis turned to photography in 1887 as a powerful tool to persuade people that the slum horrors were real. At first, he relied on Richard H. Lawrence and other amateur camera club members to obtain images. Later, he began taking his own photographs. In 1890, Riis published How the Other Half Lives, which documented the systemic failure of tenement housing alongside greed and neglect from the wealthy. The book featured 35 illustrations, including 17 halftone reproductions of Riis’s photographs.

About the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research, presenting history and art exhibitions, and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical is the oldest museum in New York City. New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered political, cultural and social history of New York City and State and the nation, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.


The New-York Historical Society’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library is one of the oldest and most distinguished in the United States, containing more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, atlases, newspapers, broadsides, music sheets, manuscripts, prints, photographs and architectural drawings. The Klingenstein Library is one of only sixteen libraries in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association. Among its collections are far-ranging materials relating to the founding and early history of the nation; one of the best collections of eighteenth-century newspapers in the United States; an outstanding collection of materials documenting slavery and Reconstruction; an exceptional collection of Civil War material, including Ulysses S. Grant’s terms of surrender for Robert E. Lee; collections relating to trials in the United States prior to 1860; American fiction, poetry and belles-lettres prior to 1850; a broad range of materials relating to the history of the circus; and American travel accounts from the colonial era to the present day.

Image courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.