Better housing: The solution to infant mortality in the slums
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3b49032



In the United States, housing problems—in particular the growth of slums—became acute during the 19th cent. in the cities of the eastern seaboard and in the larger Midwestern cities. A leading cause was the heavy immigration from Europe that began in the middle of the 19th cent. and reached a peak at the turn of the century. The first housing law (the 1867 New York City tenement house law) was revised in 1879 to prohibit windowless rooms. The findings of a tenement house commission resulted in a new law in 1901, requiring better provision for light and ventilation, fire protection, and sanitation. Most U.S. city and state housing laws in the following years were based on those of New York City.


  • Company Towns: 1880s to 1935Traditional settings for company towns were for the most part where extractive industries existed– coal, metal mines, lumber -- and had established a monopoly franchise. Dam sites and war-industry camps founded other company towns. Since company stores often had a monopoly in company towns, it was possible to pay in scrip (a term for any substitute for legal tender). Typically, a company town is isolated from neighbors and centered on a large production factory, such as a lumber or steel mill or an automobile plant; and the citizens of the town either work in the factory, work in one of the smaller businesses, or is a family member of someone who does
  • Defense Housing: 1942Speech by C.F. Palmer, Coordinator of Defense Housing. "In the twelve months ending next June 30th, we expect that an enormous army of two to three million men, women, and children will have been involved in the essential migration required by war industry and military concentration. The arrival of these millions of people in defense areas is creating a complexity of problems, in which the largest is the supply of shelter."
  • Effect of Economic Conditions Upon the Living Standards of Negroes (1928) It has been shown by a study made for the University of Georgia that the Negro in Georgia spends io per cent of his income on food. With the high cost of housing, clothing, etc., he cannot afford more. Add to the limited amount of food its inferior quality and lack of variety, and (because the woman must work) the hastily prepared and irregular meals, and you have a fruitful cause of ill health. Washerwomen often begin early in the morning and do not eat breakfast until noon. They often leave home before breakfast without feeding their children, and the latter eat what is left over from the day before. The Negro is unable to pay now for medical and dental care when necessary. He has always been unable to get credit at drug stores, and there is not enough aggregate capital to provide their own drug stores in many communities; therefore the obtaining of medicine during times of illness is always difficult. He is unable to continue to provide from his own pocket in a group way those health facilities denied him because of race, such as private hospitals and the like.
  • Housing and Politics (1940)The future of the housing program and of other federal land activities depends largely on what happens during the coming year. Much will depend on whether the people as well as the administration assume responsibility for the program, lead the fight for its continuance, make it one of their "must" measures. The cooperation of local authorities and a real effort by unofficial groups would do much to bring that about. For among the many measures that come before Congress, with many new issues presented by the present war, with much opinion favoring the limitation of federal operations, the President cannot be expected to press most strongly for measures on which there is only public apathy.
  • Housing In The Depression: A Speech by Senator Robert F. Wagner 1936The central importance of the housing problem exists everywhere. The fifteen million families in America who are shabbily quartered do not all reside in New York or Chicago. They are to be found in the small mining towns of Pennsylvania, in the tenanted areas of Arkansas and Mississippi, and in the remote mountain villages of the great Northwest. Hardly a county in the nation has escaped the searing influence of characterizing even during the times of relative prosperity.We are now prepared to attack this fundamental problem. At the same time, let us not forget that an even deeper, though not entirely unrelated, issue must be met. It is true that demoralizing living conditions multiply hardships of poverty, and make its victims unfit to utilize even those opportunities that better days may offer.
  • Hunter, Jane EdnaHunter graduated in 1905 as a trained nurse from Hampton Institute, VA, and migrated to Cleveland Ohio, arriving in 1905 as a 23 year old single African American woman. When she arrived in Cleveland she could not find decent housing or professional work because of segregation laws and practices. Her first housing was a place where prostitutes lived. With With the help of other women and $1,500, she first opened the Working Girls Home Association, a boarding home for 10 women at East 40th, north of Central Avenue.
  • I Visit a Housing Project: 1940Inside my head was probably about let is inside the head of the ordinary general-public American, some vague, blurred, uncoordinated information about m, the dubious result of what is fled "general reading"—a little, that about the difficulties of getting decent using for people with small incomes, out modern methods of construction, out labor unions and Mr. Arnold's goings-on, about streamlined plumbing and linoleum and so on. But no raw material from which to draw any answer to the crucial question: "If I lived one of those houses, would I like it?" And my father brought me up on the maxim, in regard to our public schools: "If it's not good enough for me and my children, it's not good enough for anybody's."
  • Jacobs, Jane -- 1916 - 2006Jane Jacobs also noted New York City's Greenwich Village as an example of an exciting city community. This is one of the communities that was saved, in part at least, because of her writings and activism. In 1962, Jacobs headed a committee to stop the development of a highway through Lower Manhattan in New York City. The expressway would have cut right through Greenwich Village and the popular SoHo area. Influential New York City developer Robert Moses proposed the plan. But huge public protests in 1964 led the city government to reject it. Jacobs' book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" helped influence public opinion against the expressway.
  • National Housing Conference, IncFrom the 1940s to the 1960s, NHC consisted of a coalition of public housing advocates, social workers, labor unions, and local housing authorities who pushed for housing reforms. However, by the 1970s, NHC became an ally of the federal housing bureaucracy because its membership included primary builders, construction unions, and real estate developers.
  • Program of Work for the Assimilation Of Negro Immigrants In Northern Cities (1917)The first prerequisite in the task of organizing a local community for the absorption of a large new population of negro citizens is the establishment of a vocational bureau. In the past, when labor agencies brought the majority of negroes who came North, the problem of employment was simple. They were assured of jobs before they arrived. But now the majority of immigrants come without such inducement. They come in larger numbers and at all times of the year, when the demand for labor is strong and when it is slack. This situation is fraught with danger because in a few days idling about the city in search of a job the immigrant may come into contact with conditions and people whose influence is demoralizing and may destroy his chance of ever becoming a useful citizen.
  • That "One Third of a Nation" (1940)If we had a real boom, and all our employable got jobs, that famous "one third" would no longer be ill-fed, or ill-clothed, but they would still be ill-housed. We must face this fact, says Mrs. Wood in an article which asks why public investment in human shelter should stagger a nation that builds roads, conserves forests and other natural resources.
  • What Price Slum Clearance? (1953)After an intensive attempt to comb city agencies for relevant information, we have come to the conclusion that the city is not facing the situation realistically. No one department has been charged with responsibility to assess the nature of the problem or the risks involved. City agencies in reviewing projects have paid little attention to the relocation problem and have approved projects on an uncoordinated piece-meal basis. Facts which are readily available were not collected by any one city department. Other data, available from the Bureau of Census for a minimum price, had never been requested. Ironically, so far as we know, no city adding machine had ever totaled the displacement figure referred to above.