In the 19th century, more and more people began crowding into America’s cities, including thousands of newly arrived immigrants seeking a better life than the one they had left behind. In New York City–where the population doubled every decade from 1800 to 1880–buildings that had once been single-family dwellings were increasingly divided into multiple living spaces to accommodate this growing population. Known as tenements, these narrow, low-rise apartment buildings–many of them concentrated in the city’s Lower East Side neighborhood–were all too often cramped, poorly lit and lacked indoor plumbing and proper ventilation.
When Ellis Island opened, a great change was taking place in immigration to the United States. As arrivals from northern and western Europe–Germany, Ireland, Britain and the Scandinavian countries–slowed, more and more immigrants poured in from southern and eastern Europe. Among this new generation were Jews escaping from political and economic oppression in czarist Russia and eastern Europe (some 484,000 arrived in 1910 alone) and Italians escaping poverty in their country.
Hull House was a settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 in Chicago, Illinois. It was one of the first settlement houses in the United States. The building, originally a home owned by a family named Hull, was being used as a warehouse when Jane Addams and Ellen Starr acquired it.
Just as ethnic Russians and Poles were finding their way to American shores, one of the most dramatic chapters in world history was underway—the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to the United States. In a few short decades, from 1880 to 1920, a vast number of the Jewish people living in the lands ruled by Russia—including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Ukraine, as well as neighboring regions—moved en masse to the U.S. In so doing, they left a centuries-old legacy behind, and changed the culture of the United States profoundly.
On arrival in New York, most Jewish immigrants, including young girls such as Rose, had to go out to work, many of them in the garment industries and sewing trades which were dominated by Jewish entrepreneurs. Despite Rose's tender age, it was normal in Jewish society for women and girls to be employed outside the home, and many were trained in skills such as sewing and knitting when very young
A social reformer, journalist, photojournalist, and author, Jacob Riis shocked the United States with his photographs of slum conditions in the late 19th century. His efforts earned him the nickname Emancipator of the Slums.