Thursday, April 26, 2012

How The Other Half Lives at Little Falls, 1912

by M. Helen Schloss
New York World 1912
[ I only recently found this article published in The New World during the summer of 1912. Helen evidently wrote this before the strike ,after having worked five months as the tuberculois nurse, hired by the Fortnightly Club. I am not sure about all of the locations she describes but include a few recent photos of the general area about which she wrote. Helen's well-founded outrage at local conditions lends credence to  my view of her role in the great textile strike, i.e. that it might well not have occurred as it did, or in Little Falls, without her active presence in town at the time.  - MC]
The old New York Central Depot at Little Falls, now the Piccolo Cafe

 Let me tell you something about how the other half lives at Little Falls.
As the train rolls into the Little Falls station, one is confronted with a huge mill which foams and bustles all night. On the north side of the mill, crossing the railroad track is a street, with a car line running through it,  inhabited by foreigners, perhaps a little better than the streets and houses of the extreme south side of the town, where the slums are quite as bad as any in New York City. Social investigation, interest in “the other half,” was unknown prior to the tuberculosis exhibit that stirred the complacent people from their lethargy, and a club of well-meaning good ladies raised money and hired a visiting tuberculosis nurse.

View from depot past site of the huge Phoenix Mill toward South Side

The people on the south side are mill or factory hands, Italians, Poles, Slavs and Hungarian. Each nationality thinks that his particular creed and country is better than any other. They clan together, and one will find twenty-five or thirty living in one house. One room accommodates from five to ten people, and often as many as fifteen. The people working at night occupy the same beds as the people who work in the daytime; consequently the rooms are never aired. The landlord or agent who comes for the rent knows of this congestion, but when approached by the nurse on the subject the only answer is that those foreigners will crowd in, and nothing could be done with them.  If “those foreigners” did not crowd in one house as they do, it would be impossible for the factories to employ such cheap labor. The price for a sleeping bunk, with use of the kitchen is 3 dol. a month. The tenant gets nothing for his 3 dol. but just a place to throw his weary body upon. He never gets a bath nor any privacy where he or she may wash decently. In my rounds of visits I used to see weary men lying on the beds with their work clothes, as dirty as when they came from the mills.
Housing from 1912 era on the South Side of Little Falls

The cost of food is high, and there is no Board of Health to look after its purity. A short time ago there were about 50 cases of ptomaine poisoning from cheese.

Toilets are built in cellars, without ventilation and inadequate sewerage, and there are many open vaults- which is against the law. One row of house is on a creek, into which is discharged all the waste of the mills and all the sewerage of the town. In these houses the toilets are built over the creek.
When asked why they live in such filthy places, their answer is “No understand.”

Tuberculosis is very prevalent and the second-largest death rate in the state is here, the statistics show. It was not until very recently that the health officer took up the matter of fumigating houses; but these houses are so old that it would be impossible to kill the germs.

There are old houses along the Barge Canal which are absolutely uninhabitable, but which rent for about 10 dol. a month. The ceilings leak, the sharp wind blows through the cracks, the floors are broken, and only one or two rooms can be occupied. The landlord owns a textile mill, and also makes fleece-lined gloves, the work being done in some of the worst tenements. Not long ago there was scarlet fever in one of these tenements. The gloves were not allowed to leave the house until the quarantine was off, but they should have been destroyed instead. The woman took care of her husband suffering from scarlet fever, and sewed gloves in the room between. She did not even know how to wash her hands after attending the patient.
There is much open space on the once terribly crowded tenement areas
(Route 167 heading north toward river and canal)

This tenement was formerly a Methodist church. There were many deaths from tuberculosis in it; during the five months of my stay at Little Falls the nurse discovered three cases of tuberculosis.
The bedrooms in some of these tenements are mere boxes, unventilated, and so dark they have to burn a lamp night and day. There are three-storey and four-storey tenement houses without fire-escapes. Life is cheap in Little Falls. Apparently there is not enough Christianity and humanity in Little Falls to support a philanthropic movement.

Site of Sokol Hall next to the old Slovak Lutheran (now Assemblies of God) church

[Although Helen makes no mention in the above article  of the large building and gymnasium that stood here, it became a few months later the command center for the strikers and the IWW and Socialist activists who came to Little Falls in their support.]

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