NEW YORK CITY "TENEMENT" HOUSE
BARNHART'S DICTIONARY OF ETYMOLOGY has:
The term _tenement house_, meaning an apartment building usually in a
poor section of a city, is first recorded in 1858, in American English; in
the 1930's, the phrase was shortened to _tenement_.
In The New York Tribune, Section Five, 16 November 1913, pg. 3, is a
"A. I. C. P.--THE ST. GEORGE TO POVERTY'S DRAGON--IS NOW 70 YEARS OLD."
A. I. C. P.=Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. In the
center of the article is a picture of "ROBERT MILHAM HARTLEY: The MAN who
put the BAN on INDISCRIMINATE GIVING."
Also in the center is a drawing of a building, with the caption, "THE
FIRST MODEL TENEMENT IN NEW YORK CITY." (Not "tenement house"--ed.)
This is part of the article:
Established in 1843, the Association for Improving the Condition of the
Poor in 1845 made the first investigation of housing conditions in the city.
Three years later, in 1848, it distributed plans for model tenements with
the object of educating the public as to the needs of the poor and ways of
supplying them. In 1851 the New York Juvenile Asylum was projected and the
De Milt Dispensary founded, the latter the first institution of its kind.
The Northwestern Dispensary was founded the following year, to reproduce in
another part of the city the successful work of the first dispensary. In
this year also the first public washing and bathing establishment in the city
was built, at a cost of $42,000.
(...) ("Rotten Row" is described--ed.)
The funds, amounting to $90,000, were raised, and in 1853 what was then
considered a model tenement house was erected between Elizabeth and Mott
streets. It would not be counted as such now. A tenement house reformer
to-day would laugh if he did not weep at some of its details. For instance,
there was not a bedroom in it which opened directly out upon a court or
street. Comparatively little daylight could penetrate to the sleeping rooms.
Each apartment in the six story building contained three rooms, consisting
of a living room, with windows opening upon a passageway running in front of
the building through the middle of the block from street to street, and two
bedrooms behind it, extending to a longitudinal hall. The central section of
this hall was lighted by means of windows opening upon what was described as
an "open area," although in the floor plan, which has been preserved, it
looks more like a long and comparatively narrow light well.
The bedrooms fronting on this hall, if they chanced to be opposite the
windows in the illuminated part of the hall, were able to secure a twice
strained ray of daylight. Otherwise, the laboring man was obliged to rely
upon his wife in lieu of any alarm clock to warn him that it was time for him
to arise and go forth to his task. A notable feature of the building,
however, was the fact that each bedroom was connected with a ventilating flue
running to the roof.
It was noted with pride that there was Croton water in the building and
that the halls were illuminated with gas. On the top floor were large rooms,
adapted to the social uses of the occupants.
In 1856 and 1857 there were investigations into defective dwellings, the
sewerage problem and filthy streets and a "social and moral census" of
sections of the city was taken. Some appalling statistics were secured,
showing the poor chances of growing up in New York City. It was developed
that the ratio of deaths to population in half a century had nearly doubled.
In 1810 the annual death rate had been one in forty-six persons, in itself a
bad enough condition. But in 1857 one in twenty-seven persons passed over
the silent river each year. In some of the most unsanitary wards of the city
the death rate was one in sixteen. In no other city in the Christian world
was the rate so high. It was found also that between the years 1843 and 1850
the average age of death was fifteen years. In other words, more died than
lived to taste the experience of that happy period of life known as the
teens. To realize that the conditions are such in one's home community that
one-half of those who are born will not pass their fifth birthday is
terrifying. That was the condition in New York in the fifties. It was not
paralleled in any other city open to the same Christian influence.
A Worldcat computer search found S. H. Perkins, PLANS FOR TENEMENT
HOUSING: BROOKLINE, MASS. (1846). Notes: Plans, signed by Stephen Higginson
Perkins (1804-1877) and either done by him or at his request, evidently to
accompany the presentation of the "Report of the Committee on the Expediency
of Providing Better Tenements for the Poor," (Boston: Eastburn's Press,
1846). One plan ("#3") is of a building "to be erected on the site of the
old St. Pancras Church, London" and the other ("5") is a project for New
York. Floor plans and dimensions are given.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is at 90 Orchard Street, telephone
(212) 431-0233. I went there this week.
There is a large bookstore, but there is no book (nor any exhibit!) that
mentions the first New York City tenement house. So I asked about
"It's a Greek word," one museum staffer said.
"It's Latin," answered another.
Here I go again!!
I have these papers....