Tenement life


Today I went down to meet my cousin (who lives here), and my Aunt and Uncle (who are in town visiting) for a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. There are several tours that one can take, each depicting a particular group of people, their tenement and tour description of what their lives were like.  Our particular tour was focused on Jewish families living there and working in the garment district, which in its heyday was enormous. The tour was not only educational, but implicitly political, dealing with subjects such as the history of worker safety and sweatshops, unionization, immigration, and family life in the US and on the Lower East Side in particular. Our tour guide, Max, was excellent, posing interesting questions about our definitions of sweatshop conditions and the like. It is interesting that there is no simple objective way to say for sure if someone is working (or living) in horrible conditions, as it depends significantly on our own current standards for health, worker safety and exploitation. I was struck by how much many of the circumstances in the tenements mirrored conditions I had seen in India. Some labor practices seem to exist side by side with a certain level of economic development. It was abundantly obvious looking at these places why unionization was at one time such an important lever for improving working conditions in our society. I highly recommend the museum if you should come to New York. I am sure I will return to take another tour.


  1. Josh L. says:

    It is a well run museum. Another group that gives good tours of that area is Big Onion. Though it is always a bit strange to see groups of Jews coming for sentimental tours of the Lower East Side