Category Archives: Denmark

Jacob Riis 5.3.13 Thought of the Day

“Bad boys and bad girls are not born, but made…They are made bad by environment and training. The children must have room to play.” –-Jacob Riis

English: Jacob Riis, American journalist.

English: Jacob Riis, American journalist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob August Riis was born on this day in Ribe, Denmark, on 3rd May, 1849. Today is the 164th anniversary of his birth.

Jacob was the third of fifteen children born to Niels and Carolina Riis.  His father was a schoolteacher who occasionally wrote for a local newspaper. Jacob read as much as he could. He tried to sharpen his English skills by reading James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens.

Although Niels had hopes of his eldest son becoming a writer, Jacob wanted to be a carpenter. After completing his apprenticeship in Copenhagen Riis returned to Ribe but found it difficult to find a job. So, in 1870, with help from some friends he decided to emigrate to America.

The job market in America was no better than it was in Copenhagen. Riis lived hand to mouth (at best) spending his nights at police station lodging houses, in a graveyard, and when he could afford it in one of New York’s overcrowded, dark, airless, tenements.  He took on any  odd job he could find from day laborer, to farmhand, to bricklayer, and, occasionally as carpenter or writer.  When his money ran out he begged, scavenged, ate handouts from restaurants and stole fallen apples from orchards.

France had declared war on Germany in 1870 (the Franco–Prussian War) and he wanted to volunteer for the French side to avenge earlier Prussian aggression  in Denmark. But he was never able to hook up with a group traveling back to Europe to fight.

“After three years of doing odd jobs, Riis landed a job as a police reporter with the New York Evening Sun. He worked in the poorest, most crime – ridden areas of the city. These were generally neighborhoods where immigrants lived in deplorable tenement houses” [Gateway NPS.Gov]

He developed a writing style that was expressive, dramatic and to the point.

“Aware of what it was like to live in poverty, Riis was determined to use this opportunity to employ his journalistic skills to communicate this to the public. He constantly argued that the “poor were the victims rather than the makers of their fate”.” [Spartacus Educational]

although his writing was raising awareness of the plight of the poor,  he didn’t think it went far enough in illustrating  the dire conditions of the slums of New York. He needed to SHOW the upper and middle class what was going on in the tenements. His first attempt was through sketching, but he quickly realized he didn’t have the artistic skills  for that, so he switched to photography.

English: "Bandit's Roost, 1890, New York ...

English: “Bandit’s Roost, 1890, New York City.” Photograph by Jacob Riis, featured in his book How the Other Half Lives (1890) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He embraced the use of flash powder photography and brought his camera into the dark tenement buildings and the alleys at night.

“He began to bring a camera with him to document what he found in these neighborhoods, and the conditions in which these people lived. For this, Riis is considered to be one of the fathers of modern photojournalism. “ [Gateway NPS.Gov]

He partnered with W.L. Craig and went on a Magic Lantern tour with the photographs. During his lectures he pointed out that in Dicken’s London there were 175,00 plus people per square mile, while in the Lower East Side there were 290,000 plus people per square mile.”making it perhaps the worst slum in the history of the Western world.” [Spartacus Educational]

The lecture tours lead to a an article in the 1889 Christmas edition of Scribner’s Magazine. The 18 page article, titled “How the Other Half Lives” turned into a book by the same name, published in 1890.

“His book How the Other Half Lives inspired then police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to close the police lodging houses. It also brought about many needed reforms in housing laws. So important was Riis’s work, that Roosevelt called him “New York’s most useful citizen.” [Gateway NPS.Gov]

Riis spent the rest of his life advocating for the poor. He went on to write over a dozen books, noteably:

  • Children of the Poor (1892)
  • Out of Mulberry Street (1898)
  • The Making of An American (1901)
  • The Battle With the Slum (1902)
  • Children of the Tenement (1903).

Riis died on May 26, 1914. Seaside Park in Rockaway, New York  was renamed “Jacob Riis Park” in his honor.

"Minding Baby" [Image Courtesy: The Old Photo Album]

“Minding Baby” [Image Courtesy: The Old Photo Album]


A nod of thanks to my fabulous hubby who pointed out Riis as a possible Thought of the Day candidate. Good pick, hon.


Hans Christian Andersen 4.2.13 Thought of the Day

“Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen

Painting of Andersen, 1836, by Christian Albre...
Painting of Andersen, 1836, by Christian Albrecht Jensen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hans Christian Andersen was born on this day in Odense, Denmark in 1805. This is the 208th anniversary of his birth.

Andersen was the only son of Anna Maria and Hans Andersen. She was a washerwoman and he was a shoemaker. The family was very poor, and Hans senior made all his son’s toys. He inspired Hans’ love of reading (he read to the boy from 1,001 Arabian Nights) and theater (by taking him to the local playhouse.)

The house he grew up in was shared by 11 other people, (his mother and a father and 2 other families were all crowded into the little house.) “since he was unable to have any real physical privacy … he was forced to escape into the privacy of his mind.” [] “Young Hans grew to be tall and lanky, awkward and effeminate, but he loved to sing and dance, and he had a vivid imagination that would soon find its voice.” [] Hans was educated in the basics, and trained as both a weaver’s and tailor’s apprentice. But what he really wanted to do was act.

After his father’s death he moved to Copenhagen where he worked as a boy soprano in a choir. But when his voice changed, so did his job. He left the choir to try his luck as a ballet dancer, but that didn’t work out either. At 17  he met Jonas Collin, the Director of Royal Danish Theatre. Collins became his patron and sent the boy to school.

Hans Christian did not excel as a student, he was alienated by his fellow students, and he was continually mocked by his teachers for his ambition to become a writer. Andersen has described his time in school as the bitterest time of his life. Today it is believed that he suffered from dyslexia …. []

Collins pulled Andersen from school in 1827 and had him privately tutored. Hans began to write again. He had success in 1829 with A Journey on Foot from Homen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager and his play Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower and then again in 1835, with his first novel, The Improvisatore.

He went on to write plays, poems, prose, travelogues,  and, of course, fairy tales.

In the poet’s lifetime 156 “fairy tales and stories” were published. But if other texts of his in the nature of fairy tales and those which were printed only after his death are included, it makes a total of 212….he had the special knack of turning ideas into tales – in a particularly Nordic, melancholy and, at the same time, witty way. His fairy tales are philosophical, told with amazing narrative joy and sparkling imagination in beautiful, elegant language. []

He is probably the most read author in the World today, his stories have been translated into hundreds of languages and have an international appeal. Some of his best known fairy tales include:

HCA statue in New York City's Central Park
HCA statue in New York City’s Central Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • Thumbellina
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Emperor’s New Suit
  • The Brave Tin Soldier
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • The Snow Queen
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Little Match Seller

Click here to read The Beetle Who Went on His Travels and The Conceited Apple Branch

Want to read some of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales? Click Here for a link to a free Kindle book.

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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