This collection facilitates study of the crisis in urban development faced by the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
New York was especially vulnerable to these crises. Castle Garden and then Ellis Island was the golden gate to America for millions of Europeans anxious to claim the free land still available. Between the years 1881 and 1890, more than five million new citizens arrived, an increase in the total population of more than 10% in less than a decade.
Urban centers simply could not cope with this growth, so organizations such as the Charity Organization Society (C.O.S.) were formed. Uncontrolled and unscrupulous real estate development, political corruption and the sudden concentration of so many people caused problems of overcrowding, wretched housing, inadequate schooling, high crime rates, public disorder, air and water pollution, disease and the exploitation of men, women and children in the work market.
Economic depression exacerbated the problems -- the crash of the New York City stock market in 1893 created four years of intense poverty.
"Sweat shops" were adopted by the emerging Labor Movement as a symbol of social injustice. Events such as the 1894 Tailor's Strike in New York City, combined with pressure group politics of the C.O.S., forced government to pioneer new labor, women and child protection laws. The C.O.S. was at the center of reform work, and its reports provide a detailed account of living conditions and describe investigations of health, industry, delinquency, insanity and crime. It contributed to the new optimism that surged through America from 1900 onward -- and its reforms were a central part of the new Progressive Era.