Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New York City’s Historical Fourth Ward

In the mid-nineteenth century, New York City’s Fourth Ward overflowed with poor, unhealthy, working class people. The slums located in the Fourth Ward were some of the worst in New York’s history only to be surpassed by the city’s Sixth Ward.

Open sewers running down the middle of the streets, overflowing privies adjacent to potable water sinks, and over crowed and unkempt animal stables contributed to typhoid, dysentery and various skin infections. This area along the East River in what is now lower Manhattan teamed with disease and pestilence of Biblical proportions.

Filthy factories, brothels, and liquor stores lined every street. Of those people willing and/or able to work in factories most faced hazardous conditions, long working hours and extremely low wages. Many runaway girls were lured into a house of ill-reputed with the promise of safety . . . That is until their money ran out. Alcoholism reared its ugly self in the midst of all the sorrow of the Fourth Word. Husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, daughters, and sons using the vices of alcohol to try drowning out the realities of the Fourth Ward.

Like many sectors of large cities, the Fourth Ward was a miniaturized international society in itself. A Chinese area was host to opium dens. In a Native-American and African-American section inhabitants were wary of any outsiders, and even in a city of vast ethnic backgrounds they were persecuted to the point of having to leave the Fourth Ward by the mid-eighteen sixties.

Why didn’t anyone do anything about these appalling living conditions? Many tried. The typical tenement owner lived in a mansion somewhere in one of the wealthy areas of New York City and either wasn’t aware of the conditions of their buildings or didn’t care. Not until years of health and sanitation reports, and pleading from health professionals did the city decide to implement laws to clean up the tenements and create safer living conditions for poor New Yorkers.

With so much filth, disease and death in one are wasn’t there any good to be found? Absolutely, a sense of community and family ran strong in the Fourth Ward. Maybe, because people had so little material possessions that they counted on each other to get by. Do you think banning together in times of need could be a survival instinct God built into us? Looking back through history, I tend to think that’s true.

Here is a terrific resource to check out: http://vm.uconn.edu/~pbaldwin/ward4.html

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Michele Morris was born and raised in Mid-Michigan. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for twenty-nine years. Their family includes, six children, three in-loves, and five grandchildren. They now live in beautiful Central Florida. When Michele isn’t spending time with her family, baking, homeschooling her youngest two children, or writing, she co-coaches a F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team and is involved in her local church. Michele writes Historical Romance and is polishing her first full length novel which takes place in the turbulent 1850’s. Look her up Twitter or Face Book and say "hi"!



  1. Michele, I had no idea about the Fourth Ward. Thank you for bringing this to light. I certainly think God blessed us with survival skills so banning together would help immensely.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. Very Interesting! I think we not only draw closer to family in these type situations, but also closer to God.

  3. Thank you for sharing this bit of history. It is hard to imagine such horrendous conditions! I do believe God has given us survival instincts and wants us to take care of ourselves and others.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com