[Table of Contents]

1. The Landlord as Czar
Pre-World War I Tenant Activity

Jenna Weissman Joselit

Rent day is like the Day of Judgement... we never know what our fate will be.
--Jewish Daily Forward, March 5, 1908

In the spring of 1904, several hundred residents of the Lower East Side, New York's immigrant Jewish quarter, took to the streets in protest against their landlords and refused to pay their monthly rent. Property owners in the area, taking advantage of a decided shortage in rental housing, had recently increased tenement house rents by an additional 20 to 30 percent. But area residents, largely seasonal garment trade workers and small businessmen, could hardly afford the existing rent, which swallowed anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of their income, let alone an increment. "What is to become of the family whose sole breadwinner earns 60 a day and whose rent has been increased from $8.50 to $13 a month," wondered one resident.[1] Still another related that many Lower East Siders felt they "lived and worked for the landlord."[2]

At first, individual tenants and then, as protest spread "like an angry wave" over the entire neighborhood, groups of tenants asked their landlords not to raise the rent lest wholesale evictions ensue.[3] When the property owners refused, tenement house dwellers held protest meetings, picketed the homes of their landlords, and conducted rent strikes. "We are all pledged not to pay you the increase in rent," tenants informed their landlords. "If you wish to turn us out you can do so, but notice will be sent all over the East Side and no new tenants will move in."[4] Striking residents also printed up cards, in both Yiddish and English, warning their neighbors "to keep away from the house at ____ Street. In the name of your children we are asking you not to hire rooms in that house, as the house is on strike because the rent is raised every month and we want to put a stop to it once and for all. Keep away."[5]

On the surface, Lower East Side residents were demonstrating against rent increases they could little afford. On a deeper level, however, they were protesting against the tenuousness of their status as tenants. The most recent rent hike was, to them, not only a financial affront but also a psychological one, indicating that when it came to housing, the "landlord was czar."[6] Without a lease (or any other curb regulating the housing market), the tenants felt his power--and often, his capriciousness--at every turn. Some landlords had a minhag (custom) of determining the rent according to family size, charging 50 additional per child above the base rent.[7] Still others routinely raised the rent after making alleged improvements in the building. "One poor woman desirous of celebrating the Passover in a becoming manner asked her landlord to whitewash her ceilings, which grievously needed it," reported a local Jewish magazine. "In January, three months before the Passover, he raised the rent fifty cents a month ... on account of the superior accommodations she would have when Passover really came and her ceilings were really whitewashed."[8]

For the most part, tenants were passive in their dealings with the landlord or his designated representative, the lessee. "That there was anything wrong with living as we lived, we never suspected," one resident explained. "To live, a family of eight in three rooms seemed to us quite normal, as was being without a bathroom and sharing the toilet with three neighbors."[9] Others, less innocent perhaps, knew that they lived in substandard conditions and that they had considerable cause for complaint but felt themselves too raw, too inexperienced in American ways to challenge the landlord's way of doing business. Then there were those Lower East Siders who, deliberately choosing inactivity over collective protest, preferred to keep their dissatisfactions to themselves. Tenement dwellers, Irving Howe writes, "knew that by American standards, they were victims of an outrage.... But they also remembered that in the old country many of them had lived in hovels ... so they responded to both the American immediacy and the European memory, submitting as best they could to their daily burdens, determined to escape as quickly as possible."[10] In fact, "escaping as quickly as possible" was, for most Lower East Siders, the preferred route: unable to pay the mandated rent or dissatisfied with their unlit hallways and limited bathing facilities, tenants moved elsewhere: up north to Harlem, across the river to Brooklyn. By exercising what sociologists have called the "exit option," tenants defused the potential for protest.

But in 1904, New York's housing market permitted no such option. Housing, especially for New York's tenement population, was in short supply. "There are hardly any 'To Let' signs," reported the New York Herald at the time, "and every place that is in the least desirable seems to have been taken."[11] And on the Lower East Side, as its population continued to grow, available housing supply dwindled to the point where, one observer noted, "there is a famine in the supply of available tenements."[12] For one thing, many sections of the Lower East Side had been torn down to make way for local municipal improvements--parks, schools--and the building of the Williamsburg Bridge; construction of the bridge in 1900 forced the razing of what had once been home to over seventeen thousand local residents.[13] For another thing, even as the Lower East Side's housing supply decreased, the neighborhood, magnet to thousands upon thousands of newly arriving Eastern European Jews, continued to grow. Within five years, since the turn of the century, its population had expanded by over 14 percent.[14]

With the "famine" in available Lower East Side housing on the one hand and the landlord's determination to take advantage of that situation by continuous rent raising on the other, it was no wonder, then, that tenants manifested their discontent in a "spontaneous outburst" of rent withholding and protest.[15] "Those in close touch with the district," reported David Blaustein, director of the area's largest social settlement house, the Educational Alliance, "had seen the storm far off for a long time."[16] An example of the "new combativeness" of Lower East Side residents--the "rental agitation" of 1904--reflected that community's increasing politicization.[17] Referring rather self-consciously to themselves as "strikers," to their non-cooperating neighbors as "scabs," to building-level tenant groups as "tenant unions," and to the withholding of their rent as a "rent strike," Lower East Side tenement dwellers drew on familiar political rhetoric--on the language of the labor union--in conducting their protest. They also borrowed many of its techniques of protest as well--the use of pickets, outside demonstrations, marches, canvassing the neighborhood for support; each strategy calculated to force the collective hand of local real estate interests was drawn from the neighborhood's embryonic, but powerful, trade union movement. "The trade union movement in the Jewish quarter has been growing apace," reported Abe Cahan. "It has had its ups and downs, its spurts and its periods of weakness, but upon the whole, trade unionism has taken root. The spirit which impels one to struggle for his rights, to combat robbery, has imbedded itself," he concluded, "in the hearts of our workingmen.... This is the case with the present rent strikes. They are the outcome of the same spirit, the offspring of that same struggle against Capital, which has grown up in our quarter owing to the work of Socialists and trade unionists."[18]

Even more to the point, perhaps, was that the "rent wars" of 1904 were of a piece with an earlier, more delimited incident in which local Lower East Side residents, angered by conditions in the marketplace, took matters into their own hands. Two years earlier, in the spring of 1902, Lower East Side housewives had organized a community-wide boycott of local kosher butchers. The price of kosher meat at the time had jumped from a barely affordable 12 a pound to an unaffordable 18 a pound. When small retail butchers were unable to persuade the "meat trust" to lower the wholesale price of beef, area residents assumed responsibility for making kosher meat available and organized themselves into the Ladies Anti-Beef Trust Association. Relying on informal neighborhood ties and on local institutions as well--the synagogue, the labor union, the mutual aid and benefit society--members of this association, exerting pressure on their relatives and friends, urged them not to enter butcher shops or to purchase meat until the meat trust, and with it the small meat retailer, lowered the price of meat. Once the boycott was well underway--even the city's kosher restaurants had stopped serving meat--male communal leaders, including David Blaustein himself, organized the Allied Conference for Cheap Kosher Meat, claiming that they would now "bring order to the great struggle for cheap meat." Under its aegis, boycott activity continued until the meat wholesalers agreed, under considerable pressure, to reduce the price of wholesale meat to pre-strike levels. "With this issue," writes Paula Hyman, "immigrant housewives found a vehicle for political organization ... they temporarily turned their status as housewives to good advantage and used the neighborhood network to stage a successful three week boycott."[19]

Much the same can be said of the 1904 tenant protest. Here, too, women were its central actors. Drawing, once again, on their experiences as consumers and managers of the household budget, East Side women used the neighborhood as a staging ground for their anti-landlord protests. They held meetings to discuss strategy, picketed buildings where tenants were forcibly evicted for nonpayment of rent, organized building-level "tenant unions," and went from tenement to tenement drumming up support for their activities. "Local Jewish women," explained the Jewish Daily Forward, "began the rent strike and through their efforts and enthusiasm, they spread it. Through their strength, even the blackest strike was won and without their remarkable activities, the strike would not have been possible."[20]

Participants in the 1904 "rental agitation" were fully aware of the similarities between this episode and the preceding one and exploited those similarities. Repeatedly, such prominent Yiddish newspapers as the Jewish Daily Forward, drawing parallels between the two events, invoked the earlier protest to fuel the current one. Urging Jewish residents to hold firm in the face of evictions, that paper trumpeted that "this strike can be as great as the meat strikes" and advised Jewish housewives "to take the rent question into their hands as they did the meat question."[21] Linking the two events together served to legitimate them and made one seem a natural consequence of the other. And both, as the Forward liked to remind its readers had common origins as "great folk struggles." "The meat strike," the socialist paper went on to say, "was a child of the trade strikes... and the rent strike, in turn, comes from the same source."[22]

The similarities between the two events were structural as well. Like the 1902 meat strike, male communal leadership, two years later, stepped in to direct the rent protest, once grass roots protest was well underway. Within weeks of its initial outburst, tenant protest had grown so large and the Lower East Side was "seething with activity and protest" that male delegates from the United Hebrew Trades, the Workmen's Circle, and various locals joined together to form the New York Rent Protective Association (NYRPA).[23] Modeling itself after one of the Lower East Side's most popular social institutions--the landsmanshaft or Jewish fraternal and mutual aid society--the NYRPA provided small sums of money to recently evicted tenants. Like the landsmanshaft, which provided money to its unemployed, disabled, or needy members, the NYRPA was designed to be "an immense mutual benefit society for Jewish tenants of the Lower East Side."[24] "Every tenant," one of its founders explained, "will pay dues and the funds so raised will be available to pay the rent of any member of the association who cannot raise the money (for rent)."[25] In addition to providing financial benefits, the NYRPA provided advice and legal counsel as well. Hoping to become "the address" for tenant-landlord problems, NYRPA staff would help disgruntled tenants in court, organize tenant groups in individual buildings, and plan rent strikes.

Ultimately, the NYRPA foundered on the issue of politics. Some of its one thousand members maintained that without an avowedly political base--that of the Socialist party--tenant protest was not likely to get off the ground. Others held that in withholding their rent, they were acting as tenants; "we are not here as Socialists nor as labor unionists but as tenants," this group explained. Unable to resolve their differences, the Socialist faction of the NYRPA went its own way and seceded from the parent organization; the NYRPA, itself, dissolved soon thereafter.[26]

Though Lower East Side residents failed, in 1904, to establish a sustained, ongoing, institutional base from which to conduct future rent strikes and other forms of tenant activity, the rent wars of 1904 appeared to them as a successful venture. The threatened evictions failed to materialize, and, if newspaper accounts are to be believed, the overwhelming majority of Lower East Side landlords rolled back rents to pre-strike levels, some even going so far as to sign leases with their tenants promising to hold the rent steady for at least one year. Even more important, perhaps, than the material gains won by striking tenants were the psychological implications the 1904 rent protest held out for area residents. As tenants, residents saw the value of collective protest. The 1904 rent strike, noted the Forward in its aftermath, "puts tenants on a new level,"[27] while another contemporary observed that "the tenants of the East Side have learned their lesson. They see that a long pull and a strong pull and a pull altogether will save.... It must be borne in mind as a most important feature of this whole affair, that the tenants fought their own battle."[28]

Beginning in late December 1907 and crescendoing a month later, the "greatest rent wars" the Empire City had ever seen took place as thousands of residents throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn collectively withheld their rents in protest against yet another round of impending rent hikes.[29] The 1904 protest, it seemed, had succeeded only temporarily in holding down rents; within a year of its passing, local real estate interests began incrementally once again to raise the rent. Early in December, landlords announced that as of the new year, rent would be increased by an additional dollar or two. Coming on the heels of successive waves of rent hikes in which, for example, two-and-one-half "dark rooms" now rented for $16 or $17 instead of the 1904 price of $11 or $12, tenants were caught off guard by the latest rent hike.[30] What is more, 1907 was a depression year in which anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred thousand men on the Lower East Side were unemployed. If in ordinary times when employment was more or less steady tenement dwellers were hard put to come up with an additional 50 cents or $1 for the rent, what could they possibly do when opportunities for work were negligible. "A difference of $1 in the rent," related one disgruntled resident, "means all the difference in the world."[31]

"Born in the shabby rooms of the tenements where mothers saw things going from bad to worse," tenant protest, once again, spread throughout the Lower East Side "like a fire."[32] As in 1904, local housewives initially led the protest, their concern with and ultimate participation in rent strikes stemming from their role as homemaker and manager of the household budget. Described alternately as "missionaries" or as the "great army of protestants," they canvassed the neighborhood for support, wrote circulars denouncing "rent robbery," and urged residents not to pay the additional rent.[33] "We, the tenants of 3M," read the text of tenant resolutions, "having realized our present misery come to the following conclusions. Whereas the present industrial depression has affected us most severely; and whereas the rent for the last two years has risen skywards ... therefore we resolve to demand of you to decrease the rent immediately."[34] For many area residents, withholding their rent pending a more reasonable settlement with the landlord was their only option. "I simply did what any sensible girl would do," one of the rent protectors explained. "I am not a labor leader or a regular striker and I am also not a troublemaker. I simply joined the strike because I saw it was impossible to exist on a small salary these days and then pay exorbitant rents to the landlords."[35] The rent strikes, added social reformer Rose Pastor Stokes, herself a former resident of the area, come out of "pure necessity."[36]

Almost immediately, the 1908 "tenant uprising" was brought under the "systematic and organized control" of the Eighth Assembly District or local branch of the Socialist party, a party heavily represented and favored by Jewish garment workers and others.[37] As January rent day drew closer, one eyewitness recalled, tenants became increasingly agitated over their inability to pay the new rent; "this agitation in turn formulated itself into a question which at last found expression at a meeting of the 8th Socialist party."[38] Under its aegis, the rent strike spread to Brooklyn and Harlem and ultimately engaged several thousand tenants. What is more, Newark, New Jersey, residents sent a delegation across the river to the Lower East Side to discuss planning a similar protest in their city, while members of the International Federation of Italians conferred with the members of the Socialist party directing the strike on how best to conduct a rent strike in the city's Italian neighborhoods. Staff located at the Socialist party's downtown headquarters provided tenants with advice on how to approach their landlords for a rent reduction and, when that failed, on how to organize a rent strike. When property owners appeared ready to negotiate a possible settlement, Socialist party members spelled out the proper negotiating techniques to the tenants and, in some instances, negotiated directly with the landlords on the tenants' behalf, even appearing for them in court. Several socialist unions, meanwhile, joining in the fray, pledged financial assistance to dispossessed or needy tenants. More dramatically still, the members of the "Hebrew local" of the Teamsters Union refused, in their capacity as marshals, to dispossess striking tenants.[39]

Thanks to the direction and leadership of the Socialist party, the 1908 tenant rebellion was perhaps better and more tightly organized than in the past. Lending its name, organizational base, and personnel to the cause, the Socialist party not only indelibly marked tenant protest as a left wing activity (an association that persisted for quite some time) but also adumbrated its involvement, several years later, in the major garment industry strikes of the prewar era. During the shirtwaist makers' strike of 1909-1910, the Socialist party assisted the ILGWU, the fledgling garment union, by providing it with financial support and pickets. Yet there were several drawbacks in being associated with the Socialists for, in the minds of many New Yorkers, rent striking was seen increasingly as a Socialist venture. New York City's police, for example, frightened by what they took to be the revolutionary fervor of the 1908 protectors, not only refused to grant them the right to parade through downtown streets but also forcibly disbanded such gatherings. For another thing, tenant-landlord confrontations this time around were considerably more violent than they had been previously. Egged on by the Socialists, tenants hung their landlords in effigy and hung red flags (actually petticoats dyed red) from their windows.[40]

The media, for its part, was far less supportive of the 1908 rent strike than it had been of the one four years before. What the press described, somewhat kindly, in 1904 as a "tenant-landlord conflict," a "rental agitation," or a "folk struggle," they now depicted as a "rent war," a "tenant uprising," or a "tenant rebellion"; groups of tenants were seen as an "army" and tenant-landlord confrontations as "skirmishes."[41] Undoubtedly, the Socialist nature of the agitation alarmed many. The American Hebrew, New York Jewry's middle-class newspaper, sharply criticized its downtown co-religionists for "not acting wisely." The rent strike, commented the weekly, "is a typical example of how not to do things."[42] Charities and Commons, in turn, noted that "the use of red flags and the violent opposition to their removal has already to some extent alienated public sympathy from their cause."[43] Protesting tenants, then, were seen in l908 as dangerous and unruly, as a group to be controlled and quieted. Alarmed by what seemed to them to be a clear misreading of the situation, Lillian D. Waki and James Hamilton, two of New York's leading social workers, wrote to the editor of the New York Times to explain what was occurring on the Lower East Side and elsewhere throughout the city. "We deem it only just to say," the social workers related, "that the agitation through public meetings and the like has been conducted in a calm and orderly manner. The people of the Lower East Side are hardworking, self respecting and law-abiding... and it is our observation that the movement has been conducted in such a manner as to deserve respect."[44]

The social workers' appreciation for the dilemma faced by Lower East Side and other tenants did nothing to alleviate a growing sentiment against them, particularly on the part of the municipal court judges who dispensed eviction proceedings. Insisting that "there must be no lawlessness nor red nags" and that a "rent strike cannot be entertained as an excuse for not paying rent," the magistrates issued several thousand dispossess notices.[45] Ultimately, this action broke the back of the 1908 protest, to say nothing of the esprit de corps of the protectors. Although several hundred tenants successfully secured rent reductions of a dollar or two, most were not so fortunate: they were either evicted from their homes or, alternatively, "yielded at the last moment" and paid the new rent.[46]

Writing in the strike's aftermath, Rose Pastor Stokes applauded the tenants for organizing. Regardless of whether they won reductions, she noted, tenants should feel that the "fight itself must result in great good. It makes [the tenants] conscious of the common interests of their class, this fighting together."[47] However conscious tenants might have been of their "common interests" as tenants, they failed to develop an institutional base from which to protect those interests. The 1908 rent protest, like its predecessor, lasted only a short time; it disappeared as quickly as it had first appeared. The organizations that emerged to defend the tenants against the "rent robbery"--the building-level tenant unions or the Socialist party's involvement--similarly disappeared, leaving no enduring structure. Tenant activity, it seemed, was ad hoc and temporary: once tenants secured what they regarded as gains or were simply unable to proceed any further with their protests, the "rental agitation" subsided. Several thousand strong at the height of the 1908 protest, New York's tenants had the possibility to effect some measure of change in the nature of the tenant-landlord relationship--to make a case for tenants' rights and to press for the accountability of the property owner. Ultimately, though, as one contemporary observed at the time, "no marked change in the condition of the East Side has been brought about" by the 1908 rent strikes.[48]

What is more, there was "no marked change" in the condition of the New York City tenement house dweller in the years following the great rent strike of 1908. In the period preceding the outbreak of World War I, tenant activity was sporadic and, for the most part, limited to the city's Jewish neighborhoods. Small-scale protests, in which tenants threatened to withhold their rent in protest against an impending rent hike, erupted from time to time on the Lower East Side, Harlem, and the Bronx; a few protests centered on the issue of inadequate heat and poor building management.[49] Nothing comparable to the 1908 protest took place until several years after the Great War. And while one can find scattered hints of some tenant activity among other New York City residents at the time, it assumed completely different forms than it had earlier.[50] Black residents of Harlem, for example, occasionally formed block associations, wrote petitions, and held rallies in protest against excessively high, and discriminatory, rents.[51] They did not, however, commonly resort to rent strikes until years later. Only after their politicization on other fronts did black New Yorkers use forms of collective protest within the context of housing-related grievances; the latter technique remained a hallmark of Jewish tenant activity.

Notes

1. New York Herald (hereafter cited as NYH), Apr. 10, 1904.

2. Archibald Hill, "Rental Agitation on the Lower East Side," Charities, Apr. 16, 1904. See too Louis Freedman, "Rise in Rentals on the Lower East Side," Jewish Charity, Feb. 1904. The following account is drawn largely from the Jewish Daily Forward (hereafter cited as JDF), Mar. 17-May 21, 1904; New York Times (hereafter cited as NYT), Apr. 4-May 5, 1904; New York Sun (hereafter cited as NYS), Apr. 6-May 4, 1904; NYH, Apr. 4-May 5, 1904.

3. NYT, Apr. 8, 1904.

4. David Blaustein, "Cockroach Landlords," New Era 4, no. 6 (May 1904): 2.

5. Ibid., p. 5.

6. JDF, June 1, 1906, Mar. 5, 1909, Sept. 12, 1916.

7. Ibid., Mar. 6, 1905.

8. Quoted in Blaustein, "Cockroach Landlords," p. 5.

9. Zalmen Yoffeh, "The Passing of the East Side," Menorah Journal, Dec. 1929, p. 274.

10. Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers (New York, 1976), p. 154.

11. NYH, Apr. 6, 1904.

12. Ibid.; Real Estate Record and Builder's Guide, Jan. 4, 1908.

13. Real Estate Record and Builder's Guide, July 27, 1901.

14. Cited in Thomas Kessner, The Golden Door: Italian and Jewish Immigrant Mobility in New York City, 1880-1915 (New York, 1977), p. 33.

15. JDF, Apr. 7, 13, 1904.

16. Blaustein, "Cockroach Landlords," p. 1.

17. Howe, World of Our Fathers, p. 124.

18. Abe Cahan, "What Sense Is There In These Rent Strikes," Worker, Apr. 17, 1904.

19. Paula E. Hyman, "Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York City Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902," American Jewish History 70, no. 1 (Sept. 1980): 91-105, especially p. 92. See too Paula E. Hyman, "Culture and Gender: Women in the Immigrant Jewish Community," in The Legacy of Jewish Migration: 1881 and Its Impact, ed. David Berger (New York, 1983), pp. 157-168. See too Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism 1870-1920 (Urbana, 1981).

20. Editorial, "The Role of Women in the Rent and Other Strikes," JDF, May 21, 1904. Also, NYT, Apr. 8, 1904; NYH, Apr. 8, 10, 1904; NYS, Apr. 12, 1904.

21. JDF, Mar. 18, 1904.

22. Cahan, "What Sense in Rent Strikes,' p. 4.

23. NYS, Apr. 8, 1904; NYT, Apr. 10, 1904; NYS, Apr. 11, 1904; NYT, Apr. 8, 11, 1904.

24. NYS, Apr. 11, 1904; NYT, Apr. 11, 1904.

25. NYT, Apr. 18, 1904; NYS, Apr. 12, 1904.

26. NYT, Apr. 12, 1904; NYH, Apr. 12, 1904; NYT, May 3, 1904.

27. Blaustein, "Cockroach Landlords," p. 6.

28. Ibid. In the years that followed, tenants continued to hold rent strikes. Faced with a rent hike or an unwarranted eviction, tenants protested by withholding their rent. In the spring of 1905, for example, tenants on a Lower East Side Pike Street tenement collectively withheld their rent in protest against what they believed to be an unfair rent hike. Similarly, late in 1907, tenants forced to move from their homes in order to make way for an entrance onto the newly erected Manhattan Bridge held protest demonstrations. For all that though, tenant activity was rather limited in scope; a brief flurry involving one or two buildings, it was a far cry from the community-wide protest of 1904. If, at the first sign of a rent problem, the Jewish Daily Forward trumpeted, "Another rent war is here." its excitement more accurately reflected journalistic license than it did the actual social reality. See JDF, Apr. 21, 1904, Apr. 3, 1905; "East Side Rents," American Hebrew, Sept. 15 1905.

29. NYT, Dec. 28, 1907. Because of the size of the protest, New York's metropolitan newspapers paid it a good deal of mind. General accounts of the 1907-8 rent strike can be found in the JDF, Dec. 24, 1907-Jan. 22, 1908; Wahrheit, Dec. 26, 1907-Jan. 10, 1908; Judisches Tageblatt, Dec. 26-31, 1907; NYT, Dec. 26, 1907-Jan. 24, 1908; New York World (hereafter cited as NYW), Dec. 27 1907-Jan. 15, 1908; New York Evening journal (hereafter cited as NYEJ), Dec. 26, 1907-Jan. 24, 1908. Daily People and Worker, two Socialist publications, were also consulted.

30. Daily People, Jan. 3, 1908; Wahrheit, Dec. 27, 1907; American Hebrew, Jan. 10, 1908.

31. Quoted in Daily People, Jan. 3, 1908; Charles Bernheimer, "High Rents on New York's East Side," Charities and Commons, Jan. 18, 1908.

32. New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Dec. 26, 1907; NYEJ, Dec. 26, 31, 1907.

33. NYEJ, Jan. 26, 28, 1908.

34. NYW, Dec. 30, 1907; Worker, Jan. 4, 1908. See too, Charles Bernheimer, "Rent Strikes and Crowded Neighborhoods," Outlook, Jan. 1908.

35. New York American, Dec. 30, 1907; NYEJ, Dec. 31, 1907. On the women participants in particular, see New York American, Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30, 1907; NYT, Dec. 26, 27, 1908; NYEJ, Dec. 27, 28, 31, 1907; Victor Rousseau, "Low Rent or No Rent: The Tenement Dweller's Rebellion in New York," Harper's Weekly, Jan. 25, 1908, pp. 148-152.

36. NYW, Jan. 9, 1908.

37. New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Dec. 26, 1907; NYT, Dec. 30, 1907; William Mailly, "The New York Rent Strike," Independent, no. 64, Jan. 1908. The New York Socialist party was heavily Jewish, for the Lower East Side garment worker, the party's backbone, "made up the single largest fraction of the enrolled Socialists," accounting for at least one-third of its membership. Charles Leinenweber, "The Class and Ethnic Bases of New York Socialism, 1904- 1915," Labor History 22, no. 1 (Winter 1981): 31-56, especially pp. 39, 43.

38. Mailly, "New York Rent Strike," p. 150; author's interview with Pauline Newman, June 12, 1975.

39. JDF, Jan. 3, 1908; NYEJ, Jan. 2, 1908; NYW, Jan. 15, 1908: Worker, Jan. 18, 1908. See too, Jeffrey Gurock, When Harlem Was Jewish, 1870-1930 (New York, 1979), pp. 72-73.

40. NYS Jun 6, 1908. Mailly, "New York Rent Strike"; Wahrheit, Dec. 28, 29, 1907.

41. See, for example, Rousseau, "Low Rent"; NYW, Dec. 27, 29, 1907, Jan. 3, 1908; NYEJ, Jan. 4, 1908.

42. American Hebrew, Jan. 3, 10, 1908.

43. Charities and Commons, Jan. 11, 1908.

44. NYT, Jan. 11, 1908.

45. JDF, Jan. 2, 1908; NYEJ, Dec. 31, 1907; New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Jan. 6, 1908; NYEJ, Jan. 7, 1908.

46. NYEJ, Jan. 3, 1908; "0utcome of Rent Agitation," Charities and Commons, Feb. 8, 1908.

47. NYEJ, Jan. 3, 1908.

48. "Outcome of Rent Agitation."

49. In the years that followed, tenants continued, on occasion, to engage in protest behavior. During the years 1909- 1916, for example, small-scale examples of tenant activity erupted on the Lower East Side, Harlem, and the Bronx. In 1909, tenants in an East 100th Street tenement, angered by what they regarded as the dishonest management of their building, threatened to withhold rent until the landlord conducted his affairs more honorably. Shortly thereafter, Lower East Side residents in one tenement house went out on a rent strike in protest against a rent hike. Moreover, on the eve of World War I, the failure of one landlord to provide his tenants with what they saw as a sufficient amount of steam and hot water provoked them into threatening a rent strike. See, JDF, Apr. 2, 1908, Apr. 5, 1909, Dec. 30, 31, 1916.

50. The Society to Lower Rents and Reduce Taxes on Homes must be mentioned in this context as well. Strictly speaking, it was not a tenant association for it neither serviced the immediate needs of the city's apartment house dwellers nor counseled them on how to handle landlord-related problems. Formed by civic reformer Benjamin Clarke Marsh in 1913, the society was essentially a land and tax reform organization, concerned primarily with reducing urban congestion and only incidentally with the plight of tenants. Marsh and his followers believed that a reduction of the building tax on building improvements would have salutary effect on living conditions, most particularly on the high cost of rent. Armed with the slogan, "One-half tax equals lower rents," Marsh crusaded among New York tenement and apartment house dwellers for their support. To that end, he published a magazine, Tenant's Weekly (later it came out monthly), as a forum through which the society's ideas could be publicized. Though Marsh's organization ultimately failed to lift itself off the ground, its short-lived history suggests that, increasingly, tenants were being seen as a political constituency. On Marsh, see Benjamin Clarke Marsh, Lobbyist for the People (Washington, 1953); Tenant's Weekly, June 1, 1914; Municipal Facts, Sept. 17, 1911; "Lower Rents as a City Slogan," Survey, Mar. 15, 1913.

51. See, for example, New York Age, Sept. 28, Oct. 5, Nov. 23, Dec. 28, 1916; "Housing Conditions among Negroes in Harlem, New York City," Publication of the National Urban League, vol. 4, no. 2, fan. 1915.


TenantNet Home | TenantNet Forum | New York Tenant Information
DHCR Information | DHCR Decisions | Housing Court Decisions | New York Rent Laws
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Contact Us

Subscribe to our Mailing List!
Your Email      Full Name