Item #3904 The Making of an American. [With two autograph letters inserted]. Jacob A. Riis.
The Making of an American. [With two autograph letters inserted].
The Making of an American. [With two autograph letters inserted].
The Making of an American. [With two autograph letters inserted].

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The Making of an American. [With two autograph letters inserted].

New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902. Hardcover. 8vo, blue cloth with gilt-stamped cover and spine. [viii]–xiii, 443 pp., [2] pp. ads. Illustrated throughout [with] 2 letters, 4 pp. of manuscript on 2 leaves, 9” x 6”; portrait of Riis clipped from a magazine affixed to half-title.

The autobiography of social reformer Jacob Riis, along with two letters from Riis to influential Ellis Island immigration doctor Victor Safford. First published in 1901, this is a 1902 printing.

Riis’s autobiography begins with his youth in Denmark (including his initially one-sided bond with his beloved wife Elizabeth), and his many struggles and ventures after emigrating to New York as a young man. A fiercely successful immigrant, Riis came to prominence in 1890 with the publication of How the Other Half Lives, his exposé of life in the immigrant slums of New York, illustrated with reproductions of his own photographs. His motivation to document these people and their living conditions prompted him to become a pioneer of flash photography. His numerous books and articles published on the subject of urban poverty brought him into contact and friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, who also espoused his cause.

The letters are addressed to “My Dear Doctor,” identified in a pencil inscription on one letter as Dr. M. Victor Safford, an Ellis Island medical doctor and officer who was a staunch practitioner of what Emmanuelle Birn calls “snapshot diagnos[es]” (Dolmage): the routine practice of assessing the medical status of hopeful immigrants based on the smallest cues from their unwitting movements upon arrival—usually in combination with other standards associated with the officer’s perception of their culture, race, or ethnicity. In both letters, Riis is evidently responding to a series of articles written by Safford, which the latter is attempting to publish. In the first letter, dated April 28, 1903, Riis writes: “I have read your articles with great interest and can suggest nothing to change.” He continues: “Why do you not offer it to the Atlantic…” and muses over the possibilities of submission and relative advantages of that paper to the Boston Herald. The second letter, dated May 3 of the same year, responds to Safford’s apparently ongoing attempts to get the series published as such (rather than allowing the articles to be separated), by a paper whose audience is “engaged.” Riis writes:

Your article on the Italian, in all its brevity is such a clear headed conclusion to the understanding of that kind of immigration that I hope more than ever you can persuade the Atlantic to take the whole series. They would certainly take that article, but it ought all to be published.

Safford was deeply involved in immigration policy from the late 1800s into the 1920s, when he wrote a memoir on the topic. He spearheaded the creation of the “List of Races or Peoples” in order to keep track of “people who maintain recognized communities” (Smith), but as a member of the Immigration Restriction League was criticized by those who wanted to track racial status only in order to foster and maintain multiculturalism.

This volume belonged to the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Stephen S. Jewett (1858–1932) whose name is inscribed on the flyleaf in pencil along with the date “July 14, 1902.”

REFERENCES: Smith, Marian L. “Race, Nationality, and Reality” in Prologue Magazine, vol. 34, no. 2; Dolmage, J. “Disabled Upon Arrival: The Rhetorical Construction of Disability and Race at Ellis Island” in The Disability Studies Reader, pp. 47–50.

CONDITION: A near fine, bright, clean copy, with just a touch of wear at extremities.

Item #3904

Price: $950.00

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