Outwardly, Dover Street [Boston] is a noisy thoroughfare cut through a South End slum. . . . Every one of those streets is a rubbish heap of damaged humanity, and it will take a powerful broom and an ocean of soapsuds to clean it out. . . .
The City Fathers provide soap and water for the slums, in the form of excellent schools, kindergartens, and branch libraries. And there they stop: at the curbstone of the people's life. They cleanse and discipline the children's minds, but their bodies they pitch into the gutter. For there are no parks and almost no playgrounds in the Harrison Avenue district, – in my day there were none, – and such as there are have been wrenched from the city by public-spirited citizens who have no offices in City Hall. . . .
We had no particular reason for coming to Dover Street. . . . We had to live somewhere, even if we were not making a living, so we came to Dover Street, where tenements were cheap; by which I mean that rent was low. The ultimate cost of life in those tenements, in terms of human happiness, is high enough.
Our new home consisted of five small rooms up two flights of stairs, with the right of way through the dark corridors. In the "parlor" the dingy paper hung in rags and the plaster fell in chunks. One of the bedrooms was absolutely dark and air-tight. The kitchen windows looked out on a dirty court, at the back of which was the rear tenement of the estate.
From The Promised Land, by Mary Antin (Houghton Mifflin, 1912; reprint by Penguin Books, 1997).