Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 358
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 358
 
scarlet-fever epidemic on the lower West Side, which the health inspectors finally traced to the public school of the district. A boy with the disease had been turned loose before the “peeling” was over, and had achieved phenomenal popularity in the classroom by a trick he had of pulling the skin from his fingers as one would skin a cat. The pieces he distributed as souvenirs among his comrades, who carried them proudly home to show to their admiring playmates who were not so lucky as to sit on the bench with the clever lad. The epidemic followed as a matter of course. But though the Health Department put through that reform, when it came to inspecting the eyes of the children, we lost. The cry that it would “interfere with private practice” defeated us. The fact was easily demonstrated that not only was ophthalmia rampant in the schools with its contagion, but that the pupils were made both near-sighted and stupid by the want of proper arrangement of their seats and of themselves in their classrooms. But self-interest prevailed. However, nothing is ever settled till it is settled right. I have before me the results of an examination of thirty-six public schools containing 55,470 pupils. It was made by order of the Board of Health this month (August, 1902), and ought to settle that matter for good. Of the 55,470, not less than 6670 had contagious eye-disease; 2328 were cases of

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