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Shantytown, USA


Though their history is largely forgotten, shantytowns once occupied a central place in America’s urban landscape. Lisa Goff shows how the basic but resourcefully constructed dwellings of America’s working poor were not merely the byproducts of economic hardship but potent assertions of self-reliance. In the nineteenth century, poor workers built shantytowns across America’s frontiers and its booming cities. Settlements covered a twenty-block stretch of Manhattan, much of Brooklyn’s waterfront, and present-day Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Names like Tinkersville and Hayti evoked the occupations and ethnicities of residents, who were most often European immigrants and African Americans. These inhabitants defended their civil rights and went to court to protect their property and resist eviction, claiming the benefits of citizenship without its bourgeois trappings. Over time, middle-class contempt for shantytowns increased. When veterans erected an encampment near the U.S. Capitol in the 1930s, President Hoover ordered its destruction, thus inspiring the Depression-era slang “Hoovervilles.” Twentieth-century reforms, introduced as progressive efforts to provide better dwellings, curtailed the growth of shantytowns. Yet their legacy is still felt in sites of political activism, from college campus shanties protesting South African apartheid to the tent cities of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Subtitle: Forgotten landscapes of the Working Poor
Author: Goff, Lisa
Year: 2016
ISBN: 9780674660458
Pages: 304
Language: English
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publisher's city: Cambridge
Publication date:
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