Danish-born Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) was one of the most important and recognized social reformers in the age of the Progressive Era. With his unique photos of terrible housing and social conditions he opened the eyes for how the poor half lived, and he is world-wide seen as a pioneer in photo-documentarism. His book ‘How the Other Half Lives’ (1890) is considered one of the most important social changing books in American literature.
The creation of a Jacob A. Riis Museum in his childhood home in Ribe [Ree-bur], the oldest town in Scandinavia, serves as a stepping stone to show and discuss social conditions, immigration, national identity, and how a dedicated person can contribute to make the world a little better. The museum is also seen as a modest attempt to create stronger connections between the USA and Denmark.

Status since opening June 28, 2019

The Museum

The museum has received extraordinarily fine reviews. Google reviews give a rating of 4.7 out of 5 and the same rating is achieved on TripAdvisor. The locals are very proud of and impressed by the museum.

Almost all national newspapers have brought in-length articles about Jacob A. Riis, his photos and the museum. The opening ceremony was led by the museum’s patron, Princess Benedikte (sister of Queen Margrethe II). She has a strong admiration for Jacob A. Riis and is also a patron of the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement House in Queens.

During the first 8 months since opening in mid-2019 the Jacob A. Riis Museum was visited by more than 12,200 guests.

The COVID-19 crisis meant a de facto closing of the museum in almost four months in Spring 2020. The new wave of Covid-19 in Autumn 2020 has not meant a lock-down but has resulted in quite a few cancellations of groups.

Jacob A. Riis programs

Jacob A. Riis Museum is part of Museum of Southwest Jutland headquartered in Ribe. The main museum has initiated three over-arching programs in the name of Jacob A. Riis.

The Jacob A. Riis Learning Program

The museum has developed teaching material together with our close collaborators, the municipal school service Myrthue. It will be launched 2021.

1st to 3rd graders can follow a course about the young Jacob A. Riis and how it was to be a child in Ribe in the middle of the 19th century.

7th to 10th graders follow a teaching course on emigration and immigration.

After a visit at the museum the students are asked to make a newspaper, which will be published – probably on the facebook page of Jacob A. Riis Museum.

In January 2020 museum director Flemming Just gave a course for English teachers in high schools and afterwards an introduction to the museum. The course had a special focus on Jacob A. Riis and dual identity. After the course many high school classes from all over the country have visited the museum.

We collaborate with DIS Study Abroad in Copenhagen that attracts hundreds of American bachelor students every year. As part of their program the students have study tours to different places in Denmark and also to Ribe in order to visit the very charming cathedral town and of course the Jacob A. Riis Museum.

In total, 12% of the visitors, +1400, have been school classes.

Dallas Agnew, the son of Jacob A. Riis’ great grandchild, Mrs Lela Riis Agnew,
visited a Danish school class in 2019 and told them about his famous relative.
Danish television went with him.

The Jacob A. Riis Social Program

The Museum of Southwest Jutland is strengthening its social role under the heading: The Jacob A. Riis Social Program. The museum hosts a Christmas market where local crafts producers are selling their products. They give 10% of their surplus and the museum double up and the sum is donated to an association that supports children and bring them to social and cultural activities.

Together with the municipality, a local school and local housing companies in challenged areas we have tried to raise funding for projects that will involve children and their families in cultural activities and help them document and communicate their own stories.

The Jacob A. Riis Research Program

Museum of Southwest Jutland has been invited to be member of the cross-disciplinary Danish Welfare Studies Center at University of Southern Denmark as Jacob A. Riis is regarded as an early proponent of welfare state regulations combined with strong individual philanthropy.

It is the intention to find funding for a Danish-American exchange program to have master students from an American university to participate in the English-taught classes on welfare studies at University of Southern Denmark and vice-versa have students from Denmark to go to USA to learn about the American system. It could also be about exchange of professors/lecturers.

The museum has produced four articles about Jacob A. Riis:

Just, Flemming: Tre generationer dannebrogmænd [Three generations of Knights of Dannebrog, about how Jacob, his father and his son all received the Order of Dannebrog], Levende Viden, 2019, p. 6-27 [peer reviewed].

Just, Flemming: Jacob A. Riis. The ideal American citizen, The Bridge (Journal of the Danish-American Heritage Society), Fall 2020 (forthcoming) [peer reviewed].

Just, Flemming: Jacob A. Riis. Danmarks mest betydningsfulde udvandrer [Jacob A. Riis. Denmark’s most influential emigrant], Rubicon, 2020, 28, p. 4-18.

Just, Flemming: Jacob A. Riis og amerikanisme [Jacob A. Riis and Americanism], Anglo-Files, 2020, 196 p. 77-82.

Other forms of communication and activities

The museum has educated several local guides. They now give introductions to groups and visitors.

Flemming Just has given many lectures and introductions about Jacob A. Riis to groups and associations.

We share stories about Jacob A. Riis and the museum in English and Danish at our facebook page @jacobariismuseum.

Read the feature about Jacob A. Riis and the museum in Scan Magazine.