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Richmond Hill group to honor Elisabeth Riis

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The public is invited to a special mass at the church, where Riis's daughter, Clara, was married in 1900. President Theodore Roosevelt was a witness at the wedding.The society said three generations of the Riis family will be present at the church, along with representatives of the Danish consulate (the Riises were Danish immigrants), The Jacob Riis Settlement House in Long Island City, The Peacewords Foundation (its founder is Lela Riis Agnew, Elisabeth's great-granddaughter), and other organizations.At about 11:30 a.m., the ceremony moves to Maple Grove Cemetery for a blessing at Elisabeth Riis's grave. Society President Nancy Cataldi and Carl Ballenas will read Jacob Riis's love letters at the site. Father Charles McCarron, from the Church of the Resurrection, will give a blessing.The Riises moved to Richmond Hill in 1885. They lived on 524 North Beech St. (now 120th Street - the house has since been torn down) and were active in the social and philanthropic life of the village, Cataldi said. They would sometimes bring children who lived in tenements to Richmond Hill to escape city life for the day.Elisabeth Riis' parents turned down Jacob's first marriage proposal when he was a carpenter because of his low social status. Elisabeth was to marry a Danish soldier, but he became ill and shortly died thereafter. After hearing the news, Jacob proposed to Elisabeth again and was accepted by her parents as he started to become established in America.Jacob Riis immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1870. He worked as a police reporter for the New York Tribune from 1877 to 1888. The poverty and overcrowding that he witnessed as a reporter led him to become an activist for immigrants. Through some of his news stories, Riis brought the slums into the lives of the middle class by including pictures with his articles. His book, "How The Other Half Lives," which chronicles the horrid condition of immigrants living in the Lower East Side, brought Riis into the national spotlight.For directions to the church and more information, call the Richmond Hill Historical Society at 718-847-6070.Reach editorial intern Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 188.

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