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February 1899

The Subtle Problems with Charity
by Jane Addams

Of the various struggles which a decade of residence in a settlement implies, none have made a more definite impression on my mind than the incredibly painful difficulties which involve both giver and recipient when one person asks charitable aid of another …

A most striking incongruity, at once apparent, is the difference between the emotional kindness with which relief is given by one poor neighbor to another poor neighbor, and the guarded care with which relief is given by a charity visitor to a charity recipient …

When the charity visitor comes in, all the neighbors are baffled as to what her circumstances may be. They know she does not need a new pair of shoes, and rather suspect that she has a dozen pairs at home; which indeed she sometimes has …

The visitor is continually surprised to find that the safest platitudes may be challenged. She refers quite naturally to the “horrors of the saloon,” and discovers that the head of her visited family, who knows the saloons very well, does not connect them with “horrors” at all. He remembers all the kindnesses he has received there, the free lunch and treating which go on, even when a man is out of work and not able to pay up; the poor fellows who are allowed to sit in their warmth when every other door is closed to them; the loan of five dollars he got there, when the charity visitor was miles away, and he was threatened with eviction …

The same thing happens when she urges upon him a spirit of independ- ence … There is no use in talking independence to a man when he is going to stand in a row, hat in hand, before an office desk, in the hope of getting a position …

The charity visitor … discovers how incorrigibly bourgeois her standards have been, and it takes but a little time to reach the conclusion that she cannot insist so strenuously upon the conventions of her own class.

Vol. 83, No. 496, pp. 163–178

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