In a certain city an energetic Association secretary was just completing his fund for a fine new building. One night his wife was called out to a case of distress, through which he got an insight into the bad conditions surrounding young working women in his city. After carefully getting up his facts, he formed a committee, secured speakers, and announced that on Friday there would be a public meeting to consider the problem of the young working women in local industries. Promptly he was summoned by telephone to meet the directors of his Association, and when ho entered the room, one of his Christian backers burst out upon him with, 'What in h—l do you mean by getting up this public meeting? Don't you know I've got eighty girls working in the basement of my department store?' His other directors were equally stern, and he was ordered to call off his meeting or lose all the important contributions to his building fund. He held his meeting and immediately thereafter resigned.
I greatly admire the Young Men's Christian Association, and the only reason that I mention it so often here is because I have oftener stumbled upon its problems. But it is no more embarrassed in this respect than are the church and the church philanthropies.
Nor are the secular charities free. During a strike of the iron-moulders in a mining-machinery works in a state capital, the company declared a lock-out and advertised throughout the state, 'Wanted, skilled iron-moulders. Good pay. No strike.' Some rnoulders removed to the capital to get this work and found too late that they were to be used as strike-breakers. Two such families sought relief of the Associated Charities, and the secretary expostulated with the president of the machinery company for bringing up-state iron-moulders into distress by luring them into a strike situation. The reply he got was, 'You people can't complain of having to handle such cases. Don't we contribute $150 a year to your work?'
A student of mine, after three years of charity organization work, said to me, 'Professor, I've quit. There's nothing in it. The game's too thin. We coax money from the people who are the beneficiaries of the abuses that produce the wrecks we deal with. They let us deal with the wrecks, but we cant touch or even show up the conditions that produce them, because that would affect their income.' And the young man concluded, 'No more for me. I'm going to be a factory inspector, or something of that sort, where I won't be a dead letter.'
The head worker of a social settlement, who had made plans for a much-needed housing investigation in the vicinity of the settlement, had to ditch the investigation because real-estate owners, who contributed each a few hundred dollars a year to the settlement fund, sent word that they were able to look after their property themselves.
In another case, a board representing the 'donor' point of view so curbs the head worker in his endeavors to take part in the movements affecting the welfare of his neighborhood, that he avows to me that he is straining every nerve to gain sufficient financial support in his neighborhood to justify him in cutting loose entirely from up-town philanthropists.
A social worker who had resided in many settlements said to me: 'Most of the successful settlement heads that I know are one thing to their boards and a quite different thing to their clientèle. Unless they can play this game well, they are lost. For if at the demand of their boards they exclude radicals and socialists from settlement clubs and gatherings, censor the list of speakers and denature the discussions before the men's club, they lose their hold on the neighborhood. If, on the other hand, the settlement is a place for free speech and the residents show a lively interest in everything affecting the welfare of the neighborhood, no matter what employers or corporations they may fall afoul of, they lose their hold on the board.'
The opposition of boards of directors of settlements to giving any real power in respect to policy to a house-council consisting of the residents themselves, or to conceding any place in its direction to representatives of the various neighborhood associations which the settlement has called into being, discloses an attitude of patronage inspired by upper-class ideas as to the stewardship of the rich over the poor.
The recent action of the entire body of eight volunteer resident workers in one of the oldest and most renowned social settlements in this country, in withdrawing from the house because the council (half of them Wall Street men who never come near the house and little comprehend the needs of the neighborhood) regarded it as an act of insubordination for them to join the settlement society and elect one of their own number to the council, illustrates how those who give mere money arrogate to themselves the control of the policy of the settlement to the exclusion of those who give time and service. No wonder that the social centre, which uses public property and stands for community self-help, inspires so much more hope than the social settlement which represents the spirit of philanthropy.
Talk with a working man and he will tell you, 'To h—l with philanthropy! I want not charity, but justice.' When an injured workingman receives compensation, as he does now, he can hold his head higher than he could when he was aided by a charity.
A wise settlement warden once declared in his report that a large part of the work at his settlement was 'of a disappearing character.' He maintained a playground in the settlement back-yard just long enough to induce the park commission to establish a better one in the park across the street. He held cooking classes in the settlement until the public schools put in cooking. He provided evening instruction for working boys until the state put in a continuation school. He ran a little employment office until the state established a big, well-equipped employment bureau in his neighborhood.
Here is the natural and logical relation of philanthropy to social reform. It is the function of private philanthropy to pioneer, to experiment, to try out new things and new methods; and just as soon as it has found the right way and standardized the method that gives results, the time has come for the community to take over the function. This releases a certain amount of private time and money to go on and tackle something else. The means for initiating and carrying on experimental lines of social work must come from private benevolence, but the standardized lines of social work ought to be provided for by the community or state.
Once the philanthropist set up a drinking fountain; now there is good city water laid on everywhere. In olden times kindhearted people provided 'ragged schools' for the waifs of the alleys; now there are public schools for all. Once the benevolent created funds to provide meals for indigent prisoners in the jails, but John Howard induced the state to feed its prisoners. Time was when the defectives were cared for by charitable groups; now the state provides for these unfortunates. There will always be opportunity for private philanthropy to render signal services but a democratic society with a proper spirit of independence will not allow itself to form the bad habit of leaning upon the large private donor, but will take as its maxim, 'Let us do it ourselves.'