Reformation of Charity

THOSE who know of the existence of charity organization societies in the United States — and they comprise the most earnest and intelligent of the benevolently-minded — are aware that they claim to be unique associations, having characteristics very distinct from ordinary relief agencies. Heretofore, charitable organizations have been little more than conduits by which the money of givers has been borne for various purposes to the persons of the receivers. It is distinctive of the new movement that it aims to modify the thought and attitude of the givers. Through it the dumb, inarticulate peril of the poor is made known to the strong, the cultivated, and the religious, and they are urged to do no more harm to their lowly brethren. Its ultimate aim is the welfare of the impoverished, whether their destitution be moral or material; but it perceives that this must be sought by bringing the community into new conceptions of its duty, and into new relations to the dependent.

Two embarrassments, one from without and the other from within, beset this movement. The one from without is the popular misunderstanding of the work in hand, “ Doing good ” seems such an easy, simple thing that the average mind, chiefly because it does not think about it, tails to see that charity can have any other functions than feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and getting the unfortunate out of scrapes. It is impatient of large expenditures and large corps of workers which carry little money to the dwellings of misery. The true charity organizationist would be glad if he could get on without giving a cent to the poor, — that is, he would be glad to have the occasions for alms cease.

The embarrassment from within is in some measure a concession to the feeling without; and in the pursuit of public approval and support, there is danger that the new associations may forget their true aims, and sink into mere relief societies rivaling their predecessors. Already some have so sunken, and lost their proper character.

A survey of the field may serve to disseminate a juster conception of the problem which reformed methods aim to solve. The motive of “ charity organization ” is the cure of distressed conditions. This is a new thing in philanthropy, the faith that social disorders are curable. Heretofore humane efforts have been cramped and superficial, because the permanence of an unfortunate and depressed class has been taken for granted, and with it the corollary that their misfortunes could only be palliated, and not surmounted. That is the fallacy which lies behind the general conception of charity as exhausted in almsgiving or temporary alleviations of trouble. The faith that social evils can be extirpated, even though the road be long and the gate concealed, is so revolutionary a principle in the administration of charity, and so vital and distinctive an element in our new reform, that one may be pardoned for lingering a while on what it involves.

The theory upon which society has heretofore treated human suffering or degradation has been very simple. There were two classes of misery : the one produced, as the old underwriters would express it, “ by the hand of God,” and the other by depravity bearing fruit. This distinction lies patent upon the surface of the Elizabethan poor-laws, and reappears in the workhouse test of Earl Grey. The whole scheme of legislation has aimed at some means to separate those who ought to be punished from those whose undeserved calamities constitute a title to sympathy. The claim of the last has been held by British courts to be a right to participate in the parish poor relief virtually enforceable by law. But such a classification is impracticable in the present conditions of society, if it has not always been so. Chalmers demonstrated not only by his experiment at St. John’s Church in Glasgow, but by his appeal to the history of the Scottish peasantry, that natural affection was a sufficient motive and the generosity of the poor one to another was a sufficient resource for the sick, the aged, the orphan, the widow, the halt, the blind, the wayfarer, and the imbecile of all Caledonia. He insisted that the springs of this lowly beneficence were congealed by the interference of strangers, and he arraigned compulsory relief because it relaxed natural ties and dissolved the amenities of kinship and affection. The progress of state relief has been marked by the abandonment of wives and children, by the increase of illegitimacy, by the turning of tottering age to the almshouse, and by the consequent degradation of those in whom motives of family affection ceased. Professor Fawcett has shown that the legal provision for foundlings in England is so superior, in amount and in the associations created for the child, to what a farm hand can supply as to be an enticement for fathers to abandon their offspring,—an enticement which is the stronger as the father is more reflective, disinterested, and ambitious for his children. It has been abundantly shown that the poor-rate operates to depress wages, by handicapping the selfsupporting in their labor contest with state-aided workmen, and that the workhouse is incompatible with family relations and with the innocence of childhood. Thus society can corrupt its humble members.

To this generation depravity is no longer a finality, but needs to be accounted for. Social evils are something other than local tumefactions, gradually extending to the sounder tissues of the body politic. They are not infiltrations of infection, but the outbreak of general disorders, like the degeneration of a vital organ or the disease of nervous centres in physiology. Just as the serf in feudal times was the complement of the baronial castle, or slavery the adjunct of commerce in a semi-barbarous stage, or the caucus and the ring are instruments in the differentiation of a profession of politics, so proletariatism is the concomitant of an abnormal distribution of wealth incident to the adjustment of industry to machinery, and the relative depression of wages is the product of competition in cheapness rather than in excellence. John Stuart Mill has observed as a characteristic of modern industry that “ from top to bottom of the social ladder, remuneration lessens as the work accomplished increases.” If Carlyle’s definition of genius as an unlimited capacity for work hold true, then genius is a calamity to its possessor. It is not easy to see how the quality of one’s work can make exception to this experience, under the present organization of society, without implying the ignorance and unskillfulness of the masses. Under the law of pure competition, skilled and artistic work needs only to become the common heritage of artisans to sink them all to one scale of penury.

To take another aspect of personal degradation, can any thoughtful person inspect the photographs of a rogues’ gallery, or follow the history of the inmates of a prison, a house of correction, or an almshouse, or of a confirmed vagrant, back to the by-ways of civilization, and not realize that these deformed specimens of humanity are the victims of circumstances over which they had little control ? Were an infant of the noblest pedigree snatched from its silken cradle and brought up in the filth of an overcrowded tenement, amidst the poor shifts of a Holborn, a Shoreditch, or a Mackerelville, neglected by the schoolmistress, pinched by hunger and cold, familiar with coarse manners and brutal scenes, could there remain any “ affection of nobleness which nature shows above (its) breeding ” ?

If the poor are asked to honor industry and to live by labor, then work must be made respectable. But those who employ artisans will lightly regard the work for which they pay but the price of a broiled chicken or a Turkish bath. And the output of toil which they do not esteem, the performer of the service will not respect, it the laboring man is to be a good workman, his craft must become dignified to him as a road to good reputation. He needs approbation for the exercise of moral discrimination as well as of his judgment and manifold faculties. He must have a chance to maintain his family free from that necessity for maternal and child labor which makes the dwelling a pen, and not a home; which denies to it those opportunities for loving care and personal ambition which distinguish a family from a herd, He must have reason also to hope that diligence and self-improvement will enhance his fortunes and lead to the recognition of his respectability. As a matter of fact, these inducements are perceptibly fading out of modern industrial life, — a postulate which there is no time to prove in this paper, although we have the word of such students as Hallam, Mill, and Thornton for it. Glance for a moment at Western Europe, of which the conditions are fast repeating themselves in more fortunate America. Mrs. Fawcett, widow of the late postmaster-general of Great Britain, says of agricultural labor in England that the “ hind’s means of existence are fixed at the lowest possible scale. . . . He is not afraid of the future ; he has reached zero point, — a point from which dates the farmer’s calculation. Come what may, he takes no interest in fortune or misfortune. Recent consular reports from Brunswick and Breslau disclose a similar depression in Germany, where a woman s labor in the field is recompensed with from fifteen to nineteen cents a day, and a man’s with from thirty-five to fifty-two cents for the same time ; though these small earnings are larger in amount than those of the farm hand in the time of Henry VIII., when seven pence was his customary daily pay, yet their effectiveness is less. Let this momentous feature in the history of wages be noted well. Absolutely they have increased rather than declined. The change is relative, and in the opinion of the economists just named, wages cannot support the demands made upon them as well as they could two hundred years ago. The upheaval of the shore registers the same phenomena as the subsidence of the water.

The next step of the argument is significant as respects the conditions of the dependent classes, and it is the moral and physical effect of impoverished modes of life. To leave men hopeless of rising above the lowest conditions of existence is first to discourage them, and then to render them fatuous, and vice and pauperism are the natural sinks of incompetency.

Mr., Brassey, “ the great contractor,” discovered, among the thousands whom he employed in various parts of the world, that their work bore a direct relation to the quality of their food and shelter. The output of a Swiss watchmaker is forty watches a year, of an United States mechanic one hundred and fifty, and the American earns in this skilled line of work three times as much as his Helvetian competitor. Mr. Bally, a leading Swiss manufacturer of shoes, states that neither in his country nor in Germany does the productive power of the operative, even when furnished with the same machinery, at all equal that of the American, and that, notwithstanding the greatly lower wages paid in Switzerland, his goods cost him twice as much by the piece as is paid by the Lynn manufacturer, These instances are adduced simply to show that depressed circumstances diminish the productive and, let it be added, the recuperative faculties of a man, so that there is a point below which there is no economy in reducing wages, because below it there is a great loss of manhood to the workman. Yet such is the state of our industrial organization that both manufacturers and operatives often deliberately concur in the policy of lessening the productive strength of the state. Fluctuations in the labor market, the enforced idleness of half time, of lockouts, and of strikes, are ruinous to habits of thrift and to stability of character. The savings of months are consumed in a few idle weeks, and the vice of a handto-mouth life is acquired.

Add to these considerations the increasing subdivision of trades, by which skilled industry is rendered needless, and an operative’s function is reduced to a few mechanical motions; the congregating of large numbers in a single factory, where they remain unknown to their employers ; the collecting of their dwellings in one mean quarter of the town ; the sameness of agricultural life, now that railways have drafted away the able preachers and lawyers and artisans from the country to the town, — a sameness to which the high ratio of insanity among farmers and their wives has been attributed ; a brief experience of an education in which the hand is taught no dexterity, and the memory is gorged with mere formulas which it cannot retain, while the rational powers are left with no certain grasp upon any set of facts. Let these conditions continue long enough, and it would seem that there are in them the bad sanitation, the poor nourishment, the inherited stolidity, the hopeless environment, and the ill associations which invert a man’s nature and put the predaceous and voracious element over the soul in him. Here are causes enough of pauperism for which society, and not their victim, is responsible.

In a remarkable work entilled The Jukes, the late Mr. Dugdale pursued the history of twelve hundred descendants of a woman known as “ Margaret, the mother of criminals.” In this investigation Mr. Dugdale seems to question the growth of hereditary pauperism beyond rather narrow limits, because the vices of that condition steadily tend to sterility. It that position be true, the inference follows that pauperism increases in a country not by the fecundity of a class, but by the spread of deterioration into the healthy parts of the social body.

Remarkable, too, is the way in which Mr. Dugdale traced the relation between the criminal and the pauper branches of this family. The criminal branch was more virile and enterprising, and therefore more susceptible of reformation. Pauperism was the lower stage into which some members of the family sank upon the exhaustion of their powers. Others of them, however, became useful and reputable citizens, and had the mode of their restoration to society been investigated, probably it would have shown that the most effective method was that of changing their surroundings. Environment is at the heart of this problem.

Two sins accompanied the degradation of the Jukes, the inordinate sexual propensity and intemperance. The first has received but little study from philanthropists, and from its nature is mostly relegated to the physicians. But it cannot long be passed over by those who would penetrate the secret of relaxed family ties, of low vitality, and of abandoned childhood. Intemperance has been discussed passionately enough, but, apart from its physiological aspects, with a very injurious disregard of facts and exaggeration of statistics. One point seriously demands thorough consideration, and it is how far alcoholism is a symptom rather than a cause of personal depression. Stimulants, whether exhilarating or narcotic, are the natural recourse of exhausted people. Bad nutrition, mental depression, and intermittent habits furnish favorable conditions for the development of inebriety ; and the potency of the intoxicant is in proportion to the adverse character of the environment. How else can the fact be explained that intemperance is so general among those who can least afford to indulge in it, or that it is common among women of the lower classes ? May it not also be a fair speculation that the proverbial appetite of the Indian for fire-water, both in North and South America, grows out of his incapacity for methodical work, his irregular nutrition, and the hopelessness of his social state when he is placed in contact with the white race ? It is out of such conditions as these that the most obstinate and darkest phases of outlawry arise. Is it not bad enough for society, with its greed and injustices and neglects, to produce disorderly, sullen, and criminal imbeciles, without offering them facilities for following their unregulated impulses? Yet from statistics gathered out of the last edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, England and Wales spend annually about $100,000,000 to maintain in a predatory and half-animate life those whom the rate-payers scarcely recognize as brothers and sisters, except in times of cholera and typhoid fever. And America in her public and corporate charities has long and stupidly followed the bad examples of the mother country.

This cursory and partial examination of the relations of pauperism to society shows how complicated and extended is the problem undertaken by an association formed to promote the radical cure of social evils. It would be preposterous to set up such a pretension unless the association meant to abandon all dilettante philanthropy, and seriously to explore the obscure pathology of this whole disorder. It must be prepared to act in four different directions, and in each of them in a moral and intellectual, and not in a pecuniary way. It must influence legislation, must systematize and combine the multiform administrations of public and private relief, must deal with the personalities of the dependent and outcast classes, and must educate the community in right economical and humane ideas, in order to obtain a secure and influential support of its operations.

To act efficiently, charity organization must spread to the centres of population in each State, and draw into its councils the most intelligent and active minds there, and so prepare itself to concentrate upon the legislature — when questions concerning labor, almshouses, reformatories, sanitation, industrial schools, the regulation of provident societies, the employment of women and children, and license or prohibition are under consideration — an influence formidable as well for the precision and wisdom of its aim as for the weight of numbers and character supporting it. It must in a like way make its presence felt in circles engaged in the distribution of relief, in order to secure their conformity to the laws of economy and social health, especially where they are a disturbing force among them. Nor will it answer to content itself with statistics and brilliant. generalizations, but it must, keep in personal contact with the depressed, trying every expedient to change their careers but that of almsgiving. Its design is to elicit the latent recuperative forces which lie in the breasts of the outcasts and in the hearts of the wise and generous, and to set them in vigorous coöperation : and almsgiving is not one of them. The objects of its solicitude are those who may be called, in the strict etymological sense of the term, the dissolute ; that is, their social relations are gone, and they are only gregarious, not an organism. These people are to be knit one by one into the polity and order of the community, and in the methods by which this is accomplished lie the true data for a science of beneficence. So important is this feature of the movement that in nearly every instance where a charity organization society has been formed it has called into the field a large staff of agents and friendly visitors, whose function it is to remain in contact with individuals, and to bring to bear upon them the most wholesome personal influences at their command, and to avoid material relief if possible.

Such is the aim and such are the conditions under which this reformatory movement has come into existence. It is not in the ordinary sense an almsgiving scheme, and it cannot acquiesce in the old and false epicycles which have kept men ignorant of the true laws of terrestrial motion. Should these new associations become almoners of largesses to the needy, they would do much to defeat their own purpose. Such a course would make them rivals of other charities instead of coöperators with them ; it would draw into their administration persons whose views were incompatible with charity organization principles, and whose counsels would divert them from their proposed ends ; it would awaken public expectations which they could not meet without sacrificing their fundamental aim, and the public would say of them that they were the most costly and cumbersome expedients for getting a dollar into a poor man’s hands that human wit had yet invented; and, as has already once or twice happened, they would incur the risk of sinking into a pure agency for distributing gratuities, to the utter loss of every feature which differentiated them from the old sytem.

Perhaps the most serious embarrassment before such of these associations as adhere to their distinctive principles is the suicidal career which they propose both for themselves and for the organizations which coöperate with them. The consummation of the felo de se is remote, and will remain remote until the disintegrating action of injustice, vice, and misfortune ceases in society, but the tendency of its aims is apparent. By curing the evils of distress, charity organization cuts away the ground from under its own feet, and it would strive to draw into the same uselessness all its constituent societies. They are invited to labor for their own fossilization. It cannot, therefore, achieve its ideals without encountering the opposition of conservatism, of vested interests, and of minds preoccupied with old definitions. Hence, everywhere, it has made but slow progress in bringing the various charitable agencies of the community into coördination. Its hardest undertaking lies here, as the achievement of this end would be the most signal triumph possible to it. At the same time there cannot be a single generous, intelligent mind which would not ardently wish to see so noble an ideal of society — one in which not a soul should be dependent on the parish beadle or the mercy of a stranger — come true. Though it be an ideal, it is worth striving for; it is the only right guidance for charitable endeavor ; and until it does come to pass, charity organization has a unique and vital function to perform in society.

D. O. Kellogg.