Improvement in City Fife: I. Philanthropic Progress
AFTER, the civil war, and when the great financial depression of the early seventies was passing, conditions were already shaping themselves for the beginning of a new phase in the development of our cities. The rapid rise in population was well under way. About half of the increase in the population of the whole country, from 1860 to 1870, was in cities. Other factors, also, in the striking change toward city life, were at work. The war had given an enlarged idea of nationality. Patriotism was more conscious of its own depth, and had laid a strong foundation for civic pride. Prosperity was returning. The larger field offered by more populous cities, the strong invitation to public spirit which they extended, the means to better them and the impulse to do so, all came together.
Yet the immediate result was disappointing. The opportunities offered by the cities were for evil as well as for good. There was the chance for public works that should benefit large numbers and make fairer or better cities, but over against that opportunity was the temptation to officials of great private gains. In 1871, this official unscrupulousness received a notable demonstration in the revelations regarding the Tweed ring at New York. How influential a part it played in turning attention throughout the country to reform in the management of cities, it would be hard to say. The part was certainly great.
There lias been a new awakening of civic spirit in more recent years. In the winter of 1889, for instance, there was much discussion, at least,—a series of lectures in Boston on Municipal Government Reform, one in Providence on Problems of Municipal Government; and so urgent was the demand in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus for reform that a conference was held of representatives from each of those cities. The national conferences on good city government were begun soon afterward. Perhaps as much was done in the permanently important department of revising charters as in the attempt to elect good men to oflice. This special political agitation for good municipal government is necessary. The very swiftness of city growth involves political danger. Whether a city owes its rapid increase in numbers to immigration or to the draining of the country districts, it can make no claim on an hereditary loyalty of its newcomers. In most of our principal cities a large majority of the inhabitants are foreign born or children of foreign parentage ; and in some of them, unfortunately, this mixed character of the population is helped to longer life and sharper distinctness by the existence of communities which discourage a sense of unity. Such communities are collections of nationalities rather than of citizens. The cities that have grown most rapidly have hardly had time, as Dr. Albert Shaw has said, to arrive at “ civic self-consciousness,” and yet they have swallowed up the older, smaller cities of which they are the successors.
The specific efforts for the improvement of cities, apart from the sporadic general effort along political lines, divide themselves into three classes,— æsthetic, educational, and philanthropic. The dividing line is not always clear, yet this classification serves to group the struggles with fair accuracy. In passing, it may be noted how these divisions correspond to the three Old World classes of society. If we have no “higher, middle, and lower ” classes, as they exist in Europe, we yet have that form of them expressed by an English writer who has said that “ humanity is divided into pounds, shillings, and pence.” The philanthropic efforts mainly help the pence, the educational reach the shillings, and the æsthetic, while ostensibly devised for all, gratify chiefly the pounds. Happily, with us this social coinage is interchangeable, but the three denominations can always be found. It is curious to note, too, though the distinction is of no importance, how well philanthropic, educational, and æsthetic effort to make fairer cities conform respectively with Plato’s the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
Charitable and educational work, the one through the influence of the church and the other through the state, already had organization, with all that organization implies. The need of these, also, was more pressing. Statues, monuments, sky-lines, can wait; but bodies and minds must be fed. It is not surprising that, in the development of the higher urban life, æsthetic improvement comes last. But we are a people that make history rapidly. When a single life may span the time between virgin forest or sandy plain and a city noble in size, aspect, and altruistic endeavor, we may expect to find movements which are logically far apart crowded close together. An important point in the history of an American city is reached when its people have time to turn their attention from its sewers, its protection, and other fundamental necessities, to what is recognized as its “higher life.”The commonness of the term shows how generally that point has been reached. All things will not be done orderly and wisely in a democracy, for progress proceeds in a zigzag line. An administration dependent on the good will of taxpayers is not likely, for instance, to order the building of great parks until the demands upon the treasury for sewers, pavements, and even schools have to some extent been satisfied, or until the public is willing to incur an increase in expense to gain this end. One may regret the delay, from a sociological point of view, and it may largely increase the expense over what would have been necessary before land had appreciated in value ; but when the work is undertaken it is full of significance. It means that the bulk of the people want parks. At the same time, there is preserved, by the freedom of the rich to use their money as they please, whatever charm and instruction lie in watching the acts of an untrammeled and blundering individual. If it were possible, in the compass of a magazine article, to give a detailed history of the popular movement in any one of the three directions for better cities, we should find a bewildering mixture of humor, pathos, tragedy, and achievement. But detail must be sacrificed; efforts must be valued for their relation to the general movement rather than for themselves. Judgments must be stated summarily, and a seemingly arbitrary choice of examples must be made. Yet it is easy to see the drift, and to note how wide and strong the movement is become. In this article I shall make a rapid survey of some of the most significant results of the strong philanthropic movement in city life, and in two subsequent articles I shall summarize some results of educational and æsthetic work.
The replies of most of the individuals whom, in preparing these articles, I asked to name what had been done “to improve life ” in their cities, contained lists of charities. This fact is suggestive. It shows how large and important a place the altruistic effort holds in the popular mind. The replies repay scrutiny. There is rarely mention of that official effort in which the government — state, county, or town — assumes responsibility for the physical well-being of its poor. Almshouses, poor departments, city physicians, and asylums are not given in the lists. These institutions are supported by taxes, and are not regarded as evidences of especial activity. Some of the activities named were not relevant. That which merely relieves a social condition, without attempting to prevent the recurrence of the need of relief, does not lift the city to higher things. Curative work is better than palliative, and preventive is best of all. Unhappily, this distinction is not fully grasped. The philanthropic impulse is so strong, and until lately has acted with so little authoritative check or economic study, that much harm has always to be deducted from the good which the altruistic fashion of the time has done. We must bear this waste in mind, in noting the general course which our urban philanthropy takes.
Church work comes first. Urban problems have caused the old methods to undergo a gradual change, and the “institutional church ” has been developed. A notable example is one in New York city. The church expended $160,000 in 1896 from voluntary contributions for poor relief. It employed six clergymen ; conducted clubs for men, mothers, boys, and girls ; and had an employment bureau, in addition to its other agencies for moral, physical, and intellectual betterment. It is a particularly well-marked case ; but every city has some such example; nearly all churches are affected to some degree; and the aggregate effect upon city life is great. For the church — Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant — still plays the largest part in the social activity of modern cities.
There has always been a mass of urban beneficence which could not act through the church, and would not if it could. How great this mass has become, and how wide and varied are its manifestations, may be shown by statistics regarding the beneficent societies in New York city. These omit all church organizations, missions, and religious orders. There appear 1 to be 106 “ public ” in the sense of “ official ” charities in the limits of the enlarged New York. Of this number 73 are city and county, and no account is made of baths, schools, and parks. In addition to these, 538 societies are supported by individuals for the purpose of giving temporary relief; 95 more are for rendering special kinds of relief for special causes. There are also 36 for foreigners ; 158 for various forms of permanent relief ; 328 for surgical and medical assistance ; 50 homes and asylums for the defective and afflicted ; 9 provident and savings associations; and 103 societies for the furtherance in other ways of social, economic, and physical improvement. In other words, aside from all the public charities which are supported by general taxation, and aside from the immense beneficence directly carried on by the churches and maintained by voluntary contributions, there are 1423 organized forms of philanthropic endeavor in the single city of New York. The showing might be made considerably stronger by including mutual and beneficial societies, savings banks, and reformatories.
Much of this effort, however, has little to do with the subject in hand. A great hospital—and there are superb ones in some of our cities — is a noble institution, but its only addition to the growing loveliness of the city is its indication of a sentiment of pity. The hospital, it may be added, is a flatteringly high type of the activities here referred to. That philanthropic work is too much duplicated is obvious. Dr. F. G. Peabody says, in an article on Poor-Relief in America, written for a German encyclopædia, that “the multiplication of voluntary relief societies has become not only a source of pride in the country, but also one of its embarrassing riches.” The New York State Board of Charities, in its annual report to the legislature for 1898, also called attention to the matter, saying that it believed there were more than 4000 empty beds in the children’s institutions of New York city.
This strange evil of excessive or illdistributed urban generosity had, however, been realized before. At Buffalo, late in 1877, the first Charity Organization Society was established, as a protest against a lavishness in beneficence which was wasteful of resources and pauperizing in tendency. To some extent in Buffalo, and distinctly in Brooklyn, the organization was preceded by an effort to abolish or reform municipal outdoor relief. In Philadelphia and many other cities charity organization practically supplanted outdoor relief. An idea of the saving to taxpayers thus effected is gained from a report made at the twentieth National Conference of Charities and Correction (1893). It appears that Brooklyn, where outdoor relief was abolished in 1878, had appropriated $141,207 in the previous year for this purpose ; that Indianapolis saved $82,000 in its appropriation ; that Philadelphia saved $00,000 by abolishment, and Buffalo $50,000 by reduction. Other similar gains are recorded. This movement of association, which was already proving successful in London, and toward which there had been attempts in Boston, in Germantown (a suburban ward of Philadelphia), and in New York city, spread rapidly. In 1882 there were 22 charity organization societies in the United States. Ten years later there were 92 of these and affiliated societies, having many thousand special visitors ; for the effort to individualize relief is happily coupled with the effort to systematize it. The population of the cities they represented exceeded then 11,000,000. National, district, and local conferences had been instituted, and a periodical literature of the subject was appearing. There has since been no backward step, and in organization we recognize an important principle of urban philanthropy.
Charity organization, as a protest against waste and duplication, has secured in addition to economy and system two other advantages. They are efficiency and the procurement of data for scientific social study. The efficiency achieved is not wholly in the granting of temporary relief. There is a permanent gain to the beneficiary, and so to society at large, in the stand against pauperization. Direct gratuitous help is discouraged, and employment is found for beneficiaries. Organization helps men to help themselves, in realization that the truest charity, like the truest art, is that which conceals itself. In such work it is a permanent factor in city betterment. The securing of reliable data for study is a later development of the movement, growing out of appreciation of its peculiar opportunities for investigation.
Half a dozen years ago the invested resources of charity organization were put at $630,000, though the accumulation of endowments had then had slight opportunity. It does not lack now for material evidence. The Charities Building in Boston, the headquarters of the local movement, is a memento of early efforts to systematize popular beneficence, and antedated the Associated Charities. The first distinct endowment of charity organization was, appropriately, at Buffalo. This was in 1880, when one of the citizens established the Fitch Crèche. It is not only one of the leading institutions of the city, but is probably the best of its kind in the country. The Crèche affords accommodation for the offices of the society, includes an accident hospital, and, in furtherance of its purpose to promote industry and thrift among the poor, contains a training school for domestics and nursery maids, which is unique in the United States. Of greater spectacular impressiveness is the United Charities Building in New York, dedicated in 1893. The structure is shared in common by many philanthropic associations, so that the whole cost, $600,000, may properly be included here among the assets of organized private charity, though the equity of the Charity Organization Society is estimated at only a fourth of this. In general, charity organization, in some form, has come to be indissolubly associated with the philanthropic side of municipal development. Private munificence, through individual donors or by popular subscription, has erected in many cities a central structure which is the charitable power house of the city. This is often in itself, as well as in what it stands for, one of the landmarks of the perfectly developed city ; for under the general head of charity organization, with its central buildings, its salaried secretaries, and its elaborate printed directories, is to be included much of the philanthropic activity of a modern city. The vital, permanent force in the better city’s development is, not the multiplicity of movements, but the principle of systematic coöperation. This has the directing power to urge — or, better yet, to curb — the unparalleled profuseness of our public and private charity.
Within the last few years a modification in the charity organization plan has been suggested and has had limited trial. Curiously, this also originated in Buffalo ; and under the title of the Church District or Buffalo Plan it has been adopted in a few other places. It proposes a division of the city into districts, and a distribution of these among the churches. The church which takes a district is to look after it with the thoroughness with which a politician looks after votes. It is to become responsible for its “ moral elevation,” and, with the aid of the charitable institutions of the city, for the material relief of its needy. In Buffalo the plan has been tried in connection with the Charity Organization Society, and the first working report — published in January, 1898 — indicates a moderate degree of success. The experiment is interesting, as suggesting within the church a growing sense of responsibility to the city. The assumption of obligation seems, however, unduly to relieve those outside of a church. New York is trying with considerable success a church federation for sociological work. Cleveland during the last few months, and Allegheny for a longer time, have made use of a Charity Clearing House. The idea underlying the church plans was well expressed by Mr. Talcott Williams, who, writing of the higher life of Philadelphia, a few months before the Buffalo Plan was adopted, said, in unconscious advocacy of its principle, that if Philadelphia — in which every third adult in four fifths of the population had assumed the solemn vows of church membership — failed to be “a city of God on earth,” the fault lay “in divided churches, in scattered responsibility, in 546 organizations where 1O0 would do the work infinitely better, in lack of all sense of territorial responsibility, so that the wearied clergymen I know are doubling and triplicating each other’s trips, like milkmen seeking each a family or two in a block.”
Passing from attempts at coöperative and systematic charity, we come to another movement generally confined to the largest communities. This is the college, university, or neighborhood settlement. There are more than a score of these institutions, conducted by educated men and women, who have consecrated themselves to the task of practicing instead of preaching the brotherhood of man. In spite of the seeming hopelessness of their small number, they exert a strong influence for permanent betterment, since a little “ soul,” a little consciousness of man’s divinity, and a little hope do much to instill manhood and womanhood, and the will to conquer adverse circumstances. It is significant of how far we have gone in our respect for humanity, however dragged down and disguised by ignorance, extreme poverty, vice, and bestiality, that we think it worth while to arouse aspirations and ambitions that often can lead only to struggle and discontent.
A large and real part of the work of the neighborhood settlement is material and intellectual. It is a centre of clubs, lectures, classes, and concerts. At Hull House, Chicago, which was founded in 1889, and has become the most famous settlement in America, there are also cooperative boarding houses for both sexes. These are cordially indorsed by the labor unions. There is a day nursery, a gymnasium, a restaurant, and a “ noon factory delivery,” supplying hot lunches at ten cents. There is a free physician and a trained nurse, a public dispensary and a labor bureau. Hull House has secured and maintains a playground in the ward. It publishes a Bulletin, and is the ward post office. At least 2000 persons are regular visitors at the House every week. A settlement in another city includes upward of thirty clubs, of which that composed of kindergarten children is the only one not self-governing. All this work is done without attempting to preach a special religion or any social economy except the simple doctrine of better, cleaner living.
For several years our universities have offered courses in sociology. Those undergraduates whose enthusiasm and earnestness have led them to choose the task of poor relief as a career find encouragement in instruction in theory and practice. These courses make of philanthropy the science which undoubtedly it ought to be. With the summer of 1898 the movement extended a little further. The Charity Organization Society of New York offered a post-graduate course in sociology, open to qualified graduates of universities and to experienced workers. It lasted six weeks. Four weeks’ work of actual practice in the offices or districts of the society was accepted in lieu of tuition. Sessions were held, with lectures, five mornings a week. Wednesday mornings and Saturday afternoons were given to visiting institutions, and the course which began with an examination for admission ended with an assigned thesis. The new idea that poor relief is a science, not a sentiment, expects to find justification in the products of such instruction as this. To these class rooms go much of the data so carefully collected, and from them ought to come formulated knowledge and working plans.
All these agencies represent fairly well the organized effort at relief that puts its stamp on the hearts of the people rather than on the city itself. Except for a larger church, a group of church buildings, or a charity building, the effect of these associations on the aspect of the city is indirect. They lead to cleaner streets, neater doorsteps, and less mendicancy by their operation on human hearts. There is, however, an increasingly large department of urban philanthropic effort which acts directly upon the city’s aspect. Possibly the most striking example is the better tenement movement. It can be best studied in New York, where the need is greatest. Philadelphia is celebrated as a city of small homes. In Chicago there has been such room for growth as to avoid serious congestion, except in the foreign colonies. But New York has the foreign colonies, many old buildings as well, and the most terrible congestion in the world. The nearest approach to New York is in the plagueridden districts of Bombay. In all of Europe there is only one city district, a small part of Prague, that is even half as crowded as are parts of New York. About eight fifteenths of the population of one part of the city live in tenements, in the common meaning of that term, as this leaves out of the count the tenants of the higher class of flats. Yet it was only in 1895 that the movement for the better housing of the poor was put into legal form, and it was two years later that a similar effort was made in Boston.
The reports of the various investigation committees have led to good results in some of the reforms insisted upon. The Board of Health in New York, for example, had not been conscientious in its revelation of the tenement evils. In 1878 the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor appointed a Committee of Public Hygiene, to act in coöperation with the Health Board and the Tenement House Inspection. This was the beginning of the efforts which had their highest development in the Tenement House Commission of 1894. On this commission were some of the most prominent and respected men of the city. Its report commanded such confidence as to give to the proposed legislation the successful backing of public sentiment; and there happened to be a municipal administration that was not deaf to appeals for reform. The result was a tenement law that may well be studied. The risk of night fire is lessened by the banishment of dangerous trades from the tenement houses. It is required that 25 per cent of each lot be left open, and that every room have a window to the outer air. In addition to the direct benefits of securing a window, this is a gain to the tenant of three square feet in the hundred over the previous custom of the Building Department ; and the commission reported the discovery of many old rookeries in which 93 per cent of the lot was covered with brick and mortar. The law requires, also, that every new tenement shall be provided with sufficient fireproof stairs and doors. A census discovered 14,000 tenements in which there was no light in the hallways at night. The new law insists that halls shall be lighted not only at night, but by day if no outer light enters.
In addition to such corrective legislation, the Health Department, in 1896 and 1897, seized 93 tenements. All but two or three were rear buildings. In the condemnation proceedings the death rate was taken as the guide, with such success that, although the landlords had resort to the courts, they were beaten. The results fully justified the Tenement House Commission in having declared that “ the legislation which will most favorably affect the death rate of New York is such as will do away with the rear tenements, and root out every old, ramshackle, disease - breeding tenement house in the city.”
But the better housing movement needs to be positive as well as negative. It was well enough to turn tenants out of “ veritable slaughter houses ” and tear the buildings down, but where should the tenants go ? Real estate in crowded cities is so valuable that the solution of the problem cannot safely be left to individual munificence. Our large cities do have model tenements so provided. and there are several small societies, such as the Coöperative Building Society of Boston, that have this aim ; but the solution of the problem must rest, as it does in foreign cities, on a large associated effort. In response to this requirement, an enterprise is under way which is the outcome of an Improved Housing Council that was held in New York. A stock company was formed, with a capital of $1,000,000 (increased to $2,000,000 in June, 1898) and the best financial backing. It was incorporated under the title of the City and Suburban Homes Company. Late in 1896 it offered its shares at $10 each at public sale. The stock had been already taken by the original guarantors, but it was thought best to distribute it widely, in order to interest a larger number of people. The directors offered the shares as a safe five per cent investment. The company’s field is Greater New York. The first buildings erected were on a plot of 19 city lots on Sixty-Eighth and SixtyNinth streets, between Tenth and Eleventh avenues. The handsome buildings are of a type which is generally called fireproof. Each is 100 feet square, with an interior court about 30 feet square. Apartments have two, three, or four rooms. No bedroom contains less than 7O square feet of floor area, and no living room less than 144 feet. Laundries equipped with steam-drying rooms are furnished free, as are baths, in the basement. Each little suite is provided with conveniences. Another branch of the company’s business is the construction of suburban cottages, to be sold to wage earners on the installment plan. Applicants are required to select sites within areas owned by the company, and the latter erects the houses. As the company’s profit is limited, the tenant has the advantage of the saving from wholesale building and of the rise in the value of land. Before the stock was offered for public sale nearly 400 applications had been received for homes, and suburban areas have been laid out in very attractive ways. A system of life insurance accompanies the installment payment for these houses.
Such an enterprise by no means solves the tenement problem, though perhaps it is not an objection that, from the sociological point of view, the beginning is at the top. The incorporators believe that if the financial practicability of the plan can be made evident, more capital will be attracted. It is said that in Great Britain £12,000,000 are invested in this way, and that in London alone 160,000 people are provided for in model tenements. The work has been well termed “ philanthropy at five per cent.’ The influence of rapid transit on this phase of urban development is obvious. For instance, it has made the suburban part of the New York company’s work possible. In far larger measure it works through individual action to relieve municipal congestion.
On similar lines with this movement are many good lodging houses, small and large, where the poor may find cleanliness, moral and physical, no dearer than filth and temptation. Extending from the $1,000,000 Mills House in New York to the little mission lodging, and accepting pay in coin or in work, they are numerous enough to deserve an article by themselves. But they supply the needs chiefly of the homeless ; for their guests are mainly the single and the transient, and their relation to urban development is palliative rather than curative or preventive. The “ homes ” established for various more permanent boarders, such as apartment houses for business women and flats for clerks, have a better claim to attention ; but in this country they have not generally met with large success. The enterprise is interesting, and has long been attractive to capitalists. Some day one of the experiments may succeed on a scale that will encourage imitators.
But at best the dream of a city whose renting poor live in model homes maintained by philanthropic landlords is felt to be utopian. Perhaps no one confesses to having such a dream. At all events, there is a consciousness that in the meantime much can be done to alleviate present conditions. Attention is turned, therefore, not only upon wretched homes themselves, but upon their environment, and for this the municipality is directly responsible. Work that is done to this end is closely connected with a city’s improvement. The more popular remedies — one is tempted to join in the enthusiastic shouting and call them panaceas — are asphalt pavements in the poorer quarters, baths, playgrounds, and recreation piers.
The first asphalt pavement in the United States was laid only twenty-five years ago. So closely have these pavements been identified with the effort to make handsomer cities, and so great has been their cost, that the idea of laying them in a city’s poorest quarter is very new. But that idea has lately had a chance to show its value on a generous scale. In New York city, during Mayor Strong’s administration, many thousand square yards were laid in the tenement districts. The advantages claimed were increased cleanliness, with its consequent healthfulness, and a more satisfactory playground for children. Public baths and lavatories are still a novelty in America. The public lavatories are mainly confined to parks and buildings. Until lately, the best free public baths in the United States were in Brookline, Massachusetts. In New York, the Tenement House Commission reported that only 306 persons out of a population of more than a quarter of a million had access to bathrooms in the houses in which they lived. Yet there were no baths open all the year round, provided by the city ; for those on the river front are available during only a short period. The lack is partially met by private philanthropy in the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, the Baron de Hirsch fund, the Riverside Association, the De Milt Dispensary, and a few minor organizations. Philadelphia organized in 1895 a Public Baths Association. This has erected an excellent bath house. In Boston the city took up the matter, with the result that on October 15, 1898, there was formally opened to the public a bath house of much beauty, and one that had the unique distinction, in a city well provided with bathing facilities for hot weather, of being its first permanent bath for use throughout the year. It is a three-story structure, cost $70,000, and can accommodate 1500 persons. The basement contains an up-to-date laundry, where the experiment of washing at a moderate cost for poor families is to have trial in a small way. It is expected that this will prove but the first of several permanent bath houses in different sections of Boston, supplementing the summer facilities offered by the state at Revere Beach, by various private associations, and in some of the gymnasiums and parks. In Baltimore the city makes a small appropriation for free summer baths, and the Maryland Public Health Association has enlisted in a movement for free indoor baths. At Yonkers, Chicago, and Buffalo there are city baths. The natatorium which was constructed, along with a gymnasium, in Douglas Park at Chicago, in 1896, is said to have been the first free resort of the kind in the West; and Buffalo’s bath house, which was opened June 1, 1897, bears a tablet to the effect that it is the “ first free public bath house in the United States.” It was erected under the provisions of a state law, passed as far back as 1895, requiring all cities with a population of 50,000 or more to “ establish and maintain such free public baths as the local board of health may determine to be necessary.” The law adds that the maintenance of river or ocean baths shall not be deemed a compliance with its provisions. The act, applying to the most prominent cities of the state of New York, promises the beginning, still strangely delayed, of an important movement in this direction ; and the success of the first experiment under it has been so marked that another public bath house is to be opened, in the summer of 1899, in the Polish district of the city where it was tried. Other legislation in 1895, 1896, and 1897 authorized the city of New York to proceed at once to the erection of one or more public baths ; but compelling sentiment on the subject is of slow growth. In Brooklyn, an appropriation of $150,000 has been secured for the erection of a large public bathing pavilion at the foot of the Ocean Parkway.
Playgrounds open the way to a larger movement. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and smaller cities are in the enthusiasm of their equipment and trial. The playground movement is to be distinguished from that for parks, as more purely philanthropic. Agitation several years ago opened the schoolhouse yards of Philadelphia to children in the summer, public opinion approving the engagement of teachers, and the provision of necessary materials and conveniences, at the expense of the Board of Education. Private owners have been induced to permit lots to be used for the same purpose, until they should find a commercial use for them. The furnishing of these has been looked after by the Culture Extension League. To this organization is due great credit; for it was early and persistent in its efforts to arouse public sentiment to the need, though a City Park Association had opened a playground as early as 1894. The summer of 1897 witnessed in Philadelphia the opening of other grounds. In Fairmount Park a large area was set aside for this purpose, and a rich Philadelphian, who recently died, left $50,000 by will for the erection in the park of an excellent playground house. It was to be provided with nurses and attendants. The success of the experiment was the city’s excuse for an extension of the plan. The Small Parks Association was organized, and so crystallized public sentiment that the city began the purchase and equipment of special playgrounds. One of these, opened in 1898, is said to be the most complete of its kind in the country. The expense of it was shared equally by the city and the Culture Extension League. It is situated in a neighborhood where there are more than 3000 children who have no other place to play in than the streets and alleys, and near four populous foreign settlements which have nothing in common with one another, and which have refused ordinary friendly advances. Its function is thus twofold, since it brings the parents together at the band concerts, and at other times, in social intercourse. At the north and south ends there are substantial buildings for boys and girls. In each a large room is devoted to games and gymnastics. At one end are the lunch room and the shower baths, and at the other is the room for the teacher who directs the play within doors. The building is heated by steam. Around the outer edge of the square are broad grass plats, with flower beds and public fountains. The winding gravel walks are dotted with swings, seesaws, and seats, for the little folks and their elders. Maples and lindens will beautify and shade the grounds. There is a bicycle track, protected by an iron fence and spanned by a bridge. Inside the track there will be a skating pond in winter, and in summer tennis courts and ball grounds. On a raised grass plat to the south is the girls’ playground. A large sand pile for the little children is protected from the weather, and near this are the flagstaff and the band stand. Two teachers are in attendance. In the summer of 1898 twenty-five school yards were opened, and a small appropriation was made for their maintenance.
Other cities have not been backward.
In Boston, which was the pioneer, the municipal sand piles of 1887 were the first pathetic expression of the need of a playground and of an effort to satisfy it. Their success has led to their adoption in many large cities, and on an extensive scale in Baltimore. Mrs. Kate Gannett Wells has happily described their creation in Boston. Her description, condensed from The Congregationalist, is as follows : The use of three mission chapel yards was obtained, and at the end of the season there had been less sickness and more order among the children living near those yards than for many a summer. The next year ten sand heaps flourished, some in courts of tenement houses, the tenants themselves acting as overseers from their windows. Then the sand was given, as it has been since. The third year the ladies petitioned for a few school yards, guaranteeing neither expense nor injury to the city, and the school committee granted the request. In 1896 there was an average daily attendance of 1802 children, in ten weeks, in ten yards. Every yard has two or three paid kindergartners or young matrons and a visitor.
The work on Charlesbank, in Boston, is of the advanced type of playground movement. It is managed by women, with the financial aid of the city, where the river Charles flows through the poorer quarters. A street marks the line between the men’s and women’s divisions. The children have sand heaps and grass plats, and the gymnasium constructed here was the first Open-air one in the world. There is also a lodge, containing books and baths. In the seventh annual report, covering the year 1897, it was stated that 218,572 women and children attended one of these divisions, and the statistics were practically those of six months only. The Massachusetts Emergency and Hygienic Association maintains playgrounds, and the Episcopal City Mission has playrooms. In the winter of 1898 permission was given to the city to expend $200,000 a year to obtain a comprehensive system of playgrounds, and under the Park Act ten tracts were secured. Some school yards also were opened last summer.
In New York the beginning of the playground movement was made about October, 1890. In 1887 a state law had been passed authorizing the city to expend $1,000,000 annually for small parks below One Hundred and FiftyFifth Street. This law showed a recognition of a need for such parks, but the opportunity granted was never fully embraced until 1893. In October, 1890, at a meeting presided over by Bishop Potter, the Society for Parks and Playgrounds for Children was organized. It grew out of a distinct sentiment in favor of the movement for the tenement districts. In December of 1890 the first playground under this society’s control was opened. It comprised sixteen full lots in a tenement neighborhood. The lots were given to the society without rent by their owners, and were fitted up with apparatus for exercise, play, and comfort. An employee was put in charge of the children, and the opening of the ground exerted a wide influence through the sympathetic descriptions in the city press. As a result of this agitation, and perhaps under the influence of a Playground Society that was already established in Brooklyn, public-spirited private citizens in New York were led to open several small plats, which are not under society control. The Tenement House Commission, in addition to other legislation, secured the passage of an act to compel the city to expend $3,000,000 in three years for small parks, at least two of which should be below Fourth Street. This, with the strongly awakened public sentiment, which in 1898 secured from the legislature permission to open the schoolhouse playgrounds for summer recreation, seemed to assure the progress of the movement. In the spring of 1898, however, it was made more certain by the formation of the People’s Recreation League. This is a union of a large number of societies, including the Social Reform Club, the Charity Organization, the Children’s Aid, the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor, the various East Side settlements, and many others. The league becomes the playground committee of these societies, centralizing their influence and unifying their efforts. It furnishes playground attendants, purchases apparatus, and last winter turned some of the grounds into skating rinks, supplementing the work of the School Board of Manhattan, which last year appropriated $15,000 for maintaining and equipping playgrounds in a score of school yards. Last summer, also, the Federation of Churches conducted a playground, and the movement had a good start in Brooklyn, where ten school yards were open and other grounds were maintained by private subscription.
The crowded condition of the city gave to the movement in New York some novel expressions. Of these, the recreation or play pier has become, perhaps, the most popular. The idea weds commerce to philanthropy, by building over a long pier a second story, where the children of the city can have a playground, and where the mothers and babies can enjoy the coolness and the panorama of the river. Mr. Jacob A. Riis, in a lecture, has called play piers the “ most roaring success in all this world.” The first of them was opened in July, 1897. Every evening and on Saturday afternoons, during the summer, a brass band furnished music such as the people could enjoy, and they were encouraged to join in singing the popular songs. How successful the experiment proved from the first is shown in part by statistics. The pier was visited by an average of 4000 persons a day for eighty-one days, or by a total of 325,000 persons. On July 27, 1897, Philadelphia established a similar play pier; this was followed by others. and in the summer of 1898 the Civic Club provided concerts on one of them. Late in September, 1897, New York opened a second pier. This is nearly three times as large as the first, having a capacity of 15,000 persons. In the summer of 1898 Brooklyn took up the experiment, and in New York permission was given to the School Board to have kindergartners in attendance to teach the children how to play. There is also a proposal to have all the piers inclosed in glass and heated, so that they may be available in winter. In Boston the municipal clearing at the North End is nearly akin to a play pier. There the houses and wharves have been removed, and the salt water is permitted to lave the earth again, as it did in the beginning. “ The city,” said a Boston paper, “has lost two wharves, but it has gained for its people enough sweetness and light to pay back the cost handsomely.” We may well consider what a triumph the new philanthropic movement is making when a daily paper puts forward such an opinion. It had been something for one man to come to the belief that two city wharves might be less precious than the pleasure they kept from the poor ; for we have been accustomed to learn that on commerce is the prosperity of our seaports builded. But a man did think so, and a newspaper published the statement, and nobody protested.
A second peculiar development of the playground idea in New York has been the construction of roof gardens on some of the schools. These not only have economy to recommend them, where land is so valuable, but they lift the children far above the dust, the heat, and the turmoil of the street. Less can be said for the use of basements.
The narrow and crowded thoroughfares of New York and Boston have of course made playgrounds especially necessary. In Boston, to be sure, the children have had the Common from colonial times ; but in New York, as a city committee on small park sites reported in 1897, the children seem to have been forgotten in the planning. The rapid improvement of vacant ground left to them no other place than the streets for play. The committee added that the lack of playgrounds, where the children could expend, free from temptation, the physical vitality which is their heritage, had been “ the most efficient cause of the growth of crime and pauperism.” But in no city, as we have seen, are there better playgrounds than in Philadelphia. Hull House, at Chicago, has had a playground for about five years ; but the movement there has only recently spread. Now various philanthropic societies have taken it up, the City Council has made a small appropriation, schoolhouse yards have been opened and private munificence has cared for them. The mayor of Toledo presented a little playground to that city in 1897, in the heart of the workingmen’s district. Providence, Baltimore, Hartford, Cleveland, Minneapolis, New Haven, and Worcester are other cities in which the movement has started, with women generally as its most prominent backers.
We need not pause to consider the work of the Fresh Air Fund and various vacation societies. Their beneficence has grown to immense proportions ; but the principle on which they operate is that of making the life of the poor in great cities a little better worth living, in spite of existing conditions. While this is a form of distinctly municipal benevolence, the cities are in no sense their subjects. The large work of the Children’s Aid Society and similar societies claims attention. But their effort is for the individual, without regard to the community in which he may live, though there is important negative benefit to the city in their preventive work.
The monts-de-piété and the provident loan associations of cities are a form of that wise economic benevolence, percentage philanthropy. They save the borrower from the pawnbroker’s extortionate interest, but they decline to give him something for nothing. One of the societies in New York lent $765,000 in 1897, to about 36,000 persons. Another reported that with loans of nearly $11,000 it had lost only $11. Municipal farming, which had its origin in Detroit, and has become well known under the alliterative title of the Pingree Potato Patch Plan, was an ingenious provision to meet special conditions. The newness of most American cities and their rapid growth give to it, for the present at least, a favorable opportunity. In 1897 it was carried on in Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Dayton, Denver, Detroit, Duluth, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Providence, Reading, Seattle, and Springfield. In New York there was great scarcity of land, but returns were from double to triple the expense. In Brooklyn it was helped along by the elevated railroad’s granting free transportation to and from the lots. In Buffalo, where, as in Detroit, it is managed by the city, 10,590 persons were aided in 1897, and taxpayers were probably saved $30,000. As a shift to take care of passing needs it is successful.
In conclusion, one can say that the tendency of modern urban philanthropy is mainly good. It is immensely overdone. A recent English observer, while praising the manifestation of this kind of public spirit, unconsciously condemned its management. He said that he thought the gifts made during this century in Philadelphia alone, for philanthropy and education, were ten times greater than those made in any city of similar size in Europe. Much of urban philanthropy, also, is insincere. Ostentatious charity covers a multitude of purposes in city life. But, on the whole, these evils are recognized. The institutional church and the church district plan tend to put benevolence in the light of a duty rather than a virtue. Charity organization is designed to prevent waste and pauperization. Neighborhood settlement and the personal visiting system of church and associated charity are a protest against making charity mechanical. In the movements for better housing, baths, and playgrounds there is a distinct endeavor permanently to make the city a better habitation. Rapid transit, better paving, and wiser sanitary provision are doing their possibly soulless but helpful work. The future must reveal what is to be the effect of a patronage by politics of the philanthropic movement, — a condition which has lately become marked, notably in the case of the Citizens’ Union campaign in New York, in 1897. Certainly, the past gives little encouragement to hope that the result will be an improvement. But at least the condition has this significance : it marks how widespread and popular the movement has become, and how fully it has passed from a fad and an impulse into conviction and earnest purpose. Another and more striking lesson to be drawn from this swift review is, how little of all the philanthropic effort really makes for the permanent betterment of our cities, or helps, in measure proportionate to the effort put forth, to solve municipal problems by genuine municipal progress.
Charles Mulford Robinson.
- New York Charities Directory, 1898.↩