Science in Philanthropy

THOSE who look on only occasionally at the methods of dealing with the socalled degenerate classes often declare that nothing is really known, that guesswork reigns, that one plan is as good as another. This cynical despair of social science is not justified by the facts. As the science of life borrows data and suggestion from the hospital practitioner, so the student of normal society finds a laboratory in the institutions for defectives. Comte long ago said that sociology comes nearer actual scientific experiment in dealing with the defective than with the normal classes. In prisons and asylums we can more nearly control conditions than we can with free selfgoverning families and communities. Social pathology offers an important side light on normal human relations, because the laws of disease seem to be the seamy side of the laws of health, and show them in larger pattern.

Those who scoff at the possibility of building a social philosophy should recognize the fact that every attempt to concentrate all the forces of a commonwealth upon the solution of any specific problem more or less consciously proceeds upon some sort of theory of the ends and the resources of the commonwealth. The art of statesmanship, the organization of a school system or of a system of charities and corrections, imply a theory of the community which would properly be called a sociology, if it were more accurate and complete. It ought not to be regarded as a presumptuous attempt for special scholars to bring out into clearer light, with reinforcement of knowledge at every point and from every special science, a view of society as a whole, when every rural legislator and every superintendent of schools is actually proceeding on the basis of sociology, often without thinking of his scheme of life under this somewhat novel title.

When a community distinguishes classes of “ abnormal ” men, it tacitly acts with a standard of normal men and normal society before its mind. When a people, by legal means or by voluntary associations, constructs a system of institutions for the care of its abnormal members, it acts upon a theory of the objects of society and the normal order of its arrangements. This practical coordination of the special knowledge of economists, lawyers, physicians, educators, is a necessity of life. Sociologists are simply struggling to make this coördination as adequate as possible. A special science out of relations to a general theory of society is as helpless and futile as the mainspring of a watch lying in isolated “ abstraction ” outside the watch itself.

Compare the method of dealing with prisoners in the more advanced reformatories with that employed in backward communities, where the antiquated philosophy of vindictive justice dominates both law and discipline, and perpetuates the passions of lynching, fends, and murder. Modern criminology marks off, with increasing accuracy, the various classes of prisoners, — criminals of passion, occasional criminals, habitual criminals, and those congenitally defective persons who should be in custodial asylums for imbeciles rather than in prisons. Criminologists lay stress upon the characters and capabilities of men ; the traditionalists persist in relying on definitions of acts, and in seeking to measure exact guilt in terms of time. Science deals with knowable qualities ; tradition and popular passion grope for a standard of the unknowable.

We have already a few reformatory prisons in which the more advanced methods of education are employed with hopeful results. A visit to one of these institutions for reformation, with its splendid equipment for regenerating the dwarfed and perverted offender in body, mind, and spirit, awakens admiration. But instantly the question starts in the mind, Why not use these appliances of education in advance of crime ? Why not give our public schools the means of preventing the germination and formation of the anti-social habit ?

Indeed, all penological studies are driving us back to educational and other preventive measures. Reformation is costly and uncertain. Penalties have little influence upon minds not disciplined to foresight of consequences, incapable of connected reasoning. When wages are so low and fluctuating as they are in some ranks of labor, the prison becomes actually inviting, and its terror a paradise, to many of the proletariat. Prison reform problems lead straight on to kindergarten and manual training, the trade union, the minimum wage, and related agencies of prevention of degradation. Expert judgment has long since declared that for the socially unfit liberty is an injury to the individual and a constant menace to society. Legal “ innocence ” sets free the recidivist at the end of a brief sentence, while the wild beast in him is yet untamed and the enfeebled will is unable to resist temptation. This cruel policy of mathematical justice is sustained by custom and legal conservatism long after it is condemned by science. The sociological method of coördinating study is compelling the lawyers to bring fresh life into a formal text study, and just as truly compels theoretical specialists in anthropology to regard the legal point of view, the certainty, impersonality, and impartiality of justice.

The most glaring contrast between expert knowledge and popular custom and law is seen in the legal administration of local institutions,—the jail and the county poorhouse. The mere description of an ordinary jail should suffice to condemn it, and would awaken intense horror if the public could know and picture the necessary results of average administration. The local prison is used as a place for the detention of prisoners awaiting trial, sometimes of insane persons, and even of witnesses, as well as for the infliction of short sentences for minor offenses. Frequently, men, women, and youths are confined in the same building, not seldom within sight or hearing of one another. The corridors of many jails are occupied all day long by a motley company of prisoners of all grades of depravity. In this free school of crime, the uninitiated take lessons from adepts in licentiousness and burglary, and thoughtless children become the pupils and intimate companions of tramps and thieves. The local officials seem to have no standard of comparison. They seldom have any knowledge of the more civilized methods, and have contempt for “ theorists.” In some instances of extraordinary foulness, where the jail may be in the court-house cellar, the judges, if annoyed by odors and frightened by communicable disease, are ready, perhaps, to order an investigation. But the essential evils of the system are not merely defects in sanitation. The detention of the insane even for a moment in a jail confuses nervous disease with crime, and helps to prolong the popular identification of insanity with demoniac possession or willful moral evil. The trial of children and youth in the same courts with older offenders, and their incarceration in jails and bridewells with adults, are causes of the perpetuation and increase of crime. Public opinion tolerates, through ignorance, the punishment of drunken and disorderly persons in jails. It is not felt by unbashful vagabonds as punishment. The district workhouse should provide actual disciplinary labor for a term long enough to affect the habits and character of the demoralized person. The jail should be merely a place of temporary detention before trial, and the cells should be so constructed that no inmate could ever see or meet any other, and those yet uncondemned should not be thrust into purgatory before trial.

The average county poorhouse is another pathetic and disheartening illustration of the tardiness of popular knowledge and belated legal reform. If ordinary citizens knew what almshouses in most regions of the country actually are, in construction and administration, they would demand a change. Stories of abuses come from all quarters. There is absence of classification. On poor farms, men, women, and children herd together, and sometimes sleep in the same dormitory, without even curtains between their beds. In remote places, the demented insane are neglected, and treated like animals. Feeble-minded women, irresponsible creatures, wander about the country, and return to the asylum to give birth to idiots and perpetuate defect. Honest old people, who have served their country in the army of productive industry for a half century, are shut in, during long winters, as intimate companions of worn-out criminals. This does not often occur, but it should never be permitted. Real working people have a right to protest with bitterness against this unjust confusion of misfortune and crime. If counties are too penurious to provide separate homes for the aged and helpless poor, the commonwealth should interfere.

Several states have in their service, at this hour, a small corps of very competent officials in charge of the feeble-minded. Out of about one hundred thousand of these hapless children less than one tenth are in expert custody. The others are scattered in homes, in poorhouses, wander about as vagrants, or find their way to prisons and asylums for the insane. Under competent care, this class can be supported in rural colonies almost without expense to the public, educated as far as their limited faculties permit, made comparatively happy in the society of equals, shielded from the humiliations and sufferings of competition, and prevented from propagating their defects. Here is the beginning of actual “ social selection.” The more advanced states have already proved, under expert guidance, that charity the most tender is consistent with the elimination of the unfit.

The ability to maintain life in competitive industry is a rough measure of fitness for parental responsibilities. The feeble-minded are not competent to care for themselves. It is believed that many vagrants have the hereditary character of these degenerates. Their turn for elimination will come next, and in the same merciful way, and then confirmed and hopeless dipsomaniacs may be treated rationally.

The most hopeful philanthropy is that which deals with dependent and neglected children, and in this endeavor certain principles have been established beyond reasonable skepticism. We know that infants without mothers cannot live in large dormitories. When a city continues to keep its foundlings in a great institution, in face of the statistics of mortality, it is guilty of their death. The congregation in huge barracks of orphan and deserted children, past infancy, is now well understood to be injurious to them, so that the system of giving subsidies to church and other private institutions for the support of dependent children is a bounty on bad methods. It corrupts the conscience and blinds the judgment of good men and women ; it dries up the fountains of voluntary benevolence, and it cripples the children, New York city and the state of California may be compared with Michigan and Minnesota, and the result will be ample evidence of the folly of the subsidy system. The policy of placing normal children in real homes, with natural family life and contact with ordinary community problems, may fairly be claimed as the only policy based on science. If experiment has any value in the study of the phenomena of society, then family care must be regarded as superior to institutional custody. The reasons are economic, physiological, pedagogical, and political. The expense of support in institutions is enormous ; the health of children is exposed to needless perils of contagion ; the artificial training unfits the young person for the actual world ; and the relation of the institution to politics, especially if it is a private institution seeking subsidies from public funds, is almost inevitably hurtful.

Public outdoor relief, the assistance of dependent families in their homes, becomes more important with density of population and growth of cities. Students and administrators in this country are divided in opinion as to the necessity and wisdom of raising money by taxation for this purpose. Many believe that pauperism in New York; Brooklyn, and Philadelphia has been better cared for since official relief was abolished. But all acknowledge that, for a long time to come, a considerable sum must be given from voluntary or public sources for this purpose. In the distribution of this form of relief, general principles derived from long experience in many countries have been formulated, but are generally neglected by the sympathetic public.

One who reasons from the world’s best thought and knowledge would insist that each dependent person must be treated as an individual ; that the relief should be temporary and the application frequently renewed ; that the way to normal industry should be kept open at every step, and be made preferable to the path of indolence and beggary. Trained opinion favors a system of coöperation of all benevolent persons and officials, with a common central record, with information accessible to all who wish to aid the poor. The most successful administration is that which reduces the material relief, and increases the capacity for self-support ; which tends to restore sound social relations, and lift the decaying parasite into independence and manliness. This view of outdoor relief is exacting, and calls for a high order of ability and a large number of friendly visitors.

Surveying the actual practice in American cities, we discover that every one of these principles is constantly and flagrantly violated. The inquiry for causes is pronounced heartless. The friendly visitor is declared to be a cruel and impertinent meddler, who would substitute good advice for food and warmth. The attempt to bring order and bookkeeping into the chaos of almsgiving is condemned as “ red tape ” and presumption. Fortunate is the really thorough charity worker if he escapes the epithet of “ anarchist ” or “ communist ” because he discovers that individual and voluntary efforts are impotent in the presence of colossal misery, and because he invokes the coöperation of the entire community and the supreme power of the government.

There are reasons for the slow rate of approximation of social practice to scientific demands. The public finds the consideration of defects disagreeable and painful. It is pleasant to think of education, art, industry, and literature ; but criminals are odious and idiots repulsive in common thought. Our natural repugnance for defectives tends to awaken contempt. Genius is demanded to discover the essentials of divine personality in obscure intelligence and distorted nature. Comparatively few persons visit jails, prisons, and poorhouses, and most of those who do look about the abodes of misery with morbid curiosity alone, for they have no training in observation and no criteria of judgment. They simply disturb the discipline. It requires previous preparation and skillful guidance to derive benefit from examinations of this kind. Entrance is only too easily secured, in the case of public institutions in America; for an aimless ramble of sightseers, without knowledge or serious purpose, is positively harmful.

Our system of outdoor relief, both public and private, unlike the German municipal system, which provides as visitors a large corps of capable men who serve without salary, erects a barrier between the broken citizen and the prosperous. Our official methods are bureaucratic in the worst sense ; hard, mechanical, rigid in routine, awkward and often corrupt in administration. Our busy people, eager to be rich, farm out their philanthropy, and pay relief societies to distribute their alms and the remnants left from charity balls. Our educated and comfortable ladies and gentlemen know not how the other half lives. If the Elberfeld system could be introduced, or the Boston corps of “ friendly visitors ” be organized in all towns, we should know more of the meaning of struggle “ down in the folks-swamps.”

The principal inspirer of philanthropic feeling in the world is the church. But up to recent times the leaders of the church have been educated in a way not very favorable to a wise direction of charity. The separation of ecclesiastical from political power has insensibly weakened the sense of responsibility for wards of the state. Our theological seminaries are just beginning to provide for a study of the methods which best represent the doctrines and practice of the Founder of the church in relation to the distressed. Those who give direction to the studies of the church leaders have still to learn much from the saying of Dr. Arnold : “ It is clear that, in whatever it is our duty to act, those matters also it is our duty to study.” There is great reason to hope that another generation will take up the burden with ampler knowledge, wiser method, and more earnest consecration.

In pioneer conditions only the rugged and dauntless pushed to the frontier. Indians, fever, and hardship selected the feeble for extinction. Free land gave rude plenty to all who could survive, and pauperism was rare. But with our great cities have come new problems. Altruism must find a way to be merciful, and yet reduce the burden of the unfit. There is no prospect for the dependent classes in mere material alms. Many can be educated to self-support, and to abandon the proletarian tendency to wear out mothers in bearing and rearing children who must starve on insufficient income. The feeble-minded and degenerate cannot be taught this fundamental lesson. Fortunately, they are not very numerous, and can all be easily segregated in self-supporting rural colonies. When they are removed, the real workers will more easily rise in earning power.

Perhaps the most important means of improving the formerly corrupt and barbarous local charities and prisons in England was the establishment of central supervision. The centralization of supervising power and function in the Home Office has lifted relief and corrective methods to a high level of efficiency and honesty. Most of our states, however, remain on the plane where England was before this vital reform was introduced. The “ court-house ring ” is only too generally the despot over taxpayers and paupers. The improvement immediately manifest from recent laws in Indiana and Ohio, requiring the local almoners to report in detail to the State Board of Charities, is a startling evidence of the necessity for further changes in the same direction.

It is not desirable to discourage local interest in relief or disciplinary measures. Central control should seek to increase rather than to diminish the sense of responsibility of township and county administrators. The state boards which are now established in most of the more advanced states are usually advisory bodies, whose influence is felt in constant and skillful investigations, publication of abuses, distribution of information, education of the people, and guidance of legislators and administrators. The backward states, which have hitherto, through a mistaken notion of economy, refused to establish such boards, are sacrificing the money of taxpayers, the comfort and lives of the dependents, and the efficiency of penal machinery.

It is universally agreed that professional training is required for superintendents and assistants in institutions of charity and correction. But few persons will spend years in school and in subordinate apprentice service, unless they see before them a reasonable assurance that skill and fidelity will be rewarded with advancement and permanence in office.

The bearing of civil service reform on the improvement of our charitable and correctional institutions will be apparent. While all citizens should learn the essential principles of ameliorative method, it is absurd to expect administrative ability in all. The supreme social question in relation to public beneficence is the question of securing trained officials, and keeping them in the full light of intelligent and sympathetic criticism. Progress in this matter depends upon concentrating the general thought and will on a single point, which for the present should be civil service reform, with its examinations, eligible list, probation, promotion for merit, and security of tenure during the period of efficiency.

Never before in the history of our country was intelligence upon social obligations so general as now, and the process of education is going forward rapidly. The National Conference of Charities and Corrections, the National Prison Association, the International Prison Congress, have published a body of valuable thought. Naturally, the contributions are of unequal value, but the agreement of experts on important principles shows that opinion is not provincial.

Social science has no ready-made set of rules which can fit out a successful administrator ; it does not pretend to offer a substitute for native talent, insight, sympathy, and technical training. But it ever remains true that the world’s experience, as formulated in history and theory, is needed to correct the narrowness, egotism, and blindness of merely individual experience. It is a hopeful feature in contemporary philanthropy that associations bring together people of various kinds of knowledge and training, and that their publications increasingly influence legislation and administration.

Charles Richmond Henderson.