Inaugural Address (Strong)

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The American Institute of Social Service is unique. It is a new organization formed to meet new needs, as

"New occasions teach new duties."

Its aim is precisely the same as was that of the League for Social Service, out of which it grew. The League was organized in the summer of 1898. In the course of four years it demonstrated the need, the practicability, and the value of its work; and having passed the experimental stage, it was reorganized a year ago under an educational charter from the University of the State of New York, on a more substantial basis, with improved facilities, and under its present name.

It would require much more time than the limits of this occasion allow to give any definite and adequate idea of the character, scope, aims and methods of the American Institute of Social Service. The most that can be hoped this afternoon is to interest you sufficiently to arouse a spirit of inquiry which will later satisfy itself by becoming thoroughly acquainted with the work already done, and with the almost boundless possibilities of usefulness which for their realization await only an adequate equipment of the Institute.

During the past century, and practically during the lifetime of many here present, there have taken place the two greatest revolutions in all history—one in the material world, created by the application of natural forces to industry; the other in the world of ideas, produced by the application of the scientific method to all processes of investigation. They have radically changed the methods of agriculture, of manufacture, of commerce, of travel, and of business; and they are radically changing the methods of charity, of philanthropy, of religion, of reform, and of education. Indeed, it is difficult to name a single field of human activity which has not been profoundly influenced by one or both of these two revolutions. Together they have given to the world more knowledge and more wealth, within the memory of living men, than all other instrumentalities employed in all the countless ages of the past. They have created in the Occidental world a new type of civilization, with which have obtained radically different conditions of life—in one word, a new environment which vitally concerns all classes.

It is a fundamental law of nature that every form of life, whether vegetable or animal, individual or institutional, must be adapted to its environment. If the latter radically changes, the former must readjust itself or perish.

Nature's method of readaptation is to kill off the unfit and to multiply the fit. This method is thoroughly effective, but it is fearfully costly in suffering and in life. Thousands of mechanics have lost their jobs in recent years because they could not readjust themselves to the new methods of invention. A leading official of a labor union said to me the other day: "If I had to go back to my trade, I could not earn a living, for there is scarcely a tool in use to-day that was common when I left the workroom for my present office."

Thousands of business men and manufacturers have been driven into bankruptcy because they could not adapt themselves to the new conditions by more economical methods of production and distribution. Thousands of clergymen have been laid on the shelf—the one fit place for fossils—because they were unable to discern the signs of the times, and to adjust themselves thereto by adopting new and more effective methods. Thousands of churches have died because they did not know how to adapt themselves to their new environment. Many tens of thousands of men, women, and children die needlessly in our cities every year because we have not yet learned how to adapt ourselves to the new conditions of urban life.

Nature's method of adaptation is costly in time, in money, in suffering, and in life, because so far as man is concerned it is unconscious and therefore unintelligent. The American Institute aims to facilitate this process by making it conscious and intelligent. Do you ask how a work so new, so important and so difficult is to be accomplished? It would require some hours to acquaint you with the specific methods whose effectiveness has been demonstrated during the past five years. It is practicable in this connection to give you only a fundamental principle and a few illustrations of its application.

The process of readjustment is one of experiment. Each experiment, whether successful or otherwise, throws a ray of light on the problem of how to do it or how not to do it. The American Institute serves as a lens to gather up these scattered rays of light, to focus and to reflect them to every one who desires, or can be persuaded, to profit by the experience of others.

Heretofore the world has been sadly slow to learn wisdom by experience. Succeeding generations have, for the most part, repeated the blind blunders of their predecessors. The facts of geology, though as common as stones and as conspicuous as mountains, were meaningless to men for thousands of years, because they did not know how to trace the relations of cause and effect. In like manner, the facts of human experience were common and obvious enough, but until modern times they yielded little wisdom, because without the scientific method men were able to trace only very imperfectly or not at all the relations between acts and their consequences. Experience signifies nothing unless we trace the relations of cause and effect. A man may shoot at a mark a thousand times, but if he does not know where the bullets strike, every shot is a first shot; he gains no experience.

The science of statistics, by which facts are so gathered as to embody truth, and so interpreted as to afford knowledge, is of recent origin. It is a singular fact that our young republic was the first government in the world to take a census at stated intervals. Ships of state kept no logbooks. It is small wonder that so many split on the same rocks.

Important as it is in social and political science to know precisely where we are, it is even more important to know the direction in which we are moving, for tendency is prophetic; and to establish a line of tendency we must fix more than one point; hence the value of a base line. Now, our decennial census during the nineteenth century established a base line a hundred years long—the first in all history—from which we may measure in the twentieth and in each succeeding century.

Only in recent years have men learned to gather facts, to sift them, and correctly to interpret them, thus creating science. We are only beginning to construct the science of living, which is living in intelligent obedience to all natural laws; thru is. all the laws which God has established both for the individual and for society.

The American Institute of Social Service is collecting a great mass of facts from Europe, as well as America, which embody experiences of many millions of people; and these facts scientifically interpreted throw light on many social problems, new and old, and afford practical guidance in the conduct of life, and in the establishment of right relations between man and man. Here then we see the fundamental principle and purpose of the Institute, viz.: to make the experience of all available for the instruction of each. This principle is applicable alike to individuals, corporations, churches, societies, cities, states, and nations.

Permit a few brief illustrations.

In response to inquiries, the Institute's bureau of information is constantly sending materials bearing on social and industrial betterment to newspaper men, ministers, students, teachers, authors, legislators, and the like.

When a corporation desires to improve the condition of its employes, the Institute can furnish facts and photographs showing what is being done along these lines by many of the world's great captains of industry, such as Krupp of Essen. Perier of France, Van Marken of Holland, Cadbury of Birmingham and Lever of Liverpool, describing their improved housing, their sanitation, their hospitals, homes for convalescents, schools, kindergartens, athletic grounds, parks, baths, swimming pools, systems of insurance, old age pensions and the like.

Again a city desires to improve its municipal housekeeping, and would like to learn from Glasgow as a model. It is not necessary for Cincinnati or Chicago to send a committee of investigation to the Scotch metropolis. The Institute can send Glasgow to Cincinnati or Chicago and by means of hundreds of lantern slides, show her improved tenements, her street-cleaning system, her playgrounds, her out-of-door gymnasia, her hospitals, her park system, etc.

A church which is struggling to adapt itself to a changed environment wishes to know how certain problems have been solved. The Institute can give information of scores of churches which have successfully adjusted themselves to new conditions and whose experience will probably afford the desired solution.

A charitable or philanthropic society is trying to improve its methods. The Institute can presumably acquaint it with the methods of kindred societies in the United States, Great Britain and Continental Europe.

Thus the Institute is capable of increasing the efficiency of a thousand agencies for social service, which are already in the field; or, to make use of an algebraic term, it is an exponent which raises them to a higher power.

Again, the existence of our forty-five commonwealths, with their separate legislatures, affords a vast field for social service by helping all to profit by the experience of each. Most of the great problems of all the states are substantially the same, as in the case of pauperism, crime, defective and delinquent children, roads, the relations of labor and capital, and the like. Some states are much in advance in one particular, others in another. What if, in each particular, all the states could be brought up to the standard of the most advanced state: how would the nation leap forward in civilization? For instance, the experience of several states has demonstrated the value of juvenile courts and of industrial legislation for children. In the natural course of things it takes years for such reforms to reach the more backward states: whereas the Institute, with the necessary funds, could doubtless educate public opinion so as to secure the desired legislation in one-quarter of the time. The League for Social Service a few years ago, by an intelligent use of facts, so aroused public sentiment on a question of national importance as to reverse the attitude of Congress.

This calls attention to the fact that the Institute is not simply a great bureau of information where a thousand inquiries concerning social conditions may find answer. It seeks actively to diffuse light even when there is no consciousness that light is needed. It aims through many channels to educate public opinion, which is the generic social reform, including all others. There are many great evils incident to our present stage of industrial and social evolution on which no intelligent lover of his country and his kind can look with indifference. The widespread hostility, if not open conflict, between organized capital and organized labor does violence to economic and social laws no less than to Christian principles. The Institute is striving to educate the public to see that such conflict is as needless and foolish as it is wrong, and cites instances to show that the Golden Rule is workable between masters and men.

Again, the reckless and increasing sacrifice of life and limb in American industry calls for such education of public opinion as will demand and enforce effective legislation touching accidents and their prevention.

The victories of peace are even more bloody than those of war. There were not so many victims of the late Boer war as there were of American railways during the same period. In 1902 our railways killed or wounded 73,250 people. If to casualties on railroads we could add those in the mining, manufacturing, building and lumber industries, the totals would show a very considerable industrial army killed and a very large industrial army wounded every year. But only nine of our forty-five states require operators to report all accidents to their employes in factories and workshops; and the laws of no state require systematic returns of accidents in the building trades.

A large proportion of these accidents might be prevented by the use of safety appliances and by the exercise of precautions which are entirely capable of legal enforcement. The Institute desires to establish, as one of its dozen departments, a museum of security, where all such appliances may be collected and studied; and aims to secure in all of our forty-five states such legislation touching this general subject as will save thousands of lives and tens of thousands of limbs every year. An old Indian once said, "It costs too much to be a white man." Civilization always costs, but it "costs too much" just as far as it costs needless suffering and death.

Once more, this principle of making the experience of all available for the benefit of each is as applicable to nations as to states, cities, corporations and individuals.

The industrial revolution which has taken place in Western Europe and in North America is destined to encircle the globe. We have learned by costly experience many hard lessons which should be passed on free of cost to the younger industrial communities of the Old World.

The blessings which the industrial revolution confers are immeasurable. It solves the problem of production, and creates abundance sufficient for all; it elevates the standard of living; it multiplies wealth, and thereby gives a mighty impetus to education, science, art, architecture, and to all the refinements of civilized life.

But on the other hand, it is attended by evils of scarcely less magnitude. It redistributes population, compacting masses in the city, creating the tenement house with its long list of evils, complicating the problems of sanitation, and raising the death rate. It assumes the role of Herod and slaughters the innocents, while the children who escape from the factory with their lives are commonly pinched and deformed in body and mind. It creates the popular discontent which inevitably springs from the multiplication and popularization of knowledge together with the multiplication and concentration of wealth. It is attended by the organization of capital and labor which are arrayed against each other in hostile camps.

Now many of these evils are entirely preventable, though certain to be developed if neglected. They were permitted to fasten themselves on Western Europe and the United States because they were not foreseen. That excuse does not exist for the remainder of the world. With the opening of the isthmian canal, northern capital, population and energy will flow into South America and inaugurate there the industrial revolution. It is already well under way in Russia and Japan, and is now beginning in China and India.

Unless prevented by intelligent foresight, the evils which have thus far attended the industrial revolution will accompany it around the world and involve the hundreds of millions of these countries in sufferings as measureless as they will be needless. These peoples do not possess the power of self-rtstraint which has thus far preserved the b dance—though a "hesitating balance"—in Western Europe and the United States. We are therefore bound by every obligation of humanity and religion to safeguard them with our experience, and thus forestall preventable evils, which if not thus prevented will prove to be far more disastrous in the Orient than they have been in the Occident.

Most of these evils can be overcome or prevented only by legislation. The Institute aims to establish a department of comparative legislation which will make it possible to compare the laws of all our states and of all civilized countries touching any and every industrial and social problem, and furthermore to compare the effects of these laws, thus affording what the world has not yet possessed—data for scientific legislation. Only those who know how far reaching for good or evil are the effects of a single law, can appreciate how limitless are the possibilities for the world's future of such a department.

As President Roosevelt writes us, "The possibilities of the Institute are well-nigh boundless," and adds, "It is apparently proving to be the beginning of a world movement, and is being recognized by the best men of many different countries as a necessity in each and all of these countries in order to facilitate a readjustment of social relations to the new conditions created by the modern industrial revolution."

A Japanese who visited the Institute this summer in search of a solution of the new labor problems of Japan, remarked, "Civilization is common property." Such an Institute in every civilized land would be largely instrumental in making that which is best in each country common to all. Never before was the world so eager to learn. Never before was there so much to teach. Never before were ignorance and suffering so needless. Never before were the opportunities of service so worldwide. There is an Irish proverb that God loves to be helped. Never before was it possible for men so intelligently and efficiently to help God hasten the coming of His kingdom in the world.

In seeking to discharge the obligations of the office with which the Institute has honored me, it will be my joy and privilege no less than my bounden duty to strive, with the efficient co-operation of my associates and with divine grace and guidance, to make real the vast possibilities which have teen very partially and imperfectly outlined before you.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).