Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/August 1889/Scientific Charity

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By A. G. WARNER, Ph.D.

IN 1844 C. C. Greville made this entry in his journal: "We are now overrun with philanthropy, and God only knows where it will stop, or whither it will lead us!" When he wrote these words he was appalled lest the malign influence of philanthropy should avail to secure additional legislation for the protection of women and children in the mines and factories of England.

During the first half of the present century the English philanthropists and the English economists joined issue squarely upon two great questions, and the victor in one case was vanquished in the other: the economists won in the fight for the reform of the poor-laws, the philanthropists in the fight for factory legislation. Of course, no sharp line of distinction can be drawn between the two classes thus labeled, but in the main it is true that the apostles of self-sacrifice were on one side and the apostles of self-interest on the other. Especially in the struggle for factory legislation were the two classes distinct, and distinctly antagonistic. Cobden doubted the sincerity of Shaftesbury, and Shaftesbury rejected the reasoning of Cobden. Results have indicated that

"Each was partly in the right,
And both were in the wrong."

While political economy was getting itself called the "dismal science," it was actually fighting the battles of the poor as well as the rich; and while philanthropy was being charged with a mischievous meddlesomeness, hurtful to the poor and fatal to the industrial supremacy of England, it was, in truth, cutting the tap-root of the Chartist agitation and re-establishing the foundations of British industry. From these dual experiences of success and failure in the attempted solution of social problems the obvious conclusion has been that neither class of thinkers can be regarded as infallible, while at the same time the conclusions of neither can be considered valueless.

The conclusion is commonplace enough, but the unusual feature of the case is that both parties seem to have accepted it entire. All are pretty well agreed that both sense and sentiment are necessary to guide us properly along the devious paths of politico-economic investigation. He who approaches a social question from the side exclusively of the reason, or exclusively of the emotions, is apt, like the blind man feeling of an elephant, to mistake a part for the whole, and to err accordingly. In consequence of a fuller appreciation of the necessity for the many-sided investigation of social questions, we have lately come to hear of a "new political economy," and very lately of a "new charity." The former is said to be less "dismal" and the latter more "scientific" than their respective progenitors, and it is hoped that a mutual exchange of the surest conclusions and the best methods in each will result in the improvement of both.

The title of this paper has been put in quotation-marks because it is believed by some that no such thing as "scientific charity" exists, and, when these two words are joined, that either the adjective or the substantive or both must lose all natural significance. They say that those interested in science and those interested in charity have an equal right to complain of the phrase, and that its use is only another instance of the confused thinking that results from a tendency to count our sciences before they are hatched. But right or wrong the term exists, and will serve as well as another to stand for a certain phase of recent charitable work. It has come to be much used by the members of the National Conference of Charities and Correction; and it seems unlikely that one more profanation of the word "science" can. add much to the exasperation of those who contend for its more restricted application.

Social pathology is not an attractive study. The failure of the unfit to survive forms the subject of the dreariest chapter in social science. Indeed, it is so entirely dreary that it is seldom written. Those calling themselves scientists have been very willing to leave the care of defectives and incapables to the philanthropists, and equally willing to complain of the latter for alleged bad management. Those interested in the new charity are endeavoring to devise such methods of work as will make benevolence more certainly beneficent, and such methods of investigation as will enable them to give at least an approximate answer to Greville's question, "Whither will philanthropy lead us?" Certainly in the past it has led to many quagmires, and much has been and still more could be written on the subject of philanthropy, as a failure.

"We can have as many paupers as we will pay for." The truth of this somewhat frequently quoted statement one might possibly reach by a study of his own inner consciousness. Such a study would show, probably, the truth of Emerson's assertion that "men are as lazy as they dare to be," and thence, by deductive reasoning, we might prove the correctness of the conclusion indicated. But the new political economy is inclined to ask that a priori reasoning should be re-enforced by reasoning from observed facts. Now, fortunately, the truth we are trying to establish is capable of demonstration by experiment. The apparatus needed is very simple, and consists merely of a pocketful of five-cent pieces. Provided with these, go to any crowded thoroughfare, and give them out to the children or others that ask for help—perhaps under pretense of peddling. Notice how the number of askers multiplies—how older children and better-dressed children take part in the asking—and you will realize that, if your pocket were big enough, you could pauperize half the city. The same experiment may be tried by simply giving a little money to each one that chooses to ring your door-bell and ask for it. It may almost be considered fortunate that a great nation was so unfortunate as to try just such experiments on a gigantic scale. Walker thus summarizes the influence of English outdoor poor relief while the Gilbert Act was in force: "The disposition to labor was cut up by the roots; all restraints upon an increase of population disappeared under a premium upon births; self-respect and social decency vanished before a money-premium on bastardy." Cities in our own country—notably Brooklyn and Philadelphia—have found that, when public outdoor relief, given prodigally for a long series of years, was cut short off, the number of indoor poor actually decreased, as also the demands upon the private charities of the cities, and this in the face of an increasing population.

It is characteristic of the new or scientific charity as opposed to purely emotional philanthropy that it regards poverty as an evil to be assailed in its causes. It does not merely pity poverty, but studies it. It believes that a doctor might as well give pills without a diagnosis, as a benevolent man give alms without an investigation. It insists that "hell is paved with good intentions," and that the philanthropist must be careful as well as kindly.

Mr. Smiley, in his recent article in "The Popular Science Monthly" on "Altruism economically considered," says but little of this more rational phase of charitable work. The evils he condemns are very evil, but others are attacking them as vigorously as himself, and possibly along lines of greater strategic advantage. To prosecute existing charitable methods at the bar of true charity is apt to have more practical results than to arraign the same culprits at the bar of political economy.

Most of the workers in the new charity in this country have entered more or less fully into the movement for what is known as "charity organization." Speaking broadly, the purpose of this movement is to make the benevolent work of our large cities more systematic and more intelligent. The plans of those interested in the movement are already sufficiently well realized, so that each year they seek out, analyze, classify, and record a vast number of facts regarding the poor and poor-relief in the principal cities of the country. An examination of some of the statistics already collated by them will best serve to indicate their methods and the value of their work.

Charity organization societies have been formed in cities embracing about one seventh of the entire population of the United States. Thirty-four of them, representing cities containing one eighth of the population of the country and probably one sixth of its pauperism, reported to the fourteenth National Conference of Charities and Correction, which met at Omaha in September, 1887. From careful estimates it is supposed that these cities contained about 456,000 paupers. Over 63 per cent of this number actually came under the cognizance of the charity organization societies of the cities indicated—that is, they dealt with 57,000 families, containing about 285,000 persons. Not all of the societies made full reports, or they made them in such a form that the facts contained were not easily comparable with those reported by the others. Twenty-five societies, however, agreed in classifying under four heads the cases that came before each. These societies made a careful analysis of nearly 28,000 cases, including something over 100,000 persons. The result by percentages of the classification above referred to was as follows:

Should have continuous relief 10·3 per cent.
"temporary" 26·6 "
Needing work rather than relief 40·4 "
Unworthy of relief 22·7 "

Charles D. Kellogg, who made the report to the National Conference, goes on to say: "For several years there has been a very close correspondence of published experience between Boston and New York, and in these cities the percentage of those needing work rather than relief has been 53·4, and of the unworthy, 15·8. . . . On the other hand, there is a notable unity of opinion that only from 31 to 37 per cent, or, say, one third of the cases actually treated, were in need of that material assistance for which no offices of friendly counsel or restraint could compensate. The logical application of this generalization to the whole country is that two thirds of its real or simulated destitution could be wiped out by a more perfect adjustment of the supply and demand for labor and a more vigorous and enlightened police administration. Subsequent and wider experience may modify this conclusion, but hardly can wholly overturn it; and, while it stands, it is of the highest significance in the solution of the poor problem." Not only are these deductions of "the highest significance in the solution of the poor problem," but they contain important suggestions for the philanthropist's should-be friend, the student of political economy.

But it was felt by the charity organizationists that a still more penetrating analysis was needed, and at the meeting of the sixteenth National Conference, where about forty representatives of this branch of philanthropic work were present, a schedule was adopted for the collation of more elaborate and, it is hoped, more useful statistics. This schedule, except for a few minor alterations and additions, is the same as the one elaborated and used by the Buffalo society. As an example of the manner in which the figures will tell their story when collated, we may glance at some of the results reached by the Buffalo society through a very careful study of 1,407 families, including 5,388 persons. The chief cause of destitution was adjudged to be lack of employment in 263 cases, sickness in 326, no male support in 373, intemperance in 124, physical defects in 113, insufficient earnings in 87, accidents in 45, imprisonment of bread-winner in 35, shiftlessness in 26, and insanity in 15.

The personal equation must enter very largely into the collection of such statistics. For instance, it might be inferred a priori, from the foregoing figures, that those who were responsible for the decisions are not rabid "temperance people" nor prohibitionists. Such is, indeed, the fact; but, at the same time, it must be said that in Boston, and among workers inclined to give intemperance its full meed of discredit as a cause of poverty, a careful statistical analysis of this character convinced them that it was the chief cause in only about half the cases. Though statistics of this nature may not be the firmest ground to tread upon, they yet afford better footing than the quicksands of hap-hazard opinion.[1]

In some matters, also, the facts are more tangible, and the results, therefore, more reliable. For instance, it has for some time been the opinion of practical workers that a considerable portion of the most hopeless poverty is caused by the decay of the ties of the family. It is found that, in the 1,407 families reported on in Buffalo, there were, in fact, 183 deserted wives. Where, as in this case, investigation merely confirms a previous opinion, it is still of the greatest use, because it enables the workers to make a more cogent appeal for remedial legislation.

Recently, more than in the immediate present, it was the fashion to talk as though a common-school education was the one thing needful to cure all social ills, and to bring down upon us an imminent millennium. The reformers of that time went to battle with a spelling-book shield that might have borne the device of a schoolmaster rampant. In such a connection it is interesting to notice that in the 1,407 destitute families investigated in Buffalo it was found that the respective heads of 1,019 of them could both read and write, that 49 others could read but not write, and that only 339, or twenty-four per cent, were wholly illiterate.

It will be seen from the foregoing examples that the field of investigation upon which the charity organizationists have entered is a large and important one. A good deal might be said in the way of criticism, especially of the analysis of the causes of poverty, but it is rather the purpose of this paper to describe than to criticise. The facts it is aimed to accumulate are of a character that could not be got by public officials without very great expense, since they take account of the cases of many dependants whose names never appear on the records of public poor-relief. Besides the statistics, which all the societies will work together to accumulate, different societies have undertaken elaborate special investigations into the heredity of pauperism and similar topics. Oscar C. McCulloch, at the last National Conference, read a paper entitled "The Children of Ishmael: a Study in Social Degradation," which was based upon such an investigation made by the society in Indianapolis. It gave the hideous story of thirty interrelated families, embracing two hundred and seventy persons, nearly all of whom belong to the pauper and criminal classes, as did their ancestors before them. The study resembles that which Dugdale made of the Juke family, by which it was suggested; but it embraces a larger number of families formerly distinct.

The workers in the new charity are active propagandists. They insist continually upon the evils of indiscriminate giving. They assail the public authorities with facts and figures, and the churches with biblical quotations. They assure the latter that bread indiscriminately given is cast not "upon the waters," but into the bottomless pit—that it is "the bread by which men die." They establish in each city an office to serve as a clearing-house of charities, and so endeavor to prevent the overlapping of the relief given by different agencies. Their general view of the situation enables them to devise new and needed forms of benevolence, and to ascertain what additional legislation can be really helpful.

It is very satisfactory when the conclusions of one set of thinkers coincide with the conclusions of others who have approached the same subject from a different standpoint. When, therefore, the philanthropist, trying to think and work in accordance with the principles of enlightened self-sacrifice, finds himself agreeing in theory and practice with the economist whose guiding star has been "enlightened self-interest," there is reason to congratulate them both. In speaking in this manner, we of course ignore the philosophical subtlety by which it is said to be proved that all our actions must necessarily have their origin in motives of self-interest. Assuming the proof of this to be perfect, it is yet to be said that the different forms in which self-interest manifests itself have been so differentiated that we may rightly separate and classify them. The man who is convinced that all organic life came from a single form is yet justified in practical—e. g., gastronomical—affairs in making a distinction between meats and vegetables, or even between beefsteak and mutton. So, there is a practical if not a philosophical difference between the motives that guide men in stock speculations and those that guide them in the founding of hospitals. To reach charity by the way of self-interest is following too roundabout a road for the average man or the average thinker, and many there be that have failed most sadly in the attempt.

It is therefore exceedingly fortunate that the philanthropists seem likely to work out their own salvation from mischief-making by studying with scientific care the lessons that their own experience teaches. Such a course not only gives valuable facilities for checking the conclusions of those who have thought and worked along other lines, but it secures the acceptance by those charitably inclined of correct ideas much more readily than could any amount of outside pressure. The dictates of wisdom are formulated in language to which they are accustomed, and the motives to which appeal is made are those to which they have taught themselves obedience. Not that acceptance of the new ideas is easy under any circumstances for those trained in the older methods. It can only be said that it is a trifle less difficult to rout this variety of old fogyism by attacking from within rather than from without.

But there is, happily, an increasing number of those who appreciate the fact that the introduction of scientific methods into charitable work will not hamper charity but aid it; that the resulting restrictions that may be placed upon us will merely guide our sympathies, and not thwart them. The restraints that will be put upon benevolence will be merely to prevent its waste and insure its usefulness—"restriction for the purpose of expansion." Scientific methods carefully used for such purposes will not make the charity of the future cold-blooded and calculating, but will prevent it from being foiled, defeated, and turned back from its high purposes by its own gratuitous blunders; they will render that charity helpful, constructive, progressive, and make it possible that love of neighbor may "shape with growing sway the growing life of man."


The Rev. Dr. Dallingor, who is also an eminent student of microscopic life, remarked in a recent lecture at Birmingham, England, that since the human mind had given itself fearlessly and without bias to the study of the phenomena, evolution had become no longer a bugbear, and might be looked upon, even by the most timid theologian, as the actual method of creation.
  1. See an article by the present writer, "Notes on the Statistical Determination of the Causes of Poverty," in the "Publications of the American Statistical Association," March, 1889.