Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/August 1899/Phases of Practical Philanthropy
|PHASES OF PRACTICAL PHILANTHROPY.|
By HARRIET A. TOWNSEND.
THE annual reports of the "Conference of Charities and Corrections" indicate a growing interest in the study of scientific philanthropy. That there has been marvelous progress in methods of charitable work during the past decade no one will deny, but, gratifying as this is (or appears to be on the surface), we find a somewhat discouraging feature in the tendency of the present to multiply institutions, to inaugurate new and extravagant enterprises where theories may be proved, and which threaten to become burdensome to a generous public and to absorb energy in the financial struggle to maintain them which is sorely needed for the more vital issues of the work. The purpose of this article is to give information about simple and practical efforts which have met the test of usefulness and are worthy of imitation. They are being used in four different lines—namely, protection, education, domestic training, and employment.
Protection.—The first protective agency was organized in New York city in 1864; it is truly an American idea, and before that date no organization of its kind had been known in England or on the European continent.
As a result of the civil war many women were thrown upon their own resources, with children to support, and much suffering was endured in the effort to obtain adequate compensation for labor performed. The objects of the parent protective association—"to secure justice for women and children, to give legal advice free of charge, and to extend moral support to the wronged and helpless"—appealed forcibly to practical philanthropists, and there now exist similar agencies in many other large cities in America, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo, and San Francisco. The women's educational and industrial unions, which work "to increase fellowship among women in order to promote the best practical methods for securing their educational, industrial, and social advancement," have all adopted the protective work as an important branch of their endeavor. To give detailed statistics of all that has been accomplished in this line since 1864 would be impossible; indeed, so much of the work is of a private nature which can never be revealed that one must "read between the lines" of the annual reports; suffice it to say that by the protective department of one women's union during a period of fourteen years more than twelve thousand dollars unjustly withheld from working women (mostly in small sums) has been collected, police matrons appointed in three local stations, women given places on public boards, a law passed compelling the appointment of women physicians in all the State insane hospitals, and a law making the guardianship of the mother equal to that of the father (passed by the State Legislature without a single negative vote). All this has been done with little expenditure of money, but through the wise effort of courageous men and women whose service has been rendered not for charity alone, but in the cause of justice, "that each should have what he has justly earned is the first necessity of social life."
One province of the protective work is to endeavor to make more clear the obligation of the employer and employee, and especially in the domain of household service to place the relation on a commercial basis. The problem of unskilled labor in the home is the principal difficulty in the way of such reform, and until the household economic and kindred associations shall bear more fruit it may prove an insurmountable barrier to complete success. During the last ten years the attention of the humanitarian has been frequently called to the injustice of our laws regulating the "age of consent." In some States the age has been raised to sixteen or eighteen years and penalties increased, but through widespread ignorance of the law it is often a dead letter in both small towns and large cities. A law so constantly broken and with impunity provides little protection for the young of both sexes, in whose interest it is framed, and it is a dead letter because of the indifference of the public. To spread abroad a knowledge of and help to enforce these laws, which so intimately affect the purity of the home, is worthy the consecrated effort of the noblest and most cultivated women in our land. For this and other like ends the number of protective agencies should be largely increased. In every town, or at least in every county, such an association might be formed. There are only required a few women with brave hearts and clear heads, willing to give one afternoon or evening a week, the free services of one or more able lawyers (which will never be found lacking), a small room for a meeting place, and the work can begin. Let notice be given through the press or in the churches that a protective agency is formed and stands ready to offer sympathy and advice to all women in need. Methods of work are very simple: printed blanks are important to properly record the cases, and letterheads which shall give names of committee and those of the attorneys; when a claim for wages is presented, a courteous letter stating the fact that the wage-earner has asked the assistance of the protective agency, and requesting the defendant to answer personally or by letter and to state his side of the case, will generally receive response; great care must be observed to be just to both parties, and not to make hasty nor unwarrantable decisions.
The laws affecting the rights and property of women of New York have been briefly compiled for the use of protective associations, and it is very easy to obtain in any State a copy of the laws regulating domestic service for reference in making decisions. The Legal Status of Women, compiled by Jessie J. Cassidy (a graduate of Cornell), will be found useful. If in the beginning the work of protection should be misunderstood and resented it matters not; in time it will win the respect and co-operation of the best elements in any community. What a moral force would an "endless chain" of such workers prove in the struggle for universal brotherhood! To give courage to the most humble beginning we have the word of our philosopher that "every reform was once a private opinion."
Domestic Training.—Scientific domestic training or household science is becoming a subject of great interest to all who believe that a truer development of home life lies at the foundation of all social and moral progress.
Three large institutions—Pratt, of Brooklyn; Drexel, of Philadelphia; and the College of Teachers, in New York city—present opportunities for the thorough training of teachers in this comparatively new branch of popular education.
Clubs for the study of household economics are multiplying year by year; the Association of Collegiate Alumnæ has given earnest thought to the domestic problem, and as a result, and in spite of much prejudice, courses of cookery have been made a part of the public-school curriculum in a few of our large cities. The Board of Regents of New York State has recently adopted a syllabus for a course in home science to be used in the high schools. While the movement, as yet, may be said to be in the experimental stage, it is safe to assert that sentiment in favor of the new idea is increasing. The difficulties in the way of a rapid growth are formidable and make the outlook somewhat discouraging.
To properly equip a school for scientific domestic training is in the beginning a considerable expense; the number of skilled teachers ready for the field is small, and their services too valuable to be given without adequate compensation. The cooking schools so far established have not proved self-sustaining, and until more sensible ideas as to the dignity of household labor shall prevail, limitations will continue.
In all reforms we must "dig at the roots" if we would insure a steady and healthful growth. The kitchen-garden idea, originated by Miss Emily Huntington in 1887 for "the purpose of giving the little daughters of the poor attractive instruction in housework," has proved one of the best means of practical philanthropy ever discovered. The New York Kitchen-Garden Association was formed in 1880, and from that, as its crowning work, we have the New York Training School for Teachers. The kitchen-garden lessons are very simple; they include how to make beds and take care of sleeping rooms, set and wait on table, wash and iron clothes, care of a baby and the nursery, how to build fires, clean lamps, sweep and dust, instruction in house-cleaning, marketing, and the care of the person—all taught by miniature utensils to the accompaniment of songs and exercises, which give enthusiasm and variety to the work. The training of the kitchen-garden teacher is not difficult, and young women in any community, by a few lessons as to the methods and a study of kitchen-garden literature, may soon become efficient.
Children of the ages of from five to eleven are eligible for the training, and both girls and boys enjoy the classes. After the various lessons have been mastered, the next step for girls is into the cooking class, and if on account of the expense or for any other reason the scientific teacher is not available, the courses may be given by housekeepers. Very practical results were thus obtained by one organization of women. A class of fourteen young girls graduated from a kitchen garden were given instruction for twenty weeks on every Saturday morning; the lessons were divided into four short courses; five each were given in the preparation of breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and supper. Every fifth morning was devoted to a practice lesson, when the little cooks prepared and served a meal without assistance.
While the number of kitchen gardens is increasing there are yet many localities where the good seed has not taken root; no better work in village or town could enlist the faithful service of King's Daughters or of societies for Christian Endeavor. An inexpensive outfit of kitchen-garden utensils can easily be procured and the work begun. When a class is ready to graduate from the kitchen garden the voluntary service of half a dozen notable housekeepers, who will give the simple lessons in cooking once a week, will yield a most satisfactory harvest. The unconscious tuition of the cultivated house mother is often of greater value than all else. A little girl of eleven years given such opportunities enthusiastically exclaimed, "I've taught my mother how to make bread!" The mother, a peasant woman from across the sea, had passed her childhood and youth in the fields, and, like many of her class, had received no training for the responsibilities of motherhood. To the large number of foreigners, who are constantly seeking homes in our free land, the privileges of the kitchen garden and the free cooking school would prove an inestimable blessing. When housework shall take its proper place among the professions, the chaos which now abounds in a majority of American homes will be forever banished. In home making, regarded as one of the noblest objects of every woman's life—in fact, the object whenever possible—lies the hope of the future. To this end God speed the kitchen garden and the cooking school!
Education.—The public school and kindergarten, free libraries, art galleries and museums, cheap literature, and compulsory education laws would seem, to the casual observer, to leave little need for the philanthropist in the field of education. A philosopher of today looks forward to the time when "the object of all free education shall be the emancipation of the individual," and to the time "when general education shall be supplemented by special schools for the special vocations of life."
The trend of the present system of education may be in that direction and the prospect more or less hopeful, but that the schools and other opportunities mentioned do not now reach all who need instruction is demonstrated by the success of the various clubs, classes, and lectures which form so important a part of the humanitarian associations of to-day. Everywhere are found men and women of middle age who can not read or write, who were denied even a common-school education in youth; to reach such as these and make them not ashamed to accept and make use of the privileges for which they have secretly longed is practical philanthropy. Among the foreign-born population many children are early forced to help earn the necessities of life, and are taken from school as soon as the law will allow.
The college settlements have already accomplished much for this class, but their work has been confined to thickly settled districts in large communities. The story of The Abandoned Farm in New England is familiar, and bears its own pertinent lesson. Because of the opportunities for education, entertainment, and varied employment which the large city offers, the young people desert the farm, home ties are broken, and many lives ruined. Of the low ideals which prevail in many country districts there are striking illustrations.
A bright woman sojourning for a winter in a small town found that there were two hotels or taverns where liquor was sold, two churches where only occasional services were held, a single schoolhouse kept open during the winter months, no hall except the ballrooms of the hotels (used only for dancing), no library, and no entertainments of a literary order. This woman organized a club or debating society, and after a few months of careful guidance she allowed the members to select their own topic for the last meeting of the season; to her great surprise, a debate was announced on the subject, "Whether it is better for a young man upon coming of age to have, one thousand dollars or a good education." The majority decided that it would be better to have the money, because he could then speculate and gain a fortune!
What better missionary work could be done in behalf of education than to establish a "thought center" in every farming region or small town? The system of traveling libraries, a recent and encouraging movement, makes it possible (in some States) to place the best books and current literature in the homes of the farmers and of the inhabitants of the smallest towns. The books can be obtained, made use of, and exchanged for others, so that the interest may be perpetuated; the conditions are not difficult, and the fact that a room or rooms must be provided for the safe keeping and the circulation of the library is important. A traveling library once secured, a "thought center" is established. Lectures, clubs, and classes will follow; they are a natural sequence. In addition to literary topics, talks on personal purity, physical culture (respect for the body as the temple of the soul), and on home ideals (plain living and high thinking) may be given. Good men and women, fitted to speak well on these subjects, will be ready to give their services.Where enthusiasm is once aroused, seed can be sown by such nonsectarian gatherings which fails to take root in the churches.
We are taught that the highest authority within man is the conscience. Rosenkranz, in his Philosophy of Education, gives this fine definition of conscience: "Conscience is the criticism which the ideal self makes on the realized self." To discover and quicken the ideal self wherever possible is one of the noblest aims of practical philanthropy.
Employment.—A recent report of the United States Labor Commissioner, Hon. Carroll D. Wright, states that the number of women laborers is increasing, but that women are more generally taking the places of children than of men; that the encroachment of women upon the occupations held by men is so far very slight, and only in conditions where women are better adapted for the particular work in which they are employed.
"Women," he says, "are considered by many employers to be more reliable, more easily controlled, neater, more rapid, industrious, polite and careful, and less liable to strike than men. Wyoming and Utah are cited as the only States which have laws according to men and women equal wages for equal work. There is still much economic injustice as to compensation for women's work, although some progress has been made within the last few years."
The agitation of the question of "equal pay for equal work," if it has not as yet accomplished much for the woman wage-earner, has at least revealed the fact that women as a class are not as well trained for the work they attempt as men. The number of unskilled women in all branches of trade presents a problem which may well engage the attention of the philanthropist. The necessity of earning to "keep the wolf from the door," the pleasure resulting from financial independence, and a desire to add to "pin money" have all tended to increase the number of girls and women who are seeking employment outside the home. The fever has extended to the smaller towns, and even to the farmers' wives and daughters, until the supply greatly exceeds the demand in many localities, and the women really in need are often crowded to the wall in this inadequate race. In the passing of old ideas as to the proper status of woman much good has been evolved; it is no longer considered degrading to earn one's living, and the woman worker in every field is winning her way to the respect and recognition which she deserves.
What can be done to raise the standard of woman's work, to give more thorough training in vocations for which women are best fitted, to dignify important occupations which suffer from the lack of skilled service and which are not overcrowded because of mistaken ideas, and, above all, to make women ashamed to receive compensation which they do not fully earn?
The employment bureaus connected with the various o rganizations of women are endeavoring to answer these questions. Their object, as outlined, is to advise and adopt such methods as shall best assist women in their chosen vocations; to also provide a bureau of registration where applications can be received and information given.
A committee of practical women supervises the work and endeavors not only to secure temporary positions, but to confer permanent benefits on those who seek their aid. The applicants usually include stenographers, typewriters, copyists, clerks, governesses, matrons, nurses, housekeepers, seamstresses, laundresses, cooks, and housemaids. It is the rule, and not the exception, to find a girl or woman specially fitted for the position she seeks. The majority are not fitted even to do one thing well, and the ignorance and assumption shown are appalling.
To discover latent ability, to stimulate the desire to excel, to explain the rights of the employer and employee, and the moral obligations of both, is a part of the privilege of the women who give time and thought to the employment problem.
The Boston Women's Educational and Industrial Union has been able to render excellent service by the distribution of circulars cautioning women against advertisements which offer large returns for work done at home. Its list of fraudulent firms, obtained by thorough investigation, has been sent to other associations, and has already proved of inestimable value to many women who would otherwise have been tempted to send money, allured by the attractive advertisements.
The list compiled gives the names of one hundred firms which are a "delusion and a snare," and which, on account of some trifling technicality, the law seems unable to touch.
To exalt the home and raise the standard of domestic service is another important object—perhaps the most important of all. From the ordinary intelligence office to the employment bureau under the guidance of educated women is a long step for progress.
In all humane effort, the more scientific the methods employed the better will be the results. According to Charles Kingsley, "scientific method needs no definition—it is simply the exercise of common sense."