by: Marvin Olasky. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 422 First St., S.E.

                                       Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20003)

          Copyright@1992 by Marvin Alasky

(Chapter Six - Page 101 - middle page.)

WHAT WAS THEIR SECRET? As we have seen, it was not neglect, either

benign or malign; in the late nineteenth century, Social Darwinism did not sink deep roots. Nor was the secret of their success a century ago the showering of money on the poor, nor the triumph of an inti-statist spirit: they knew that private agencies could be just as bad is government ones. No, charity workers a century ago were fired up by seven ideas that recent welfare practice has put on the back burner.

         For convenience of memory these SEVEN SEALS of good philanthropic practice can even be put in alphabetical order; A through G:








If we understand how these seven were applied, we will at least be able to ask the right questions about our recent wrong t:urn. Let’s begin where poverty-fighting a century ago began, by emphasizing affiliation. Many men a century ago, as now, were abandoning their families. Both church groups and the United Hebrew Shanties fought the trend. Many young people were running away from home, and some of the elderly were out of contact with their children. Charity organizations responded by instructing all volunteers to work hard at “restoring family ties that have been sundered” and “strengthening a church or social bond that is weakened.” The prime goal of relief, all agreed, was not material distribution but “affiliation . . . the reabsorption in ordinary industrial and social life of those who for some reason have snapped the threads that bound them to the other members of the community.”

In practice, when individuals or families with real needs applied for material assist-ance, charity workers began by interviewing applicants and checking backgrounds in order to answer one question: “Who is bound to help in this case?” Charity workers then tried to call in relatives, neighbors, or former coworkers or co-worshippers. “Relief given without reference to friends and neighbors is accompanied by moral loss,” Mary Richmond of the Baltimore Charity Organizing Society noted. “Poor neighborhoods are doomed to grow poorer and more sordid, whenever the natural ties of neighborliness are weakened by our well-meant but unintelligent interference. ‘” When material support was needed, charities tried to raise it from relatives and others with personal ties instead of appropriating funds from the general income.’ “Raising the money required specially on each case, though very troublesome, has immense advantages,” one minister wrote. “It enforces family ties, and neighborly or other duties, instead of relaxing them.”’

Affiliation was important for both old and young. A typical case from the files of the Associated Charities of Boston notes that when an elderly widower applied for help, “the agent’s investigation showed that there were relatives upon whom he might have a claim.” A niece “was unable to contribute anything,” but a brother- in-law who had not seen the old man for twenty-five years “promised to send a regular pension,” and he did.’ The brother-in-law’s contribution paid the old man’s living expenses and reunited him with his late wife’s family. “If there had been no careful investigation,” the caseworker noted, the man would have received some bread, but would have remained “wretched in his filthy abode.”’ Similarly, abandoned young people were to be placed in alternative families, not institution-alized. Orphans were to be placed with families as quickly as possible a century ago that meant days or weeks, not months or years in foster care.

Affiliation could also mean re-involvement with religious or ethnic groups. The New York Charity Organization Society asked applicants what they professed or how they had been raised, and then referred them to local churches and synagogues. Some groups emphasized ethnic ties. The Belgium Society of Benevolence, the Chinese Hospital Association, the French Benevolent Society, the German Ladies’ Society, the Hungarian Association, the Irish Immigrant Society, and many similar groups all had New York offices and did not want to see their people act in shameful ways. On an individual level, members of the same immigrant groups helped each other out.

When adult applicants for help were truly alone, then it was time for bonding with volunteers, who in essence became new family members. Charity volunteers a century ago usually were not assigned to paper-pushing or mass food-dispensing tasks, but were given the opportunity to make a large difference in several lives over several years. Each volunteer had a narrow but deep responsibility: the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charitable Relief noted that “a small number of families, from three to five, are enough to exhaust all the time, attention, and friendly care which one visitor has.”’ The thousands of volunteers were not babied by promises of easy satisfaction and warm feelings.” Instead, the Philadelphia Society warned that volunteers would have “discouraging experiences, and, perhaps for a time little else,” but would nevertheless be expected to maintain “the greatest patience, the most decided firmness, and an inexhaustible kindness.”’

There were failures, but success stories also emerged. The magazine American Hebrew in 1898 told how one man was used to dependency, but volunteers “with great patience convinced him that he must earn his living”; soon he did, and regained the respect of his family and community. Similarly;. a woman had become demoralized, but “for months she was worked with, now through kindness, again through discipline, until finally she began to show a desire to help herself”’ A man who had worked vigorously could no longer do so because of sickness, but was helped to develop a new trade in mending broken china. Speakers at the Indiana State Conference on Social Work regularly told of those “transformed from dependent to respectable citizen.”

The key was personal willingness to become deeply involved. Nathaniel Rosenau of the United Hebrew Charities noted that good charity could not be based on the “overworked and somewhat mechanical offices of a relieving society.” The charity magazine Lending a Hand regularly reminded readers that they could not discharge duties to the poor by gifts of money alone. ... Let us beware of mere: charity with the tongs.” Philanthropic groups such as the Associated Charities of Boston saw their role not as raising more money, but as helping citizens to go beyond “tax-bills [or] vicarious giving” by serving “as a bureau of introduction between the worthy poor and the charitable.” Charities Review paid close attention to language abuse and stressed the importance of understanding “charity in its original meaning of ‘love,’ not charity in its debased meaning of alms.’ “

But such contact was not uninformed. Volunteers—typically, middle-class church members—were helped in their tasks by the careful categorization that charities required upon initial contact with applicants. Charities did not treat everyone equally and, since they were private, they did not have to. Instead, charity organization: societies considered “worthy of relief” only those who were poor through no fault of their own and unable to change their situation quickly. In this category were orphans, the aged, the incurably ill, children with “one parent unable to support them,” and adults~ suffering from “temporary illness or accident.” Volunteers who were tender-hearted but not particularly forceful served as helpers to the helpless.

Other applicants for aid were placed in different categories and received different treatment. Jobless adults who showed themselves “able and willing” to work, or part-time workers “able and willing to do more,” were sent to employment bureaus and classified as “Needing \Work Rather Than Relief.” Help in finding work also was offered to “the improvident or intemperate who are not yet hopelessly so.” But the “shiftless and intemperate who were unwilling to work were categorized as “Unworthy, Not Entitled to Relief.” In this group were “those who prefer to live on alms,” those with “confirmed intemperance,” and the “vicious who seem permant- ly so.” Volunteers who agreed to visit such individuals had to be of hardy stock and often of rough experience; the best were often ex-alcoholics or ex-convicts.

How would agencies know the categories into which applicants fell? Background checks helped, but “work tests” were a key self-sorting device, and one that also allowed dispensing aid while retaining dignity. By 1890 Gurteen’s recommend-ations were accepted throughout the United States: when an able-bodied man in almost any city asked an agency for relief, he often was asked to chop wood for two hours or to whitewash a building. A needy woman generally was given a seat in the “sewing room” (often near a child care room) and asked to work on garments that would be donated to the helpless poor or sent through the Red Cross to families suffering from the effects of hurricanes or tornadoes. In 1890 woodyards next to homeless shelters were as common as liquor stores were in 1990, and the impact was far more exhilarating: charity managers could see whether applicants were willing to work, and the applicants could earn their keep.

The work test, along with teaching good habits and keeping away those who did not really need help, also enabled charities to teach the lesson that those who were being helped could help others. The wood was often given to such as widows among the helpless poor. At the Chicago Relief and Aid Society woodyard in 1891, 872 men reportedly chopped wood and, while receiving 6,337 tickets for meals and lodging, did .so much that 2,396 tickets could be given to invalids and others unable to work. In Baltimore, the Friendly Inn was exact: free room and board to those unable to work, but for the able “sawing and splitting four sticks entitles to a meal, ten sticks to a lodging.” (At the inn, 24,901 meals were worked for in 1890 and 6,084 given without work.) Categorization, Jacob Riis wrote repeatedly, was essential: the way to fight “real suffering in the homes of the poor” was to hang tough on “enforcing Paul’s plan of starving the drones into the paths of self-support: no work, nothing to eat.” Many organizations kept careful records of their categorizations.

At Boston’s Associated Charities, 895 volunteers visited 2,094 families requesting relief (the typical goal was one volunteer for two families). The visitors found that 18 percent of all applicants were “worthy of continuous relief” because of old age, incurable il1ness, orphan status, and so on; 23 percent were “worthy of temporary relief” because of accidents, illness, or short-term trouble; 33 percent were able to work (a few were out of work not by their own choice, and others were the “shiftless or intemperate where reform may be hoped for”) and were sent to employment bureaus which had jobs aplenty; the remaining 26 percent were “unworthy” of support because they had property or relatives to fall back on, or because work tests and investigation had indicated that they were without “desire to change.”

With Associated Charities help and pressure, 817 clients found and accepted jobs that year and 278 refused them (“98 refusals with good reason, 170 without”). In addition, the Associated Charities gave loans to 81 persons (the repayment rate was 75 percent), legal aid to 62 persons, and medical help to 304, and it persuaded 53 relatives to offer aid. Volunteers helped 185 families to save money and pushed 144 alcoholic breadwinners into making attempts temperance (27 were not intoxicated during the year, and 118 had “less frequent” periods of intoxication). Finally, nearly six hundred children were helped directly by volunteers who found adoptive families or guardians for orphans, influenced truants to attend school more often, or placed them in day nurseries or industrial schools

The New Orleans Charity Organization Society also emphasize “personal invest-igation of every case, not alone to prevent imposture but to learn the necessities of every case and how to meet them.” It had a sewing room for women and a wood yard for men, “where head of families can earn household supplies, and the home-less food an lodging”; in the process, the willingness of applicants to work would be checked, and assistance given “in a way that does not pauperize.” Some 1,328 investigations in a typical year at the New Orleans COS led to 926 individuals being classified as worthy of help 276 as “unworthy,” and 126 as doubtful. In the “worthy” category ’ 271 individuals were unemployed but willing to work, 252 had jobs but wanted additional work, 205 were ill, 64 were old, and 48 women who had been abandoned by their husbands. Among the “unworthy” were 41 drunkards and professional beggars unwilling to change their conduct, 143 “shiftless,” and 72 not in true need. Categorization and self-categorization were accompanied by discernment, which grew out of the benign suspicion that came naturally to charity workers who had grown up reading the Bible. Aware from their theology of the deviousness of the human heart, nineteenth-century charity workers were not surprised when some among the poor “preferred their condition and even tried to take advantage of it.” The St. Louis Provident Association noted that “duplication of alms is pursued with cunning and attended most invariably with deceit and falsehood. “ One magazine reported that a “woman who obtained relief several times on the ground that she had been deserted by her husband, was one day surprised at her home with the husband in the bedroom. She had pretended that the man was her boarder.” The husband turned out to have a regular income. Jacob Riis noted that some claims of illness were real, but other times a background check revealed “the ‘sickness’ to stand for laziness, and the destitution to be the family’s stock in trade.”

Only discernment on the part of charity workers who knew their aid-seekers intimately could prevent fraud. Baltimore charity manager Mary Richmond wrote that her hardest task was the teaching of volunteers “whose kindly but condescend-ing attitude has quite blinded them to the everyday facts of the neighborhood life.” To be effective, volunteers had to leave behind “a conventional attitude. toward the poor, seeing them through the comfortable haze of our own excellent intentions, and content to know that we wish them well, without being at any great pains to know them as they really are.”36 Volunteers had to learn that “well-meant interference, unaccompanied by personal knowledge of all the circumstances, often does more harm than good and becomes a temptation rather than a help.”

Discernment by volunteers, and organizational barriers against fraud, were important not only to prevent waste but to preserve morale among those who were working hard to remain independent. One charity worker noted, “nothing is more demoralizing to the struggling poor than successes of the indolent or vicious.” The St.Louis solution was to require volunteers to abide by set rules of giving:

          To give relief only after personal investigation of each case.

           To give necessary articles and only what is immediately necessary.


           To give what is least susceptible of abuse.


           To give only in small quantities in proportion to immediate need;

           and less than might be procured by labor, except in cases of sickness.


          To give assistance at the right moment; not to prolong it beyond

          duration of the necessity which calls for it.


          To require of each beneficiary abstinence from intoxicating liquors.


          To discontinue relieving all who manifest a purpose to depend on alms

          rather than their own exertions for support.


Doles without discernment not only subsidized the “unscrupulous and undeserving” but became a “chief hindrance to spontaneous free generosity”: they contributed to “the grave uncertainty in many minds whether with all their kind intentions they are likely to do more good than harm.. “ Only when “personal sympathy could “work with safety, confidence, and liberty,” would compassion be unleashed. The New Orleans COS tried to impress on volunteers maxims of discernment by printing on the back cover its annual reports statements such as, “Intelligent giving and intcl- ligent withholding are alike true charity,” and “If drink has made man poor, money will feed not him, but his drunkenness.”


It was also important for every individual approached by a beggar to be discerning —and teaching that proved to be a very difficult task! Charities Review once asked the designer of an innovative program whether its success satisfied “the ‘gusher’ who desires to give every evening beggar 25 cents.” 8. 0. Preston responded, “

nothing satisfies the ‘gusher’; he will persist in giving his (or some one else’s) money to the plausible beggar as often as he appear The magazine was filled with criticism of “that miscalled charity which soothes its conscience with indiscriminate giving.” Gurteen called giving money to alcoholics “positively immoral” and argued that if givers could ‘foresee all the ‘misery which their so-called charity is entailing in the future,” they would “forgo the flutter of satisfaction which always follows a well-intended deed. New Haven minister H. . L. Wavland criticized the “well-meaning, tender-hearted, sweet—voiced criminals who insist upon indulging in

indiscriminate charity.


T he drive to stop foolish “compassion” continued throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Charities Review quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous self-criticism : “I sometimes succumb and give, the dollar, but it is a wicked dollar. which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.” Sociological analyses of the “floating population of all large modern cities” showed the home less including some “strangers seeking work’’ and needing temporary help. but a larger number of ‘victims of intemperance and vice’ ‘-not all that different from today, with studies showing a majority of the homeless in major cities suffering from alcohol or drug abuse. Charities Review criticized ‘that miscalled charity which soothes its conscience with indiscriminate giving,’’ and proposed that individuals and groups restrict material relief to those cases in which such relief would be given by the

true friend.’’ True friendship was not encouraging “lazy imposture ,” for such mercy not mercy: it is pure selfishness.” Instead, true friendship meant helping to deliver a person from slavery to a bottle, a needle, or his own laziness.


AFFILIATION, AND BONDING. CATEGORIZATION AND DISCERNMENT —when the process was working well, the next key element was long term employment of all able-bodied household heads. Charities Review stressed the importance of work and proclaimed that “Labor is the life of society and the beggar who will not work is a social cannibal feeding on that life’’~~ and Indiana officials declared that ‘‘Nothing creates pauperism so rapidly as the giving of relief to [able-bodied ] persons without requiring them to earn what they receive by some kind of honest labor.” Such emphasis on work ‘you would have been

savage had jobs not been available; but, except during short-Ii ved times “business panic,” they were. (In 1892 charity experts from several major cities were asked whether honest and sober men would spend more than a short time out of work: they all said such a situation was “rare or very exceptional.) Such emphasis also would have been unfair if alternatives to begging did not exist during short-lived periods of unemployment; but, as seen, private charities in every major city provided work for food and lodging.


Most of the able-bodied poor accepted the work obligation, partly because of biblical teaching and partly because they had little choice. S. 0. Preston in New Haven reported that fewer than one out of a hundred refused to work in the woodyard or sewing room, perhaps because “there is no other institution in this city where

lodging can be secured except by cash payments for same.” Had there been alternatives, bad charity might have driven out good, for charity leaders argued that it took only a short time for slothful habits to develop. After several years of easy- going charity in Oregon, N. R. Walpole of Portland “found among the unemployed a reluctance to work, and regarded compulsory work as the only solution of the problem.” Take a hard line, charity leaders demanded, or problems would worsen: New York charity leader Josephine Lowell wrote, “the problem before those who would be charitable, is not how to deal with a given number of poor; it is how to help those who are poor, without adding to their numbers and constantly increasing

the evils they seek to cure.”


Jacob Riis agreed; when some New York groups appeared to he weakening, Riis foresaw a tribe of “frauds, professional beggars tightening its grip on society as the years pass, until society shall summon up pluck to say with Paul, ‘if a man will not work neither shall he eat,’ and stick to it.” Riis, like other Christians a century ago, kept alluding to the apostolic teaching. Jewish leaders, meanwhile, were stressing that poverty was not a desirable status within Judaism, and that a person unwilling to work could not justify his conduct even by citing a desire to study the Bible; they quoted a Talmudic saying, “All study of the Torah that is not accompanied by work must in the end be futile and become the cause of sin.


Within the Talmudic tradition, avoiding dependency was so important that even work on the Sabbath was preferable to accepting alms: Rabbi Jochanan said, “Make thy Sabbath a weekday and do not be reduced to need the help of human beings.” All charity leaders argued that even poor-paying jobs provided a start on the road from poverty; since travel down that road required solid work habits, true friendship meant challenging bad habits and encouraging a person to build new, productive ones.


Along with employment came the emphasis on freedom defined by immigrants (such as my grandparents) not as the opportunity to do anything with anyone at any time, but as the opportunity to work and worship without governmental restriction. Job freedom was the opportunity to drive a wagon without paying bribes, to cut

hair without having to go to barbers’ college, and to get a foot on the lowest rung of the ladder, even if wages there were low Freedom was the opportunity for a family to escape dire poverty by having a Father work long hours and a mother sew garments at home. This freedom did not make for an instant victory against poverty at a time When 200,000 persons were packed into one Manhattan square mile. Snapshots of abject poverty could show horrible living condions, but those who persevered starred in a motion picture of upward mobility. It was clear to most that government subsidy could not provide the kind of freedom that was important. In 1894 Amos G. Warner’s mammoth study American Charities compiled what had been learned about governmental charity in the course of the nineteenth century:

                    1. It is necessarily more impersonal and mechanical

                     than private charity or individual action.

                    2. There is some tendency to claim public relief as a

                     right, and for the indolent and incapable to throw

                     themselves flat upon it. This feeling will always

                    assert itself whenever it is given an opportunity to do so.

                    3. In public charities, officialism is even more

                    pronounced than under private management.

                    The degradation of character of the man on a

                     salary set to the work of relieving the poor is

                     one of the most discouraging things in connection

                     with relief-work.

                    4. It is possible to do so much relief-work that,

                    while one set of persons is relieved, another will

                     be taxed across the pauper line. . the burden of

                    supporting the State tends to diffuse itself along the

                    lines of the least resistance; consequently, money

                    which is raised for the relief of the poor may come

                     out of pockets that can ill spare it......

                    5. The blight of partisan politics and gratuitously

                     awkward administration often falls upon the work. . . .

                     Charitable institutions are spoils of an insignificant

                     character, thrown frequently to the less deserving

                    among the henchmen of the successful political bosses.5


Warner provided details of brutal treatment of patients, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices in the state welfare programs of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsyl-vania, Indiana, Illinois, and New York.


The goal of charity workers, therefore, was not to press for governmental programs, but to show poor people how to move up while resisting enslavement to the charity of governmental or private masters. Charity leaders and preachers frequently spoke of freedom and showed how dependency was merely slavery with a smiling mask.

Minister Joseph Crookcr noted that “it is very easy to make our well-meant charity a curse to our fellow-men.” Social worker Frederic Almy argued that “alms are like drugs, and are as dangerous,” for often “they create an appetite which is more harmful than the pain which they relieve.” Governmental welfare was “the least desirable form of relief,” according to Mary Richmond, because it “comes from what is regarded as a practically inexhaustible source, and people who once receive it are likely to regard it as a right, as a permanent pension, implying no obligation on their part.” But if charity organizations were to do better, they had to make sure the

poor understood that “dirt and slovenliness are no claim to help; that energy and resource are qualities which the helper or helpers will gladly meet half-way.” Freedom could be grasped only when individuals took responsibility.


AFFILIATION AND BONDING, CATEGORIZATION AND DISCERNMENT, EMPLOYMENT AND FREEDOM . . . and the seventh seal on the social covenant of the late nineteenth century was the relationship of God to all these things. “True philanthropy must take into account spiritual as well as physical needs,” one charity magazine proposed. Poverty will be dramatically reduced if “the victims of appetite and lust and idleness . . . revere the precepts of the Bible and form habits of industry, frugality, and self-restraint,” Pennsylvania state charity commissioners declared. The frequent conclusion was that demoralized men and women needed much greater help than “the dole of organized charities.”


There were some differences between Christians and Jews about that help. The biblically orthodox Christians of the late nineteenth century worshipped a God who came to earth and showed in life and death the literal meaning of compassion---- suffering with. Christians believed that they—creatures made after God’s image were called to suffer with also, in gratitude for the suffering done for them, and in obedience to biblical principles. (The goal of such suffering, of course, was to promote those principles, and not to grease a slide into sin.) But Jewish teaching stressed the pursuit of righteousness through the doing of good deeds, particularly those showing loving-kindness (gemilut ckasadim). If the difference was significant, both approaches led to abundant volunteering.


Similarities in theistic understanding, furthermore, led both Christians and Jews to emphasize the importance of personal charity, rather than a clockwork deistic approach. The Good Samaritan in Christ’s story bandaged the victim’s wounds, put him on a donkey, took him to an inn, and nursed him there. The Talmud also portrayed personal service as “much greater than charity,” defined as money-giving. Christians and Jews also had many similarities in understanding because they both read an Old Testament that repeatedly depicted compassion not as an isolated noun, but as the culmination of a process. Repeatedly in Judges and other books, the Bible told how when Israelites had sinned they were to repent and turn away from their sin; only then, as a rule, would God show compassion. Late nineteenth-century Americans who read the Bible regularly did not see God as a sugar daddy who merely felt sorry for people in distress. They saw God showing compassion while demanding change, and they tried to do the same. Groups such as the Industrial Christian Alliance noted that they used “religious methods~~ —reminding the poor that God made them and had high expectations for them—to “restore the fallen and helpless to self-respect and self-support.”


In addition, Christians had the expectation that the Holy Spirit could and would rapidly transform the consciences of all those whom God had called. Those who believed in poverty-fighting through salvation were delighted and surprised to read in the New York Herald of how “the woman known as Bluebird up to a year ago was one of the worst drunkards in the Lower East Side cores of times she hadbeen in the police courts.” Then she talked with an evangelist and agreed to go to the Door of Hope rescue home. She was converted and the Herald reporter told what happened:


I went to 63 Park Street, the Five Points Mission Hall. A big crowd of ragged, bloated and generally disreputable looking men and women were seeking admission. . . A very pleasant looking young woman dressed neatly in black and having a bunch of flowers at her waist . . . spoke to them of love and hope. The crowds kept coming until the break of day. No one would ever think that the neatly attired young lady speaking so appealingly had once been the terror of the slums, always alert to get in the first blow.


Some one hundred of Bluebird’s former gang associates changed their lives over the next several years as, in the words of the New York Times, she was “transformed into one of the most earnest and eloquent female evangelists who ever worked among the human derelicts in dark alleys and dives” and “threw her whole soul in the work of evangelism among her former associates.” Most of those hundred changes were permanent, a follow-up years later concluded.



But the question still remains:

Did the late nineteenth-century war on poverty work, and what use are its lessons to us?


In 1890 Jacob Riis combined realism and optimism. New York’s poverty, its slums, and its suffering are the result of unprecedented growth with the consequent disorder and crowding,” he wrote, and added,

                    If the structure shows signs of being top-heavy, evidences

                    are not wanting—they are multiplying day by day—that

                    patient toilers are at work among the underpinnings. The

                    Day Nurseries, the numberless Kindergartens and charitable

                    schools in the poor quarters, the Fresh Air Funds, the thousand

                     and one charities that in one way or another reach the homes

                    and the lives of the poor with sweetening touch, are proof that

                     if much is yet to be done . . . hearts and hands will be found

                     to do it in ever-increasing measure.’”



Riis declared was that through many charitable efforts “the poor and the well-to-do have been brought closer together, in an every-day companionship that cannot but be productive of the best results, to the one who gives no less than to the one who receives.” Riis concluded that, “black as the cloud is it has a silver lining, bright with promise. New York is to-day a hundredfold cleaner, better, purer, city than it was even ten years ago.... If we labor on with courage and patience, (these efforts will bear fruit sixty and a hundred fold.”

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