Friendly Visiting among the Poor - A Handbook for Charity Workers
by Mary Ellen Richmond
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Transcriber's note:

Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred in the original book. For its Index, a page number has been placed only at the start of that section.

Footnotes have been renumbered sequentially and moved to the end of their respective chapters.


A Handbook for Charity Workers



General Secretary of the Charity Organization Society of Baltimore

New York The MacMillan Company

London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd.


All rights reserved

Copyright, 1899, by The MacMillan Company.

Set up and electrotyped January, 1899.

Reprinted November, 1899; February, 1903; February, 1906; November, 1907.



This little volume is intended as a handbook for those who are beginning to do charitable work in the homes of the poor, whether as individuals or as representatives of some church, or of some religious society, such as the King's Daughters, the Epworth League, or the Christian Endeavor Society. The term "friendly visitor" does not apply to one who aimlessly visits the poor for a little while, without making any effort to improve their condition permanently or to be a real friend to them. Friendly visiting, as distinguished from district visiting, originated with the charity organization societies, some of which are indefatigable in training volunteers to do effective work in the homes of the poor. Though I should be glad to find that my book was of some service to these societies, it was not prepared for their use alone, and no {vi} mention is made, therefore, of the organization of visitors into district conferences. For inexperienced workers, who need leadership in their charity, there can be no better training than the meetings of a well-organized conference under a capable chairman, and even the most experienced, by keeping in close touch with such a conference, can do more effective work.

The suggestions herein contained are not to be taken as all applicable to the work of any one visitor. Friendly visitors that tried to adopt them all would have to abandon their other interests, and their other interests make them more useful friends to the poor. Like the words in a dictionary, some suggestions will be of service to a few workers, and others will be found applicable to the work of many.

In addition to the standard authorities mentioned under General References, a list for supplementary reading will be found at the end of each chapter. These lists are in no sense a bibliography of the subject. A handbook such as this is chiefly useful in suggesting further inquiry, and, for beginners, I have thought best to include a number of references out of the {vii} beaten track to stories and magazine articles that seemed illustrative of the matter in hand.

It will be seen that I have borrowed much in direct quotation in the following pages from those who have preceded me in writing about the poor, but my debt does not end here. Whatever I may be said to know about charitable work—my whole point of view and inspiration in fact—can be traced to certain definite sources. To some of the leaders of the Charity Organization Society of London, to Miss Octavia Hill, Mrs. Bernard Bosanquet, and Mr. C. S. Loch, it will be evident to my readers that my obligation is great. It will be evident also that I have been helped by Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell and other workers in New York, who, against such odds, are making advances in the reform of municipal abuses; and by that group too who, under the leadership of Miss Jane Addams, have given us, at Hull House in Chicago, so admirable an object lesson in the power of neighborliness. But more than to any other teachers, perhaps, I am indebted to those members of the Associated Charities who organized Boston's friendly visitors nineteen years ago, and have {viii} led them since to increasing usefulness. Their reports have been my most valuable source of information. If I do not name also my friends and fellow-workers here in Baltimore, it is not because I fail to bear them individually most gratefully in mind.

BALTIMORE, January, 1899.




INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1


THE BREADWINNER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17


THE BREADWINNER AT HOME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44


THE HOMEMAKER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64


THE CHILDREN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76


HEALTH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95


SPENDING AND SAVING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108



RECREATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127


RELIEF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140


THE CHURCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166


THE FRIENDLY VISITOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179

APPENDIX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219



Proceedings of National Conferences of Charities and Correction, 25 volumes, especially portions containing reports of sections on Child-Saving and Organization of Charities. The Conference Reports constitute the best American authority on charities. Special papers in the Reports are noted in this book after the appropriate chapters.

Proceedings of International Congress of Charities, Correction and Philanthropy, Chicago, 1893, especially volumes on "Care of Children" and "Organization of Charities." Published by Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

"Homes of the London Poor," Octavia Hill. For sale by New York State Charities Aid Association, 25 cents.

"Essays," Octavia Hill. For sale by Boston Associated Charities; price, 10 cents.

"Rich and Poor," Mrs. Bernard Bosanquet.

"How to help the Poor," Mrs. James T. Fields.

"Public Relief and Private Charity," Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell.

"American Charities," A. G. Warner.

"Hull House Maps and Papers."





There is a certain development in the English novel of which I have long seemed to be vaguely conscious. At one time I hoped to set myself the task of tracing it, though I have since relinquished all thought of this as too ambitious. The movement—if, indeed, there be such a movement—has always pictured itself to my mind as the march of the plain and common people into the foreground of English fiction. I venture to introduce the idea here, though it may appear foreign to my subject, as illustrating another and equally important movement in the development of charitable work.

Should any one ever turn over the pages of our two centuries' stock of novels, with a view {2} to tracing this gradual development of interest in the poor and unfortunate, he would find, of course, that facts have a tantalizing way of moving in zigzags whenever one is anxious that they should move forward in a straight line; but he would probably find also that, in the earlier attempts of the novel writer to picture the poor, they were drawn as mere puppets on which the richly endowed heroes and heroines exercised their benevolence. Very likely he would discover that, when at last the poor began to take an important part in the action of the story, we were permitted to see them at first only through a haze of sentimentality, so that, allowing for great advances in the art of novel writing between the time of Richardson and the time of Dickens, we still should find the astonishing characterizations of "Pamela" reflected in the impossible virtues and melodramatic vices of Dickens' poor people.

To Miss Edgeworth and Scott first, perhaps, and to George Eliot most of all, we should find ourselves indebted for faithful studies of plain people,—studies made with an eye single to {3} the object, and leaving, therefore, no unlovely trait slurred over or excused, yet giving us that perfect understanding of every-day people which is the only true basis of sympathy with them. In America we are indebted to such conscientious artists as Miss Jewett and Octave Thanet for a similar enlargement of our sympathies through their life-like pictures of the less sophisticated people of our own time.

An even more recent development would be found in what is called the "sociological" novel. Monstrous and misshapen as this must seem to us often, if considered as a work of art, it would have to be reckoned with in any investigation of the treatment of poverty in fiction.

Turning to the treatment of poverty in fact, it is surely not altogether fanciful to think that we can trace a similar development,—the march of the plain and common people into the foreground of the charitable consciousness. Here, too, the facts will not always travel in straight lines, and the great souls of earlier ages will be found to have anticipated our best thinking; but usually the world has failed in {4} any effort to adopt their high standards. Speaking roughly, several centuries of charitable practice, in the English world at least, are fairly well summed up in the doggerel verses of that sixteenth-century divine, quoted by Hobson, who counselled his flock,

"Yet cease not to give Without any regard; Though the beggars be wicked, Thou shalt have thy reward."

The spirit of the mediaeval church, too, encouraged charitable giving in the main "as a species of fire insurance." The poor, when they were thought of at all, were too likely to be regarded as a means of saving the giver's soul. This view of poverty is either quite dead or dying, but the sentimental view, which succeeded it, is still very common. We are still inclined to take 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. In other words, our intentions are good, but they {5} are not always good enough to lead us to take our charitable work quite seriously, and found it solidly upon knowledge and experience.

But the century drawing to a close has seen two very important developments in charitable work in England and America; developments quite as important in their own field as the advances of the century in the art of fiction. The first of these is the wonderful growth of the spirit of individual service, which has found one of its highest expressions in the work of friendly visitors in the homes of the poor. The second is the new but vigorous growth of the spirit of social service, which has found its best expression in social and college settlements. It might be possible to prove that both these developments are merely revivals, that at several stages of the world's history the same ideas have been put forward under other names; but never before, as it seems to me, have they found such general recognition.

This gives us three tolerably well-defined phases of charitable progress: the phases of indiscriminate relief, of individual service, and {6} of social service. In the first phase, we are charitable either for the sake of our souls or else to gratify our own emotions. In the second, we are charitable for the sake of the individual poor man. In the third, we are charitable for the sake of the class to which he belongs.

Of the dangers of indiscriminate relief, it should not be necessary to speak, for much has been written on that subject; but the dangers of individual and social service have not been so frequently pointed out. These two forms of service are very closely related. It is impossible to treat the individual poor man without affecting the condition of his fellows for better or worse, and it is impossible to deal with social conditions without affecting the units that compose society. The problems of poverty must be attacked from both sides, therefore, and though I shall dwell particularly upon individual service in these pages, we should remember that, unless this service is supplemented by the work of good citizens, who shall strive to make our cities healthier and freer from temptation, our school system more {7} thorough and practical, and our public charities more effective, unless this public work also is pushed forward, our individual work in the homes of the poor will be largely in vain.

I have said that there were dangers in both forms of service. In work with individual poor families we are likely to forget that these are part of a neighborhood and community, and that we have no right to help them in a way that will work harm to the community. We are always inclined to think that the particular family in which we are interested is an "exceptional case," and the exceptional treatment lavished upon our exceptional case often rouses in a neighborhood hopes that it is impossible for us to fulfil. Then, too, occupied as we are with individuals, we are likely to exaggerate the importance of those causes of poverty that have their origin in the individual. We are likely to over emphasize the moral and mental lacks shown in bad personal habits, such as drunkenness and licentiousness, in thriftlessness, laziness, or inefficiency; and some of us are even rash enough to attribute all the ills of the poor to drink or laziness. On the other hand, those {8} who are engaged in social service often exaggerate the causes of poverty that are external to the individual. Bad industrial conditions and defective legislation seem to them the causes of nearly all the distress around them. Settlement workers are likely to say that the sufferings of the poor are due to conditions over which the poor have no control.

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes; the fact being that the personal and social causes of poverty act and react upon each other, changing places as cause and as effect, until they form a tangle that no hasty, impatient jerking can unravel. The charity worker and the settlement worker have need of each other: neither one can afford to ignore the experience of the other. Friendly visitors and all who are trying to improve conditions in poor homes should welcome the experience of those who are studying trade conditions and other more general aspects of questions affecting the welfare of the poor. But they should not permit themselves to be swept away by enthusiastic advocates of social reform from that safe middle ground which recognizes that character is at the {9} very centre of this complicated problem; character in the rich, who owe the poor justice as well as mercy, and character in the poor, who are masters of their fate to a greater degree than they will recognize or than we will recognize for them. To ignore the importance of character and of the discipline that makes character is a common fault of modern philanthropy. Rich and poor alike are pictured as the victims of circumstances, of a wrong social order. A political writer has said that formerly, when our forefathers became dissatisfied, they pushed farther into the wilderness, but that now, if anything goes wrong, we run howling to Washington, asking special legislation for our troubles. Symptoms are not lacking of a healthy reaction from this undemocratic attitude of mind. In so far as our charitable work affects it, let us see to it that we do our part in restoring a tone of sturdy self-reliance and independence to the Commonwealth.

Turning from these more general considerations, it is proposed, in this book, to treat of various aspects of the home life of the poor as {10} affected by charity. At the very beginning, however, it may be well to inquire, Who are the poor? If this were a study of the needs of the rich, we should realize at once that they are a difficult class to generalize about; rich people are understood to differ widely from each other in tastes, aims, virtues, and vices. The great, conglomerate class of the rich—which is really no social class at all—has included human beings as different as Lord Shaftesbury and Mr. Barney Barnato. But it is the very same with the poor; and any effort to go among them for the purpose of helping them that does not frankly recognize this wide diversity, must end in failure. The charity worker must rid himself, first of all, of the conventional picture of the poor as always either very abjectly needy, or else very abjectly grateful. He must understand that an attitude of patronage toward the poor man is likely to put the patron in as ridiculous a position as Mr. Pullet, when he addressed his nephew, Tom Tulliver, as "Young Sir." Upon which George Eliot remarks: "A boy's sheepishness is by no means a sign of overmastering reverence; and while you are making {11} encouraging advances to him under the idea that he is overwhelmed by a sense of your age and wisdom, ten to one he is thinking you extremely queer." The would-be philanthropist, who is very conscious of himself and only vaguely conscious of the object of his benevolence, is likely to seem and to be "extremely queer."

If I were writing about the rich, I should be inclined to divide them, according to their attitude toward life, into workers and parasites, but this classification will serve for the poor as well. The motto of the worker is, "I owe the world a life," and the motto of the parasite is, "The world owes me a living." When the parasite happens to be poor we call him a pauper; but there is a world of difference between poverty and pauperism. The poor man may become destitute through stress of circumstances, and be forced to accept charity, but your true pauper, be he rich or poor, has the parasitic habit of mind. When we ask ourselves then, Who are the poor? we must answer that they include widely divergent types of character,—the selfish and the {12} unselfish, the noble and the mean, workers and parasites—and that, in going among them, we must be prepared to meet human beings differing often from ourselves, it may be, in trivial and external things, but like ourselves in all else.

Some who are ready enough to recognize these rudimentary facts about the poor, question our right to go among them with the object of doing them good, regarding it as an impertinent interference with the rights of the individual. But those who hold to this view seldom have the courage of their convictions. When they see suffering, they are very likely to interfere by sending help, though this 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. We must interfere when confronted by human suffering and need. Why not interfere effectively? Why not do our best to remove the causes of need?

Many earnest workers in charity feel that social conditions could be wonderfully improved if, to every family in distress, could {13} be sent a volunteer visitor, who would seek out and, with patience and sympathy, strive to remove the causes of need. Such a visitor must have the courage and self-control to confine his work to a few families, for it is impossible to know many well, to understand all their temptations and difficulties, and so help them effectively. To supply every needy family with a friend may seem an impossible ideal, but if all who are undoing each other's work to-day by doing it twice over, and if all who now waste their time in unnecessary charities, were seriously to put themselves in training, and confine their work to the thorough treatment of a few families, the problem of how to help the poor would be solved.

The introduction to such work might come in many ways. It might come through our natural relations as employers or neighbors or church members, or it might come through the district office of a charity organization society, for these societies usually make a specialty of training volunteers and of establishing friendly relations between volunteer {14} visitors and needy families. But come as it may, an introduction can be made for us, and we need not enter the poor man's home as an intruder.

Much has been written about the qualifications necessary for charitable work. It is possible to exaggerate them. Those who are unfamiliar with the homes of the poor are likely to think it unsafe to send young and inexperienced people into poor neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, there are many good people in the poorest neighborhoods, and young workers are as safe there as anywhere. In an old note-book I find that years ago I set down the necessary qualifications of the friendly visitor to be tact and good-will. If we consider that tact includes knowledge, either instinctive or acquired, this may still stand. We cannot be tactful with those whose point of view we fail to understand, or do not even strive to understand. The best helps toward such an understanding, and the best training for charitable work, must come from life itself. If we take no interest in the joys and sorrows of human beings, if we show {15} neither judgment nor energy in the conduct of our own affairs, if life seem to us, on the whole, a flat and unprofitable affair, then no amount of reading will transform us into good friendly visitors. Given the tactful, kindly spirit, with a dash of energy added, study and experience can teach us how to turn these to the best account in the service of others. Our reading must be supplementary to experience, of course, and can in no wise take the place of it.

Leaving all further generalization about friendly visiting for the last chapter, in the following pages my point of departure will be the organization of the poor man's home rather than the organization of charity. The head of the family as citizen, employee, husband, and father; the wife as homemaker; the children; the family health and recreations; the principles involved in spending and saving; the principles of effectual relief; the relations of the church to the poor,—these will be considered in turn. Necessarily, in a book of this size, the attempt must be to suggest lines of inquiry and points of view, {16} rather than to treat adequately any one part of the subject.

Collateral Readings: "Individuality in the Work of Charity," George B. Buzelle in Proceedings of Thirteenth National Conference of Charities, pp. 185 sq. "Scientific Charity," Mrs. Glendower Evans in Proceedings of Sixteenth National Conference of Charities, pp. 24 sq. Chapters on "Scientific Charity" in "Problems of American Society," J. H. Crooker. Papers on Social Settlements in Proceedings of Twenty-third National Conference of Charities, pp. 106 sq. "The Causes of Poverty," F. A. Walker in "Century," Vol. LV, pp. 210 sq. "The Jukes," Richard Dugdale. "Tribe of Ishmael," Oscar McCulloch in Proceedings of Fifteenth National Conference of Charities, pp. 154 sq. "The Rooney Family," see Charles Booth's "Life and Labor of the People," Vol. VIII, pp. 317 sq. "Life in New York Tenement Houses," William T. Elsing in "Scribner's," Vol. XI, pp. 677 sq. "An Experiment in Altruism," Miss Margaret Sherwood.




A conference was held in one of our large cities lately of half a dozen church and charity workers, who had been called together to make some plan or agree upon some common principle in dealing with a certain family, to whom charitable relief had been given in an aimless way for many years with no good result. Three churches were represented, and the persons present had visited and relieved the family for periods ranging from three to ten years. Almost immediately, however, the fact was brought out at the conference that not one of these visitors had ever seen the man of the family, or had ever made any effort to see him. By way of excuse one visitor said she had always understood that the man was very good-for-nothing. But happily there is no better dispeller of mental {18} fog than a friendly conference of those who are in earnest, and it did not take long to convince these conferees that the man's good-for-nothingness was, in part at least, their own fault. I shall have occasion to speak more than once, in this book, of the power of suggestion. Even here, where these relief visitors had never given the head of the family a thought, they had taught him a lesson. From their whole line of conduct he must have received the suggestion that his neglect of his family was an affair of no consequence.

In turning to the details of family life among the poor, I take the breadwinner, or the one who ought to be the breadwinner, as my first consideration for the reason that he is so often ignored altogether by charity workers. Especially is this true of church workers. "A church worker came to me the other day," writes Mrs. Bosanquet, "about a family of little children, concerning whom he was greatly distressed. He had visited them for months, and found the woman honest, striving, and clean, but as usually happens he knew very little of the man. He assured me {19} over and over again that the family was in a pitiable state of poverty and in urgent need of help; and we at once set to work to ascertain the real financial position. Result: man earning 35s., giving 20s. to his wife and keeping 15s. for pocket-money. Obviously, if charity steps in here, it will not necessarily improve the state of the wife and children at all; it will merely enable the man to keep a still larger proportion of his wages for pocket-money." [1]

But, though the charity worker may ignore the man of the family, there are others who are wiser. In the first place he is a voter, and the ward-worker, the policeman, and the saloon-keeper never forget this fact.

An illustration of the policeman's interest in the voter as an applicant for charity may be found wherever the police are allowed to become distributors of alms. In Baltimore the police have been allowed to distribute relief intrusted to them by private citizens, and have been in the habit of making public appeals for such contributions to aid the poor {20} in cold weather. One policeman, who had a difficult beat, where there were many toughs and criminals, said that the distribution of police relief made his work easier, as toughs whose families had been relieved did not trouble him so much. It is an interesting fact that, during the hard times of 1893-94, political clubs vied with each other the country over in distributing aid. Leaders of Tammany Hall were shrewd enough to urge their followers to organize relief distributions in every district of New York.

It is well to realize that much of the political corruption of our large cities may be traced to the simple fact that the poor man is like ourselves: he follows the leaders personally known to him, and to whom he is personally known. He is sometimes a venal voter, but more often he is only an ignorant voter, who, while innocently following the man that has taken the trouble to do him a favor or to be socially agreeable to him, is handicapping himself and his children with dirty streets, an unsanitary home, an overcrowded school, an insufficient water supply, {21} blackmailing officials, and all those other abuses of city government which press with peculiar hardship upon the poor. The question of municipal reform is inextricably connected with any effort to improve the condition of the poor in their homes, and no charity worker can afford to ignore this connection.

In "Problems of Modern Democracy," Mr. E. L. Godkin says: "Nothing is more surprising in the attempt to deal with the problems of urban life than the way in which religious and philanthropic people ignore the close connection between municipal politics and the various evils about which they are most concerned. All the churches occupy themselves, in a greater or less degree, with the moral condition of the poor. Charitable associations spend hundreds of thousands every year in trying to improve their physical condition. A conference of Protestant ministers met in this city two years ago to consider the best means of reviving religious interest among the working classes and inducing a larger number of them to attend church on Sundays. Of course these gentlemen did not {22} seek an increase in the number of church-goers as an end in itself. The Protestant churches do not, as the Catholic church does, ascribe any serious spiritual efficacy to mere bodily presence at religious worship. Protestant ministers ask people to go to church in the hope that the words which they will hear with their outward ears may be so grafted inwardly in their hearts that they may bring forth the fruit of good living. What was remarkable in the debates of this conference, therefore, was the absence of any mention of the very successful rivalry with religion which, as an influence on the poor and ignorant foreign population, politics in this city carries on. The same thing may be said, mutatis mutandis, of the charitable associations. No one would get from their speeches or reports an inkling of the solemn fact that the newly arrived immigrant who settles in New York gets tenfold more of his notions of American right and wrong from city politics than he gets from the city missionaries, or the schools, or the mission chapels; and yet such is the case. I believe it is quite within the truth to {23} say that, as a moral influence on the poor and ignorant, the clergyman and philanthropist are hopelessly distanced by the politician." [2]

It has been said that, in the effort to establish friendly relations with a poor man, often the greatest lack is a common topic. Here is at least one topic that rich and poor have in common. Here it will be found too that they have many grievances in common, and what makes a better beginning for a friendly relation than a common grievance? Another common topic, and a related one, is the news of the day. More often than not, even the very poor read the daily papers.

Beside the ward politician, the saloon-keeper, and the policeman, there are others who take an interest in the breadwinner. If he is injured, or his property is injured, there are third-rate lawyers ready to bring suit for half the proceeds—an unduly expensive arrangement for the man that has a good claim. If he would save, there are agents of unsound financial schemes ready to take advantage of his ignorance. If he would borrow, there are {24} chattel-mortgage sharks ready to burden him with a debt at ruinous interest. If he would buy, there are instalment dealers ready to tempt him into buying more than he can afford, and ready to charge two prices for their wares. Whole industries are created to take advantage of his lack of shrewdness, and every effort of his to get on, to get out of the old groove, is resisted by such agencies. Surely, if any one stands in need of a friend, who will patiently strive to see the world through his eyes, and yet will have the courage to tell him the plain truth, it is the breadwinner.

But that picture would be a distorted one which represented the poor man as friendless save for the politicians. His neighbors and companions are in no position to protect him from the foes I have mentioned, but their neighborliness is none the less genuine. Most patient and long-suffering of neighbors are the small landlords who sublet. The tradesmen in poor neighborhoods are also heavy losers. When a family applies for the first time to a church or charity, it often means that they have been aided most generously for a long {25} time by neighbors and small dealers. Sometimes one happens upon the very best and most thoughtful charity given in this way. A Boston worker tells of a street-car conductor, not only supported through the winter by his fellow-conductors, but faithfully nursed by them at night, each one taking turns after the long day's work. Such glimpses as this show us how queer is our usual charitable perspective, in which, as in a picture on a Chinese fan, we see the church steeple in the middle distance and the church visitor looming large in the foreground, while the poor little object of charity, quite helpless and alone save for us, huddles in a corner. The fact is that every life has a background, if we will but take the trouble to see and understand it: all the barrenness is in our own imaginations.

When the poor man attempts to be charitable without knowledge, he is just as clumsy as the rest of us. Writing of "The Attitude of Workingmen toward Modern Charity," Miss Clare de Graffenreid says: "A notable instance of reckless giving came under my observation just after the great strike in the mining regions, {26} when a man who had lost both arms went begging in Georges Creek Valley. How he was maimed, whether he was worthy, proved immaterial. Nor does it appear that he was even a miner; but he asked alms at all the mines. Now the miners had had no money since they were paid off for April, the strike having begun on the 7th of May and having lasted until the 1st of July, while some workers were unable to secure employment until later. After two months and more of idleness the men had either used their savings to live on or were deeply in debt, or both. They could hope for no money until their July labor was paid for in August. In the latter part of July came this armless stranger, who personally solicited these big-hearted coal diggers, and received, without investigation on their part, written subscriptions for various amounts, to be withheld next pay-day from their wages. From the mines of one company alone the man presented to the paymaster orders amounting to three hundred dollars; and the superintendent believes that this one beggar during a short stay in the Valley obtained fully a {27} thousand dollars, if not more. Nor did the enterprising mendicant trouble himself to remain to collect these sums in person. He gave a Chicago address to which checks for the total amounts subscribed in each mine were sent; and he went away to 'work' some other field." [3]

These facts stand side by side. The poor man is often able to do the very best charitable work, acting, with a full knowledge of the circumstances, with quick sympathy, and entire unselfishness. On the other hand, when considerations of public welfare, or conditions outside his personal experience complicate the situation, his charity is sometimes reckless and harmful.

Another fact to bear in mind is that the ties of neighborliness and mutual dependence among the poor can be weakened by a charity that leaves such natural and healthful relations out of account. The poor in rich neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods where alms are lavishly given, are less kind to each other, and the whole tone of a neighborhood can be lowered, {28} mistrust and jealousy being substituted for neighborly helpfulness, by undiscriminating doles from those whose kindly but condescending attitude has quite blinded them to the everyday facts of the neighborhood life. There are some who think it a pity that, out of their slender store, the poor should give to the still poorer; they feel that the rich should relieve the poor of this burden. But relief given without reference to friends and neighbors is accompanied by moral loss; 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.

Turning to the breadwinner as an employee, we are confronted with the gravest questions now occupying public attention: with the organization of labor, the strike, the lockout, the rights of capital, the problem of the unemployed, and of the unskilled laborer. The truth about these matters, even if one were so fortunate as to possess the truth about them, is not to be stated in a paragraph or a chapter. {29} Only in so far as they directly concern the friendly visitor to the families of the least fortunate class of workers, can questions of employment be even mentioned in these pages. The more the visitor studies and thinks of them, however, the better friend he can be to the poor. Partly because they are difficult, and partly because our prejudices are involved, the charitable are too prone to dodge economic issues.

We should ask ourselves fearlessly the object of all our charitable work. As Mrs. Bosanquet says: "We need to be quite sure that we really want to cure poverty, to do away with it root and branch. Unless we are working with a whole-hearted and genuine desire toward this end, we shall get little satisfaction from our efforts; but those who share unreservedly in this desire are comparatively few at present. Only the other day I heard it said that it was a very doubtful policy to aim at curing poverty, for that in the absence of poverty the rich would have no one upon whom to exercise their faculty of benevolence; and I believe that this was but an outspoken {30} expression of a feeling which is still very prevalent, the feeling that there is something preordained and right in the social dependence of one class upon another. There is the lurking fear, also, that if the working classes get too independent the rich man may suffer for it. 'It won't do,' said one wise lady, 'to make them too independent; they go and join trade-unions, and a friend of mine lost quite a lot of money because his workmen joined a trade-union.' This is quite in the vein of the old Quarterly Reviewer, who summed up the current objections to the Owenite schemes of cooperation as 'the fear that the working classes might become so independent that the unworking classes would not have sufficient control over them, and would be ultimately obliged to work for themselves.'" [4]

The ability of the friendly visitor to put behind him his own personal prejudices and selfish interests, and look at all questions of employment with reference to the best interests of the workers, is of the first importance. Such questions are often very complicated. {31} An inquiry was sent out in 1896 to the charity organization societies of the country, asking whether these societies approved of supplying workers to take the place of striking employees. The answers, as reported in the proceedings of the Twenty-third National Conference of Charities,[5] seem to take it for granted that either all strikes are equally justifiable or else equally unjustifiable; the fact being, of course, that some strikes are entirely justifiable, that others are quite the reverse, and that still others, which are justifiable at one stage, become unjustifiable at another stage, where the ground of contention has been shifted.

It is about such complicated relations as these that we must inform ourselves when we dare to interfere, and charitable societies cannot afford to adopt any patent formula with regard to them; they must be courageous enough and intelligent enough to bear their part in the solution of industrial questions. The individual friendly visitor may be called upon at any time to advise an unemployed {32} workman whose only immediate chance of work is in replacing a striker. His family may be destitute, and their troubles may press heavily upon the visitor, who sees in the offered work an easy solution of their difficulties. But the visitor's duty toward the family does not end with their material needs, and, unless the man who replaces the striker is sure that the strike deserves to fail, he will have done an unmanly thing in betraying his natural allies. All question of the right of individual contract aside, he will have injured himself, he will be a meaner man and a less worthy head of a family. Charity cannot afford to ignore this possible result for any temporary and material advantage. Nor will it be enough for the friendly visitor to believe that the particular strike is an unjustifiable one; the man himself must believe it.

Other things being equal, a man is stronger and steadier for having a trade that is well organized, one that has its trade code of ethics. It is safe to say, therefore, that a visitor is justified in advising non-union men to join trade-unions, and that he is not {33} committing himself to an endorsement of every act of every trade-union in so doing.

But applicants for charity are not usually skilled workmen, and most of the work of the friendly visitor will be with those whose occupations are still unorganized, with porters, day-laborers, stevedores, etc. In spite of many assertions to the contrary, it would seem that, in ordinary times, there is still work somewhere for those who have the will and the skill to do it. The charity worker has discouragements enough without allowing himself to be demoralized by the wild talk about millions of skilled workers out of work. During times of panic, even, the number of the unemployed is often grossly exaggerated.[6]

The fact which most directly concerns us is that a large majority of those who are thrown upon charity through lack of employment are either incapable or are unfit for service through bad habits, bad temper, lack of references, ignorance of English, or through some physical defect. Experience has proven that a certain proportion of these can be {34} reinstated in the labor market if we are careful (1) not to make it too easy for them to live without work, (2) if we will use every personal endeavor to fit them for some kind of work, and (3) help them to find and keep the work for which they are fitted. "Character is not cut in marble; it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do." [7] Like our bodies, too, it may be made whole again by skilful treatment.

Those who are simply incapable, without bad habits or other defects, are often the victims of their parents' necessities or greed: they were put to work too early, and at work where there was no chance of education or promotion. Sometimes they have been wilfully careless and lazy, but, more often, the fault was either with the parents or with an economic condition that denied them proper training. Of all this we shall hear in connection with the children, but our present concern is with the breadwinner. The man who "does not know how" is the football of {35} industry; employed in work requiring nothing but muscle, promptly discharged because easily replaced, he drifts from job to job, and, at certain seasons of the year, being unable to adapt himself or easily change from one kind of work to another, he is almost certain to be unemployed.

Miss Octavia Hill calls attention to this in "Homes of the London Poor." [8] "The fluctuations of work cause to respectable tenants the main difficulties in paying their rent. I have tried to help them in two ways. First, by inducing them to save; this they have done steadily, and each autumn has found them with a small fund accumulated, which has enabled them to meet the difficulties of the time when families are out of town. In the second place, I have done what I could to employ my tenants in slack seasons. I carefully set aside any work they can do for times of scarcity, and I try so to equalize in this small circle the irregularity of work, which must be more or less pernicious, and which the childishness of the poor makes doubly so. They have {36} strangely little power of looking forward; a result is to them as nothing if it will not be perceptible until next quarter!"

This plan of equalizing work by saving our odd jobs for dull seasons is one way of helping. Another is to seek lists of unskilled and seasonal occupations that do not overlap. Some work is naturally winter work, and some naturally belongs to the summer season. The ice companies in Baltimore employ their workers in winter by combining the coal business with the ice business, and, on this principle, a list could be drawn up for each community of occupations that do not overlap. No list can be given here, because the conditions of work vary in different parts of the country.

When we furnish work ourselves we must be careful not to confound the employer with the friend. "A visitor was interested in a woman who needed work very much, and herself employed her," writes the secretary of the Boston Associated Charities, Miss Z. D. Smith. "Once or twice it happened that the woman had to go to court in the morning, and came at ten instead of eight, or again the visitor {37} let her off early, but she always paid her for the whole day. The visitor was advised that in the long run it was unwise not to pay her by the hour, as was the custom, but she was not convinced until, having got work for her among her neighbors, they complained that she came at ten instead of eight, and expected pay for the whole day, and they would not employ her longer. The relief the visitor gave, disguised as pay, defeated her efforts to help the woman to self-support." [9]

Bad habits as a cause of unemployment will be considered in the next chapter. As to the man who loses his work through bad temper, it is well to bear in mind that there are many degrees of badness of temper, and the bad temper that comes from worry or ill health must be carefully distinguished from innate ugliness. Lack of references, another cause of unemployment, does not always mean a bad record. Unskilled workers are often personally unknown to their employers, and the knowledge that a visitor can acquire by testing a worker may become a great help to him. When a {38} man has some physical defect, such as an impediment in his speech, or a crippled arm, only one who takes a personal interest in him can overcome the prejudice created by his defect. Often such people have qualities that would recommend them, but they are awkward in pleading their own cause or in finding their right niche.

The following illustrations of timely help in finding employment are taken from the Twenty-eighth Report of the Charity Organization Society of London.[10] "One was a quiet, honest young fellow, a gardener, who had lately come out of a lunatic asylum, his insanity being due, it appeared, to ear trouble, involving a painful operation. He had been some months in the asylum, and on coming out was at some loss to obtain regular employment. The Committee, having thoroughly investigated the case and satisfied themselves of the safety of recommending the young man, issued a circular to gardeners and nurserymen, which got him a job within a week. The other man had been noticed in the infirmary—a big, strong fellow, {39} most of his life a seaman, and part of it on board an American man-of-war, till he met with an accident resulting in the loss of one of his legs. Then he had to come ashore, and a restless, roving disposition led him to tramp about the country, and brought him on one occasion before a London police magistrate for attempting to commit suicide. Inquiry showed that the man could work hard, and, strange to say of a man over six feet high and broad in proportion, was handy with his needle at embroidery, etc. The Committee kept him a few nights at a common lodging-house—for he was homeless since leaving the infirmary—and then by great good fortune got him work at a tent and sail maker's, where now, some half a year later, he is earning his 3s. 6d. a day. It is to be noted that neither of these men was able-bodied. The Society does not try to find work for ordinary, able-bodied men."

Ignorance of English has been given as another cause of lack of employment, but this is not irremovable. "After many days' searching, work was found for Mr. H. and his son, whose ignorance of our language was so entire {40} that they failed to get employment, and were in despair. At the earnest request of the visitor, a furniture dealer consented to take them on trial; and they proved so satisfactory that they have now been employed a year, and their pay increased." [11]

A few cautions are necessary. The charities of a large city often attract from the country those for whom there is no economic place. Our immigration laws have allowed many to come to America for whom there is no place, and charity has kept them alive here, knowing the while that they are forcing down the standard of living among our poor, and complicating the problem incalculably at every turn. But, as concerns interstate emigration, and the migration from country to city, charity should not be so helpless. It is within our power to refuse, by charitable aid, to settle the man who cannot settle himself in a community where he does not belong. It is often doing other workers a wrong to establish him and find work for him where he has no claim. The attractions of a large city are great enough without adding {41} any such artificial help to overcrowding. Our effort, on the contrary, should be to get back into country life those families that are found to be really fitted for it. Advertise in country papers, interest friends in the country in finding places for families, and do not fail to keep up communication either by letter or occasional visits with families so placed.[12]

One more caution. It helps a man to know that some one cares and will help him to find work; but it cripples him to let him feel that he can sit idle and let his friend do all the searching and worrying. "Send a man to find work, and go with him to a special place; but never go from place to place seeking it for him." Develop his resources, show an interest in all his efforts, and encourage him to renewed effort.

It has been claimed that only men and men of business experience can be successful friendly visitors where the head of the family is concerned; that, in matters of employment especially, a woman visitor is not capable of giving sound advice. It is undoubtedly true {42} that such work could be better done if more men, instead of contenting themselves with service on charitable boards, would take the trouble to become personally acquainted with a few poor families. This would be better for the boards and better for the men that are charitable trustees. But the woman visitor need not despair. It is true that she could do her work better, as will appear in this book, if she were in her own person a lawyer, a sanitary engineer, a trained cook, a kindergartner, and an expert financier; but she may be none of these things and still be a very good friendly visitor. When legal complications arise, she will go to some friend who is a lawyer; when the children get into trouble, she will consult a teacher, or an agent of the children's aid society, and, in the same way, the matter of employment will send her to a business man, or some one who can advise her, when her own store of experience is too scant. The poor man often has a mean opinion of the judgment of "charitable ladies," and this opinion has not always been without a degree of justification; but the visitor who {43} takes the trouble to go on Sunday and get acquainted with the men folk, or makes occasion for them to come to her house from time to time, who proves herself, moreover, not without resource or common sense as emergencies arise, will soon overcome this prejudice and become the friend of every member of the family.

Collateral Readings: "The Settlement and Municipal Reform," James B. Reynolds in Proceedings of Twenty-third National Conference of Charities, pp. 138 sq. "Benevolent Features of Trades-Unions," John D. Flannigan in the same, pp. 154 sq. "The Ethical Basis of Municipal Corruption," Miss Jane Addams in "International Journal of Ethics," for April, 1898. "The Workers," Walter A. Wyckoff. "Working People and their Employers," Washington Gladden. "Problem of the Unemployed," Hobson. "The Unemployed," Geoffrey Drage. "Korbey's Fortune," William T. Elsing in "Scribner's," Vol. XVI, pp. 590 sq.

[1] "Rich and Poor," p. 211.

[2] pp. 141 sq.

[3] "Charities Record," Baltimore, Vol. I, No. 6.

[4] "Rich and Poor," pp. 138 sq.

[5] pp. 242 sq.

[6] See Warner's "American Charities," pp. 177 sq.

[7] George Eliot in "Daniel Deronda."

[8] pp. 22 sq.

[9] "Charities Review," Vol. II, p. 54.

[10] p. 11.

[11] Thirteenth Report of Boston Associated Charities, p. 42.

[12] See "Charities Review," Vol. VI, pp. 402 sq.




We have considered the breadwinner as worker, neighbor, and citizen; we now turn to the breadwinner as husband and father. It has been said that the home is not only the true unit of society, but that it is the charitable unit as well, and that when we deal with anything less than a whole family, we deal with fractions. Much of our charitable work is still fractional. It not infrequently happens, for instance, that the members of one poor family will come in contact with dozens of charitable people representing many forms of charitable activity, and that none of these will ever have considered the family as a whole. The Sunday-school teacher, the kindergartner, the day nursery manager, the fresh air charity agent, the district nurse, the obstetric nurse, the church almoner, the {45} city missionary, the relief agent, the head of the mothers' meeting, the guild teacher, the manager of the boys' brigade or girls' friendly,—all these will have touched the family at some point, but will never have taken the trouble to make a picture of the family life as a whole, and of the effect of their charity upon it. They may have assumed important responsibilities now and again, home responsibilities that belonged primarily to members of the family, and helped to hold the family together; but the chances are that they will none of them have worked continuously or thoroughly enough to learn from their blunders or to repair their mistakes.

I have mentioned home responsibilities. Let us consider, for a moment, what these are. They have an old-fashioned and conservative sound, but the fundamental facts of life are old-fashioned. The man is still the head of the normal family, and, as the head, still owes his best endeavor to secure for the other members of the family the means of subsistence. The wife's part in the family is to transform the means provided into a home. The children, {46} for their part, should be teachable and obedient; and, as their own strength waxes and their parents' wanes, they should stand ready to provide for father and mother both the means of subsistence and the home environment. These are the prosaic but fundamental elements of home life, and, when they are lacking, neither the marriage ceremony, nor the sanctions of law and custom, can prevent the home from becoming a sham home, a breeding place of sin and social disorder.

It is my misfortune that, in attempting to meet the needs of those who visit the poor, I must dwell more upon the difficulties than upon the encouragements of such work. There are many poor homes where every essential element of home life exists. The home may be of the humblest sort,—it may be in one room,—but, to the best of his ability, the man is struggling to provide for his family; the woman is striving to make the little shelter homelike; and the children are learning that, out of the simplest elements, a certain measure of peace, orderliness and growth may be won. The home relation is right, and, though sickness, {47} industrial depression, accident, or some other of the misfortunes that assail us from without may have made charitable relief necessary for a long time, the elements of successful charitable aid are there, because the home life works with the visitor to win back health and independence.

There is a deep satisfaction in protecting such families from the careless, patronizing charity of the thoughtless almsgiver, whose unsteady hand would give them a feast to-day and a famine to-morrow. There is deep satisfaction in cooperating with such families to conquer difficulties. There is a deeper satisfaction, however, in turning a sham home into a real one; in teaching the slatternly, irresponsible mother the pleasure of a cleanly, well-ordered home; in helping a man who has lost his sense of responsibility toward wife and children to regain it. Even at the risk of drawing a too gloomy picture, I dwell in this chapter, therefore, upon the husband and father who is either lazy or drunken or both.

The married vagabond has many {48} characteristics of the single vagabond or tramp, though he is usually less enterprising. His is a type peculiar to our large cities, where political, industrial, and charitable conditions have helped to make him what he is. There is a sense in which he is not responsible for his faults; but there is a sense in which we are none of us responsible for ours, and when we are once permanently committed to this view of ourselves, there is no health in us. To treat the married vagabond as not responsible, is only to increase his irresponsibility.

"One man I know who has done hardly a stroke of work for years," says Mrs. Bosanquet; "during his wife's periodical confinements he goes off on the tramp, leaving her to take her chance of charity coming to the rescue, and returns when she can get to work again. I have known fathers who would send their hungry children to beg food from their neighbors, and then take it to eat themselves; and one I have known who would stop his children in the street and take their shoes from their feet to pawn for drink. The negative attitude of a man to his own family is {49} an impossible one; if responsibility disappears, it will be replaced by brutality." [1]

And again, from the same book: "Take a case which is constantly recurring. A man has let himself drift into bad ways: he neglects his work, spends his money for drink, cares less and less about his family; the children become more and more neglected and starved. At last some charitable agency steps in. 'The man is hopeless,' it says, 'there is no question of relieving him of responsibility, for he has already lost all sense of that, and matters cannot be made worse by our interference. The children must not be allowed to suffer for their father's sins; we will feed and clothe and educate them, and so give them a chance of doing better than their parents.' All very well, if this were the only family; and we should all rush joyfully to the work of rescuing the little ones. But next door on either side are men with the same downward path so easy before them, and to a large extent restrained from entering upon it by the thought, 'What will become of the children?' This restraining {50} influence will break down much more rapidly for the knowledge that Smith's children are better cared for since he gave up the battle, and so the mischief spreads down the street like an epidemic." [2]

The method to be followed in dealing with the family of the married vagabond must depend upon circumstances, but it will usually be necessary to let him find out what the charitable community expects of him, and this he will hardly do unless the charitable withhold all aid except in the form of work. A visitor will not succeed in bringing this about until he has taken the trouble to find out what sources of relief are open to the family, and has persuaded each source to withhold relief. Visitors often hesitate to urge this radical measure, fearing that it will bring suffering upon the wife and children; but the plain fact is that the family of a lazy man must suffer, that no amount of material relief can prevent their suffering.

On this disputed point I venture to quote what I have written elsewhere: "Let us {51} consider the chances that a married vagabond's children have of escaping suffering in a large city. . . . They are born into a world where the father is inconsiderate and abusive of the mother; where cleanliness, fresh air, and good food are not assured to them; where all the economic laws of the civilized world seem topsy-turvy; where things sometimes come miraculously, without any return for them in labor, and where they sometimes do not come at all. They are born, moreover, with diseased bodies, often with the taint of alcoholism in their veins; too often with some other inherited malady, such as epilepsy or unsound mind, as a direct result of parental excesses. How can we say that we 'do not let children suffer,' so long as alms keeps together thousands of these so-called homes in our large cities, and, worst of all, so long as into these homes thousands of helpless, unfortunate babies are born every year? If I were one of these same little ones, and could see what the charitable people were about, I should feel inclined to say: 'Ladies and gentlemen, you have supplied the doctor, and the nurse, {52} and the fuel, and the sick diet; doubtless you mean it kindly, but I have been assisted into a world where you don't intend to give me a fair chance. You know that my father won't work for me, that my mother has no time to care for me, and that my brothers and sisters must fare worse than ever, now that there's one more mouth to feed. Moreover, my nerves are none of the strongest, and my body none of the stoutest. Unless you intend to do a great deal more for me, I'm sorry you didn't do less. Frankly, I don't thank you.'" [3]

Often when a man finds that charitable people are quite in earnest, that they really intend to place upon his shoulders the responsibility of his own family, he will bestir himself and go to work. He is not likely to stay and let his family starve. In fact, I have often found that the withholding of relief from the family of the married vagabond has the immediate effect of improving the material condition of the family—the man has either found work or left home. This method of being charitable requires courage, but if {53} people would only see how wretchedness is perpetuated by the temporizing method, it would require courage to give small doles.

In many states there are laws for the punishment of the man that will not support his family. Some of these enactments are of very little use, but several of the New England states have effective laws.[4] When a complete cutting off of charitable supplies fails to bring a man to some sense of his duty, the visitor should try to have him punished by the courts. The evidence of one who has faithfully visited a family for a long time is very valuable in such cases, though conviction is often difficult to secure for lack of the wife's testimony. If the married vagabond that has been punished is still incurably lazy and irresponsible, the visitor should not allow his desire to reform the man to stand in the way of the best interests of the children, born and unborn. The wife's duty to her husband is a very sacred one, But so is her duty to her children. When {54} all other measures fail, the home should be broken up.

Only those who have had wide charitable experience will be likely to consider this separation of man and wife justifiable. Says Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell: "I have not the slightest doubt that it is a wrong; and a great wrong, to give help to the family of a drunkard or an immoral man who will not support them. Unless the woman will remove her children from his influence, it should be understood that no public or private charity, and no charitable individual, has the right to help perpetuate and maintain such families as are brought forth by drunkards and vicious men and women." [5]

It is unnecessary to say that the advocates of separation as a last resort do not approve of divorce, which would only multiply sham homes. They recognize in certain cases "the sad fact of incurability," and are prepared to take courageous measures in order that the innocent may not suffer with the guilty.[6]


The following history of a Baltimore married vagabond will illustrate the need of separation in certain cases: Several years ago the Baltimore Charity Organization Society made the acquaintance of the family of a good-looking German shoemaker, who had married a plain, hard-working woman some years his senior. Soon after their marriage he began to neglect his work, and, depending more and more on his wife's exertions for his support, he took to drink. Child-bearing often incapacitated the wife for work, and church and charitable friends aided at such times. When the sixth child was a year old, he deserted his family for a while, but came back again, after having been in jail for disorderly conduct. The Charity Organization Society, seeing no chance of reforming the man, suggested that his wife leave him, but the German pastor strongly objected to any separation of man and wife, and nothing was done. A discouraging aspect of the situation was that the man taught his children to deceive the hard-working mother. When the seventh baby was born, and charity had supplied a registered nurse, baby linen, {56} a doctor, fuel, and food, it was discovered that the man had sold the fuel supplied by the relief society, and had gone on a spree. He was a good workman, and could always have work when sober, but even when at work he neglected to provide properly for his family. Stung at last into active resistance, his wife had him arrested for non-support. While the man awaited trial, the Charity Organization Society removed his family, found work for the wife where she could keep three of her children, placed one with a relative, and two others temporarily in institutions. When he was released, he had no family to attract charitable aid, and was thrown, for the first time in many years, entirely upon his own resources.

Many good people may think that to deprive a man of family ties is to hasten his downfall; but what downfall could be more complete than the downfall of the man who not only permits his wife to support him, but abuses her and his children? In making this no longer possible we are sometimes doing the one thing that can be done to save him from {57} spreading the contagion of his brutality, and so assuming a still heavier burden of sin.

There are many charitable visitors to whom the very thought of strong drink is so offensive, to whom everything connected with the saloon seems so brutal and degraded, that they are unable to make allowance for national, neighborhood, and family traditions in judging a man's habits. It sometimes happens that a whole family are condemned as "frauds" because they drink beer for dinner, or because the man of the house has been seen to enter a saloon. On no subject, perhaps, are charity workers so divided as on the question of how best to deal with the drink evil. Here, if anywhere, fanaticism is excusable, perhaps; but here, as everywhere, the friendly visitor must be on guard against personal prejudice and a hasty jumping at conclusions. "At night all cats are gray," says the old proverb, and it is only the benighted social reformer that thinks of all who drink as drunkards, and of all places where liquor is sold as dens of vice. The saloon is still the workingman's {58} club, and, until some satisfactory substitute is found for it, all our denunciations will fail to banish it. It is none the less true that, of all personal habits, the drink habit stands next to licentiousness as a cause of poverty and degeneration.

"The problem of intemperance meets us in less than half the families that we know," says the Secretary of the Boston Associated Charities, "but it is that half which gives us the most concern. There are many ways of dealing with the drunkards and with their families, and the remedy must be separately chosen for each case. Some of our friends are impatient with all these partial remedies and will use none of them, waiting until they can sweep out of the State the alcohol which seems to them the whole cause of the trouble. But if it were all taken away to-morrow, I feel sure we should find this also only a partial remedy, and that the same want of self-control which makes men and women drunkards would drive some of them to-morrow to other and perhaps worse stimulants. So, while I hope and believe that slowly and steadily the sentiment of individuals {59} is growing toward total abstinence, and that in the course of years, generations, perhaps, it will become the law of the State, I believe in working man to man and woman to woman in building up and strengthening character as the chief safeguard against so great an evil." [7]

The first thing, in dealing with an individual case of drunkenness, is to find out its history. Is it the cause of poverty and misfortune, or have poverty and misfortune caused it? Is there an inherited tendency to drink, or did the habit originate in some other bad personal habit? Is bad health the cause? Has unhealthy or dangerous employment anything to do with it? Is bad home cooking one of the causes? Some one has said that the best temperance lecturer is the properly filled dinner-pail. Worry from lack of work, and the need of some warm stimulant after exposure, are frequent causes; and they are both removable with friendly help. A man who is honestly trying to break himself of the drink habit {60} deserves all the patience, sympathy, and resourcefulness at our command.

When a man is sensitive and proud, the visitor can often be most helpful by simply showing his sympathy. "A travelling salesman who became addicted to drink lost a good situation through this habit. He had a wife and seven children, all the children being too young to earn anything. The wife was very brave and supported the family as long as she was able. When the case came to the Charity Organization Society the rent was in arrears and the landlord threatening. We sent a gentleman as our friendly visitor in the case, and after great persistence and repeated failures he succeeded in keeping the head of the family sober for a few days. The man was proud, and much hurt at having to accept charity, but his family was suffering, and there was no alternative. The aid was provided in so delicate a manner that the man's heart was touched, and he became very grateful to the visitor for his unflagging and kindly interest. They spent their evenings together frequently. The man began to drink less, at last stopped altogether, and {61} now has secured permanent work and is doing well." [8]

There is diversity of opinion as to the value of pledges. It would seem unwise, however, when a man has broken a pledge, to encourage him to renew it. Let him try a promise to himself, and prove that he can be a man without artificial props.

In more stubborn cases the law must be invoked. Sometimes it is well to try several remedies at once, asking the police to threaten arrest, following this up at once with an invitation to join some temperance society (preferably one connected with the man's church), and trying at the same time to substitute some new interest. Milder measures failing, it will sometimes be necessary to cut off all supplies of relief, and, this again failing, to take steps to protect wife and children from the brutalizing influence of the man by breaking up the home.

There are many causes of the drink evil, as I have tried to show, but, after every allowance has been made, the chief cause will often be found in the selfishness of the human heart. {62} There are men who do not care to be cured of drunkenness, who feel no shame for the misery and degradation brought upon their families. Here again the "sad fact of incurability" must be recognized. It is folly to let such men discover that, through our charitable interest in their families, we will either directly or indirectly pay their whiskey bills, or will assume the burdens that they deliberately shirk. A Committee on Intemperance, reporting to the Ward VIII. Conference of the Boston Associated Charities in 1886, called attention to this aspect of the question. "The committee, however, say that, in their opinion, the question of moral responsibility on the part of the intemperate, and also, in its degree, on the part of those who, by gifts or other aid, make intemperance easy, is too much lost sight of; and they believe that the refusal of all aid to the families of drunkards, outside the almshouse, unless in exceptional cases, would bring about a better state of opinion and a juster sense of responsibility. The committee add that it will be almost impossible to make kind-hearted people believe this, since they are more moved {63} by the sight of present suffering than by the hope of future permanent improvement, to secure which some measure of present suffering may be necessary." [9]

Collateral Readings: "An Adventure in Philanthropy," Edwin C. Martin in "Scribner's," Vol. XI, pp. 230 sq. "Charity and Home Making," the present writer in "Charities Review," Vol. VI, No. 2. "Married Vagabonds," the same, in Proceedings of Twenty-second National Conference of Charities, pp. 514 sq. "Drunkards' Families," Rev. W. F. Slocum in Proceedings of Fifteenth National Conference of Charities, pp. 131 sq. "The Social Value of the Saloon," E. C. Moore in "American Journal of Sociology," Vol. III, No. 1. "Substitutes for the Saloon," F. G. Peabody in "Forum" for July, 1896. "Law and Drink," Frederick H. Wines in "Charities Review," Vol. VII, Nos. 3 and 4.

[1] "Rich and Poor," p. 105.

[2] pp. 72 sq.

[3] "Charities Review," Vol. VI, pp. 121 sq.

[4] See Proceedings of the Twenty-second National Conference of Charities and Correction, New Haven, 1895, pp. 514 sq.

[5] "Public Relief and Private Charity," p. 105.

[6] See on this subject the Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth National Conference of Charities and Correction at Toronto, 1897, pp. 5 sq.

[7] Miss Z. D. Smith in Report of Union Relief Association of Springfield, Mass., 1887.

[8] "Charities Record," Baltimore, Vol. I, No. 1.

[9] Seventh Report of Boston Associated Charities, p. 39.




The wife brings us to another aspect of the home, though it cannot be too often repeated that all aspects are so inextricably interwoven that they must be considered together. When the wife takes the means provided, the raw material from which a home is to be made, she engages in a very complicated form of manufacture, including in its processes the buying, preparation, and serving of food, the care of the household possessions, the buying, making, and care of clothing, the training of children, and many minor departments. These are only processes, however, and, unless the maker have an ideal picture in her mind of what a home should be, neither some nor all of these processes will make a home.

In dealing with the homemaker, the friendly visitor becomes more directly a teacher, though {65} it is often necessary that she should first be a learner. The agent of a New York charity tells of a friendly visitor who was consulted by the agent about a family applying for relief. They were found to have an income of $20.00 a week. "Well," said the visitor, "that is very little money on which to raise a family." The agent felt that this visitor had not only a great deal to learn, but a great deal to unlearn.

Not every visitor is skilled in buying and preparing food, or in arranging a household budget, and the visitor that is skilful in doing this on one scale of expenditure may be quite ignorant and helpless in dealing with another and much smaller scale. One who is really in earnest, however, in the desire to help another, will never give up because there are difficulties to overcome. The visitor may not know, but as compared with the homemaker in a poor family, has far more time and a greater facility, perhaps, in learning. The visitor's best teachers are friends that have had experience, and the poor themselves. One can learn a great deal from the more frugal and industrious of the very poor, and these are proud to explain {66} their small economies, when our reasons for wishing to learn are made clear to them.

Lacking these teachers, there are books, though books have the disadvantage of never meeting the needs of any one locality. Variations of climate, custom, and the local markets make specific suggestions about buying difficult. For this reason I shall not attempt to go into detail, but suggest that, as our relations with our poor friends should be as natural as possible, when we do not know anything, it is always best to frankly say so, and then think out with them some way of learning. For instance, it would be natural enough for a visitor to say to the homemaker: "We both feel that there is a lot to learn about the best way of buying and preparing food. I have an acquaintance that has made a study of the subject, and, with your permission, I am going to bring her here, to give us both some suggestions."

Scientific dietaries have been prepared with a view to teaching the poor to use nutritious and economical foods. Professor J. J. Atwater, Edward Atkinson, Mrs. Juliet Corson, and Mrs. Mary Hinman Abel are authorities on this {67} subject. The Bureau of Associated Charities, Orange, N. J., publishes a leaflet on foods, prepared by Mrs. S. E. Tenney of Brooklyn. Taking Orange prices, a dietary is given for a family of six (man, wife, and four children), at a cost of $3.31 per week. In urging changes in diet upon poor families, it is first necessary to become well acquainted with the families, and, even then, to introduce any innovations slowly, one thing at a time. A friendly visitor in Baltimore has tried the plan of meeting her friends in market, and pointing out to them the best cuts of meat, the best place to buy vegetables, etc. But her greatest success in introducing new dishes has been through the children. She has been wise enough to secure the cooperation of her cook, and, by inviting the children into her own kitchen on Saturday mornings, has taught them the best way to prepare simple dishes. She finds that scientific dietaries too often ignore the tastes and prejudices of the poor. It is best to begin by teaching them to prepare well the things that they like. If they are devoted to strong tea, for instance, we can teach them first of all that it should not boil on the stove all day.


When we are dealing with questions of taste, whether in manners, diet, clothing, or household decoration, we cannot afford to take the attitude of the Rev. Mr. Honeythunder, "Come up and be blessed, or I'll knock you down!" We may find a preference for cheap finery very exasperating, but our own example is far more likely to be followed in the long run if we do not insist upon it too much at first. Begin by teaching the homemaker to mend and keep the clothing in good order, and give her some of your own experience as to which materials wear the best.

One of the important items of expenditure is fuel, and the first thing to find out under this head is whether kerosene or any other inflammable fluid is ever used to start the fire. Experienced housekeepers say that it is good economy to have stoves with small gratings and then buy a good grade of pea coal, which, if carefully used, is cheaper and quite as economical as more expensive grades. The poor often prefer expensive, free-burning coals because they are little trouble. A practical engineer says that, in burning pea coal, the fire must be {69} kept clean, not by violent shaking, but by a straight poker used on the bottom of the fire only. Remove clinkers through the top. Add coal in small quantities, and, when not using the fire, give it a good cleaning at the bottom, spread enough coal to make about three inches of fuel in all, put on the draught until kindled, add four inches of fresh coal, allowing the draught to remain on until the gas is burned off, then shut the bottom draughts, take the lids half-way off, and open the top slide, if the stove has one.

In many of the homes into which visitors go, cleanliness seems the greatest lack. Sometimes the mother has lost heart; sometimes she has never known what cleanliness was. Tact is necessary here to avoid hurting the feelings of our poor friends, though some are far more sensitive than others. The Boston woman whose visitor sent soap, scrubbing brushes, mop, and pail, with the message that she was coming on the morrow to use them, took this very broad hint and made the home tidy for the first time in many months, but it is unnecessary to say that all poor people {70} could not be dealt with in this way. One visitor went, when she knew the mother would be absent, and helped the children to clean the house. Another found that, if the family knew she was coming, the home was set in order; so she was careful for a time to come at stated intervals, then tried irregular visits, and was finally rewarded by finding the home presentable at all times.

"Mr. William D. Howells, who during his recent residence in Boston gave much of his valuable time as a visitor for the Associated Charities, was amused one day to be told, on knocking at the door of a house where he had studiously endeavored to inspire a sense of cleanliness, that he could not come in, as the floor had just been washed and he might soil it again." [1]

Housecleaning seasons are not always observed in poor homes. The visitor can call attention to the value of whitewash as a cleaning agent, and if once taught to do it, the children take pleasure in putting it on.


It is not merely as the adviser about household matters that the visitor can be helpful to the homemaker. Many women in poor neighborhoods lead starved, sordid lives, and long for genuine friendliness and sympathy. A friend who would be helpful to them must exercise the same self-restraint that our own friends exercise with us. The friends who encourage us to exaggerate our troubles and difficulties are not our best friends: theirs is a friendship that tends to weaken our moral fibre. But the sympathy that the poor need and all of us need is the sympathy that makes us feel stronger, the sympathy that is farthest removed from sentimentality. We should be willing to listen patiently to the homemaker's troubles, and should strive to see the world from her point of view, but at the same time we should help her to take a cheerful and courageous tone. One unfailing help, when our poor friends dwell too much upon their own troubles, is to tell them ours. Here, too, indirect suggestion is powerful. The wife, in her attitude toward husband and children, will unconsciously imitate our own attitude {72} toward them. As Miss Jane Addams says, if the visitor kisses the baby and makes much of it, the mother will do the same. A Baltimore visitor has cured one tired woman of scolding her husband in season and out of season by diverting her attention to other things, and by seeking her cooperation in plans for improving the man's habits.

A New York visitor tells of a woman living in a two-room tenement who is regarded as a marvel by her husband's friends because she makes a point of having a specially good meal one night in the week, and it is understood that her husband can bring his friends home to supper on that night without giving her warning. The home is very humble, but she has learned the wisdom of making it a real home for her husband, and one that he can be proud of.

So far, I have ignored the fact that, in the poor home, the woman is often the breadwinner as well as the homemaker. I wish it were possible to ignore the further fact that charitable visitors, finding it difficult to get work for the man or finding him disinclined {73} to take it, will bestir themselves to get work for the woman instead. One of the few rules which it is safe to follow blindly is the rule that we should not encourage any woman to become the breadwinner who has an able-bodied, unemployed man in the house. "Only harm can result," says Mrs. Lowell, "if efforts are made to induce the woman to leave her home daily for work."

Where the breadwinner is disabled, or the woman is a deserted wife or widow, work is, of course, necessary. We must distinguish, however, between the deserted wife and the wife whose husband chronically deserts her, until her condition attracts the charitable help that he returns to share. Widows with children belong to a class with which charity has dealt too harshly in the past. When the woman is incapable of supporting all her children, and this is usually the case, charity has either allowed her family to depend upon insufficient doles and so drift into beggary, or else has put all the children in orphanages. If the mother is a good mother, capable with help of rearing her children to independence and {74} self-support, this latter is not only a cruel but a wasteful method. As charity becomes more discriminating and resourceful, it will be possible to organize pensions for widows of this class, though these pensions will need the careful oversight of a visitor, who should see that the children are taught to bear the family burden as they become older.

There is great diversity of opinion about the value of mothers' meetings for women whose home duties prevent them from attending church on Sunday. If these meetings confined themselves to providing what the church service provides,—a chance for spiritual uplifting and refreshment,—there could be no possible objection to them; but, unfortunately, many mothers' meetings strive to attract and hold members by such small devices as paying them for very bad sewing, or making small gifts, or selling things below cost. These attractions, small as they are, lead many women to neglect their home duties, and it is no unusual thing for one woman to belong to three mothers' meetings of three different denominations, which take her away {75} from home three afternoons in the week. The atmosphere of patronage and "sprinkling charity" that is so common in these meetings, distinctly lowers the self-respect of the women; before very long they learn to write begging notes or send begging messages to "the ladies" in charge, and the place that should be for them a source of spiritual strength becomes merely a source of supplies.

Collateral Readings: "The Lustig's" and "Corinna's Fiametta," Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer in "One Man who was Content and Other Stories." "Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking" (adapted to persons of moderate and small means), Mrs. Mary Hinman Abel, published by American Public Health Association, Rochester, N.Y. "Foods: Nutritive Value and Cost," by W. O. Atwater in Farmer's Bulletin No. 23 of United States Department of Agriculture. "Dietary Studies in New York City," W. O. Atwater and Charles D. Woods in Bulletin No. 46 of United States Department of Agriculture. The Health Department of New York City will soon publish leaflets prepared by experts, which will contain simple directions about buying and preparing food. "The Le Play Method of Social Observation," "American Journal of Sociology," Vol. II, No. 1. "Treatment of Widows and Dependent Children," Mrs. L. Wolcott in Proceedings of Fifteenth National Conference of Charities, pp. 137 sq. "Girls in a Factory Valley," Mrs. Lillie B. Chace Wyman in "Atlantic," Vol. LXXVIII, pp. 391 sq. and 506 sq.

[1] Mrs. Roger Wolcott in Proceedings of International Congress of Charities at Chicago, Volume on "Organization of Charities," p. 110.




The visitor in the homes of the poor whose chief concern is with questions of material relief often overlooks the children entirely, unless they are large enough to be forced into the labor market and made to contribute toward the family income. In charity meetings, where visitors get together to discuss the difficulties of individual families, it will often happen that the children are not mentioned. On the other hand, there is a large class of charity workers who concern themselves with the children only, and a strongly marked tendency of modern charity is to treat the children of the poor quite apart from and without any relation to their home life. "We constantly hear it said," writes Mrs. James Putnam, "that we cannot help the older ones, but that we must save the {77} children. It seems clear to me that to help one without the other is usually an impossible task. Their interests are too closely bound together." [1]

There is always danger, in our eagerness to help the children, that we may only encourage parents to shirk their duty. Take the admirable charities known as day nurseries. If care is not taken to exclude all except the children of widows, or of women whose husbands are disabled, these will only encourage laziness in the husband, and help to bring about that unwholesome condition in which the wife is breadwinner, homemaker, and child-bearer.

The first thing that a visitor should observe in a family where there is a baby is whether the child is nursed too many months and too often. A child should not be nursed during the night after it is six months old. Solid food is usually given too soon; tea and coffee are often given before the child is a year old, and to these is added "anything on the table." {78} For the children's sake, the visitor should be very observant. It is difficult, at first, to find out how they are fed, bathed, and clothed, and whether they go to bed early, in clean beds and ventilated rooms; but one can learn more by observation than by direct questions. Ask to see the baby bathed, and notice the condition of its scalp and skin. If in any doubt, it is always best to consult a doctor; do not allow your ignorance to make you a non-conductor. Learn how to sterilize milk, and teach the mother; show her the importance of feeding at regular intervals, and impress upon her that small children should never have stimulants, greasy food, green fruit, or cakes, nuts, and candies.

In summer, the baby should have frequent airings in the nearest park, and, in case of sickness, the visitor should know how to use the children's sanitariums, floating hospitals, free excursions or other charities provided for sick children. For the older children it will be possible to procure a country holiday through the fresh air society or the children's country homes that are provided within easy {79} distance of all our large cities. Or, better still, the visitor may know some one in the country, or may have a summer home there, where the little ones can be entertained. Any one who has once realized how important it is that every growing child should know and love the country, will gladly put up with some personal inconvenience to give this knowledge to the little folk in the family he visits.

As soon as the children are old enough, connection should be made with the nearest kindergarten, or if, unfortunately, there is no kindergarten near enough, the visitor should learn some of the kindergarten games and occupations, and teach the children. When the children go to the public schools, the visitor should make the acquaintance of their teacher.

"One of our visitors went for two years to visit a widow and her children without feeling that she accomplished anything, though the intercourse was pleasant enough in itself. Then she heard that the girl of thirteen was having trouble in school and was in danger of being expelled. She went to see the teacher. {80} The girl was always well dressed, and the teacher had no idea she was a poor girl. After seeing the visitor the teacher touched the girl at last by talking with her of the sacrifices her mother had made for her education, and urging her to do her part, that her mother's hard work might not be in vain. In this way she persuaded the girl to good behavior and kept her in school—all because some one had visited the family for a year or two and could speak confidently of their condition and character." [2]

No one can work among the poor in their homes without realizing the need of compulsory education laws. There are still people here and there who talk about the danger of educating the poor "above their station," but those who know the poor in our large cities from actual contact feel that over-education is the very least of the dangers that beset them. The lack of adequate school accommodations, making it impossible to punish truancy, is a much greater danger, and, in some States, the absence of any compulsory education law {81} makes the child the easy victim of trade conditions and of parental greed. The visitor should never permit the desire to increase the family income to blind him to the fact that the physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child is seriously endangered by wage-earning. Where there is a compulsory education law, he should cooperate with the truant officers in securing its enforcement; where there is no such law, every influence should be brought to bear upon parents to keep children in school. The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Detroit refuses aid to families in which the children are kept from school, and all our relief agencies, churches included, would do well to adopt this rule.

Some of the most intelligent and devoted workers in child-saving agencies have sounded the note of warning on the subject of children wage-earners. "The fact," says Mrs. Anna Garlin Spencer, "that the world of industry has found out and established methods of labor which can utilize the work of children to profit, gives to that world of industry, as an upper and a nether millstone, the greed {82} of employers and the cupidity and poverty of parents, between which the life of the child is often ground to powder." [3] And Mrs. Florence Kelley, writing from her experience as a factory inspector in Illinois, says: "I do not mean that every boy is usually ruined by his work, but I do mean that, the earlier the child goes to work, the greater the probability of ruin. I mean, too, that there is to be gained, from a scientific study of the working child, an irradiating side-light upon the tramp question, the unemployed question, and the whole ramifying question of the juvenile offender. . . . One reason that immigrants cling so closely to the great cities is that they find there far more opportunity to get money for their children's work. There is probably no one means of dispersing the disastrously growing colonies of our great cities so simple and effective as this one, of depriving the children of their immediate cash value." [4]

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