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Whatcom Counties soon recognized joint grievance com-
mittees, made up of one delegate from each neighborhood
union, as the official bargaining agents of all old people
seeking increased assistance allowance. The chairman of
the King County grievance committee, seventy-four-year-
old Felix Harris of Seattle, had been dropped from the
assistance rolls. His case was the first taken up. A major
victory came in September, when all single persons and
persons without financial resources were guaranteed $30 a
month by the commissioners.

The modest office of the secretary, Roy Everett, in the
Thompson Building, Seattle, has become a whirlwind of
activity. Inquiries have come from Oregon, California
and Idaho and proposals that this should be a national
organization with Townsendites, former Townsendites
and anti-Townsendites working together for immediate
common objectives. Through the Washington Common-
wealth Federation, the old people's isolation from labor
and other progressive groups is being broken down.

Certainly public opinion is with the old people in this
venture. According to the poll of the American Institute of
Public Opinion 89 percent of the people last year favored
government pensions for the aged, although less than 4
percent favored the $200 a month proposed by the Town-
send Plan. The amount thought desirable averaged $40
a month.

Washington spends more per capita on welfare services
than any state in the union. Yet even here public assistance
to the aged is woefully inadequate. A state law sets $30 as
the amount to be paid to all over sixty-five. But for lack
of funds and for other reasons, many do not receive this
amount. They get only what investigators for the State
Department of Social Security think they must have. The
old people resent this policy.

The Townsend movement made the old folks and their
juniors conscious of a right to claim security in their old
age after a lifetime of useful work. Typical of hundreds
of letters received by the pension union headquarters, are
the three following:

We are pioneers of Washington, arriving in the state dur-


ing the nineties of the last century, and locating at North
Yakima, and we have lived in Yakima, Pierce, King and Kit-
sap Counties. Our ages are seventy-five and seventy-three this
year. We do not own a home, land, stocks or bonds, or other
income paying property. My present income is a pension of $12
per month. . . .

I have been a restaurant operator for thirty years, also born
in this state, long before it was a state picked wild black-
berries in brush at Second and Yesler Streets sixty-three years
ago. I am one of Seattle's oldest pioneers now at the age of
sixty-seven years. Through sickness of myself and wife the
past four years we are down and out the past year my wife
has been in bed for six months of the time I had a mental
and nervous breakdown some seven years ago and had slight
stroke which partially paralyzed my legs, which prevents me
from walking very much. I tell you this much of my life's
story to justify my grievance against the state of Washington's
present political set-up which actually scorns its old and
needy I refer to our old age pensions which is $40 for the
two of us, $20 each which is wholly inadequate as you and
everyone knows if I did not have good credit we would be in
a very sad plight when I pay my bills on receipt of our pen-
sion checks, there is nothing left we must go through the
month without a dime in our purses, not a cent to buy a pair of
socks or shirt cannot buy any clothing at all. . . . You are to
be greatly commended for your endeavors to better conditions
we want to join the old age pension union but unfortunately
we are unable to attend the meetings but I suppose some of
the committee people will call on us we would be so happy to
see them. . . .

. . . We do not go out much of an evening as my husband is
seventy-six and has poor health and I am seventy-two yrs.
of age. What chances is there to join the union. We are not
getting any pensions. I was, had mine nine months but we got
married in April so they stopped my pension. He had not got

any pension but had put in an application for one. So of course
we are interested in the old age pension union and would like
to hear more about it.

So it is that old folk by the thousand are taking to the
union idea. It offers them new hope for adjustment of griev-
ances and higher allowances here and now. The state of
Washington has always been fertile soil for reform move-
ments. The Townsend crusade reached huge proportions
here, but the pension union has broken all records for rapid

The relation of the pension unions to the Washington
Commonwealth Federation a powerful non-partisan po-
litical coalition of progressives is a tremendous aid in the
drive for more adequate assistance. The WCF has been
growing steadily in influence and numbers since its last two
successful political campaigns. It functions in many areas.
For example, one whole section of the city has been rallied
to the WCF by a campaign for a viaduct over a dangerous
railroad grade crossing in the district. A thousand apart-
ment house tenants attended a mass meeting called by the
WCF Women's League in Seattle, and formed a Renters'
League to prevent rents from rising for the third time
within a year. The WCF joined with labor, religious and
pacifist groups in calling a mass meeting to advocate the
application of the Nine Power Pact in the Chinese situa-
tion. The WCF is trying to consolidate all this active in-
terest, together with its increasing labor following, into a
broad people's movement.

The vigor of the pension union movement is a source of
worry to some of the officials of the Department of Social
Security. Its demands are often exasperating and time con-
suming, and take no account of other claims on the depart-
ment. But many social workers welcome this sort of pres-
sure as making for needed increases in old age allowances.

Cousins Indeed


KNOCK, knock.
"Who's there?"

"Slum-House who?"

"Slum-House-From-the-Country, your poor cousin."

"Don't come around here, country cousin, I can't help
you. I'm a city slum-house. I'm worse off than you are."

"Yes? Says who?"

"Says everybody. Don't you read the papers? They're
full of things about me slum clearance, rebuilding the
slums, new housing on slum sites. Everybody's talking
about me. Slums are city doings, country coz. Your people
don't jam together on a few square feet of dirt. They don't
live in layers."

"My dear city cousin, that shows how little you know
about it. There are slums aplenty in the country, too.
You're better known simply because more people see you.
With thousands of you in one spot, you're pretty hot stuff
your families living on top of each other, your broken
windows, your dirty garbage cans, your battered plaster.
You have high visibility. But I and my kind are out in
the dust bowl, in the cut-over areas, up in the hill coun-
try. There are as many of us as there are of you, but not

so many people see us our sagging, leaky roofs, our
propped up piers, our paneless windows, our loose siding,
our broken steps."

"You surely make it a red hot picture, country coz.
And very blue too. But remember you've got plenty of air
to breathe and no tall buildings to shut off the light and
sun. My family has to burn electric lights all day and when
it comes to air, whew! Often three people live in each of
my rooms, and it's no wonder somebody is sick all winter.
And another thing, you don't have to worry about land
coverage. I cover 90 percent of my land, which is my idea
of nothing to brag about. My tenement brothers are bang
up against me, smoke and dirt blast my sides and the
elevated trains shiver my timbers. My dear, you don't
know how lucky you are with good air to breathe and the
quiet and peace of the country."

"Oh, yeah? Maybe, if it's peace to be hungry and cold
and have no money in our pockets. We've got plenty of
land but mighty few windows to see it through. The man
who did my job must have been a builder of farm silos,
and when he put on siding he put on siding. He couldn't
be bothered with windows. Oh sure, we get air summer
and winter too through the cracks. As for sunshine in the



house, the Mammoth Cave fishes do as well as my family.

"When someone in your family is sick, city coz, he can
go to a hospital, but our nearest hospital is seventy miles
;n\.i> in another county. Even if our county should build
a hospital it could never afford to run it. Lots of our fam-
ilies live twenty miles or more from the nearest doctor,
and the likes of us can't afford doctors anyway. Did you
know that the American Foundation says that in one of
our proud forty-eight states a third of the people die with-
out consulting a doctor even in their fatal illnesses?

"As for electricity, we don't have any, and the water,
after it's been hauled up by hand, often has to be carried
more than a thousand feet from the well to the house.
So what with carrying it and lifting it on and off a stove
to heat it, my family doesn't bathe much. Who would
under such circumstances? I bet you didn't know that in
1930 only 15 percent of all the farms in this country had
piped-in water, and only 13 percent had electricity. Some
states had less than 2 percent of these conveniences that
you city folks take for granted."

"A TY goodness, Country-Slum-House, in 1930 there
I'-I. were more than six million farms, and 15 percent
would be only 900,000 with piped-in water. I apologize,
\(iu're a sick old bird."

"Sick? You're telling me? Boy, I'm dead. I died long
ago. Talk about old age pensions. I need a burial. And
I'll tell you another thing that Mr. United States Census
told me. In 1930, the average value of sharecroppers'
houses the country over was only $283, and I'll bet it's a
lot less than that now, for none of our crowd has been
repaired these past five years. And Mr. Census says that
there are about 776,000 of these cropper dwellings. What's
more, they tell me that in 1930 the median value (what-
ever that is; I'll bet it's nothing good) of all tenant-
houses was less than $500. There were a lot more than
two million of them then, and there are still more now."

"You don't contribute much to our national wealth, do
you Country-Slum-House? Well, neither do I. But now
let me tell you some things. In one big city I know, a cer-
tain slum area, where 10 percent of the population lives,
costs every man, woman and child in the city $27 apiece
each year in crime, juvenile delinquency, hospitals, fires
and family welfare services. Other areas of that same city
aren't a seventh as costly to the general population.

"The fact is that our neighborhoods are all in the red.
How did we get that way? It's easy to answer. The cities
were not planned, and where families had to live close
to their work, land was costly. Our people can't pay much
rent, so this costly land had to be crowded with cheaply
built houses. Slums grew and grew, and the older we
houses get the worse we are. When owners decide to build
better houses and charge more rent, the old families have
to clear out. My own family like thousands of others
can't possibly pay more than $20 a month rent and even
that is more than half its income. Plenty of families in
cities have no more than $500 a year. Even in that glori-
ous year of 1929 more than a fifth of the families in the
United States had less than $1000."

"So in your estimation, city coz, it's a matter of eco-

"It's just that. We're in a fix and we can't get out of
it by ourselves. You see, the way our cities grew there are
a lot of blighted areas and. . . ."

"Blighted areas, blighted areas! You should see the

blighted areas in the country. We slum-houses are scat-
tered over land so poor that it can never yield a decent
living. On the millions of acres of cut-over timberlands
our families, year after year, eke out a bare existence.
I've heard say this land is good only for forestry and
should be replanted. Well, why not? Certainly the poor
farmers can't grub a living out of it, though they never
give up trying hoping that next year will be better. Then
there are the dry areas, and rocky, unfertile hillsides,
where a farmer is licked before he starts. Overgrazing and
wind erosion have ruined much of this land the topsoil
has simply blown away. Overgrazing causes floods, too,
you know. How can you expect families on such land sub-
marginal they call it ever to make a living?

"My master is a sharecropper, and as far as I can see
he will always be a sharecropper. He roams about from
place to place, like thousands of tenant farmers, never
really getting a start. His lease is usually for only one
year and he is likely to have to move on whether he wants
to or not. What can they hope for, these sharecroppers,
many of them with as little as $200 cash income a year?
Yes, I'm still talking housing.

"Listen, city coz, about a million of us farmhouses in
this country have been dead for years, yet we drag on and
on, trying to shelter our families. You in the city have a
law that condemns you, that says when you are unfit to live
in. Then you are supposed to be torn down. But nobody
condemns me when I am worn out. Maybe my family
leaves me, but I still stand there, getting worse and worse.
When a new flock of farmers comes along as has hap-
pened these past five years, when more than a million
people left the cities for the open country we old, dead-
on-our-feet slum-houses have to go to work again. And
you know as well as I do what happens to a slum-house
when it stands vacant."

"^L7"OU win, country coz. I guess we're both bad off. But

A at least you're not bothered with dirty neighbors.
You can sit in your own yard. I and my kind not only
start diseases, but we live so close to each other that we
can't help but spread them. And another thing, our con-
demnation laws don't always work. Believe me, we go on
long years after we've been condemned."

"All right, but remember that Washington is fixing to
help you out with that big, new United States Housing
Authority. But as for me, nobody cares."

"Yes, your troubles are a little different, for you are
a part of a farming enterprise. To improve the house is
to improve the whole enterprise. Seems to me that maybe
that's what should be done. It looks as though what you
need is better land, better leasing conditions, better prices,
or maybe crop control. Who am I to say? But I do know
that this United States Housing Authority is only a start
on housing. There's a lot more to do for both of us."

"Well, what do you suggest that we do about it our-

"Country-Slum-House, I'm sure of one thing. It won't
help just to tell each other our troubles. We both must
talk louder and harder so that more people hear us. I
honestly believe that the American people care about this
business of housing and that if they knew the real story of
the fix we're in they'd do something about it. Every man,
woman and child wants a decent home, and I don't be-
lieve that many of those who have decent homes will
begrudge them to the others."



Ill The Necessary Executive


New York School of Social Work

A FEW weeks after his appointment the new
executive of a community chest proposed to his
board that during the financial campaign the
names of contributors and the amounts they con-
tributed should be published in the local newspaper.
This was contrary to precedent and the proposal met
with flat opposition. Not wanting to have a vote
against him appear on the record the executive asked that
the matter be postponed, though he held to his original
opinion that the campaign goal could not be reached with-
out publication of gifts. For six weeks, at each meeting of
the board before the campaign opened, the question of pub-
lication appeared at the end of the agenda and was brought
up just before adjournment with the executive commenting
on the experience of other cities in this regard. Week after
week it was discussed briefly and with accumulating inter-
est, but never did the executive press for a vote. Then came
a day when two of the strongest opponents to publication
were absent and it was clear that if a ballot were taken
the proposal would go through by a single vote. But again
the executive did not press the matter.

At the next meeting, the last before the campaign, the
entire board was present. The vote could be postponed no
longer. It was taken and the proposal to publish the list of
gifts was lost eight to seven. The campaign proceeded.
When it was nearly over it became apparent that it would
not reach its goal. At a special meeting of the board, called
to consider emergency measures, the executive again pro-
posed a qualified publication of gifts. The chairman asked
bluntly: "What you really want us to do is to reverse our
former decision?" "Exactly that," replied the executive,
"although it may now be too late." At this point, a mem-
ber who, from the start, had opposed publication, harangued
his colleagues. "You wouldn't call in a doctor and not take
his advice and yet here we've sent off for an expert and
then refuse to do what he tells us." The board thought it
over and then by unanimous vote agreed to publication.

The campaign immediately took a spurt with earlier
contributions increased and new ones at a higher level. At
the beginning of the next campaign season the board, with-
out any suggestion from the executive, authorized publi-
cation of gifts.

But should the board accept an experienced executive's
advice as a patient would a doctor's prescription? An ex-
ecutive once said in advising a younger associate : "Re-
member it is their town." These board members believed
that their town would react unfavorably to the publica-
tion of names and amounts. They were surprised to find

SURVEY MIDMONTHLY is indebted to Harper & Bros, as
well as to the author for the privilege of offering to its
readers a series of four articles of which this is the
third, drawn from Mr. King's book, Social Agency
Boards and How to Serve on Them, to be published
early this year. Coming next month, Community Roots.

that the only serious objections came from persons whose
gifts, through some oversight, were not published. How-
ever, since they believed that they knew their own com-
munity better than an outsider, be he ever so experienced in
other cities, it was not for the executive to manipulate them
into a "right" decision by a narrow majority. It was their
responsibility, not his.

There is no sound basis for the view, frequently held by
tender-minded folk, that the executive must "always be
right" and that, like the British prime minister, he must
resign the moment he ceases to command a majority. It
may not be good for the executive to have the board "get
into the habit of voting him down," but it would be worse
for the agency if the board felt that it never could do so.

MOST of the issues between board and executive are, if
viewed unemotionally, issues' of expediency rather than
of principle, and usually can be resolved by frank objective
discussion. However there may be issues on which the ex-
ecutive feels that his personal integrity requires him to
resign. For example, a board of public welfare directed its
commissioner to take no position before the public in ref-
erence to a bill on a controversial subject pending in the
state legislature. The board believed that the community
was so divided emotionally on the subject, that if the com-
missioner spoke for the bill it would seriously affect the
prestige of the department with a large section of the pub-
lic. They also feared the assumption that the commissioner
represented the position of the board, whereas a majority
of its members were opposed to the bill. Believing firmly
that the bill should pass and feeling that his freedom of
speech as a citizen was being curtailed unreasonably, the
commissioner resigned in order to be free to campaign for
the measure. In such a situation it should be possible for
both board and executive to disagree frankly without sev-
ering relations, for the board to take a stand against the
measure if it so wished and for the executive to state pub-
licly that he favored the measure while his board opposed it.

There is one situation, not uncommon, in which a vote
overruling the executive is generally taken as tantamount
to dismissal. This is when a member of the staff, dismissed
by the executive, appeals to the board and is reinstated.
The best authorities agree that good organization proced-
ure should provide for such an appeal, but in most in-
stances a board vote to reinstate the discharged employe
would be equivalent to repudiation of the judgment and
authority of the executive. This does not always follow in
a large organization where the executive must act on the
information of others, and where the reinstated employe
may be transferred to quite different and happier relation-
ships within the same agency. But in a small organization
with close day-to-day staff contacts, the emotional strain
between the executive and the reinstated employe would
probably be too great to permit proper working relation-

The choice of a qualified executive is probably the most



difficult task any board can be called upon to face. The
qualities which an ideal executive should possess, if he is
to be an administrator in the largest sense of the term and
a \\i-t- leader of both staff and board, are so various that
seldom will they all be found in one human being. A com-
mittee of social work executives attempted to list the quali-
ties which any executive should possess. After weeks of
deliberation an incomplete list stood as follows:

Ability to interpret the work to the public

Ability to inspire, stimulate and build the morale of his staff

Special knowledge of at least one phase of the office work
(perhaps public relations)

Social-mindedness, i.e. awareness of the major objectives
of social work

Self-confidence, coupled with humble-mindedness in the
areas in which he lacks competence

Capacity and enthusiasm for mental growth

Capacity for group leadership

Ability to take decisive action, to get things done; prac-

Initiative and originality

Ability to accept criticism profitably


Stability and constancy, i.e. possessing "iron"; not vacillat-
ing, but not unyielding because feeling insecure

Keen appreciation of the value of skilled social work

Objectivity, fairness, lack of prejudice, ability to inspire con-

Ability to delegate work

Pleasing manner, charm, ability to verbalize, easy facility
in meeting people, liking for people

Ability to write clearly and fluently

Good emotional adjustment

At this point the committee abandoned the attempt as
absurd, agreeing that they really were "writing specifica-
tions for an archangel."

The experience of many boards shows rather clearly
defined approaches to the business of choosing an execu-
tive. A board will know that it can't get everything and
it will weigh the qualities which are indispensable to pro-
mote the particular work at the particular time and seek
the man who embodies them. For example, a board re-
cently organized to establish a new training school for the
mentally handicapped in a state which had been slow to
provide such care, decided that its ideal executive should
be first of all an experienced educator, a capable psychi-
atrist and an expert in public relations. Other qualifications
were rated as subordinate to these three. But combing the
country, the board could find no one man equipped in all
three of these capacities. Believing that at the start of the

enterprise interpretation to state officials and legislators
was of preeminent importance, it chose an educator with
peculiar ability in public relations in preference to an out-
standing psychiatrist who lacked that ability. Having rec-
ognized that no one man has everything it takes to direct
a large organization, the board will then try to comple-
ment him with carefully chosen associates so that in the
end, direction will be by a team with one supplying what
another lacks.

Having chosen the executive, the board has delicate prob-
lems of responsibility. It must be ready to delegate broad
responsibility for executive action and avoid "meddling"

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 5 of 109)