Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts.

Woman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers online

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knows where to begin. This is a work to which the religious
orders especially devote themselves, and it is impossible
within the limits of this paper even to mention all.

For instance, the poor schools of the Sisters of Mercy, Saint
Marie of the Isles, Cork, accommodate one thousand children,
and they have usually seventy children in their orphanage.
This work is repeated again and again throughout the re-
ligious houses of women. A remarkable training school is
that of the Sisters of Charity at Stanhope Street, Dublin,
which is devoted to the children of respectable parents, or
orphans whose guardians wish to have them trained to
industry. Having trained their girls, the sisters start them
in life by procuring good situations for them as servants,
teachers, nursery governesses. A large proportion are sent
to noble families in France, as English-speaking maids.
In the institution at present are one hundred and thirty
children, no Government aid being given. A National School,
attended by six hundred children, is in the grounds of the con-
vent, and taught by the sisters, who also visit four parochial
schools in the neighbourhood, and give instruction privately in
the evenings to classes from without the walls. The sisters
also visit the convict and county prison as well as two hospitals.
An office for servants is attached to this institution.

The training of the female blind is another work of the
Sisters of Charity, carried on at Merrion, near Dublin. One
hundred and sixty blind inmates, from mites of three years
to grandmothers of eighty, receive the constant care of the
sisters, and form a large and happy household. They are
taught all that it is possible to teach the blind, and their
tasks are so pleasantly mingled with recreation and amuse-
ment that, having spent some time among them, one is
inclined to wonder if blindness be a great affliction under
such circumstances. There is an air of refinement and a
gentle mirth about them all, especially remarkable in the
little children. These small creatures receive the visitor with
a tender confidence which shows how they are accustomed
to caresses, and come waving their little arms towards one,
with that peculiar and piteous movement of a sightless child,
asking with their soft and musical voices for permission to

236 Woman's Mission.

"see" the stranger. The music cultivated by the blind
women and girls is delightful. Several harps and pianos
stand at the end of a great hall, with the aid of which really
fine musical entertainments are given. All who have voices
sing over their knitting and sewing, others tell stories or
recite poetry in the intervals of lively conversation. There
remains on my memory one pathetic face, a blind face at the
organ in the chapel. A girl was there, solitary, practising
sacred music ; she could not see us come in, and thought
herself alone. It was a grey face, with no beauty but the
expression, which told how the soul in darkness was thrilled
and comforted by the solemn strains evoked by her hands.
Another sight to remember was that of three blind women
walking quickly, arm in arm, with their heads bent down
walking in the dark along a path in the light Their peculiar
swift movement of three as one, gave them the look of being
driven along by a wind. These sightless scholars are taught
reading and writing in the Braille characters, history, grammar,
geography, type-writing, needlework ; and music, vocal and
of many instruments. Under the same roof the sisters have
an industrial school, a training school for girls from sixteen
to eighteen years old, a hand-sewing industry where exquisite
underclothing for ladies is made up ; in all a family of four
hundred souls. The Sisters of Charity also maintain, near
Cork, a similar institution for the blind.

Attached to the Cork Workhouse a training school was
opened some eight years ago by a committee of ladies of all
denominations, who united in an effort to rescue girls of
sixteen from the evils threatening them on their removal
from that part of the workhouse known as the schools. On
being drafted into the body of the house, the girls met with
bad companions, who enticed them out into the city to their
ruin. At the best they were ignorant of everything useful,
and totally unable to find employment. The ladies, having
gained from the guardians an extension of time in school
for the girls, instituted classes to instruct them in house-
work, cookery, etc. A separate ward and a matron have
been provided, and already over a hundred girls are enabled
to earn livelihoods in situations outside the " house," instead
of, at the best, remaining there a burthen on the ratepayers.

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 237

It is cheering to learn that some of the girls so assisted have
now got money saved and in bank.

Among orphanages the most original and extended is
that of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, of Glasnevin, Dublin,
whose system is founded on fosterage, and who place the
children they undertake to provide for, not en masse in a
great building or "home," but out in the open country in
the cottages of the peasantry, one here and one there, all
enjoying the individual love and care which are the in-
heritance of poor children in Ireland possessed of father and
mother, no matter how mean the dwelling or how frugal the
living of the family. The sisters have the nurslings under
their personal observation, visiting them frequently and
unexpectedly, and thus assuring themselves of their condition
and treatment. The children, with their foster-brothers and
sisters, attend the nearest schools, and the foster-mother
receives in addition to an annual stipend a reward of ten
shillings when the child can say his prayers. A further
prize is given when he is able to read. The plan works
perfectly, the Irish peasant being particularly fitted for such
a trust. It often occurs that the orphans, when grown up,
are regarded by the foster father and mother as their own
children ; in some cases remaining for the comfort and
support of the old people when they have been deprived of
sons and daughters by death or the exigencies of life. This
orphanage has been designed for the poorest poor, and up
to the present has rescued 2108 children from destitution.
Of these, 1873 have been provided for; among whom 507
have been finally adopted by the foster parents, and have
become members of respectable Irish peasant families. Two
hundred and thirty-five boys and girls are at present in the
orphanage. Connected with the orphanage are poor-schools,
in Dublin, by means of which twenty thousand children, saved
from poverty, ignorance, and the danger of vice, are now,
to the extent of ninety per cent, respectable men and women
earning independent livelihoods. The schools and orphanage
were founded some years ago by the late Margaret Aylward.

Orphanages carried on by women individually, include
Mrs. Smyly's Birds' Nest, in connection with which are schools,
and homes for boys and girls in Kingstown and Dublin ; and

238 Woman's Mission.

the Sacred Heart Home for girls and boys at Drumcondra,
Dublin, which is maintained by the exertions of ladies.

The home for aged men and women, supported by the
Little Sisters of the Poor in Dublin, must not be forgotten.
These devoted sisters feed their household on the meat and
bread which they beg from door to door, making tea from
the tea-leaves saved for them in hotels and large houses. A
visit to their kitchen will show what appetizing soups and
mince can be made of materials thus obtained. Even bread
is so neatly cut in small dice that it looks as if fresh from
the baker's tray. Having thus with astonishing economy
utilized, literally, the crumbs that fall from the rich man's
table, the Little Sisters first serve the table of their poor
clients, and afterwards, with what remains, set forth their own.
Here, the old women can enjoy their cups of tea, and the old
men their pipes comforts ignored by the workhouse system.

Among other homes and asylums supported by women,
is the Magdalen Asylum at High Park, near Dublin, where
the Sisters of the Good Shepherd devote their lives to the
care of poor fallen girls and women, instructing them, employ-
ing them in laundry-work, and encouraging them to lead
useful and virtuous lives in this industrial retreat. A similar
asylum at Donnybrook, near Dublin, is supported by the
Sisters of Charity. Another admirable work of this kind is
the Londonderry and North West of Ireland Home for
Women, under the protection of Mrs. Alexander, wife of the
Bishop of Derry, where twenty-one poor fallen women and
girls are sheltered and employed, and assisted to emigrate
or obtain a means of livelihood.

Mention should be made of the vast amount of good done
in Ireland by women of all denominations, in the nursing and
visitation of the sick and poor by means of societies and
sodalities in connection with the various churches, assistance
in clothing and money being given according to available
resources. The Ladies' Sanitary Association in Dublin
undertakes to interest poor women in keeping their homes
clean and neat, and to help them in this difficult matter by
procuring soap and other necessaries for them at a very low
price. Miss Reeves, who has been for years active in this
excellent work, has stated at a meeting of ladies that her

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 239

experience led her to wonder how the people can be so clean
as they are, rather than to condemn them for indifference
to cleanliness. Considering that soap costs money where
children are hungry, and remembering the labour of carrying
water in pailfuls to rooms in the top of wretched tenement
houses, we must forbear from unkind criticism of the habits
of the poor. The women who hang their clothes to dry
on poles out of high windows, or lie down with their families
to sleep at night in the steam of garments drying around
them, have far more patience and resolution than we should
have under the same circumstances. " I have known a poor
woman," said Miss Reeves, "who would spend the hours
allotted for sleep, furtively drying her washing of clothes in
a yard where she was a trespasser, making use of lines which
were occupied by the owner of the place from early morning
until late into the night."

The work of women in hospitals is too large a subject to
be satisfactorily treated in a short paper. There are, how-
ever, three hospitals in Dublin which owe their existence
entirely to women, and are carried on by their exertions.
One, known as the Mater Misericordiae, has been founded, and
is managed, and tended by the Sisters of Mercy, who support
it altogether by voluntary contributions. It is by far the
largest general hospital in Dublin, containing 323 beds.
In 1866 it was mentioned by Dr. Bristowe, in his report
to Government on the hospitals of the United Kingdom,
as "promising to be one of the finest hospitals in Europe."
This promise has already been fulfilled. The hospital is of
great size, and built on the corridor plan. The report of the
Dublin Hospitals Commission of 1887 states: "As regards
site, extent, and architectural design, it has no rival." During
the cholera of 1886, the hospital was open for patients at all
hours, and the Sisters of Mercy were the only nurses. During
the two epidemics of small-pox, over 1200 cases were treated.
In 1891, 3512 patients were admitted, and the mortality was
very small. Extensive dispensaries in connection with the
hospital are open every day, and a large training-school for
nurses has recently been established. The sick poor are
admitted without distinction of creed, and clergymen of all
denominations have free access to their co-religionists. The

240 Woman s Mission.

Sisters of Mercy take nothing whatever for their own main-
tenance and services from the funds of the establishment, so
that all contributions are applied entirely for the support of
the patients. The addition of a special fever wing to the
hospital is in contemplation.

On the same plan, but of smaller proportions, is St.
Vincent's Hospital in St. Stephen's Green, founded and
tended by the Sisters of Charity.

The Children's Hospital in Upper Temple Street, Dublin,
is also in the care of the Sisters of Charity, but was instituted
by the late Mrs. Ellen Woodlock. For some years Mrs.
Woodlock carried it on with the assistance of a band of
young ladies, who visited and assisted in nursing the children.
A brigade of little boys and girls who saved their pocket-
money for the charity, and interested themselves in the
patients, formed a special feature of the work under her
management. The hospital has cured and sent forth every
year since its opening a large number of children who were
carried in maimed and diseased, and many who lay in the
little beds with crooked limbs and twisted feet are now
strong men and women, taking an active part in the world.
Mrs. Woodlock was a true philanthropist, and in the early
days of our poor laws did a noble work in taking poor girls
out of the union schools and placing them in positions to
acquire independence. Together with Mrs. Sarah Atkinson,
she with great difficulty effected an opening for lady visitors
into the dismal interior of the South Dublin Union Work-
house. Here they devoted their attention chiefly to a
number of young women, who had been born in the house,
and, in the absence of training and human sympathy,
had grown up so wild and unruly that sometimes they
could only be controlled by force and the punishment of
solitary confinement. These apparently intractable young
women were first softened by affectionate personal kindness
and religious influence, and then placed by Mrs. Woodlock
and Mrs. Atkinson in an industrial school and home which
the ladies had established. There the girls eventually
developed into clever and industrious persons, many of whom
are now worthily filling posts of trust in different quarters
of the globe. This was before the day of Government grants,

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 241

and after struggling for some years to maintain its position
the good work was reluctantly relinquished for want of
financial support.

An admirable undertaking was initiated in 1892, in
Londonderry, by Mrs. Ward Poole, representative of the
British Women's Temperance Association. The ladies of
this society interest themselves in the women of the working
class, whom they influence to take and keep a pledge
against inebriating drinks. Weekly or fortnightly meetings
in cottages are held in different parts of the town. The
society is happy in its choice of a secretary, Miss Thompson,
who devotes herself to the work and has gained the sympathy
of the people. This is an enterprise well suited to women
of benevolence and refinement, who by personal sympathy
may save their poor sisters from the sin and degradation of
intemperance. Individual efforts have here and there been
made with very fortunate results, and it is a pity that the
work is not undertaken all over the country by women,
single-handed, or in groups of even two and three. The
village of Ardmore, County Waterford, has undergone a
remarkable change through the efforts of Mrs. Barry, who a
few years ago succeeded in enlisting the fishermen of the
neighbourhood in a local temperance-league. Above the
reefs of steep rock overhanging the green ocean, and forming
a small creek where the boats go out and come in, stands the
modest Temperance-hall, of cottage form, where the men
read the newspapers and drink hot coffee in preference to,
alcoholic stimulants. The story of Mrs. Barry's work is a
very simple one. Inspired by the ideal beauty of the place^
and the interesting character of the people, she desired to do
good, and began by getting possession of a large barn where
she provided newspapers and a fire, and where she herself
sat with the fishermen in the evenings, chatting with them
over their affairs and the news of the day. The result is the
extraordinary temperance of Ardmore.

The good work known as the penny dinners is prosper-
ing in Dublin and Cork, under the care of ladies of every
denomination. Four establishments at work in Dublin, are
gratefully frequented by the classes for which they were
designed. The dining-rooms are situated in lanes, in popu-


2 4 2 Woman s Mission.

lous neighbourhoods, and are generally the back premises
of a large house altered and fitted to their present require-
ments. Each consists of a kitchen with bright kettles and
caldrons, presided over by a man and his wife who live on
the spot, and an eating-room with benches and tables, white
walls decorated with pictures, and neatly sanded floor. The
dinners are attended by the ladies as waitresses, and the
food is varied according to the days of the week. Irish stew
and bread, soups with meat and bread, bacon and cabbage
and potatoes, fish and potatoes, pea-soup and bread, succeed
each other in rotation. Coffee with bread and marmalade
can be had for an extra halfpenny. The hours are from
twelve till four o'clock, and persons wishing to take home
the dinners can do so. The pennies paid for dinners
cover the price of food, assisted by presents of provisions
from well-wishers and the generosity of trades-people. A
sum of .50 a year must be found by the promoters for
rent, for the wages of man and wife who act as cooks, care-
takers, and general working managers on the premises, for
fuel, and other incidental expenses. In some places the
dinners are given only during a certain season, because in
summer there is a migration to country parts of the wander-
ing poor hurdy-gurdy players, basket-hawkers, ballad-singers,
whose avocations lead them away from the city, by green
roads and dusty highways, in search of " fresh woods and
pastures new " as the scenes of their labours. At Verschoyle
Court, Dublin, the doors are never closed, winter or summer,
and the attendance is steady by day and by month, though
the place is very seldom overcrowded. " We have our regular
customers," says the nice young woman who presides over
the caldrons, as she takes up a ladleful of savoury stew.
" That old gentleman," she adds, " is as regular as the clock."
The old gentleman in question is a superannuated butler,
who, having fallen upon old age and bad health, is glad to
find here something resembling the comfortable meal to
which he had been once accustomed. He looks pale and
half-starved, for even a penny dinner a day is not sumptuous
faring ; but his shabby black clothing and spotless neckcloth
are as carefully put on as though he had prepared to serve
behind his master's chair at a far different dinner-table than

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 243

this. At another table are two labourers of the order who
stand all the day idle because no man has hired them, and,
from their hungry and crestfallen air, one feels afraid that it
would take much more than the proffered pennyworth of
dinner to satisfy their patient unsatisfiedness. Near them is
a group of newspaper-sellers and lads in search of work. At
Gloucester Street the latter class is most largely represented ;
and whereas there are shoes, however broken, at Verschoyle
Court, there are few to be seen at Hill Street or Loftus Lane.
At Kevin Street the premises and attendance are largest.
The poor are perhaps at their poorest in Loftus Lane. Ex-
cellent order is kept, however, and general good humour
prevails, though too much hilarity is not encouraged by the
managers. The little fish-selling girls and newspaper boys,
well acquainted with each other out-of-doors, meet frequently
at the penny-dinner table, and their experience of life, their
knowledge of race-courses and all kind of open-air meetings,
their good luck and bad luck, their amusements, pains, and
inconveniences, are all poured out freely to the stranger who
is sympathetic enough to replenish their empty coffee-cans
without waiting to be invited. One bright lad of fifteen
confides his anxiety to give up newspaper-selling and get
regular work. " I could get work," he explains, " if I had
any one to give me a character." He seems to think, poor
boy, that one could give him a character as easily as a piece
of bread and jam. The cry heard everywhere among these
half-starved creatures is a cry for work ; and how, in this hard
world, are they all to find an answer to it?

Another very noble and interesting branch of women's
philanthropic work, and one well represented in Ireland,
is that which deals with the moral, social, and spiritual welfare
of girls, and of young women who are already able to take
a part in the world, and whose lives are brightened and
fortunes influenced by the sisterly and motherly care and
sympathy of women whom Providence has placed in a
higher position. Of such is the Girls' Friendly Society,
founded by the Dowager Countess of Meath, for "girls of
all stations." The objects are "the spiritual, moral, and
social elevation of women, by enrolling them together in
a society which gives noble aims, and which excites and

244 Woman s Mission.

satisfies their enthusiasm, and provides them with friends,
who, in difficult and trying positions, may help them to stand
firm and true to the baptismal promises made for them, to-
be Christ's faithful soldiers and servants to their life's end."
The intentions are : I. To bind together in one society
ladies as associates, and girls and young women as members,
for mutual help (religious and secular), for sympathy and
prayer. 2. To encourage purity of life, dutifulness to parents,
faithfulness to employers, temperance and thrift. 3. To pro-
vide the privileges of the society for its members, wherever they
may be, by giving them an introduction from one branch to
another. The useful works of this society are : obtaining situa-
tions for servants ; taking care of emigrants, a home being
provided for the latter at Derry ; lodges and recreation-rooms
where young women in business can live moderately and
where evening classes are held ; and an attempt is made to
provide wholesome literature. Of late a department for the
deaf and dumb has been opened. The society numbers
9862 members, and, including candidates and helpers,
reckons 14,613 souls who are working for the society in
Ireland. Writing from the branch in Derry, Miss Alexander
says, " The society does not go down into the deep tragedies
of life, or rise to any heights of imagination and sentiment ;
it is intended for the even and sometimes uninteresting high-
road of the commonplace. As the member toils along every
day she is provided with a friend to sustain her when she
is weary, to encourage her when she stumbles, to help her
to gather what flowers she may by the roadside, and to warn
her not to stray to the right hand or to the left into pleasant
fields or alluring shades."

Very like the above society is the Young Women's
Christian Association, in the diocese of Derry and Raphoe
numbering five hundred and ten members.

The sodalities of the "Children of Mary" attached to
every church and convent of the religious orders in Ireland
have in many particulars the same aims and objects as the
societies just described. The members are assisted by each
other, those of better station helping their lowlier sisters to
lead lives higher and holier than ordinary, and all sharing,
in prayers and pious practices prescribed by the rules.

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 245

Circulating libraries are attached to the meeting-places of
these sodalities, and ladies strive to procure for the readers
a supply of wholesome and pleasant as well as solid and
edifying literature, which they may take to their homes,
usually for the subscription of one halfpenny per week. Even
apart from religious influences, there is no doubt such asso-
ciations work incalculable good. Many young women, toiling
from year to year in shops and warehouses, lead lives of
piety and mental refinement, encouraged by intercourse with
educated and high-minded ladies who are interested in their
daily trials. On the other hand, the ladies often gain much
by the example of patience and fortitude unconsciously put
before them by these humbler sisters who look up to them.

There is a class of good work by women which may be
called pleasant help, not concerned with either industrial
effort or the administration of actual charity, but which is a
great sweetener of life to the struggling and labouring poor.
Of this class is the Gardening Society of Culmore, started
sixteen years ago by Mrs. Stack, wife of the then rector.

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 23 of 49)