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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The gardening is done in the cottages rather than outside,
as, we are told, not more than one in three of the cottages
possesses a garden, though the inmates all desire one. The
cottagers are encouraged to neatness within their homes, and
the culture of flowers, for which they receive prizes. A show
held once a year, in July, is the occasion of much pleasure.
The society gives prizes for flowers, neat houses, sewing, knit-
ting, butter-making, all sorts of women's work ; while the
boys compete in mat-weaving, basket-making, boat-modelling.

Another pleasant help is the Girls' Evening Home, London-
derry, where over a hundred girls, employed in factories or
elsewhere, meet to spend their evenings in the company of
one or more of the ladies interested in the work. With music,
games, needlework, and instruction in reading and writing, if
desired, the evenings are made delightful after the mono-
tonous work of the day. A library and temperance society
are attached to the association. There is an annual " tea,"
and occasional instructive and interesting " talks " are given
by outside friends.

Other such helps are the Turkish Bath and Home for
patients of the poorer classes at St. Ann's Hill, County Cork,

246 Womaris Mission.

and the Refreshment Rooms started at Athboy and Enfield by
Mrs. Penrose and Miss Fowler, where on fair days they attend
personally and serve out cold meat, tea, and coffee at eight-
pence a head, or fourpence for a large sandwich, to farmers
who have come a long distance before breakfast. This is an
excellent idea, for under such circumstances it is very difficult
for the farmers to get proper food, strong drink being usually
the only substitute.

In other parts of the County Meath, ladies are equally
helpful. Mrs. Brownlow is interested in the stone-cutters
in a quarry near her, and cultivates artistic ideas among
them, by procuring patterns and designs for their work.
Lady Adelaide Taylour has two classes for wood-carving,
while Mrs. Roth well and other ladies manage a county store,
where the poor may procure good provisions at a cheaper
rate than in the shops.

An industrial exhibition is to be held in Kells, in 1893,
to encourage work, for amusement as well as profit, in
the cottagers' winter evenings. In Cork, a flower-mission
brightens the lot of the inmates of the hospitals and
asylums, and a " creche " assists poor mothers who, being
obliged to go out to work, are glad to pay a penny a day for
the care of each child in their absence. In Cork, also, 1500
women of the League of the Cross are visited in the lanes
each week, by sixty ladies, who take an interest in their
welfare, and assist them to improve in the matter of order
and cleanliness in their homes.

In conclusion, I will say a few words of a charity origi-
nated by a woman, and carried on in truly heroic spirit by
the Sisters of Charity at Harold's Cross, Dublin. It is not
a hospital, for no one comes here expecting to be cured, nor
is it a home for incurables, as the patients do not look
forward to spending years in the place. It is simply a
" hospice," where those are received who have very soon to
die, and who know not where to lay their weary heads. The
low, red-tiled passages and corridors of the old house have
suggestions under their broad-beamed roof, quite unlike Mr.
Henley's abode of suffering

" Cold, naked, clean, half-workhouse and half-jail."

Philanthropic Work in Ireland. 247

Walking through the pleasantly coloured wards and
rooms, one cannot but think that any creature might desire
the boon of dying here ; but the Irish poor, whose spiritual
yearnings are so intense, and who are in this place surrounded
by religious consolations, find in it a foretaste of heaven. " I
had been," says a visitor to the hospice, " for some minutes
kneeling in the beautiful mortuary chapel, where fresh
flowers are always blooming, before I perceived two figures
extended on marble rests on either side of the altar, as the
effigies lie that have lain so for centuries. Yet no sculpture
ever possessed the beauty and sweetness of the figures I here
saw : a man in the full maturity of youth, with dark hair and
brown beard and handsome stately features ; a little girl,
whose deep-fringed eyelids were closed over eyes that shone
blue through the covering. Both had the same ineffable
smile on their features, the look of having learned the secret
of happiness, and of knowing themselves safe with God." A
charity which concerns itself with the dying appeals almost
more than any other to the naked human heart the heart
of man stripped of all its conventional surroundings, and
surprised behind all its barricades. Living poverty and
suffering may be kept out of sight, but death comes to all,
and no one can feel sure of what his circumstances and
needs will be in his own supreme hour. Sympathy that
springs from a touch of nature that makes the whole world
kin is shown by the gifts that drop in to help this completely
foundationless, and, in one sense, unprovided charity, which
looks for its manna direct from the heavens. Bequests from
those who, in the straits of their own soul's passage, re-
member this pathetic labour of the Sisters of Charity, help
occasionally, like the back-reaching of friendly hands ; and
the poor themselves often contribute a mite to the work,
feeling that should destitution overtake them in the end,
they may yet hope to lie in the Nuns' Chapel before the
earth receives them ; ere Nature begins to weave her veils
of grass and dew over the weary heart's indisturbable

248 Woman's Mission.



IN writing of the work of women as Guardians of. the Poor,
I have not tried to cover the whole ground of the poor law.
I do not speak of large reforms now being generally dis-
cussed, neither do I limit myself to the average working of
the present law without the leaven of new ideas. But I
propose to speak especially of those parts of poor law
administration where the work of women as guardians has
already made itself distinctly felt. Under some headings
I tell of improvements that have passed beyond the stage
of experiment, but have not yet come into common practice.
Every year sees a wider adoption of improvements formerly
considered beyond the scope of the poor law, and a generally
awakened interest in these subjects will doubtless give many
a wholesome spur to the movements of Boards of Guardians.
If the whole story were told, it would be seen that quite
a revolution has been effected in workhouse management
since Miss Twining's first visit to a London workhouse in
February, 1853, when her proposal to arrange systematic
visiting by ladies was treated as a dangerous intrusion by
Boards of Guardians and by the Central Poor-law Board
alike. It is by a happy coincidence that just forty years
after that first visit, a general order has been sent by the
Local Government Board to all Boards of Guardians,
authorizing them to appoint ladies, whether members of
the Board of Guardians or not, whose duty it shall be to
visit and examine the parts of the workhouse in which
women or children are maintained, and to report any matters

Women as Guardians of the Poor. 249

that may appear to them as requiring the attention of the
guardians. During the forty years many Boards of Guardians
have sanctioned visiting committees of ladies, although on
many others the old official jealousy has continued to dis-
courage and hinder their work. It will be found an advantage
to have it placed on a firm and recognized footing everywhere,
though it would be no less than a disaster if the good were
to become the enemy of the best, and to hinder the election
of women as guardians. That such an effect was contem-
plated in the order, no one will believe who remembers the
words lately spoken by the President of the Local Govern-
ment Board, the Right Hon. H. H. Fowler, M.P., when he
said that he considered the constitution of any Board of
Guardians defective that did not contain at least one woman
among its members.

Another order has been received at the same time, "em-
powering individual guardians to visit and examine any
part of any workhouse of the union or parish of which he
is a guardian.". This order could not be better explained
than by quoting from an article by Miss Twining, written
in June, 1888. "It has been a matter of astonishment to
many to discover, when elected, that they are not free to
enter the buildings at any time, under any circumstances.
Where a good understanding exists between the officials and
the guardians, to whom they look for direction, such permis-
sion and freedom will no doubt always be granted ; but it is
evident that precisely in those cases where inspection is most
needed, there it would be resented, and probably refused, as
we have known to be the case." This anomaly is now re-
moved. Every true guardian, and every inmate will welcome
the change, and no faithful officer will be afraid of daylight.

The great drink question may appear to have been
avoided. It really underlies the whole subject, causing
directly and indirectly at least seventy-five per cent, of the
pauperism of the country. To speak of it adequately would
take a paper to itself. No guardian could reflect steadily on
the increasing number of lunatics, imbeciles, idiots, epileptics,
feeble-minded, of men and women incapable of continued
exertion, not to mention the strong and hardworking whose
wages are squandered as soon as earned no woman, at least,

-5 Woman's Mission.

could reckon up all that she knows as a guardian, and then
write of it without exposing herself to the charge of in-
temperate temperance.

In the year 1832 a Royal Commission was appointed to
inquire into the working of the old poor law, and the con-
dition of the people affected by it. The report of the Com-
missioners, a work of deep interest, was published in 1834,
and a great reform of the law was then made. It was worked
at first experimentally, under the supervision of the Commis-
sioners, who remained in office until 1847, when they collected
in a general consolidated order the most important of the
general regulations which they had issued. "The General
Order of July 24th, 1847, which for the most part is still in
force, embraces the whole field of the poor-law, and is, next
to the Act of 1834, the foundation of the present system." *

There is now one central authority, the Local Government
Board, which is for some purposes supreme over Boards of
Guardians all over the country. The Local Government
Board's consent has to be obtained for the construction of
new buildings, the appointment of officers, for alterations in
salaries, and for alterations in diet There is a uniform system
of accounts, which are audited by auditors from the Local
Government Board. At first sight it would appear that, with
so much interference by a central authority, there was little
left for Boards of Guardians to do. As a matter of fact, the
improvements of administration that follow on the election of
an improved Board are so great that it might be supposed
that a change had taken place in the law itself. The central
control, while not strong enough to ensure good working, yet
certainly prevents many abuses, and guarantees a certain
average of fair administration.

In the report of the Poor Law Commissioners for 1834, a
long and dreary story of every vagary of waste and demorali-
zation into which human stupidity could wander, there is one
bright page, which records the labours of a voluntary com-
mittee of ladies appointed by the Gravesend Board of Guar-
dians to reform and superintend the management of their
workhouse. The success of this piece of work did not suggest,

* " English Poor-law System." Aschrott and Preston-Thomas.

Women as Guardians of the Poor. 251

as it might, the desirability of electing women to the Board
of Guardians. It was not until women had been elected
on School Boards, in 1870, that any woman was nominated
as guardian of the poor. The first was Miss Merington,
elected for Kensington in 1875. The movement to promote
the election of women has grown steadily from that time to
this, and there are now one hundred and thirty-five, a mere
handful compared with the number of men elected, but quite
enough to show what may be expected. There are also five
women on the Metropolitan Asylums Board, a Board com-
posed for the most part of representative members elected
from the Metropolitan Boards of Guardians.

The work of guardians divides itself broadly into the
administration of outdoor and indoor relief, including the
care of the sick and aged and of children, and the treatment
of the able-bodied, in the infirmary, the schools, and the
workhouse belonging to the parish or union.

It is the business of the relieving officer to satisfy himself
first that an applicant for relief is in real need ; and if the
need is urgent, he must give food immediately. He must
also make sure that the applicant has a claim on the parish
where he applies, and must find, if possible, the children,
parents, or grandparents, who may be called upon for main-
tenance. Similar inquiries must be made in the case of a
deserted wife. Where such maintenance is wilfully refused
or neglected, the guardians take legal proceedings to obtain
it. In the mean time they charge themselves with the care of
the destitute person. They may not, as a rule, give outdoor
relief to able-bodied men or women. Relief given to them,
except in special emergencies, is given in the workhouse.
As to aged and infirm people, and the children of widows,
considerable discretion is allowed whether to give weekly
allowances or indoor relief in the workhouse, the infirmary,
or the schools.

The workhouse may be called the receiving house. There
the inmates are classified and separated according to their
sex, age, state of health, and, to a certain extent, according
to character. It is the duty of the master or matron to find
suitable employment for every one at all able to work.
People of industrious habits, even bed-ridden women, gladly

252 Woman s Mission.

perform their tasks, as they say "it helps to pass the time
away." The idle and vicious are given the most laborious
work, except when the medical officer certifies that they are
unable to do it. In metropolitan parishes, lunatics, idiots, and
most imbeciles, are sent away to asylums. In the country,
harmless lunatics and idiots are still kept in the workhouse.
The acute sick in large towns are generally sent to a separate
infirmary, where they receive medical care and skilled nursing.
Children are not permanently kept in the workhouses in
London or in the great towns, but are detained only until
they can be certified as thoroughly clean and in good health.
Of course their parents, if they have any, may cease to be
chargeable to the rates, and they will then remove the
children. But those in the hands of the guardians will be
sent away to separate schools the children of Protestants
to the parish or district schools, and the children of Roman
Catholics to schools managed under the educational autho-
rities of their own church. In country parishes children are
kept in the workhouse, but are generally sent to the nearest
elementary school, like other children. Orphans and deserted
children, over two years and under ten years of age, are by
some guardians boarded out in the families of independent
working people in the country, under the supervision of local
boarding-out committees, and under the general control of
the Local Government Board.

From this short description of the classes of people dealt
with by the guardians, it must be evident that there is plenty
of scope for the special work of women. Before women were
elected as guardians, many alleviations were brought within
reach of the aged and infirm through the visits of ladies, who
would lend them books, read to them or talk with them, and
care for their comforts as far as they could while observing
the discipline of the workhouse. This kind of visiting has
been well described in a report by Mrs. Rose on " Lady
Visitors to Workhouses," and it goes on to the present time.
Other visitors turned their attention to the young women and
girls in the workhouse, and by charitable effort encouraged
and enabled those who were well disposed to start out again
into the world, and to maintain themselves by honest work.
In the course of their visiting they must often have wished

Women as Guardians of the Poor. 253

for improved Boards of Guardians, and they greatly helped
forward the movement for electing women when once it had

But one most important advance in workhouse man-
agement was made ten years before the first woman was
elected. For I must not fail to speak of the work of Agnes
Jones, begun in 1865, as superintendent of the Brownlow Hill
Workhouse Infirmary, Liverpool. Formerly the nursing
there, as elsewhere, was done by pauper inmates. Mr. W.
Rathbone proposed to substitute trained paid nurses for these
worse than useless women, and undertook to bear all the
expense connected with the experiment for three years, by
which time he believed the success of the scheme would have
recommended it to the Board of Guardians, and it would be
adopted as the permanent system. Agnes Jones, a thoroughly
trained and disciplined nurse, entered upon her duties in the
spring of 1865. A party of twelve Nightingale nurses and
seven probationers very soon joined her, and the work began
in earnest of bringing order, light, and hope into that great
house of misery, containing more than a thousand sick and
infirm persons, beside the usual varieties of able-bodied
inmates and children. At the end of two years the experiment
was declared so completely successful that the Board of
Guardians determined to adopt the system as a permanent
one. Before the three years were ended, in February, 1868,
Agnes Jones succumbed to an attack of fever, worn out by
her long-continued anxious effort. To quote the words of
Miss Florence Nightingale, " She lived the life and died the
death of the saints and martyrs ; though the greatest sinner
would not have been more surprised than she to have heard
this said of herself. In less than three years she had reduced
one of the most disorderly hospital populations in the world
to something like Christian discipline, such as the police
themselves wondered at. She had led, so as to be of one
mind and heart with her, upwards of fifty nurses and proba-
tioners ; of whom the faithful few she took with her of our
trained nurses were but a seed. She had converted a vestry
to the conviction of the economy as well as the humanity of
nursing pauper sick by trained nurses, the first instance of the
kind in England. But indeed the superstition seems now to

254 Woman s Mission.

be exploding, that to neglect sick paupers is the way to keep
down pauperism."

The Brownlow Hill Infirmary is now a kind of training-
school for nurses, who go from thence to nurse in many
of the infirmaries of the north of England. Many more of
our large parish infirmaries have of late years been brought
up to the level of hospitals for all ordinary illness. In the
mean time the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Association has
been quietly at work for the last thirteen years, training and
sending out nurses of proved character to infirmaries all over
the country. They supply the nursing staffs to two in-
firmaries in London and to eight in various country unions.
There are now 116 of their nurses at work in fifty-two
workhouse infirmaries. These numbers certainly are small,
and it is to be hoped that they may greatly increase; but
wherever an organized society trains a band of good
workers it also raises the standard of work all round
them. In answer to an application, the Local Government
Board stated not long ago that they were prepared to
sanction without further inquiry the appointment of nurses
recommended by the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Asso-

As to parish infirmaries generally, the Local Government
Board Report for 1892 says, "We are glad to be able to state
that the character of the arrangements for the nursing of the
sick poor in workhouses continues to improve generally
throughout the country, both as regards the number of nurses
employed and their qualifications for the office. This is more
especially the case in the metropolis and some of the
provincial towns."

In the year 1872 a most important step was taken by
the Right Hon. J. Stansfeld, M.P., then President of the Local
Government Board, when he requested the late Mrs. Nassau
Senior to undertake the work in which she spent the remain-
der of her active life, namely, to organize an inquiry as to the
career of girls brought up in our metropolitan parish and
district schools. The value set upon her labours during the
year of her first appointment was such that she was per-
manently appointed Inspector of Workhouses and District
Schools. The inquiry was in fact greatly extended, and was

Women as Guardians of the Poor. 255

conducted under her directions by ladies in many parts of the
country with a view also of gaining evidence as to the
boarding-out system. After completing and sifting evidence
most laboriously obtained, it was found that fifty-three per
cent, of the girls trained in our poor-law schools turned out
badly, or were not satisfactorily accounted for ; that they
frequently returned to the workhouse ; that they were dis-
honest, dirty, sullen, and ignorant of the common things of
life. The news was disappointing, almost insulting to those
who had taken pride in the large and costly buildings where
these children had grown up, where guardians had made visits
of state, and had satisfied themselves that the children were
well clothed and fed, and that they received schooling suitable
to their class and station. It must still be remembered that
these large district schools were a great advance on the old
workhouse schools which they superseded.

The next thing to do, the work Mrs. Senior had in hand
when her health failed, was to form an association for be-
friending these parish girls when they went into service.
They had received official visits from the chaplain or the
relieving officer while in their first place. Mrs. Nassau
Senior proposed to substitute for the official visit a visit
by a lady friend, a friend who would follow a girl up from
one situation to another until she was twenty. The girls
were not to go out as paupers or parish girls ; they were
to be called young servants, and they were to be befriended,
encouraged into self-respect, good temper, obedience and
patience, into habits of cleanliness and thorough work, into
thrift and independence.

The Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Ser-
vants was founded in 1875, the same year as the Girls'
Friendly Society.* In addition to its other works, the
Girls' Friendly Society cares for 3657 girls brought up in
country workhouses. The Metropolitan Association confines
itself generally to working on Mrs. Senior's lines among girls
brought up in the London poor-law schools, and among those
of the same class outside the schools whose parents cannot
give them a fairly good start in service. The total number

* Mrs. Nassau Senior joined with Mrs. Townshend in founding the Girls'
Friendly Society.

256 Woman s Mission.

on their books on December 31, 1892, was 8563, including
2593 brought up in the poor-law schools.

It is easy to give figures ; it is impossible to give an idea
in few words of the mothering care given to these poor, lonely
children in many a crisis of their lives. They may look dull
and uninteresting, but the great war between good and evil
is as fiercely waged in them as in others. If the day is won,
it is probably owing to some woman who, not merely as the
member of an association, but as a mother or a sister, has
wrestled for the life of the lonely, ungoverned, reckless girl,
and has helped her to new patience and new hope.

So much for the direct work of this association, the largest
existing charitable society having direct relations with a
department of state, and whose work comes into the annual
report of the Local Government Board.

Perhaps the chief indirect work has been through the
Boards of Guardians. The lady guardians especially have
laid to heart all the reports they have received from the
Metropolitan Association. Our great schools could not be
destroyed. Could they be brightened and made more

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 24 of 49)