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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eras Workhouse (one of the largest in London), where an
investigation had just been made, resulting in a verdict of
" horrible " from one of the first of London physicians. But
though the motion was well supported, after an "official"
reply from the President of the Poor Law Board, it was lost.
Four years after this apparent failure, the very Committee
then asked for was appointed ; and exactly ten years later,
in 1867, the result appeared in the Bill introduced by Mr.
Gathorne Hardy (now Lord Cranbrook) and subsequently
passed. By this grand effort the Metropolitan infirmaries

268 Woman 's Mission.

for the sick were entirely separated from the workhouses, and
placed under the management of other officers. In 1858
I wrote a long article in the Church of England Monthly
Review on "Workhouses and Women's Work," afterwards
published as a pamphlet, which was widely reviewed by the
daily press. Other movements were going on. In 1855 the
matter of training nurses was brought before the Epidemiolo-
gical Society of London by an eminent physician, Dr. Edward
Sieveking, who proposed that the able-bodied women in
workhouses should be thus made useful; and in 1858 a cir-
cular of the Poor Law Board sanctioned the plan, which, I
may say here, was never found practicable, owing to the
generally degraded character and antecedents of this class.
In connection with this part of our subject, I may add the
satisfactory information, that the idea thus started has taken,
since 1879, a practical and entirely successful form in the
formation of the "Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Associa-
tion," which has now one hundred and thirty nurses at work
throughout the country, many of them trained by the funds
of the association ; the demand for the nurses being beyond
the number that can be supplied.

In 1857 a great step was made by a proposal to form
a central society for the promotion of workhouse visiting.
This suggestion was brought forward at the first meeting of
the " Social Science Association," which met at Birmingham ;
when I contributed a paper in the department of social
economy on the " Condition of Workhouses " the first, I
believe, that had ever come before the public. The plan was
afterwards developed in London, under the presidency of the
Hon. Wm. Cowper (afterwards Lord Mount-Temple), and a
large and influential committee of men and women was
formed, I being the honorary secretary. Its rules and objects
were : I. The care of children, and their after-care as well
(a plan now largely developed). 2. For the sick and afflicted.
3. For the ignorant and depraved, their instruction, and the en-
couragement of useful occupation. Thus the seeds were sown
for many subsequent developments ; one of which, in con-
nection with the last-named object, is the " Brabazon " scheme
for providing work and suitable occupation for both men and
women who are unable to assist in the regular work for the

The History of Workhouse Reform. 269

house. This scheme is now being increasingly adopted in
many workhouses in London and the country, its origin being
due to Lady Meath, who has the satisfaction of seeing her
scheme now carried out in America as well as at home.

In the year 1859 another departure was made by the
publication of a periodical called the Journal of the Workhouse
Visiting Society, which at first appeared every two months,
and then quarterly. Much useful information was thus
distributed, and the plan was continued till 1865, when it
was felt it had done its useful work of enlightenment, and it
ceased. In this periodical may be found the suggestion of
nearly every movement now being carried out. The first
meeting of the society was held in 1859, "the first occasion
on which the claims of workhouse inmates on the sympathy
of the public have been advocated," as was said at the time.
Two bishops and many influential clergymen and laymen
spoke, to advocate the cause. A committee of visitors was
formed for one of the City workhouses, under the auspices
of the Lady Mayoress, and in 1 860 one was appointed also
for St. Pancras Workhouse.

In 1862 a Bill was carried through Parliament chiefly
owing to the exertions of the Hon. Mrs. Way, who had
already established a school for pauper girls in Surrey
establishing the legality of payments by the guardians to
homes certified by the Central Board. The rescue of children
and girls from the contamination of pauper intercourse was
the first object to engage the attention of visitors ; with the
result that a home was opened in London for girls who
returned to the workhouse after being sent to service. This
was done in 1861, under an influential committee, of which
the Baroness Burdett-Coutts was one, while she generously
furnished the house and paid the rent during three years.
The management devolved upon me, and for many years
I lived almost entirely at the home, into which thirty girls
could be taken. I may mention here that this home was
carried on till 1878, when the house was taken for the remaining
years of the lease by a committee of ladies who were beginning
to carry out the plans of Mrs. Nassau Senior, appointed in
1875 as the first Woman Inspector under the Poor Law
Board, for the schools. This was the starting-point of the

270 Woman's Mission.

now widely extended Metropolitan Association for Befriend-
ing Young Servants, numbering thousands, under the care
of a large staff of visitors, and with homes also. Many
hundreds of girls may be said to have been saved from ruin
during the twenty years' work of this association.

In 1860 a Commission was appointed to consider the state
of education in England ; and as pauper schools were included,
I was asked to give evidence about them. The two chief
points I dwelt upon as evils were the want of industrial
training for girls, and the herding of them together in masses.
Both evils have been largely done away with since by means
of boarding-out children (begun in 1870, and suggested in our
Journal in 1864), and by cottage homes, started by voluntary
effort, and certified by the Local Government Board. An
association to promote this last plan was begun in 1891.*

In 1860 attention was drawn to the condition of incurables
in workhouses by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, who had visited
the workhouse at Bristol and had become acquainted with
the sadly defective care of them. She wrote a paper called
" A Plea for Destitute Incurables," which was read at a Social
Science Congress at Glasgow, and afterwards brought before
the Central Board. A petition was framed, signed by ninety
of the leading physicians and surgeons of the London hospitals,
asking permission to give voluntary aid to such sufferers (of
whom there were supposed to be 80,000 in the workhouses)
by means of trained nurses ; comforts and appliances suitable
to their sad condition being supplied from a central fund.
Seven Boards of Guardians consented to try the plan, and it
was carried on for two years ; but after that time objection
was urged that it was illegal, and contrary to the intentions of
the poor law. In 1865 a deputation of the Workhouse Visiting
Society waited upon the President of the Poor Law Board
(Mr. Villiers) with a statement and petition as to the general
condition of the sick in workhouse infirmaries. Two meetings,
attended by twenty-one members of Parliament and medical
men, were held at Mrs. Gladstone's house to arrange this matter.
This effort cannot be said to have been a failure, considering
the great results that have followed from its endeavours and

* At the present time Miss Mason is acting as Inspector, under the Local
Government Board, of all children boarded-out.

The History of Workhouse Reform. 271

example. The petition is remarkable for embodying all
subsequent reforms, but it is too long to be given here. The
admission of additional medical men and students into
poor-law institutions was then urged, and is still earnestly
desired. Of the gentlemen who formed that deputation
only two are now living. Impressed by the needs of sick
paupers, it was decided to take a house adjoining the Girls'
Industrial Home for the reception of incurable women, chiefly,
and in the first instance, from workhouses, their cost (as in
the workhouse) being paid by the guardians, as in the case
of the girls. This plan was successfully carried on for
twenty-eight years, but owing to the improvements in the
London infirmaries, their inmates ceased, after a time, to be

An inquiry was also instituted as to the number of paid
nurses employed in workhouses ; in most of which, it was
found, there were only paupers to attend the sick.

In 1861 another Parliamentary Commission was appointed,
at which much valuable evidence was given. Other Com-
mittees followed in 1888 and 1891. Among the earlier
efforts must be named a letter to the Times, written by
me in 1858 on Workhouse Nurses. Then followed in 1866
the " Lancet Commission," carried out by the editors of that
paper, for an investigation into all matters connected with the
sick in workhouses. It was well said that this and many
other endeavours to expose very grave evils were but
following up the efforts of private persons ; public opinion
and the press supplying a force that compelled official
action, "the foremost banners being borne by private

In 1867 Mr. Villiers acknowledged to a deputation that
"a case had been made out," and although he left office
before a bill could be prepared, one was carried through by
his successor, Mr. Gathorne Hardy. The separation of the
various classes of workhouse inmates was one of the chief
features of this bill ; and though it is not even now entirely
carried out, children and the sick were removed from the
" workhouse," so called, as well as lunatics, the imbecile, and
all infectious cases. Of these latter classes the Metropolitan
Asylums Board, a body formed from the guardians of the

272 Woman s Mission.

various unions represented, has taken charge. Its labours
are on a truly gigantic scale.

The first grand reform in the management of the sick
was begun at Liverpool, when, in 1865, Agnes Jones, a
devoted lady and highly trained nurse, was appointed, in the
enormous workhouse of 1200 inmates, as superintendent of
the infirmary. A second such appointment was made at
the Sick Asylum, Highgate, when Miss Hill, one of the
Nightingale Nurses of St. Thomas' Hospital, went there in
1870. These were the first instances of educated and trained
women taking such posts.

During the last few years women acting as guardians of
the poor have aided the work of reform in no small degree,
and by an increase in their number, year by year, we look
forward to still further progress in the right direction. The
first of these ladies was elected in the parish of Kensington
in the year 1875 ; and now about one hundred and thirty
women are acting as guardians of the poor in England,
Wales, and Scotland.

I have now completed my sketch, but the full extent of
all that has been accomplished can only be known to those
who were eye-witnesses of a state of things now happily
passed away.

In conclusion, may I be allowed to point out the moral
of this history, which may be commended to all who are
engaged in any similar work and undertaking ? It is com-
prised in three words Patience, Perseverance, and Faith.





To give a bird's-eye view of the philanthropic work now
being done by the women of Great Britain is indeed difficult,
not only on account of its amount and variety, but from the
absence of any system or organization pervading it.

Unlike the Frauen-Verein of the Continent, outlined some
ten years ago by our own Royal Princesses, the Empress
Frederick of Germany and the late Princess Alice of Hesse-
Darmstadt (an outline since nobly filled in by thousands of
German women), any organization that exists in England
has followed upon work already done, rather than preceded
work. It has been more of the nature of growth ; a sort of
spontaneous generation rather than the completion of an
arbitrary model.

The first sign of a desire among women to appropriate
the advantage of united action in works of beneficence was
given by the Sisterhood Movement about 1850; when Miss
Sellon, the Hon. Mrs. Monsell, and others sought to gather
women into religious community life in the first instance
for definite training, and afterwards for associated work
among the poor.

This example was followed in 1861 by the revival of the
Primitive Order of Deaconesses by Deaconess Catharine
Ferard, who had studied the subject at Kaiserwerth; and
within the last few years similar efforts to secure trained
and organized work in nursing, teaching, and the general
amelioration of the poor, have been made by the " Sisters of
the People," and by branches of other Nonconformist bodies.
Of a less definitely religious but equally earnest type are the


274 Womaais Mission.

" Women's Settlements," which are colonies of educated
women, principally students from colleges, who make their
homes in crowded city-quarters to minister to the needs of
the populace.

The next sign that individual women were becoming
alive to the heightened value which would accrue to their
own work, by association with others, was the formation in
1866 of a society for the express purpose of affording a
centre for the rapidly increasing number of institutions which
were being started at the time. It took the somewhat
ambitious title of " The National Central Office," and aimed
at being "a focus to which all societies for the benefit of
women and girls of good character in Great Britain and
Ireland could be drawn and placed in union with each
other." In 1869 it had affiliated about eighty institutions,
and, curiously enough, that has remained about the yearly
average ever since. Its pretensions to be both national and
central were dropped a few years afterwards for the humbler
title of the " Society for Promoting Female Welfare by the
United Working of Institutions for the benefit of Women
and Girls," and under this name it has done a very useful
work ever since. It published in 1869 a tabular report of its
affiliated institutions. That this society, valuable as has been
its career, has not completely fulfilled its early promise, is
probably caused by the fact that it required assurances from
all affiliated institutions that they were conducted " strictly
upon scriptural and Protestant principles," and partly also
from the natural insularity of the British mind.

The next examples of gradually aroused organizing power
are to be found in the early history of the Girls' Friendly
Society, the Women's Help Society, the Metropolitan Asso-
ciation for Befriending Young Servants, the numerous Girls'
Clubs with their centre in Soho, London, and all the com-
plicated machinery and apparatus of candidates, members,
associates, branches, presidents, lodges, homes of rest, lending
libraries, coffee- taverns, penny banks, free registries, con-
valescent and training homes, besides monthly and weekly
magazines, and a whole flood of literature of all kinds, suited
to almost every age and condition of womanhood and girl-
hood. These societies number many thousands of English

The Organization of Women Workers. 275

girls and women, not only in Great Britain and her colonies,
but all over the Continent, in America, and, indeed, in all
quarters of the globe. Untold is the good thus accom-
plished ; but if the merits of a society are greater in propor-
tion to the greater simplicity of machinery, the palm must be
given to the Young Women's Christian Association, which,
with little or no organization beyond the Prayer Union, out of
which it originally started, also keeps an oversight of many
thousands of young women in many different parts of the
world. To it also belongs the honour of having worked out
most efficiently one of the earliest forms of the " Travellers'
Aid Society ; " a provision for the safety and protection of
young Englishwomen travelling alone in their own country
or abroad.

Emigration naturally rises to one's mind in this connec-
tion ; and it is significant of the zeal of the educated and
leisured women of England that, even in this direction of
much enterprise and difficulty, they have not been content
with working in the channels created by men, but have
elaborated an agency of their own for the protection and
assistance of female emigrants. They may, indeed, be said
to have taken the initiative in this direction ; as a society for
providing matrons to female emigrant ships was founded in
1859, and only closed its career of usefulness in 1877, when
Her Majesty's Government followed its lead, and, by supply-
ing matrons as Government officials, paid the society that
sincerest form of flattery known as imitation. The United
British Women's Emigration Association, formed with the
same object in view, viz. to provide for the safety and welfare
of women and girl emigrants, has an " Emigrants' Rest " for
women only, in Liverpool ; and by the activity and zeal of
its vice-president, who herself travels and organizes on its
behalf, the devotion of its honorary secretaries, and the excel-
lence of its organization, has done more to settle the vexed
question of female emigration than any other association.

The word " united " is beginning to creep into the vocabu-
lary of the English worker, and is a sign that more women,
either as individuals or societies, are beginning to realize the
fact that " union is strength." The motto has indeed been
adopted by the most important thrift society at present

276 Woman's Mission.

existing for women. The " United Sisters' Friendly Society,"
which, although it cannot claim to have been founded by
women (that honour belonging to their good friend, the
Rev. Frome Wilkinson), is yet almost exclusively managed
by them.

Neither in medicine, nursing, education, nor reformation
and rescue work, do women owe their present position in any
special way to organization. The pioneer medical women of
twenty years ago got their diplomas in America and Paris,
and there is no present bond of union among the hundred
and forty registered medical women in England, beyond the
medical diploma which they hold in common with men.
Nurses are to all intents and purposes, a new creation ; and
though the last few years have seen a wonderful rise in the
estimation in which they are held by the public, and though
the sum of ; 120,000 stands to the credit of their "Royal
National Pension Fund," they do not seem to have availed
themselves very eagerly of even the slight degree of free-
masonry involved by becoming subscribers to it. Those
nurses who are also midwives, on the other hand, have sown
a seed which may in the future develop into a large and
flourishing association. In the " Midwives' Institute and
Trained Nurses' Club," at 12, Buckingham Street, Strand,
to which all are eligible who have passed the examination
of the Obstetrical Society of London, they possess both a
centre and a registry, which will be of great service to them
when the Bill for the Registration of Midwives, shortly to be
presented to Parliament, shall have become law.

But although the professional side of nursing has not
been highly organized, several large and important societies
exist for gratuitously nursing the sick poor of the land. The
first organization of this kind was formed at Liverpool in
1859, and the system of district nursing then created has
been adopted, with modifications suitable to the locality, in
many great towns. The Central Home of the Metropolitan
and National Nursing Association of London was opened in
1875, and the Royal Hospital of St. Katherine, founded as
far back as 1148, was revived by its connection with the
Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute of the present reign. The
members [of these, together with the members of the two

The Organization of Women Workers. 277

large societies, the Rural Nursing Association, now merged
into the Jubilee Institute, and the Cottage Nurses' Associa-
tion, increase in numbers every year.

The organizations founded by Englishwomen about the
year 1870 for raising the standard of their education, such as
the National Union for Improving the Education of Women,
the Yorkshire Ladies' Council of Education, and many other
local societies founded for the same object, have more or less
accomplished their purpose, and some have voluntarily dis-
solved themselves. The Girls' Public Day School Company
and the Church Schools' Company, although managed in
conjunction with men, are practically the result of women's
initiative ; while the Teachers' Guild, though admitting men
as well as women, is really a women's society, the first
scheme for its formation having appeared in that essentially
women's magazine, Work and Leisure. The Association of
Head-Mistresses and Assistant-Mistresses of Public Schools,
the Governess Association in Ireland, and Association of
University Teachers, are the only existing organizations
confined to women teachers. Their addresses, as well as those
of all other associations named in this article, will be found
in the directory of the "Englishwomen's Year Book."

In penitentiary and rescue work, the associations and
larger institutions have all been organized and officered by
men, although, in a few, women are members of the com-
mittees of management. As a rule, the agents working
directly with the outcast populations are females, but the
secretaries are all men. The noble work of Miss Steer, Mrs.
Wilkes, and other women are no exception ; as" even in the
case of Miss Steer's numerous homes they are the result of
individual and not associated effort.

The Christian Women's Union, founded on their return
from the States, by those indefatigable sisters, Mrs. Meredith
and Miss Lloyd, also the foundresses of the Industrial Colony
and Homes entitled the " Princess Mary's Homes" at Addle-
stone, may, however, be reckoned one organized effort for
Christian work and education ; and in the Social Purity
Alliance, the Moral Reform Union, the Vigilance Association,
and the numerous associations for social purposes, women
are largely engaged either alone or in conjunction with men.

278 Woman's Mission.

For the hundreds of Preventive and Rescue Homes, In-
dustrial Schools, Convalescent Homes, and Homes of Rest,
the women of England seem to be almost exclusively re-
sponsible. Here and there men act as treasurers, visitors,
or members of committee, and chaplains and medical officers
are, of course, of the nobler sex ; but the whole army of
"mothers," matrons, trainers, teachers, etc., are all women,
and it may safely be predicted that these homes have received
their first impulse from woman, and could not now be carried
on without her.

In social questions, and especially in dealing with that
great and terrible evil, intemperance, women have been at
work for at least thirty years in local guilds, bands, unions,
and other efforts of all kinds and in all places, for the repres-
sion of drunkenness and the inculcation of temperance and
total abstinence. One of the largest organizations is the
women's branch of the Church of England Temperance
Society ; and there are other powerful agencies for good,
especially the British Women's Temperance Association, the
United Kingdom Band of Hope Union, etc.

In charities pure and simple, women are working both as
individuals and in association in very large numbers, while
in organized and regulated charity, the "Working Ladies'
Guild " for the relief of destitute gentlewomen, administered
by "groups" of ladies in different localities, with H.R.H. the
Princess Beatrice as their Patroness, and H.R.H. the Princess
Frederica of Pawel-Rammagen as the head of one of the
"groups," may well take the lead. The Ministering Chil-
dren's League, founded by the Countess of Meath, has also
a powerful and far-reaching organization.

The two most striking examples of united work among
Englishwomen, and those of most recent and speediest
growth, are, however, the Mothers' Union Movement, and
the Needlework Guilds founded by Lady Wolverton.

The Mothers' Union is almost exclusively worked on
Church lines, though mothers' meetings, out of which the
Union more or less arose, are common to every religious
body. There are diocesan unions in almost every diocese
in England and Wales ; but Scotland is worked by districts,
and some localities parochially. At Birmingham, for in-

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 26 of 49)