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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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stantial soup, with a good slice of bread and jam to finish
up are provided weekly. And there are private enterprises
of the same kind, which it is often difficult to discover in their
modest retirement, such as the " Dinner-Table for Children
and Invalids," founded and carried on by Lady Thompson
and her daughter at 60, Paddington Street, where hungry
little people may dine twice a week for the sum of one
penny, and some for nothing at all, according to their



For the Little Ones "'Food, Fun, and Fresk Air." 2 1

need; care being taken to ensure the real eligibility of the
guests.

And these hospitable schemes are not limited to dinners.
The list of free or cheap breakfasts for the children of the
poor is long and satisfactory. And surely if a dinnerless
child is a melancholy idea, that of a boy or girl who has had
no breakfast, especially on a cold or damp winter morning,
is still worse ! How can they do their lessons under such
conditions ? how can they keep their tempers ? how can they
resist the temptation, should it offer, of stealing a penny roll ?

But as a workman was heard to say the other day in
reference to a mission-room where these breakfasts for chil-
dren are provided, there are " those as thinks for 'em. 'Tis
nice to see 'em go in blue and come out rosy." I have in my
thoughts just such a room but a few streets off, where year
after year, thanks to the energy of one kind-hearted woman,
during the winter months one hundred morning meals are
daily provided for needy boys and girls ; breakfasts of cocoa
and bread, and porridge and milk on alternate days, the
utmost care being taken that no abuse or misuse is made of
this charity of course a most necessary and a perfectly pos-
sible precaution. No child is allowed to have more than two
breakfasts a week, and no child receives a ticket except from
the heads of the schools it attends or from the clergy of the
parish, who are intimately acquainted with the actual circum-
stances of all their poor.

The Church Extension Association has of late years done
much in the way of providing children's dinners and break-
fasts those at several places being under the management
of the Kilburn Sisters. The number of halfpenny dinners
given by this association in 1892 amounted to 53,700, and
breakfasts on a corresponding scale. A very attractive charity
has also been carried on by this same society for upwards of
twenty years in the shape of Sunday breakfasts, or, to use
the quaint name the children themselves have adopted, " Bun
Schools." For the fare, in honour of the day which should
be the happiest of the seven, is somewhat choicer than that
of the week-day breakfasts. It consists of a mug of tea and
a currant roll. These Sunday breakfasts, superintended by
women volunteers, were inaugurated in behalf of real gutter-



22 Womaii 's Mission.



children, and in many instances proved to be the thin end
of the wedge for better things.

To bring some sunshine into the lives of the children of our
poor, to teach them " how to play " innocently and healthily,
is, on broad lines, the object of the second section of the
work of women among the little ones which I have to
describe, and which I have roughly classed as " Fun." The
very idea of such a thing for those who are in many cases
in actual need of food and clothing is in itself a novel and
modern one, which found no place in charitable schemes not
so very many years ago. Let us hope that this special
extension of our thought and sympathy is one of the un-
doubtedly good signs of the times ; that the wish to give to
poor children some share in the heritage of joy and merri-
ment which we should think it so hard, so very hard for our
own boys and girls to be deprived of, testifies to an ever-
increasing spirit of true humanity, of realizing the great fact
of our brother- and sisterhood.

And in this department we find that it is again women
who have been the leaders and the pioneers. Occasional
treats for children school feasts in the country, Christmas
parties in the towns have for long been recognized insti-
tutions, arranged and managed by each parish for itself ; by
the leading women of each parish in most cases. But the
idea of a, so to say, all-the-year-round scheme of recreation
and amusement, a regular system of pleasure and fun as a
part of every-day life for the poor, as it has always been for
the rich, is a delightful novelty.

The most important of these societies, the Children's
Happy Evenings Association, though not the first in order
of time, as the Ragged Schools had already started " recreative
evenings " for their members begun but three years ago at
one school in Lambeth, now numbers twenty-seven branches
in widely-separated poor parts of London. At these centres,
once a week or once a fortnight, thousands of children meet
for healthy and hearty amusement. Lady Jeune and the
Misses Heather-Bigg were the initiators of this movement,
one surely of the very best ever thought of, for the human-
izing, refining, and brightening these dull little lives. And
the considerate care and practical good sense with which the



For the Little Ones "Food, Fun, and Fresh Air" 23

scheme has been carried out by these its first promoters, and
other wise and kindly-hearted women, true lovers of children,
among whom Mrs. Moberley Bell must be mentioned as one
of the most devoted workers, are shown by the tangible
results. Every year sees new branches started under the
supervision of the original society, or similar associations are
formed on the same lines, though managed independently.

As a rule, the children meet in the largest room of the
schools, where, in the earlier hours, books and lessons are
the order of the day. And now the walls re-echo to very
different sounds from those they are accustomed to. A piano,
very possibly no longer in its first youth, poor thing ! but
none the worse for that if it means that it has been the gift
of a well-wisher, and has not to be paid for, responds to the
willing fingers of some girl looking nearly as merry as the
little folk who dance to her inspiriting tunes ; or a game of
" musical chairs " leaves them all breathless with running and
laughter, though they soon find their voices again when they
sit down on the floor for a rest, and sing with might and
main some favourite chorus.

In another part of the room skipping-rope competitions
are going on trials of skill in which the boys as well as their
sisters do not disdain to take part. Quieter tastes, too, are
by no means left unprovided for. Several branches have
their own special features, suggested no doubt by the par-
ticular proficiency or capacities of the directors of the recrea-
tions. For instance, at one school in Marylebone the
children have become quite adroit at getting up little scenic
effects tableaux vivants and so on with the aid of the very
simplest materials ; in another they have learnt to use their
toy paint-boxes with great success ; in a third their neat-
handedness and inventiveness have been exercised in the
manufacture of toy tables and chairs of cork and wood,
helped by pins and shreds of wool ; the filling of scrap-books
with old Christmas cards is another very favourite amuse-
ment ; and at all " happy evenings " you are sure to find
a room devoted to reading or telling stories. Here you may
see the narrator surrounded by a circle of eager and intent
little ones, transported for the time to those blissful regions of
fairyland whose doors should surely never be closed to any



24 Womaris Mission.

child, rich or poor ; nay, rather should they not open the
more widely to those whose real lives are so denuded of
sweetness and beauty ?

The " happy evening " ends all too soon ; the last of the
programme being, like the first, a lively march to some
stirring tune, and the children flock off their " good-nights "
interrupted by many a " mayn't I come next time ? " to
dream, let us hope, of fun and frolic and fairyland, or, better
still, however vaguely, of some far-off world where there are
no rough words, no tears, no headaches where the secret
of all the happiness is love.

Now and then, at Christmas time or on some special
occasion, there comes a grand "field-day." A tea-party is
given with unlimited cake and buns, or a Punch and Judy
show is provided by some kind friend. Magic-lantern enter-
tainments are of course popular, and conjuring wonders, and
Negro minstrels are not unknown ; and what perhaps gives
most pleasure of anything, the children are sometimes them-
selves the entertainers, on more than one occasion having
been allowed to invite their parents to witness some special
performance which they had been helped to get up.

The effect of these " happy evenings " reaches far. From
one centre, in a peculiarly neglected and somewhat outlying
part of North- West London, established not long ago, I hear
that the drawing together in heart and sympathy of the
children and their grown-up playfellows-for-the-time has been
already productive of most satisfactory results. The little
people are now more than manageable ; they are developing
courtesy, good manners, and consideration for others to a
degree that is more than praiseworthy when one remembers
the terrible roughness and almost savagery of their daily
lives.

For in this district the circumstances of the homes are
particularly miserable, the mothers being as a rule the ab-
sentees for twelve, sixteen, or even eighteen hours of the
twenty-four working at the great steam-laundries which
here abound, till late, terribly late at night ; so that even
more than in other poor neighbourhoods the streets have
been literally the children's only play-room, the word " home "
a mockery. In such a case, one could indeed find it in



For the Little Ones "Food, Fun, and Fresh Air'' 25

one's heart to wish that the "happy evenings" were a daily
institution.

This good work can with comparatively small effort be
enormously increased, as may be practically shown to any
one interested in the details of the organization. The cost
above all where the schoolrooms are lent is extremely
small;] from 12 to 15 a year, roughly speaking a half-
penny a child per evening covering, the outlay required for
the average attendance about one hundred and fifty, weekly
or fortnightly. The volunteers to play with and superintend
the children need only promise two hours weekly or fort-
nightly no very heavy burden surely.

But nothing, good work of no kind excepted, is perfect.
There are always possible objections ; there are, even more
certainly, the objectors, and one often hears these "happy
evenings" decried as having a bad influence on the boys
and girls for whose benefit they exist, in "destroying their
love for home," and " keeping them out in the streets too
late." To such I would reply that no doubt modifications
of the general scheme may sometimes be advisable, and
should be left to the good sense of the managers. Each
individual district presents its own individual features. In
such a neighbourhood as the one I have alluded to, every
possible objection of the kind falls to the ground. When
every evening is spent in the streets, surely one a week is all
too little for the children to be under loving supervision
though not that of their parents ; when homes are no homes,
owing to the mother's often unavoidable absence, surely there
can be no interference with their sacredness. In other places
one invitation a fortnight may perhaps be as much as is
necessary or advisable ; but it is difficult to believe that in
any case this moderate amount of "innocent dissipation,"
certainly not more than the wisest mothers in our class
would allow for their little ones, can be in any sense noxious.

Still there are those to whose judgment one would defer,
who object to evening treats, and in these cases there is the
alternative of a different hour. The workers at the Women's
University Settlement in Southwark, for instance, have found
that it better suited the conditions of the poor children of
that part of the world to have their weekly fun in the morn-



26 Woman's Mission.



ing. And every Saturday, therefore, sees merry little people
assembled for games, and music, and story-telling in the various
schoolrooms lent for the purpose, with again the happiest
results. And these ladies, headed by their energetic leader,
Miss Sewell, undertake another kindly and pleasant task in
the same direction. On holiday afternoons small parties of six
to ten schoolgirls are escorted by them to the different exhibi-
tions of pictures and other desirable resorts among them the
Zoological Gardens to the great delight of the children ; who,
with the very rarest exceptions, conduct themselves with the
utmost propriety and docility.

This same centre of philanthropic enterprise for women
is full of resources at holiday times for adding to the safe and
wholesome enjoyment of the surrounding poor children. It
would be difficult to name a "treat" that they have not
planned or any new ideas for brightening these little lives
which they are not eager to try.

It may not be out of place here to speak of a society
whose very name is full of charming suggestion the Santa
Claus Society. The Santa Glaus Home, I must explain a
sort of supplementary convalescent hospital for children,
specially organized to meet special needs is a separate work
which grew out of the original idea, and does not fall within
the limits of this paper. It is the original society, whose
sweet and tender object is almost told by its name, of which
I would speak.

This name Claus or Klaus is, as almost everybody knows,
the familiar northern abbreviation of that of the child-loving
saint, Nicholas of Myra, who more than fifteen hundred years
ago, in the far-off East, devoted himself to the service of the
little ones ; the good bishop whose modesty was so great that
he hid his kind deeds by every possible device. And there
is a pleasing irony of fate in the fact that this very name of
his which he strove to conceal, should still, after all these
centuries, be a household word throughout Europe, while yet
the legend of his shrinking humility lingers in the fascinating
mystery surrounding the ever invisible nursery benefactor.

The object of this kindly little society was to provide
toys, of which dolls are the most conspicuous feature, to the
little sufferers in our children's wards and children's hospitals.



For the Little Ones "Food, Fun, and Fresh Air" 27

It was started in 1885 by the Misses Charles on very simple
and almost private lines. Since then it has grown so much
that every year an exhibition of the dolls takes place, at
which prizes are given for the best dressed, and at the same
time a sale is held for the benefit of the society. The pleasure
the gifts bestow is reward indeed to the givers. Many of the
children can at first scarcely realize that Santa Claus has sent
them something. For " at home we didn't have no Christ-
mas," says one little patient ; and " he never brought us
nothing before," says another in delighted astonishment

Think of a child that has never had a toy ! Did you ever
hear the true story of a, I think, chronic little sufferer, whose
only playthings were the spots of damp on the wall at the
side of her bed, to which she gave names and imaginary
qualities ? Or another equally true story, which came within
my knowledge the other day. A teacher at a Sunday school
was endeavouring to give her little pupils some notion of the
real meaning of giving that whatever it may be, our offer-
ing to God should be of our best, of what we most prize.
And in one baby heart her words found response. The little
creature confided to her teacher on the next occasion her
offering : it was a little carefully tied-up packet containing
a few grains of rice, her most prized, perhaps her only
treasure !

There are many other associations already in existence
whose general objects are those which we have been dis-
cussing ; the bringing some sunshine into childish lives, the
teaching these poor little boys and girls how to play. We
find these societies scattered throughout the provinces ; we
hear of the movement spreading in the country, where in
winter especially cottage evenings are often very dull and
dreary. And everywhere we find that women, even if not, as
in many cases they are, the actual originators of the " happy
evenings," or children's treats of every kind, are yet invariably
the great workers in these directions. It seems to be essen-
tially a woman's work, this beautifying of young lives, this
embroidery, as it were, on the substantial charities already
existing. It is not confined to Church workers, though I
think I may say that in no parish is the idea now ignored
by the clergy and their helpers. We find it in full swing



28 Woman s Mission.



among the Wesleyan women workers of the community ; it
is excellently carried out by the ladies forming the com-
mittees of the Jewish schools at Stepney, Bayswater and else-
where. The poor German children who abound in some parts
of London are not forgotten by the rich women of their nation
resident here, especially at Christmas time, when much is
done by the lady members of the German Lutheran com-
munity to make the little people happy. It is coming it
has come indeed to be strongly realized that human buds
and blossoms need sunshine for their full and normal growth
and development just as certainly as do those of the vegetable
world sunshine moral and spiritual for our boys and girls
we must have if the great battle of good over evil, of love
over hatred is ever to be won.

And sunshine in the literal sense too, our poor children
need ; the want of it is told all too pitifully by their pallid
and prematurely careworn faces. Sunshine, it is true, we
cannot ensure very much of in this uncertain climate of ours,
even for our own little people ; it is one of the things that in
England money cannot buy. But some chance of enjoying
it when it does come, and at any rate a certainty of fresh
air a sight of fields and trees, of the " real country " as one
hears it sometimes pathetically described wanderings in
green lanes and scrambles in quest of wild flowers, or a breath
of the sea, an enraptured vision of the dancing waves, races
on the " lovely smooth sands," and the inexhaustible delights
of wooden spades and tin buckets all these boons we can
give some measure of to the poor boys and girls of our great
towns. And perhaps no charitable work is so popular, so
sure to evoke sympathy and ready co-operation as this. Since
the idea of it first struck some thoughtful and wise as well as
kind-hearted women but a few years ago, the work has spread
and increased at a really astonishing rate ; and as time goes
on and the lessons of practical experience are profited by,
there is every reason to believe that the effort will prosper
more and more, while the few flaws, the inevitable mistakes
attending a first start in any new direction gradually drop off
and disappear.

The success and present working of the Country Holiday
Schemes, and Fresh Air Missions, in a general way, may be



For the Little Ones "Food, Fun, and Fresh Air." 29

shown by a few particulars from the reports of some of the
principal centres. And though these cannot all be said to
have been inaugurated by women, still it is undoubtedly the
case that from women came the first suggestion of the thing,
and that women are the main workers and managers of the
whole. But above and beyond the satisfactory results thus
borne witness to, there is, one is glad to know, an immense
deal of good work in this special way of which no printed
reports are published, no committee meetings held : quiet,
unobtrusive, sensible endeavour to do what can be done
privately, but not on that account the less thoroughly, to give,
if but in each case to a very few of the pale-faced little dwellers
in the towns, some share in the delights and benefits of a
week or a fortnight or, better still, three weeks in the country.
It is a kind of good work which it is very easy to do well in
this modest way. It is indeed a question whether private
enterprise in this direction is not the best of all. If families
with sufficiently commodious country houses take even two
poor children at a time for a fortnight, during four or five
months of the fine season, twenty little people are thus
benefited, without the housekeeping books showing any
difference to speak of for the appetites of these town chil-
dren as a rule are small ; and as for the third-class railway
fares, in what better direction could one spend a certain pro-
portion of the money which surely can never be conscientiously
looked upon as all ours ? And in this way one gets to know
the children individually ; other good influences besides those
of " the sunshine and the flowers " are brought directly and
indirectly to bear upon them ; year after year in some cases,
they come to look forward to the fortnight under the roof of
their more prosperous friends as the bright spot in their lives.
They learn to believe in the love and sympathy they are
actually conscious of.

In many instances the experiment has been tried, and
with such success that it will be repeated. In many happy
country homes the arrival of " the poor children from
London " or elsewhere is coming to be looked for as cheer-
fully as that of the swallows.

For there are not many families who cannot do something
in this direction. If not able to house them under their own



3O Woman s Mission.



roof, there is pretty sure to be a "somewhere" near at hand,
where for a small payment the little town mice can be made
welcome, and share in the kindly care of the cottage mother.

This boarding-out in cottage homes is found to be the
best and most practical mode of organizing the country visits
on a large scale. The most important of our "Fresh Air for
Poor Children " societies namely, the Children's Holiday
Fund, works entirely on this system, and on the whole it
answers admirably. Though started only eight years ago, it
now numbers eight hundred country centres, at which, every
summer, arrangements are made for receiving children. In
1891, 25,613 small townsfolk were sent off for a fortnight's
" fresh air," the expenditure of the society for that year being
;i 6,037, exclusive of payments from the parents, amount-
ing to about a third of that sum. For one of the best
features of the association is that the fathers and mothers of
the children who benefit by it are expected to pay according
to their means.

This society is not essentially a " women's work," but a
very great part of the supervision and detail is managed by
women. And some branch societies, working in connection
with it and assisted by its grants, consist exclusively of
women.

Of these I may instance the Women's University Settle-
ment, in Southwark, where a large amount of country holiday
work is done every year. The past year saw seven hundred
children sent off for their annual holiday under the auspices
of this society, and great credit is due to the women workers
of the settlement for the thoroughness with which this
department of their manifold charities is managed. The
circumstances of the children selected, their real need of
assistance, the proportion which the parents can pay, the
children's physical state, as free from infectious diseases or
other objectionable conditions all these difficult points are
gone into with the most painstaking exactitude ; while on
the other side the cottage homes are carefully chosen, the
" country correspondents," or lady visitors who undertake the
supervision of the little guests, so as to guard against such
evils as overcrowding, insufficient feeding, etc., are well
instructed as to what is their necessary part of the work, so



For the Little Ones "Food, Fun, and Fresh Air." 31

that the whole machinery may act as harmoniously as
possible, and any hitch or source of danger be quickly
detected and set right

The North St. Pancras Children's Holiday Fund is
another smaller society of the same kind which since its
founding in August, 1 886, has done good and efficient work
under its president, Lady Lamington, and the acting
committee, composed chiefly of women. Its first year saw
sixty children sent for a week to the seaside ; six years
later the number sent, and that for a fortnight each, had
mounted up to 360. The details of this society are on much
the same lines as I have described ; every precaution against
mistakes being taken, nothing being thought too trifling



Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 4 of 49)