Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts.

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

. (page 7 of 49)
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from the Saturday afternoon to the Monday evening. Some
ladies invite a few girls for a Saturday afternoon tea-party,
which is a great enjoyment, and a great rest, to our often over-
worked dressmakers and milliners in the height of the season.

In most clubs it has not been found easy to amalgamate
the great variety of classes into which working people are
divided ; and therefore different organizations have been
formed to reach the dressmaker, the shop-assistant, and the
factory hand. But the difficulty can be surmounted. In the
Soho Club, which numbers about two hundred members,
their occupations are extremely varied. The two exhibits
sent to Chicago will show that side by side are sitting in
the art needlework class, the factory hand and the clerk
who, with the education and birth of a lady, has, through
adverse circumstances, been glad to make her home amongst
working girls. No difficulty has ever arisen on this score
in the Soho Club. There has been a friendliness of feeling,
a linking together by the love of the club, which have
brought the members into cordial relations both in class-
work and in their recreation.

The finance of our different clubs is often a matter of
difficulty, for none of the clubs can be called self-supporting.
In some clubs the members pay no fees whatever ; some pay
a penny a week ; and others two shillings a quarter, with
a shilling entrance fee. Rents are very high in London ;
and the number of members is never sufficient to meet the
various expenses of rent, light, heating, and superintendence.
We never aim at having very large clubs ; for in Polytechnics,
where six or seven hundred young women and girls are con-
gregated together, a great deal of that personal influence
which arises from the acquaintance of ladies w ith individua

54 Woman s Mission.

girls must be lost. We are willing that girls should pass from
the clubs to the Polytechnics, where they would get a higher
education ; but we do not find them willing to change when
they become attached to their club, however great may be
the advantages offered to them in another institution.

We have said that many thousands of girls belong to
these various clubs, and we may add that many hundreds
of ladies are engaged in carrying them on. Like the
members of the clubs, the ladies are from all classes of
society from those who have to earn their daily bread to
those in the highest ranks of life. All are equally beloved
by the girls, if they have in themselves that sympathy and
heartiness which attracts one person to another. There is
not much difficulty now in getting help for these clubs, for
most girls in England, when they begin to take a serious
view of life, consider that they have some duty to perform
to others who are less fortunately placed. This feeling
is encouraged in club members by getting them to take
an interest in those who are poorer than themselves. In
many clubs one evening in the week is set apart for working
for some philanthropic object for an orphanage, for mission
work, and so forth.

In some clubs religious influences are brought more
strongly to bear upon members than in others. The evenings
begin and end with prayer, and there are Bible classes and
special religious teaching. In other clubs the religious
teaching has to be less doctrinal and more indirect ; the
members of them including Roman Catholics, Nonconformists,
Church of England girls, and sometimes Jewesses ; but the
religion which underlies the life of many of the workers in
the clubs is appreciated by the members, becomes part of
their lives, and helps them to be an example to others. Some
of the Soho girls helped to start a club in Spitalfields for the
very lowest class girls whose homes are in the lodging-
houses of Whitechapel. Others have visited the poor and
worked for them ; and in one case we know of, some young
women who took out the poorer girls on a Sunday, went in
their everyday clothes, so as not to make too great a contrast
between their dress and the dress of those they were looking

Clubs for Working Girls. . 55

The clubs are not only of educational advantage in
cultivating the intellects of the girls, and in giving them
technical training, but we find great improvement in their
manners, in the higher aims their lives are directed to, and
in the contentment they acquire.

In a great many clubs a Snowdrop Band has been started
by way of bringing before its members the beauty of purity
of life, of which the snowdrop is an emblem. In one case, in
a Manchester club, the girls in the Snowdrop Band promised
never to attend the dramatic performances held in the tents
and booths about the town, which were generally most
prejudicial to morals. These Snowdrop Bands are mostly
formed amongst the lower classes of girls. In the better and
longer established clubs the morality of the members is such
that those who know their lives, and the dangers that beset
young women of their class in crowded towns, can but
admire and respect it.

Work amongst girls who are living on their daily wage
has been growing rapidly, and we expect another ten years
will see it established as a necessary obligation that every
large town and district, if not every parish, shall have its
club for girls as well as institutions for boys and men.

56 Woman's Mission.


THE question of how to manage successfully a Young Men's
Club is perhaps one of the most difficult that presents itself
to philanthropic workers. No one living in a town, be it
great or small, can be blind to the great need and enormous
importance of these institutions, and yet how seldom do we
find one that really answers, and makes its influence a living
power. In many cases the club fails for lack of funds, or of
suitable workers ; in other cases it degenerates into a clique,
or boys of fifteen and sixteen are admitted, and drive out the
older members ; but, generally speaking, I believe the reason
of failure is that we have not taken pains to grasp the real
needs of our young working men. We have too often thought
it enough to provide them with a room, games and books,
and then have been surprised to find that when the first
novelty had worn off they rather slipped through our fingers
and drifted away. Some years' experience has convinced me
that a club, which would really fulfil its mission, must be to
our young working men, what a public school or college is
to boys of another class, something which inspires them with
pride and affection, which teaches them to sink the individual
in the community, and gives them an esprit de corps, that
foundation of so many manly and gentlemanly qualities.

* Miss Florence Nightingale, in "forwarding me this paper, which I asked her
kindly to obtain, writes: "Miss Brooke-Hunt has been singularly successful in
her most difficult work. By her own personal influence (she is only twenty-three
now) she has for several years kept these young men together and out of mischief
till far in their twenties, and often after they have married, bringing back the
black sheep even when they have been expelled from her club by their own
fellows, whom she wisely institutes as officers." BURDETT-COUTTS.

Clubs for Young Men. 57

Think of the lot of a young working man ! Fancy a boy of
twenty, with high spirits and love of fun, going through the
dull routine of ten hours' work a day. He comes home at
six, " cleans," and has his tea ; but his presence is not wanted
in the house ; the children have to be put to bed, mother
wants to tidy up, and father likes his pipe in peace, so off he
goes " up street." We know what that means ; people soon
get tired of walking up and down the street, and can we be
surprised that when it is wet or cold, for instance, the boys
throng into the brightly-lighted public-houses, or into the
music halls, with their endless variety of attractions ? Youth
craves for some sort of excitement, and takes whatever it can
get, regardless of the consequences. And thus young men slip
into loose habits and bad ways, and no one lays a restraining
hand on their shoulder ; for it is a sad fact, that, even among
the most respectable working people, the parents seem unable
or unwilling to control the boys. "If we said anything to
Bill, Miss, he'd take and go into lodgings, and we can't afford
to lose his money," is a remark I often hear. Therefore
"Bill" is left to himself, and the parents think themselves
lucky, if after a few years he ends in nothing worse than
a miserable and imprudent marriage. In the great majority
of cases " Bill " does not want to go to the bad, and would
not if some one could step in and put a higher interest and
a nobler object in his way. To do this is the true mission
of a Young Men's Club. It is to supply some hints as to how
women can help in this work that I have been asked to write
this paper, and as facts are more useful than theories, I
purpose giving an account of an institution with which I
have been connected for some years.

I began in a very small way, with about half a dozen
young men, varying in age from eighteen to twenty-four, who
used to come to our house once a week for a night school.
As winter approached we decided to start a football club in
connection with the class, and this increased our members to
twenty. We then gave ourselves the name of " The Gordon
Club," as the fame of the hero of Khartoum was fresh in all
our memories. For club colours we adopted the military
scarlet mixed with black; and our members' cards were
headed with the motto, " Look up, lift up." When the

5 8 Woman s Mission.

football season came to an end, we took up cricket with
great enthusiasm.

About this time I proposed starting a Bible class on
Sunday afternoons, open to all members, though compulsory
for none. The project was not very warmly taken up, but a
few boys promised to attend regularly, and these brought so
much influence to bear on the others, that the class gradually
grew in size and importance, till at the present time it holds
the most prominent position in the club, and in the hearts
also of all the members, for when " old boys " come from a
distance, they always try to arrange that their holiday shall
embrace a Sunday, " So that we can have one afternoon in
the old way, Miss." I cannot lay too much stress on the
fact that attendance at the Bible class is quite voluntary,
and that the members get no special advantages in the shape
of marks, prizes, or treats. Every member in the club is
treated alike, whether he attend class regularly or not. At
the same time, we bring individual influence to bear on each
member, to induce him to come for his own sake, because it
will help him in his struggle to make his life higher and
nobler. This is the feeling among the class. " It keeps me
straight," a young fellow, who is set in the midst of many
and great dangers, told me recently ; " I couldn't come down
on a Sunday and sit in the midst of you all, if I wasn't
trying to go right." The plan of our class is as follows :
Members drop in between 3 and 3.15, which time we spend
in general conversation. I read them a story from 3. 1 5 to
3.30 ; not weak trash, but something really good, or some-
times even a novel with a strong pure tone. At 3.30 I say
the Collect, and give out the part of the Bible from which
the lesson is taken, the verses being read together by the
whole class. I feel the lesson is of the greatest importance,
as with many of the boys it is the only time they are brought
face to face with the great realities of life. Young working
men have terrible temptations, and neither doctrines nor
platitudes will send them out armed for the fight. The
Bible lesson, therefore, if it is to help them, must touch their
everyday working life. Our Bible lesson usually lasts till
nearly 4.30, and we conclude the class with a Collect and one
or two hymns.

Clubs for Young Men. 59

In giving this description of the Bible class, as it is now,
I have rather diverged from the history of the club. I must
therefore return to the second winter of our existence, which
found us hard at work with a singing class and a debating
society. The latter is certainly an educational power, but
the management requires some tact, or ill feeling would be
quickly roused,and debates would be finished out "with fists"
a few days later. We excluded politics, and discussed such
subjects as " Gambling," " Military Conscription," " The In-
fluence of Penny Dreadfuls," and so on. Our football club,
too, soon earned a great reputation thanks partly to our
captain, a young working man who possessed great control
over his team, and to whose tact and loyalty I owe a
great deal.

For the next year or two our club grew steadily. To the
athletic branch we added a rowing club ; and as our only
meeting-place was, and is still, my own sitting-room, I
found it necessary to have some sort of class every night, so
that each boy might have a chance. There may be advan-
tages in a big hall or club-room where large numbers can
assemble, but I will always look on the small classes which
the size of our room necessitated as the very foundation of
the club's success. A small class can be made friendly and
conversational ; each individual boy can be known, his in-
terest can be roused, and a personal friendship can be formed
with him ; his shyness wears off, and if he get into trouble or
difficulty he will naturally come and talk the matter over ;
whereas in a big class discipline and formality become more
necessary, and there is a wider gulf between teacher and
pupil. I feel sure that no club can really succeed unless
there is the tie of personal affection between the members
and whoever is responsible for them, for it is this tie alone
that can give to a club that feeling of loyalty, esprit de corps,
and true co-operation, which practically means life in a
corporate body. The power of this personal tie was very
strongly illustrated the following year, when I was laid aside
for ten months by a severe illness, and unable to do anything
for the club, except see the boys separately now and then.
Although they refused to have a substitute, and all the
classes were therefore stopped, they kept the club together

60 Woman's Mission.

among themselves, and when I was once more able to be
among them, we took up the threads exactly where we had
left off. Only those long months of illness did make a
difference ; for, as Kingsley truly says, " There is a latent
chivalry, doubt it not, in the heart of each untutored being,
only waiting for something to develop it into fulness." I
wish I could find words to describe the gentleness and
tenderness, the thought and consideration, "the reverence of
strength for weakness," shown by those big, manly fellows.
It quite altered the state of things in the club. Up till then
I had taken care of the boys ; from henceforth they have
taken entire charge of each other, and of me ! This has
resulted in an organization so useful and so effective that I
will describe it in detail.

Six of the members who had been in the club for some
years were promoted to the dignity of "officers," and were
put in charge of a "company," varying in number from ten
to fourteen. Each officer has an order book, which is brought
to me every Saturday night, and returned to him on Sunday,
filled up with all the notices for the week, and it is his duty
to see that these are made known to every man in his com-
pany. He has also to report illness, collect subscriptions,
ascertain the wishes of his company on matters concerning
the club, and, in the words of his commission, "by his
example and influence maintain a high standard and good
name among those for whom he is responsible." The officers
remain for a few minutes each Sunday, to talk over club
affairs, and we have meetings also at frequent intervals, as
there is always much important business to settle. The
admission of new members is left entirely in their hands,
as a candidate has to be proposed and seconded by an
officer, and two adverse votes, which are not given by ballot,
blackball him. I find the officers very fair in this respect,
their great idea being to exclude from the club any one who
does not mean to put his whole interest into it. We certainly
are jealous; it has to be "all in all, or not at all" with
members of our club. " We'll have no half and halfers, Miss,"
they say. At the same time they equally object to "toffs,"
that is to say, young men who give themselves airs, dress up
on Sunday, and are too grand to notice a mate in the streets.

Clubs for Young Men. 6 1

We resolutely keep the club for bond fide young working
men, who want to look after themselves, and spend their
spare time in something better than loafing. In the officers'
hands is also the power of punishing, suspending, or ex-
pelling a member, though I am thankful to say it is a power
they seldom need to exercise. Of course, where a boy's
influence is really bad, he must go for the sake of the others,
and in the one or two instances where this has been neces-
sary, I have tried to get the expelled members to make a
fresh start in a fresh place. For such as these I believe the
army is salvation, with its rigorous discipline, and the advan-
tages it offers to young men who keep steady.

It sometimes answers well to suspend a boy for a short
time, and then put him on probation, but it must be done
carefully, and so as not to rob him of his self-respect, or
make him defiant. I always urge that

"Earthly power is likest God's
When mercy seasons justice,"

and the officers generally are willing to make allowances and
forgive. Whatever their verdict may be, I always convey it
to the boy in question, and such occasions give one a splendid
opportunity of lending a helping hand.

Such is the work of the officers, though I feel that I have
not done justice to the tact and good feeling which they
show, to the real interest they take in their "companies,"
and to the manner in which they realize their responsibilities.
The little touch of rivalry between the companies is very
healthy ; it prevents interest from flagging, develops a strong
feeling of esprit de corps, and makes the officers feel that the
reputation of the club lies in their hands.

A general meeting is held every year, at which the officers
are elected formally, though the real choice of them lies in
my hands. As the club is non-parochial and quite private,
we have no public subscriptions ; every member pays three
shillings a year, and this goes towards the expenses of the
cricket and football field. We have a Christy Minstrel
troupe, which is a great amusement all through the winter,
and it is also very profitable, as the members give concerts in
the town and neighbouring villages, and we generally manage
to clear a few pounds for club expenses. The wood-carving

62 Woman s Mission.

bids fair to become a great financial success. We do chip
carving, which has the advantage of being easy, interesting,
and cheap, and since the club took first prize at a large Arts
and Crafts Exhibition we have had plenty of orders for work.
Two of our officers, who are clever carvers, have undertaken
to teach other classes ; one goes every week to a village near,
and the other purposes trying what he can do with a gang of
boys who live in the worst part of the town. This may be
the beginning of a missionary work, and of a new phase in
the history of the club. It speaks well for the boys that
though they spend many of their spare hours in carving,
they will not take any of the money, but hand all proceeds
over to the club fund without reserve. This club fund, as
well as a smaller fund of pennies collected on Sunday, they
leave to me to spend exactly as I like, and are quite indignant
if I want to show them a balance-sheet or account-book. As
we have no rent to pay for a room, and as there are no
expenses connected with refreshments or any such extras,
the club does not cost very much, and I think from .30 to
.40 covers everything, and includes such items as sending
delicate boys to convalescent homes, or helping those who
may be out of work over a bad time. We keep up a library,
and generally manage to have a day's outing in the summer.
The athletic clubs involve a good deal of trouble and
expense, but in their way they are a most important part
of the work. Young men must have some outlet for their
spirits, and what is safer than cricket, football, or a row on
the river? I am thankful now that as a child I was well
drilled in every form of sport in which boys delight. Then
I was apt to grumble at the tyranny of being made to field,
bowl, or keep wicket through a hot afternoon, while my
brother and his friends had their innings, or at having to
stand shivering near the goal while they had all the excite-
ment of working the football up and down the field ; but
now I feel grateful to my oppressors! Being able to score
for the boys at cricket, and keep the bowling analysis cor-
rectly, to criticize the "passing," "wheeling," or "tackling"
after a football match, and to find fault with the " feathering "
and " form " of the crew, this has been one of the strongest
links between us, while I feel sure that the influence of a

Clubs for Young Men. 63

lady on their games makes them play in as gentlemanly and
honourable a manner as any Eton or Harrow team. Recrea-
tion is a most important factor in the lives of our young
men, and, therefore, though we must never raise it above its
true value, we must, as Dean Church has argued, " carry into
their hard lives something of what gladdens ours, something
of that keen and high enjoyment, that discipline, refinement,
and elevation of spirit, which is given to many of us in such
overflowing measure."

This then is a very brief account of what can be done
with a number of young men, without great expense, and
with no club house except a lady's sitting-room. I feel that
it is essentially a lady's work. Only a woman can have the
softening and refining influence on boys who have to struggle
through the battle of life with terrible odds against them ;
only a woman's voice can call out their chivalry ; only a
woman's tact can restrain the passionate nature, encourage
the wavering, guide the enthusiastic, raise the fallen ; only
a woman can give them the strong, full sympathy for which
human nature instinctively yearns. I can hardly sum up
the qualifications for undertaking such work, for I believe it
lies within the power of any woman who longs " to find her
far heaven in near humanity," who feels that the "way to
God is by the road of man ; " but to any who are about to
undertake anything similar, I may offer a few words of advice.
First, put your whole heart into your work. No club or class
can answer which is just taken up as a fad and then dropped.
It involves real work ; the sympathy and interest must not
flag. Your earnestness will be reflected on the boys ; if they
see your whole time and trouble is given up to them, they
will not grudge you theirs in return ; in fact, they will un-
consciously catch something of your enthusiasm, and, as we
know, enthusiasm is one of the strongest motive powers.
Secondly, I urge, trust the boys. It is very seldom you will
find such trust misplaced. Let your boys see you expect
something good of them, and they will not fail you ; show
them that you believe them capable of heroism, and it will
put them on their mettle. Try to know each boy individually,
and so give each one exactly the help he wants. One cannot
take too much trouble to grasp each boy's separate character :

64 Woman's Mission.

boys cannot be managed or influenced in a lump, any more
than a number of people with different complaints can be
cured by the same medicine. You cannot know a boy by
just seeing him in class ; you must know his home, his cir-
cumstances, his work, his friends, and his hobby ; you must
see how he faces trouble, how he bears success, what his
influence is, or where is the point through which he can best
he influenced, for only thus can you really help him. And
above all, if the boys leave the town, do not lose sight ot
them. Lastly, do not get discouraged when things seem to
go badly, as they often do. It is a great mistake to worry
too much over trifles, or even over what seem at the time
much more than trifles. It is wonderful to see how things
are worked out

" If only we bate not a jot of heart or hope,
But steer right onward ! "

My first experience of a boys' class was not a pleasant

Online LibraryAngela Georgina Burdett-CouttsWoman's mission; a series of congress papers on the philanthropic work of women, by eminent writers → online text (page 7 of 49)