Charles Richmond Henderson.

Introduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment online

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criminate charity encourages the practices of begging. Outdoor
relief in support of degraded families, without returns in work,
tends to increase the number of those who would perish if left to
their own resources. Many examples could easily be given in
all communities of debased stocks breeding and continuing to
live at the expense of public and private charity.

It is claimed by friends of deaf mutes that the modern method
of educating persons of this class in separate institutions tends
to create a stock of families in whom the defect is hereditary
and accompanied with other grave deformities.

It is true that in some institutions, as crowded infant asylums,
charity has found a way of effectually exterminating imperfect
and illegitimate children. Hospitals founded with pious intent,
but managed by the incompetent, become plague-smitten, and
increase mortality. But such results are not sought, the sincere
purpose of philanthropy being to prolong the individual life.

22 The Phenomena of Dependence.

These illustrations do not prove that charity is necessarily
cruel, but that in effect it may be, and that it is under obligation
not to promote a selection of the unfit if it is possible to avoid
it. Hereafter we shall point out methods by which the sufferer
may be mercifully cared for without being permitted to injure
the quality of the race hereafter. It is enough at this point to
show with emphasis how charity may be an accomplice of vice,
ignorance, and brutality.



At this point we pass from consideration of general laws of
causation, biological and historical, to a direct study of indi-
viduals. The primary data are furnished by observation of
individual cases. All further steps depend on the insight and
accuracy of the first impressions. Tables of statistics have no
higher value than the original entries out of which they are com-
posed; and the original entries are the particular judgments of
individuals who are in contact with the dependent persons.

1. The Problem. — Our problem is to account for dependence
on the community. While most dependents are weak and in-
ferior in body and mind, they are by no means all degenerate or
abnormal. Our problem is far wider than a study of defect.
Multitudes of people become dependent, at least temporarily, by
fire, flood, or epidemics. Old people and little children may
require support, although they are entirely normal. The expla-
nation, therefore, must proceed from the study of the nature of
the individual outward to his situation, and still farther, to his
heredity and culture, and to the general social conditions which
have affected all these factors. The intelligent worker is very
likely to carry on his study in this order, from the particular
case to the wide sweep of law.

If independent observers, in various cities and states, reach
approximately the same judgment as to the value of causes, this
correspondence commands a high degree of confidence.

2. Value of Statistics. — The tabulation of a multitude of
separate cases actually adds to the kind of knowledge derived
from local and isolated observations. By reaching an average


24 The Phenomena of Dependence.

from a large number of cases, the mind is protected from taking
a striking and theatrical exception for the rule. A general law,
or uniform process of events, is discovered by recording the
data in their time and space relations of succession and co-
existence. The vague guess of the individual student is changed
into the more exact measurement of the mathematician, wherever
measurement is possible. The individual case reveals a fact,
but statistics exhibit the extent and degree of the fact. The
geographical boundaries of a social plague are revealed by the
statistical devices of charts and maps. The breaks and varia-
tions in the regular lines of figures suggest new forces causally at

3. Grades of Statistical Groups. — Different observers deal
with varying kinds of dependents, and their records will vary
with the conditions which fall under their notice. Four fairly
distinct levels may be defined: (i) Dependent children are
registered and described in the records of orphanages, children's
aid societies, and reform schools. (2) Partially dependent per-
sons come under the notice of public and private agencies for
outdoor relief. Families aided by churches and other voluntary
associations are generally of a higher type than those who
become public paupers. (3) Entirely dependent persons are
studied in institutions of indoor relief, and there we must
expect to find lower degrees of weakness, and advanced dissolu-
tion of powers. Those who are aided by private charity will
usually give evidence of a better past history than those who drift
to public almshouses. (4) Finally, the records of institutions
for the abnormal, as feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, will yield
a series of life histories very different from all the others. A
general average of the grand totals of causes noticed under such
varying conditions would have no value and would be positively
misleading. Those figures which relate to limited groups will be
more nearly correct and significant.

4. Personal Helplessness may arise from the physical and
mental conditions due to weakness of age, sex, disease, ignorance,

Explanation of Dependency. 25

and lack of industrial training. All these factors vary in endless
complexity, react upon each other, and give rise to other effects.

Age. — ■ If we make age the central point of attention we shall
find the widest differences according to the group studied. In
the records of orphanages the helplessness of childhood is the
chief cause of dependence, while in a poorhouse old age is most
important. To personal feebleness from immaturity or decay of
powers must be joined absence of natural support to account for
pauperism. In an old country, from which many youthful emi-
grants have gone to seek better fortunes, there will be relatively
many aged dependents, while in a new colony dependence will
affect children in a most marked way.

Sex. — Personal helplessness may result from conditions of
sex and marital relations. In a community where the men move
much from place to place, seeking occupation, where all are
restless, and where there are many young people, widows will
be found requiring help to care for children, and in cities
deserted wives must be aided. The cowardice or despair of hus-
bands and the cruelty of death make a demand upon charitable
aid. In a coast town the widows of fishermen drowned at sea
struggle for existence, and in mining regions the accidents of
dark tunnels leave mourners and helpless infants dependent on

Disease and Injury. — Physical defect prepares the way for
dependence on the community, and sickness is a constantly re-
curring plea of the needy. The breadwinner is incapacitated
for earning support, the spirit and hope of the family are broken
down, and solicitation of help grows into a parasitic habit. The
almshouses, asylums, hospitals, are crowded with evidences of the
close connection between physical infirmity and dependence.

Adaptation to the economic environment demands knowledge,
training, and technical skill; ignorance and awkwardness are a
burden and obstacle. Original incapacity, dulness, or family
and community neglect may be to blame for this condition. The
immigrant who has just been transplanted from a familiar situa-

26 The Phenomena of Dependence.

tion to a social state which confuses and troubles him, unac-
quainted with the language of street and shop, surrounded by
unscrupulous sharpers, and jostled aside by competitors for em-
ployment, has a difficult task. The old vagabond, pictured by
Beranger, sought instruction of artisans in his youth, and they
told him there were too many workmen already; he must go beg.
Thus he became an "insect made to injure man," instead of a
producer for the good of all.

5. Unsocial Habits. — If we move backward from a condition
of helplessness to such causes of that condition as are due to
unsocial habits, we shall come upon a new range of forces.
Alcoholism, licentiousness, and roving may be selected as typical
examples of the most important elements in this class.

Driiik and Drug Habits. — There is no better place than
this to illustrate the effect of a personal or partisan bias in the
field of pure theory. The estimates of the responsibility of
drink for pauperism vary with country, party, and occupation.
The original schedules and records of cases were filled up by
persons of all shades of opinion. The radical prohibitionist
finds drink in almost every case of pauperism and crime; others,
with a different bias, seldom discover it. But this very fact
makes the statistics, when reduced to averages, all the more
worthy of confidence. They come to us from all civilized lands;
and everywhere in Europe and America most observers agree to
assign a large place to alcoholism as a cause.

It is not difficult to account for this judgment. Money ex-
pended on stimulants is taken from food and other necessary
articles and bestowed upon a substance which is rarely useful,
perhaps never necessary, and in multitudes of instances ruinous.
The breadwinner who puts an enemy into his mouth to steal away
his brains is incapacitated for industry and responsibility. The
steady drinker is personally exposed to more frequent sickness
and accident, and his offspring are liable to be idiotic, feeble,
or insane. Boys imitate the example of their seniors, and thus
a social custom gains a mastery of entire groups and generations

Explanation of Dependency. 27

of men. Strong men become feeble and destitute through the
drink habit, and are recorded as abstainers at a later period of
life in prisons and poorhouses, because they are too poor to
purchase liquor and are, perhaps, too lifeless and apathetic to
crave excitement. The enfeebled children of drinking men may
crave stimulants for this very reason, that vitality in them runs
so low.

Intemperance is partly an effect, even where it acts as cause.
The crowded living rooms, the hot sleeping chambers, the ill-
cooked and indigestible food, the irksome and exhausting labor,
induce men to drink.

Licentiousness and kindred evils, according to the testimony
of many physicians and observers, induce weakness of body and
will, the root of that economic dependence which leads to pau-
perism. The excesses, abuses, and perversion of the sexual func-
tion rank with drink among the chief causes of social parasitism.
These abuses do not attract so much public notice as intemper-
ance in drink, because they cannot be discussed so plainly in
mixed companies. But society should be taught in suitable ways
that these excesses and abuses of the natural function induce
feebleness, rob men of the will to live and the joy of struggle,
and the power to take the initiative or to persevere in industry.

From the same vicious indulgence arise specific contagious
and hereditary diseases which deplete the vital forces and continue
their fearful ravages with innocent persons, wives and children,
even to the third and fourth generation. Nervous maladies fol-
low, insanity, idiocy, and epilepsy. Liability to ordinary dis-
eases is increased because the power of resistance is undermined.

These perversions are intensified by the trade of prostitution,
for the women who seek support by this calling are a constant
incitement to lust, and are compelled to invent attractions to
prevent their own starvation. The social environment of street,
playground, shop, and home are debased by the conversation,
gestures, and conduct of the depraved; and then the customs react
on individuals to their own undoing. Illegitimate children are

28 The Phenomena of Dependence.

exposed to higher mortality because of the fear and shame of the
mother previous to birth, and to the desertion or neglect which
ordinarily follow birth. The infamous theory, born of lust, that
these "children of love " are superior to children born in wedlock,
has no general ground in reason or experience, and is made
plausible only by citation of exceptional instances.

Sexual licentiousness is itself an effect which requires explana-
tion. Its basis is in a physical appetite, which has its natural
and appropriate function in the perpetuation of the race and the
affection and culture of the family. Its excesses and abuses are
due to local irritation, local or affecting certain nervous centres.
They are aggravated by neglect of exercise in the open air and
physical training, by sedentary habits and nervous excitements.
Suggestion, imitation, and precocious instruction of thoughtless,
ignorant, and unprincipled persons are influential. Crowded
sleeping rooms, unscrupulous overseers in shops and stores,
neglect of modesty in dress and play, salacious pictures and
books, base advertisements of quack doctors, are foes of purity
and self-control. Even some physicians have been known to
flatter vice by advising mere boys that precocious indulgence is
good for health and growth. The public and permitted solicita-
tion of harlots on the streets or at windows in cities is evil. The
want of high spiritual, religious, intellectual, and aesthetic inter-
ests offers an empty soul for the incoming of unclean demons.
The tables of causes furnished by charity societies naturally give
no adequate notion of the extent of this evil, since it is a cause
which will not be voluntarily suggested or discovered by direct

Shiftlessness and Roving, — Closely related to the want of skill
which we have already noted is the absence of industrial habits,
steadiness, persistence, honesty, love of struggle, ambition.
Laziness, shiftlessness, and irregularity are fatal qualities in our
rigorous climate.

As the normal home is the conservator of morality, the stimu-
lus to industry, the garden of virtues, so the abandonment of

Explanation of Dependency. 29

family obligations, the nomadic impulse to wander aimlessly,
the contempt for the obligations of marriage and parenthood, are
springs of misery and poverty. The tramp manifests this
trait in exaggerated degree, but the wife-deserter is only too

Race Traits. — The inherited characteristics of race belong to
the nature of persons. Physical and psychical traits are very
persistent, and in the conglomerate population of the United
States deserve careful study. The records of public and private
agencies of relief note the habits and disposition of dependents
of various races, and their tendencies toward drunkenness, licen-
tiousness, shiftlessness, crime, and dishonesty. But these statis-
tics must be used with extreme caution.

Inherited race traits must be viewed in connection with social
opportunities. The negro in a northern city is urged downward
toward pauperism, and especially toward crime, not alone by his
racial defects, but also by the social prejudices which close
against him the doors of remunerative employment even in
occupations for which he is adapted. The statistics which seem
to show that the Irish furnish more than their quota of pauperism
from alcohol, as compared with the Germans, must be explained
in part by the kinds of beverages to which they have been

6. The External Conditions must be regarded in connection
with the state of helplessness and the inner nature of the
dependents observed. Weakness, even when extreme, does not
become the occasion of resort to public help, if the person owns
property or is supported by relatives or friends. There are three
situations, external to the person, which determine the form and
degree of dependence : lack of normal support, deficient income
from employment, and undue burdens and obligations of family.

Lack of Normal Support. — Imprisonment of the breadwinner
stops the natural source of supply for children and wife. The
number of offences for which men are confined in jails and
prisons has increased greatly since the abolition of hanging and

30 The Phenomena of Dependence.

whipping. The very poor man, arrested for intoxication, is
unable to pay his fine, and he goes to the house of correction
or jail, while the members of his family suffer. Orphans of the
poor and children abandoned by unnatural parents fall as a
burden upon the public for support.

Neglect by relatives is the title of a column of pathetic fig-
ures, the symbols of multitudes of heart tragedies. Back of the
icy numbers the imagination must paint the wan sister dying of
consumption in a hospital, the withered mother whose offspring
leaves her to the cold charity of the world, the decrepit grand-
father driven from the hearth of unfeeling descendants.

"No male support" is often scheduled where the widow or
deserted wife stands at the office window of the poor official and
appeals for the means of prolonging an unhappy existence.

Employment, — With most people in cities the daily wage
is the daily source of supply. If the employment is irregular,
inadequate, or poorly paid, then charity must supplement indus-
try. The extent to which these causes operate varies with
seasons, places, and general industrial conditions. We must
carefully distinguish between times of general distress and the
ordinary times of prosperous commerce. Those who are want-
ing in strength, skill, efficiency, industry, and honesty are most
exposed to the vicissitudes of enforced idleness.

Unhealthy and dangerous employments cast upon philanthropy
many of its burdens. The very weakness of ill health compels
certain persons to accept employment in close shops, where
health is still further impaired and ruin made complete.

Extraordinary Burdens frequently fall upon those least able
to carry them. The number of children waxes as strength for
industry wanes. The earnings of an unskilled laborer are often
greater at his twentieth year than when he is fifty years of age.
They are seldom large enough to cover the expense of an ordi-
nary family in a decent way and furnish savings enough for pro-
longed illness and advanced life. Sickness is a calamity when
the ordinary income barely meets modest daily wants.

Explanation of Dependency. 31

The best expert estimates of the relative importance of all these
causes may be found in the appendix to this volume. But we
must constantly be reminded that no one of these causes acts
alone; and the attempt to single them out, one by one, for meas-
urement, is very liable to divert our attention from the most sig-
nificant fact of all, the intricacy of the network of interwoven
causes which invest a sinking family. In the story of the giant
in "Gulliver's Travels," who was bound by pygmies, it was not
any one fine thread which held him to earth, but the millions of
strands which the busy little men carried over his body in every
direction. We must be careful not to sacrifice this truth to a
false show of scientific accuracy.



Still proceeding from direct observation made on particular
dependents outward to meet the great circling tides of general
evolution, we come upon the zone of ancestral tendencies and
immediate educational influences of all kinds.

1. Inheritance and Culture. — Two factors combine with per-
sonal endeavor in the making of a character, inheritance and
culture. Both may be observed, but never entirely separate, in
the case of those who solicit social help. The dependent usually
inherits from ancestors defects of body and mind, which dis-
qualify him in some degree to meet the demands of a competi-
tive world. That very struggle which draws out the highest
power of the capable sweeps him downward to defeat. He
would perish but for the assistance of this same competitive
community. Those traits of personal helplessness which we
have just been regarding as causes of pauperism must now be
treated as effects, and in turn their sources must be traced. The
biological method of explanation has already been used to dis-
cover the universal laws of evolution under which defects appear
and are transmitted. At this point we test these generalizations
by facts drawn from immediate study of human beings who
manifest less than average fitness for the conditions.

Rarely do the records of relief societies and public almoners
tell us about the progenitors of the applicants. Such records are
made to give light for present and future action, not to explain
remote antecedents. This is a serious practical error, which
will be rectified in the future of scientific charity. Where books


General Conditions. ^^

have been kept in a county poorhouse for a long time, we can
follow the same names backward along the line of heredity.
Thus, indirectly, the records made for a practical purpose come
to have a high theoretical value.

Some notable studies have been made by selecting particular
families of degraded character and making extended inquiries
into their ancestry. The stem of a family tree is followed down
to its roots. Among the most remarkable of these studies are
those of Mr. Dugdale in his book, "The Jukes," and Mr.
McCulloch's "Tribe of Ishmael."

But how much is due to heredity and how much to the deprav-
ing surroundings of home and neighborhood? "Poor folks have
poor ways." The children of "The Jukes" not only inherited
certain physical defects from their parents, but also grew up
under their influence, imitated their example, learned their
modes of thought and expression, caught their low tricks of

If we could study the life histories of many children, taken
from vicious homes and adopted by cultivated and upright foster
parents, we might have a new basis for estimating the relative
importance of heredity and culture. But we have already noted
the difficulty of making such studies, and it is rarely attempted.
Foster parents usually desire to conceal the past history of adoptive
children, even if they know it themselves, especially if the chil-
dren do well and become dear to them. In the case of those
who turn out badly we have scant information.

From such observations as have been made, we are justified
in drawing certain limited and tentative conclusions. When
adopted children are under six years of age and of sound body,
the influence of good education and example may predominate
over inherited tendencies. When the age of adoption is higher,
we have to deal with acquired habits working in the same direc-
tion with vicious traits ; and there is less hope of improvement
through change of environment. There remain the numerous
instances of defective brains, weakness, and disease, for which

34 The Phenomena of Dependence.

heredity is altogether to blame and which culture and training
can only in part modify, and never remove.

2. External Conditions. — If we enter the localities where
pauperism is rank and flourishing, we observe certain depressing
factors more conspicuous there than in neighborhoods of the
prosperous. There is a causal connection between these depress-
ing conditions and those traits of helplessness which mark the
dependent classes. It is legitimate to infer that pauperism must
come from conditions which, even in advance of direct evidence
of destitution, tend to lower vitality, diminish income, produce
disease, inefiQciency, and immorality. The process of race evo-
lution goes on continually and without break. The traits which
are transmitted, evil and good, are produced before our eyes by
changes in the contemporary world.

Physical environment modifies the forces which act upon the
weak. In warm climates the expenditure for food, clothing, and
housing may be relatively small as compared with the require-
ments of severe winters of our Northern regions. In bleak and
barren lands the inhabitants are ever in sight of hunger, but
the social standards may be so low that a difference between
dependents and others is scarcely noticed.

Housing. — The place of family residence is the primary ex-
ternal influence on the life of individuals, and hence we can
easily trace to improper housing many of the causes of disease,
weakness, and vice. Observation furnishes vivid illustrations
which appeal to the imagination, while statistics enforce the
lessons of general laws. In all cities and in every country the
authorities report the same effects from similar conditions. Men
are made feeble and poor because of evil domestic conditions.
The crowding of buildings shuts out air and light, essentials of

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 3 of 35)