Charles Richmond Henderson.

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

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ment. For these same reasons the partial support given by rela-
tives and friends would cease. Outdoor relief is better than
indoor relief because it keeps families together and is not so
disgraceful as residence in an almshouse. Friends of the legal
method declare that in Europe the charities of associations and
churches have been utterly unable to meet the demands of modern
life, in both Catholic and Protestant countries, and that there is
a steady movement to extend the function of the state.

In reply to objections urged against the legal system, it is

6o Relief and Care of Dependents.

affirmed that they are based chiefly on defects in the law and its
administration, defects which can be remedied without giving
up the principle.

8. Conclusion. — The system of outdoor legal relief is a gen-
eral and permanent social fact, deeply fixed in laws, usages, tra-
ditions, and beliefs. The tendency of all modern nations is in
the direction of enlarging rather than of diminishing government
help to the poor. Practically we must deal with this fact, even
if we dislike it and seek to effect a change. In spite of the
strong and able protest of the Chalmers party, official relief has
steadily grown in favor in Scotland. Since the reforms of 1834
pauperism has decreased in England, and there is no prospect of
the system being abolished there, especially as the early prophe-
cies of increase of pauperism have not been fulfilled. The Ger-
man cities have developed an admirable system of family care,
in which public and private agencies are happily united. Even
France and Italy seem to be moving in the same direction. The
modern wage-earning classes, whose votes must be counted on,
are bitterly opposed to substituting the gifts of rich patrons
for the system of public mutual insurance under democratic

Both forms are liable to abuse. Many of the abuses cited by
advocates of private charity against legal systems have also
marked voluntary systems. Defective administration of ecclesi-
astical bounty in Italy and France produced just such beggary
and vagabondage as arose from defective public administration
in England.

The worst evils are due more to the conditions and character
of the people, to social forces, beliefs, standards, and industrial
opportunities, than to any particular form of administering

Thus we are driven to conclude that the practical question for
the present is one of administration. We must direct our efforts
chiefly to popularize the principles of correct and efficient meth-
ods. Even a bad law may be made to produce good results if

Outdoor Legal Relief. 6i

the administrators are capable, patriotic, and humane, while an
excellent law may fail in incompetent and corrupt hands. What
these principles of the best administration are we must now
consider, and at the same time we shall bring to light
standards which test the defects in our present system and its



In this place we consider the administration of outdoor relief
in general, whether by public or voluntary agencies. By princi-
ples is meant here practical working directions. We must repeat
that they are not theoretical descriptions and explanations of
facts based on the method of isolation or abstraction of a single
motive, or on the method of complete historical description, all
motives of concrete life being taken into account. Nor are these
principles to be regarded as divine laws, mandates of supreme
power and wisdom, absolutely fixing right and wrong. Nor are
they legislative statutes, prescribing duties and enforcing edicts
with penalties. Positively, they are simply practical directions,
generally applicable to relief among modern peoples. As to their
origin, they are derived from the experience and trials of all
nations which have systems of relief under the economic order of
free contract. They have gradually been formulated by men and
women engaged in the administration of relief, as overseers,
legislators, and commissioners of charity. They are verified as
useful and valid by further experience in the light of criticism
and discussion. The agreement of the competent is a sign that
they are, presumably, the survivors after many contests in the
competition of plans and ideas, although we must be careful not
to adopt mere traditions which have no recommendation except
their antiquity. Such principles are not substitutes for tact and
judgment in administrators and visitors, who work with varying
elements under changing conditions. No persons can by any
possibility be adequately equipped for service in charity merely
by committing these directions to memory. But the individual
worker is under moral obligations to know and consider these


Administration of Relief in Families. 6^

principles and not to set up his narrow experience, perhaps his
conceit and prejudice, against methods recommended by the
most competent thinkers, who are in positions favorable for
observation and trial.

The statements here made must be aphoristic and suggestive
in form, in contrast with a body of regulations which might be
drawn up for a particular institution or restricted field.

1. First Problem ; Investigation of the Individual Case. —
Investigation is at the basis of all subsequent steps and meas-
ures, as the diagnosis of the physician precedes prescription of
medicine or diet, as the examination of a student shows his place
in a course of education. There are certain external signs of
dependence which may serve as marks of classes and as evidences
of presumption for or against relief. These marks relate to age,
sex, domestic status, health, and economic condition. Those
who are manifestly feeble and have no means of support may be
presumed to need aid; while the able-bodied should be more
closely investigated and tested. Neglected or deserted infants,
or abandoned children of school age, deserted wives or widows
with young children, the sick and feeble, invalids, deaf mutes,
blind, epileptic, idiots, insane, bear marks which cannot be
counterfeited. All cases must be fully studied, but these are
most obviously suitable for immediate help.

The able-bodied may sometimes require assistance; as where
sickness invades the home, where accident has interrupted house-
hold life, or where work and wages are insufHcient to maintain
existence. In emergency cases relief may be given, exception-
ally, for a short time, without detailed investigation, as in case
of accident, conflagration, childbirth, sudden insanity.

T/ie Request. — The application of the poor is made to some
individual, society, church, or public officer of relief, or may
be brought to light by some person who visits among the
poor. Investigation may be made by a paid agent or by a vol-
untary visitor. The process requires both tact and experience.
At the office a form may be filled out by the applicant, stating

64 Relief and Care of Dependents.

his side of the story. This is very useful, but is not sufficient.
Investigation must be carried into the home. The appearance
of the house, furniture, apparel, conduct, furnishes a clew to
the situation. Deep destitution combined with an honest and
pathetic effort to make the best of a sorry state and scant material
may be disclosed.

Inquiry must be made in the neighborhood and among the
acquaintances of the applicant. The physician, grocer, agents
of societies, visitors, teachers, landlord, are sources of informa-
tion. But. this questioning must be conducted with care and
wisdom in order to avoid injuring the reputation and prospects
of the honest poor. The investigator must not attract attention
by display, as by driving up to the house in a carriage or by
public discussion of his object.

The Case Card. — A formula of questions will facilitate the
investigation at each stage, and such a form is necessary in order
to prevent overlooking of pertinent facts. The written record is
necessary for the use of the office, for later visitors, and to aid
memory. But this schedule should not be regarded as a substi-
tute for personal impressions of a living observer, and should not
be filled out from answers in a mechanical and unthinking way.
No person is fit for this function who is devoid of sympathy, and
who merely regards the examination as a means of discovering
fraud, rather than as the best way to aid the poor.

2. Second Problem; Duration of Relief . ^ — The distinction
between temporary and continuous relief is of vital importance.
In the case of a working-man who is temporarily ill a gift of a
few dollars may be adequate; while an aged woman, friendless,
destitute, and crippled, may require aid for many years. Reliev-
ing officers are subjectively affected by knowing that they have
power to grant an order for an indefinite period. They become
-negligent in observation and care. Under the best systems of
administration the visitors who give advice as to aid must revisit
temporary cases once a fortnight, and this makes them alert. If
trustees are required by law or rule to renew the order at frequent

Administration of Relief in Families. 6^

intervals, on the basis of a fresh investigation, they are more
inventive and act with fuller knowledge. The effect of an indefi-
nite order on the recipient is to induce him to depend on alms,
and he comes after a time to regard it as a pension, a debt due
to him from the public. He does not seek work, and his fore-
sight, economy, and energy are seriously impaired.

3. Third Problem ; the Place of Relief. — The principles of
administration of outdoor and indoor relief are not free from
doubt and controversy. In some countries indoor relief is gen-
erally preferred, while in others outdoor relief is more highly
esteemed. There is also great variety in the customs of dif-
ferent counties in the same state. The differences in practice
relate more to the emphasis on one or the other than to funda-
mental disagreements. All countries use both methods, and in
general for the same reasons, though by diverse local forms. All
competent authorities agree that indoor relief is more suitable
for the insane, the feeble-minded, the sick, and the friendless
aged, and the reason lies in the unfitness of such persons for
competitive life.

There is general agreement that institutions should be special-
ized, and that it is not wise to crowd all kinds of dependents into
one institution, as the poorhouse. Children especially are out
of place in mixed populations of paupers. The sick and invalids
require medical care at home or in hospitals or asylums. Widows
with young children should not be forced into an almshouse.
Men who are disposed to work, even if able-bodied, should not
be arbitrarily separated from their families and deprived of the
opportunity to seek employment in freedom. Of course those
who shirk labor should be turned over to a workhouse. The
friendless old people should be provided for in suitable homes.
The defectives are best cared for in appropriate schools or

4. Fourth Problem ; the Form of Material Relief. — Is it best
to give money or goods ready for consumption? The answer
depends upon conditions. The common method in the United

66 Relief and Care of Dependents.

States is to give relief "in kind," as food, fuel, clothing, medi-
cines; or to issue orders on merchants for specified kinds and
quantities of supplies. Occasionally the authorities keep stocks
of the commodities to be distributed. Indoor relief is entirely
in the form of goods ready for consumption and the accommo-
dations of a home, since the resident of an almshouse enjoys all
that ministers to the necessities of existence. Where the old
custom of boarding out paupers among farmers still lingers, as
the alternative of the poorhouse, the pauper is expected to earn
all he can by his labor, and his wants are supplied. In rural dis-
tricts it is easier to provide food, shelter, and fuel than to pay
money, especially in private charity.

There are advantages to recipients, in certain situations, in
receiving the exact commodities required. Where officials pur-
chase goods at wholesale rates paupers may receive more for the
nominal money value of the order, and it is easier to protect
them from adulteration and shortage. It is not so easy for
alcoholic paupers to exchange goods for drink and other luxuries,
as it would be to exchange orders or cash payments. Where
sudden calamity has reduced multitudes to destitution, as fire or
flood, it is desirable that clothing and food should be at once
supplied where the most essential provisions are not to be had
for money.

But there are objections to relief in kind. It is entirely pos-
sible to exchange either orders or goods for drink and extrava-
gant luxuries by direct trading or through the medium of a
pawnbroker. In places where the food is prepared in public
kitchens the poor are not pleased with the taste and quality of
the cooking. People like their own accustomed varieties of
bacterial ferments and their flavors. The poor should be taught
to manage for themselves, and they ought not to be trained to
neglect or forget the art of buying and economizing. In fact,
poor women quite generally have learned by sharp experience to
make the most of a small income, and frequently they know
better than the officials just what is needed.

Administration of Relief in Families. 67

Relief in kind seems to be best where there is special reason
to fear that men will use money to gratify a diseased craving for
stimulants, or where the authorities are prepared to manage large
stores of groceries or furniture. Private charity may properly
supply dainty articles of diet for the sick, for cases of confine-
ment, and special comforts for invalids.

5. Fifth Problem ; the Amount of Material Relief. — Full sup-
port is not provided in the aid given families. The theory of
outdoor relief is that it is partial and temporary aid for emer-
gency, and not full maintenance. In some cities the average
amount of public funds to each family is not over fifteen dollars
a year, which is but a small fraction of what it costs to support
a family.

Yet these poor people manage to live. By what means? Fre-
quently by begging from charitable individuals, societies, and
churches. Many work long hours at miserable wages, suffer from
hunger, compete with unskilled labor in a crowded market for
the chance to earn a pittance ; and the results are seen in sick-
ness and mortality, stunted growth, short life. The amount given
should be sufficient to maintain health and industrial efficiency,
to make vagrant begging unnecessary, and then require in return
all the work of which the family is capable. It is useless to give
an inadequate amount, for there is moral ruin in mendicancy and
slow torture in starvation. The safe medium is difficult to find,
but the physiological standard is already well known and serves
as a guide. The first step toward fixing the amount of relief
required is to discover what is necessary to prevent begging and
to maintain industrial efficiency. This amount will vary with
climate, season, size of family, and social surroundings. The
earnings of the family and all other sources of income must be
found and deducted.

The rate of relief cannot be fixed in advance by a statute,
because local conditions vary so greatly; but a custom of the
authorities of a place, who are acquainted with the situation, may
serve for an outline. Manifestly no absolute rule can be drawn

68 Relief and Care of Dependents.

up to cover all kinds of cases. Each family must be studied for
its own sake. The almoners must be given some discretion, up
to certain maximum limits, without which a vote of superior
boards is requisite. The Elberfeld system includes the sagacious
provision that no individual visitor can fix the amount, and a
vote of the visitors in the district is necessary. The central
principle of all poor laws finds application here : the person
assisted at public expense should in no case be better off than
free laborers who support themselves.

Public relief may properly be supplemented by private charity,
and in each community there should be a friendly division of
labor. Public relief should be confined to the essentials of
existence, according to local standards of necessity. Private
relief may take account of differences, and may supply comforts
and luxuries. Private relief is especially valuable in new cases,
where the family has not yet formed a habit of begging, and
where a friendly interest and assistance may prevent them from
sinking down into permanent dependence. A costly surgical
operation, for which no public fund is provided, may restore a
man to his occupation and to self-support. Tools and training
furnished to a young man may add one person to the productive
forces of the nation and avoid a series of degrading acts.

Public relief, being legal, must be impartial; it must help all
who are in extreme destitution and cannot make distinctions
even of character. Private relief may select a few, especially
those who give reasonable promise of being self-reliant, or who,
having been upright and industrious, have become temporarily
or permanently helpless. Private relief will do more good if it
selects a few suitable cases and helps them adequately, rather than
attempt the impossible task of helping all by dispersing among
them little doles, which accomplish no purpose whatever.

6. Sixth Problem ; the Disposition and Distribution of the Mate-
rial Means of Relief. — A wise rule is thus stated by Miss Rich-
mond: "When relief is needed in a poor home, it should be
given in the home without any publicity, and after conference

Administration of Relief in Families. 69

with the head of the family, who, if unable to provide the means
of subsistence himself, is still responsible for procuring it. The
man of the family, unless disabled, should do all the asking."
Wives and children should not go to the office if it can be
avoided. There should be no advertising of names in the news-
papers. The applicants for relief should not be obliged to con-
gregate and wait in a central public office, exposed to the gaze
of a crowd of hungry and often vicious people. There should
be no spectacular free distributions of bread and coal by mis-
sions or by merchants, glorifying the donors and damaging the

The artisan is sometimes prevented from earning a living from
lack of tools, although in this age of machines this danger is
relatively small. Experience teaches caution in relation to the
mode of supplying tools. The reason for not giving tools from
public funds is that they may be attached by creditors; or, what
is more likely, will be pawned for liquor, and the person will be
worse off than before. Private persons or societies may with
discretion safely lend tools, retaining ownership, and may even
lend other forms of capital goods.

Pitiful as is the state of a family thrust out by constables, with
their meagre effects huddled on the frozen sidewalk, officials of out-
door legal relief cannot engage to pay rent, for they would thereby
become rent collectors of the bad debts of house owners. If the
family has become so weak that it cannot pay rent, the relieving
officers have no way to help except by opening the door of the
poorhouse. Private charity can make exceptions and discrimi-
nations which are impossible for legal officers, and the payment
of rent is sometimes the best form in which personal benevolence
can come to the succor of distress.

7. Seventh Problem; Personal Ministration. — An essential
feature of the German municipal system of public relief is that
of the voluntary visitor, who becomes acquainted with the depend-
ent family and aids it to become self-supporting. Our Ameri-
can system lacks this element almost entirely, and the defect is

yo Relief and Care of Dependents.

a serious objection to our methods of outdoor legal relief.
Many of our benevolent relief societies depend entirely on
salaried agents, and do not cultivate the ministry of voluntary
visitors. As this high and difficult social service is chiefly pro-
moted by the Charity Organization Societies, we shall give it
consideration in the chapter devoted to that subject.



1. Scope. — In the widest sense indoor relief might include
all methods of supporting and caring for dependents in institu-
tions, hospitals, asylums, infirmaries, for all classes of the help-
less. In this chapter we are to consider simply the almshouse
of cities, counties, and towns, or states.

2. Need. — In the administration of private and public relief
in homes, it is found that a large number of persons are person-
ally infirm and without friends to watch over them, so that
the requisite nursing and care cannot be given them. It is
impossible to supply their wants in their habitations, even if
they do not belong to the homeless class. An institution has
been found necessary. The resources of outdoor relief are too
slender to bear the strain of entire support extending through
many months and years.

The poorhouse is disliked by most persons because it deprives
them of liberty to move about and do what they like. This is
especially true if the discipline of the establishment includes
prohibition of vicious indulgence and enforcement of regular
industry. Many persons who might be ready to receive outdoor
relief will go to work, or look to relatives for aid, rather than
submit to the restrictions and regulations of a house of industry.
This repugnance ought not to be artificially increased by inhu-
mane and cruel discipline, and all that is required for lazy and
able-bodied beggars as a test of their sincerity is the offer of
work and sound habits of daily life. That which is best for all
is the severest punishment for a vagrant or malingerer.

3. History. — During the pioneer stage of life in this coun-
try, when population was scant and scattered, and government


72 Relief and Care of Dependents.

was not fully organized, friendless and dependent persons found
refuge in the voluntary help of neighbors, who were themselves
struggling with the hardships of frontier conditions. Later the
territorial and state legislatures authorized the local authorities
to board out paupers among farmers; and as communities came
to be more complex, and dependents increased in number, it
was found difficult to secure proper care of feeble, broken, and
disagreeable paupers, in families. Dependent children, orphans
or neglected, were often bound out, and counties bought ^farm
lands and erected poorhouses for all kinds of dependent persons,
or made contracts with farmers to board them at an agreed rate,
the paupers being obliged to work as they could. Into these
receptacles of suffering people flowed all sorts of rejected mate-
rial, the aged, the sick, the insane, forsaken children, inebriates,
the blind, deaf mutes, the worn-out criminal and prostitute, the
epileptic, the demented, and the paralytic. And as the poor-
house was the most unattractive place in the county, and the
inmates were without influential friends, and the superintendent
not always chosen for his special fitness for such an office,
abominable abuses grew up, and in many places still continue.

4. The Law. — Outdoor relief is regarded as temporary and
partial, and is not legally recognized in all states. In the South-
ern commonwealths indoor relief is much more generally legal.
All states provide in some way for the permanent and regular
support of those who have no homes or other resources.

The responsible authorities in charge of the poorhouse are
those of the township, town, or county, according to the system
in vogue. These trustees, commissioners, or selectmen, appoint
a superintendent, fix salaries, and prescribe regulations and
duties. The custom of leasing paupers to the lowest bidder is
permitted still in some states, but in others is forbidden, and it
is gradually passing away. The statutes rarely give minute direc-
tions for management, but leave these to the administrative
officers. Separation of the sexes and requirement of labor are
occasionally specified.

Public Indoor Relief: The Poorhouse. 73

Admission is usually easily secured by certificate from one of
the relieving officers or by act of the superintendent. With rare
exceptions there are no statutory regulations of detention and
discharge, even where the health and other interests of the

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 6 of 35)