Charles Richmond Henderson.

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

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community are seriously menaced.

The tendency at present is to define by statute the classes
which may be received and those which must be refused admis-
sion. Thus it is often provided by law that dependent minors,
of sound body and mind, are excluded, or detention is limited
to a short period. The mentally and physically defective must
remain unless provided for in a special institution. There are
schools in most states for the education of the blind and of deaf

The laws provide for supervision of local poorhouses only in
states where there are boards of charities. In a few instances the
plans of new structures must have the approval of the state board.

Civil Privileges of Paupers. — The rule is that a person
loses no rights by receiving public aid. Naturally he has little
property to be affected. Only in eight states are paupers dis-
franchised, and in others the payment of a small tax gives the
right of suffrage, and politicians can easily manage to raise
money to pay that trifling sum, if anything is to be made by it.
Frequently this voting pauper is even explicitly excused from
certain burdensome duties, as working roads or paying taxes.

5. Conditions of Local Almshouses. — No general description
can be given, as there are so many varieties of institutions
in so large a country as ours. The following description of
typical places in Illinois will serve for purposes of illustration :
"The most common ideal is that of a county farmhouse, cor-
responding in its general style to the average farmhouses of the
district in which it is situated, with, perhaps, a tendency to be
a little below the average, in respect of convenience and comfort.
In the larger counties there is ordinarily to be found upon the
county farm a group of houses, and this is often the case in the
smaller counties as well; one house, better than the rest, for

74 Relief and Care of Dependents.

the family of the keeper, and the others for the use of male and
female paupers and the insane, to each of whom separate build-
ings, where the number is sufficient to justify classification, are
allotted. The life, in an almshouse of this description, is that
of a family in the country, rather poorly clothed and fed, and
bearing the marks of a listless poverty.

" Another type of almshouse is the hospital. The whole air of
the establishment, the internal arrangement, the management,
and discipline, resemble those of a well-organized, well-kept
hospital proper, in which are collected not only the temporarily
sick or disabled, but the permanently helpless and infirm, and
no others. A flower garden blooms in front of the premises, a
pest-house has been erected at some distance in the rear, and a
thoroughly well planned, well built, and every way comfortable
receptacle for the insane has been provided. The county judges
visit the place daily, and it exhibits, in its entire aspect, the
marks of thorough oversight and intelligent care.

"A third type is modelled after the idea of the state or public
institution, with a large brick building or buildings, divided into
centre and wings. ' '

This is found in the neighborhood of cities. Extremes are
met. The buildings are sometimes too mean for the habitations
of human beings; but occasionally are so fine in appearance and
so costly in appointments as to show marked contrast with the
average homes of modest taxpayers. They ought to be substan-
tial, but severely plain. Neglect of provisions for entire separa-
tion of the sexes leads to immorality, and the same results follow
imperfect supervision and classification. The retention of feeble-
minded girls and women in poorhouses is a prolific source of ille-
gitimate and defective births, especially if these irresponsible
creatures are free to come and go in the intervals of confinement.
Feeble-minded women should be held closely in special state
asylums during their entire lives.

The mental sufferings of respectable poor persons which arise
from enforced residence with the debased, diseased, criminal.

Public Indoor Relief: The Poorhouse. 75

and stupid, are unspeakable, and such compulsory association is
a serious wrong to those who have all their lives been industrious
and upright. The mental stagnation of the place is often a ter-
rible burden to the more intelligent inmates. It is popularly
supposed that most of the occupants of poorhouses have been
persons of regular life and prosperous circumstances. But
evidence gathered from many states points to the fact that the
county infirmary is the last resort of incompetence and vice.
Comparatively few have owned property or kept clear of depend-
ence. Criminals and prostitutes, after long tossing about in
the wild ways of anti-social conduct, are cast, like shipwrecked
saflors, into this harbor of weakness. To make this infirmary
also the home of laborers who have failed to acquire a compe-
tence, after an honest effort, is an injustice which the wage-
working world is determined to correct.

The involuntary idleness of aged men and women who can no
longer read, and who have narrow spiritual range of interests,
and who are shut in during our long and dark winters, is a cause
of distress which calls for remedy. Mental decay and dementia
are hastened by such unfavorable conditions.

One of the worst evils, now happily in a way of cure, is the
residence of children in these abodes of the unfit. Dickens
said, "Throw a child under a cart horse's feet and a loaded
wagon sooner than take him to an almshouse." Children learn
by suggestion and imitation. The conversation and conduct of
a poorhouse population deprave the mind. There is not, and
can not, be a suitable family life. The means of school instruc-
tion are wanting. The natural avenues to wholesome living —
industry, school, church — are closed. Disgrace clings inevitably
to one who was brought up under such conditions, for no good
can be expected to come of this mode of existence. For every
reason all states should speedily follow the example of those great
and progressive commonwealths which have made it illegal to
retain children in poorhouses.

The insane should never be kept in county poorhouses. This

y6 Relief and Care of Dependents.

abuse sometimes occurs because legislatures neglect to provide
adequate room in hospitals and asylums. The insane must be
confined for public protection, and so they are thrown into alms-
houses, or even jails, which is an outrage on humanity.

The character of population and defects in arrangements
may be illustrated by this description of a certain poorhouse,
furnished by a careful student after direct inspection : —

" Of the 36 inmates, 23 are white and 13 colored. Of the white, 8 are men
and 15 are women. Of the colored, 7 are men and 6 are women. There
was one child, a negro girl about 3 or 4 years of age. The inmates were
nearly all old people, ranging from 60 to 93 years. Age and inability to sup-
port themselves seem to be the causes of dependency of nearly all the inmates.
Some are diseased and ought to be in hospitals; some are crippled or paralytic;
one was epileptic; three were idiots; several were weak-minded; one was blind.
So far as I could ascertain none are paupers from intemperance, either in them-
selves or in those who ought to be their supporters. One of them, it is said,
drinks when he can get anything to drink, but he is upwards of 70 years of
age, and is in the poorhouse on account of his wife, who is a paralytic. This
man is one of the two paupers able to work on the farm; the other is an idiot,
70 years old, born in the poorhouse. These two constitute the working force
from the poorhouse, with the exception of several old women who work in the
field when they feel like it.

" There arc four couples, three of them beyond the child-bearing age. One
of the four wives will become a mother in a few days; she is able-bodied and
physically a fine looking specimen, about 25 years old. Her husband is a
cripple, unable to do anything but propagate his species. Another young
woman who is not a wife has a similar prospect. I was told that she came to
the poorhouse recently because there was nowhere else for her to go; no one
would take her in.

" In this poorhouse the sexes are not separated, they occupy the same room
with not even curtains to divide them. . . . The grand jury visits the estab-
lishment from time to time, but I suppose it must seem satisfactory to the
members of it. This poorhouse has no nurse. When one of the inmates falls
sick some of the others do the nursing. A physician is employed who makes
flying visits to the place."

The causes of such evil conditions lie partly in the ignorance
and partly in the neglect and stinginess of local authorities, and
partly in the inhuman contempt which is felt for paupers.

Public Indoor Relief: The Poorhouse. 77

Where there is little public interest in the poor, and the pastors
have forgotten the gospel, and there is no organization of visitors
or inspectors, the superintendent is apt to be carelessly chosen,
and is permitted to perform his disagreeable task in a heartless
way. The office has little in it to attract the highest gifts of
intellect, although it is a field for both head and heart to work
for the sorrowful. The institution is removed from public gaze,
and seldom attracts visitors who have high standards of house-
keeping. The inmates seldom furnish stimulating and desirable
companionship. The incitements of honor, reward, apprecia-
tion, and distinction are wanting. It is not quite strange that
the superintendent, even if not a heartless person, should fall
into slovenly, careless, and cruel management.

It is a mistake to give the superintendent too much land for
the farm. His energies should be concentrated on the care of
the persons in his charge, not on the farming and stock-raising
business. From ten to forty acres are usually enough to provide
vegetables and milk for the population and to furnish occupation
to feeble and broken men.

6. Amelioration. — There should be careful classification of
inmates, with necessary means of separation. If the number of
indoor paupers in one county is too small to justify the expense
of means for proper classification, as here urged, then several
counties might be united in one district to provide a single
institution for all; or a county with few paupers may board them
in another county which has provided adequate facilities. We
frequently meet this arrangement in the United States.

Men and women should be housed in non-communicating
wards. In industries they must be placed at different occupa-
tions and apart from each other. A matron should be in imme-
diate control of the women. Old couples might well be housed
in cottages, but there are difficulties and increased expense in
this arrangement. The feeble-minded, especially girls and
women, should not be retained in these establishments; but if
they are permitted to remain they should be isolated and care-

y8 Relief and Care of Dependents.

fully watched and protected from themselves and from unscru-
pulous men. It is cheapest and best to provide custodial
asylums. Insane paupers, if kept under the same management,
should be in separate buildings and on distant grounds, as in
Wisconsin. But even this degree of association with paupers is

Consumptives should be sheltered in non-communicating
houses, well lighted and ventilated, since tuberculosis is a com-
municable disease. Cancer patients are very disagreeable, and
require isolation. Persons poisoned with syphilis must not come
in contact with others.

Inmates should be separated, as far as possible, on the lines of
character and habits. The respectable, tidy, clean, and moral
should not be compelled to herd with those who carry with them
the traits of vagabonds and criminals. It may not be necessary
to inquire deeply into past history of conduct; but present con-
duct may be made the basis of classification. An ingenious and
tactful superintendent can devise expedients for granting favors
as marks of approval, and for placing each person in a position
suitable to his disposition and peculiarities.

In many poorhouses the paupers are supported in idleness,
especially during our long winters. Labor should be required,
not as a means of punishment for past vice, nor primarily for
income; but as a necessary condition of health, morality, and
happiness of the inmates, and as a partial means of maintaining
the self-respect of all. Labor is also a test of the pauper nature.
It would tend to protect the institution from becoming the easy
refuge of companies of tramps.

Industry is difficult to provide and direct, especially in the win-
ter of cold climates. Many of the inmates are feeble, lazy, ineffi-
cient. Agricultural and horticultural pursuits cannot be carried
through the year. The care of house and grounds can seldom em-
ploy all the available labor. The superintendent may find that it
costs more to supervise and employ the people than their labor is
worth; and he is tempted to let them vegetate in indolence until

Public Indoor Relief: The Poorhouse. 79

they sink into apathy and decay. But difficult as it is to make
such labor efficient and economical, considerations of health and
discipline require a patient and sustained effort. The law and
administrative rules should make it obligatory on every superin-
tendent to do his best in this direction, and he should be kept to
his duty by state supervision and the requirement of reports.

There should be a careful discrimination between the able
bodied and the feeble. Industry in the case of the strong should
be a work test, a proof of the willingness of the inmates to labor
and a partial means of covering the expenses of their support.
The poorhouse cannot be made a place of punishment or correc-
tion; that task belongs to another branch of government. Charity
and penalty must not be mixed and confused. If men refuse to
work, the police should be called in to arrest them for vagrancy,
and send them to a workhouse.

For the feeble, industry must be regarded chiefly as a means
of furthering physical and moral health, discipline, good order,
and such production as is possible. All production of goods
should be for immediate consumption on the premises, not for
sale in the market in competition with free labor. Various
methods of stimulating feeble persons to such work as they are
capable of performing are easily devised, as extra comforts,
amusements, and marks of distinction.

Outdoor relief should be used to prevent the necessity of beg-
ging or suffering; so that any one who begs is without excuse,
and may be sent without reluctance to a workhouse or house of

Private charity should not interfere with this system by igno-
rant and unreflecting almsgiving, or by aiding strangers without an
understanding with the public authorities for the poor and with the'
police. Private charity should have work tests for all it relieves,
and through organized bureaus should cooperate with public
agencies in every case.

A very needy and attractive field for private charity at the
poorhouse is the provision of employment for aged women. A

8o Relief and Care of Dependents.

life of inactivity and aimlessness is torture. A society of good
women in a county, imitating the example of Lady Brabazon in
England, could furnish materials for plain and fancy work, and
aid in occasional bazaars for the benefit of the unfortunate and
aged people. This would relieve the tedious and depressing
monotony of the almshouse life, bring cheerful motives into the
dull existence, and awaken sisterly interest for the desolate and
friendless in the entire community. We soon forget those for
whom we render no personal service.

7. Regulation of Admission and Discharge. — The legal respon-
sibility of relatives should be enforced before the county assumes
support of a dependent person, and the resources of this kind
should be carefully investigated before the pauper is admitted to
permanent residence. Able bodied vagrants should be sent to a
real workhouse, not to jail, and not to a poorhouse. The county
institution should not be made a school of vice by being turned
into a foundling asylum "with no questions asked" about

Discharge should not be at the option of the inmate, but only
upon order from county authorities; and the order should not
be given if the pauper is an unsafe person to enjoy entire free-
dom. Self -discharge should never be permitted; and this is
especially harmful in case of feeble-minded women. Broken-
down inebriates should be retained in custody, and not permitted
to come and go in the intervals of debauch. If they are incapa-
ble of self-control, the state should assume charge of them and
control them in their own interest.

All these, and other desirable regulations and improvements,
can be secured only through systematic supervision by the state
board of charities or its agents. But local voluntary associations
may cooperate with the state in this task. Legislatures have, in
some states, authorized the appointment of responsible citizens,
by a court or otherwise, to visit and inspect county institutions
at regular intervals, and to make reports. Women are very use-
ful on such committees, since their housekeeping instincts and

Public Indoor Relief: The Poorhouse. 8i

tastes are very exacting, and their eyes are open to things
unseemly, hurtful to health, cruel, and harsh.

8. The Churches have a special duty to the helpless inmates
of the poorhouses. Religious care is too commonly neglected.
There should be an organization in every county to appoint per-
sons to hold musical and other religious services on Sunday, and
to visit the feeble and weary with gospel comfort. The agency
for providing these means of grace may be the Sunday School
Convention, the Young Men's Christian Association, the con-
ference of pastors, or any missionary organization.

9. Private Indoor Relief aims to spare the humiliation of the
"poor who are ashamed" by providing homes for the sick, the
invalid, and especially for aged people who have lived reputable
lives and who dread the almshouse more than they dread the
grave. The field left open by public indoor relief for private
charity is defined in the proposition that public relief cares for
extremity, cares for all without distinction of character, and
provides only the necessities of existence : while private charity
provides more particularly for special classes, as members of a
certain nationality, or sect; may provide better accommodations
for some who have been accustomed to them; may hide the
shame of pauperism; may protect sensitive and refined depend-
ents from association with the degraded; and may use the par-
tial resources of the aged poor, and supplement them with gifts
and endowments.

10. The Result and Outlook. — Even when the special classes
of defectives are placed in separate institutions, according to
their needs, the poorhouse will continue to draw into itself the
most wretched wrecks of society. If the worn-out criminals
and paupers could be selected, and the respectable aged given
separate accommodations, the evil might be diminished. But it
seems impossible for public institutions to make such discrimi-
nations. While many representatives of the labor movement are
demanding that some such distinction should be made between the
honest, though defeated, working-man and the criminal, and sepa-

82 Relief and Care of Dependents.

rate accommodations provided, others think a better plan would
be an imitation of the German insurance of aged working-people.
We have pensioners of war; why not have pensioners of the army
of labor, who have served their country faithfully, at low wages,
and come at last to want? The old-age pension scheme might
be made to provide for those who have homes and partial sup-
port; but public institutions would still be needed for the child-
less, homeless, and entirely destitute in prolonged feebleness and
old age.



1. Classification and Characterization. — For purposes of sci-
entific explanation or of practical philanthropy, the first require-
ment is the distinct separation of the elements with which we
must deal. Those who in times of financial depression and dis-
tress appeal for help on the plea that they cannot find work are
too commonly confused in one mass, and are regarded either with
undiscriminating pity or with unjust suspicion and hostility.
Classification is demanded by justice and by wise charity.

In a first group we may mentally place those who are tempo-
7'arily out of employment, bid who have some resoiirces and ai-e
able to work. There are laborers who are not employed at cer-
tain seasons of the year on account of the periodical nature of
demand for the products of their trades; others are displaced by
the vicissitudes of climate, or by strikes, lockouts, industrial
depression. The resources may be in the form of property, sav-
ings deposits, credit with shopkeepers, trade union funds, or
lodge benefits. Every year a great host of masons, bricklayers,
painters, sailors on inland lakes, and farm hands are regularly
without income from their crafts. Such persons are not driven
to ask relief of the public unless deprivation is prolonged. Their
idleness does affect the classes below them by increasing pressure
on certain occupations by those who are thrown out of their usual
trades, and by reducing their expenditures for commodities and

Persons without Resources. — Able bodied persons, engaged
in irregular employments, are often affected by climate or by

84 Relief and Care of Dependents.

periodical lapse of demand for their services, and, being without
a fund to supply their wants, soon become dependent.

Other able bodied persons constitute the "reserve army of
labor " and are at times superfluous. Industrial centres demand
a much greater number of laborers at some times than at others;
and this is especially true of such industries as the transfer of
freight on wharves, the slaughtering and packing of animals for
food, and many others. It is not easy to prove that corporations
designedly make arrangements to hold siich a ragged army in
reserve; but it is clear that they find them convenient, not only
when there is special haste, but also when there is a threat of
strike for better terms. The crowd of hungry men waiting out-
side yard gates for the chance to bid against their fellows for a
place to earn a day's wages in competition for existence is one
of the most pathetic tragedies of our age. Unless this alternate
glut and famine can be equalized and regulated, by unions or by
law, its tendency and certain effect are to reduce many to the
verge of mendicancy. The testimony of charity workers is very
clear and unanimous as to both fact and effect.

We reach another level with those who 2X^ partially futile : men
who are willing to work and able to do something, but fall below
the average in ability to cooperate in industry. This inefficiency
may be due to physical disease and feebleness, or to lack of
training, or to inferior natural capacity, or to all three of these

Next lower down are the wholly futile , often beggars of various
grades and kinds. They are the unemployable. They are not
capable of keeping step with the average workman, nor of adapt-
ing their slow and uncertain movements to the speed of modern

Down in the social bottom stratum are the vicious wanderers,
the semi-criminal vagabonds, and sturdy rogues. It is curious
to observe that there are distinct social classes even in this nether
region of humanity. There are ranks and orders which must be
punctiliously recognized. The members of these classes have

The Unemployed and Homeless Dependents. 85

very narrow power of organization and conscious cooperation,
but they have in common a tendency to prey upon the public.

Homelessness. — All the previous grades are divided by a
vertical line of distinction into those who have homes and those
who are homeless. Generally speaking, it is safe to say that as
we descend the scale of industrial efficiency, homelessness, lack
of normal domestic bonds and interests, becomes relatively more
frequent, until in the wandering class all such ties disappear, and
their influence is dissolved.

The multitude, called vaguely the Unemployed, is thus seen to
be divisible into many groups and classes, so widely diverse in

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 7 of 35)