Charles Richmond Henderson.

Modern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods online

. (page 3 of 73)
Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonModern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods → online text (page 3 of 73)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

time for which aid is granted, was, as has been said, a matter of neces-
sity. In the nature of the case it is very desirable that aid be voted
only for a very brief period, two or four weeks (in Elberfeld the time
is a fortnight). But had this policy been adhered to in Hamburg, it
would have necessitated such frequent sessions of the districts as to
preclude from the very beginning the willingness of the helpers to
assume the responsibilities of their office, or at any rate to give rise to
a mere formalism soon after the introduction of the reform. Instead,
however, the dependents are divided into several classes. Those of
whose genuine distress there is no reason to doubt, the aged, sick, and
frail — in general, all sexagenarians — may be granted an allowance for
six months ; younger persons, as widows with several children, not
longer than three months ; all others, as able-bodied men and persons
not sufficiently well known, are granted aid only from one session to
the next, generally one month, in order that such cases may be under


constant surveillance. For like reasons it was thought best to hold
regTjlar meetings of the districts only once a month in Hamburg, since
fortnightly meetings would have been too poorly attended, while on
the present plan the attendance has hitherto been very good. These
meetings are of very great importance ; in them all cases are thor-
oughly discussed by all the helpers, and after due deliberation the
proper measure of relief is decided upon by a vote of the entire body.
In this way the assembly is bound more closely together, its members
are kept informed as to conditions throughout the entire district, and
they gradually arrive at uniform principles. It has been noticed, also,
that friendly relations between the superintendent and the helpers are
encouraged by this system.

A further point of difference between this and the Elberfeld system
is the insertion of an intermediary between the district and the general
administrative board; this is the circuit (Kreis), including a number
of districts. In its geographical boundaries it follows roughly those
of the ward {Stadthezirk). The members of the circuit are the super-
intendents or chairmen of the districts, while the chairman of the
circuit in turn is a member of the central board. The circuits discuss
matters of common interest to all the districts, and hear complaints
against the decision of the districts ; they also consider and rule upon
motions to grant hospital or institutional care {AnstaltspUege) for an
extended period of time, or allowances exceeding a certain specified

The central board, having for its chairman and vice-chairman two
members of the senate, is composed, as to the rest of its membership,
of sixteen persons, chosen directly by the representative body of the
city government (Biirgerz'crtretting) on nomination by the board. It
exercises a general supervision over the circuits and the districts, it is
the court of last appeal for complaints, fixes general rules and prin-
ciples, investigates the condition of the people at large, and decides
upon more general remedial measures and agencies. The business
management, finally, serves as the organ of the central board, prepar-
ing and carrying into effect the resolutions of the latter ; it collects and
keeps in a general registry information concerning all dependents.
All applications for aid must pass through this central office. If, in
urgent cases, this was not possible before the voting of the aid, the
whole matter is afterwards brought to the notice of the business man-
agement through the minutes of the district and circuit assemblies



and such other papers from which it is copied, and filed with the rest
of the papers referring to the particular pauper in question. This
plan makes it very easy to detect duplication of relief. Moreover,
whenever it appears from the papers that any circumstance of impor-
tance has escaped the notice of the visitor who has the case in charge,
he is notified of their full contents. When the decision and resolu-
tions of one body are at variance with the laws or the business regu-
lations, they are submitted to the next higher authority, the circuit or
the central board. One of the most important principles of work is
the demand for absolute reliability and the promptness and dispatch
of the business. The work of the business management includes a
great many separate branches, such as the treasury department, the
collecting of subscriptions from well-to-do relatives of dependents, the
making good of claims a dependent may have upon other poor funds.
All this is carefully regulated in detail by instructions and rules.

The entire corps active in poor-relief includes about twenty mem-
bers of the central board, somewhat more than 100 district chairmen,
nearly 1,600 helpers and nearly 100 clerks. The distinction between
the function of the honor offices and those held by professional or
salaried officials may briefly be stated thus : the former foster the spirit
of the work ; the latter have the care of the forms ; each is supple-
mented and modified by the other, so that neither arbitrariness, dis-
order, and looseness, on the one hand, nor, on the other, stiff formality
and excessive writing may hamper the work. This aim has thus far
been realized in a very satisfactory manner.

It was said above that the general principles of poor-relief are so
fixed as to be applicable everywhere, if properly adapted to local envi-
ronments. This will be borne out by a comparison of German and
American conditions. When the American reader has informed
himself concerning the Elberfeld system, its working and application,
and compares with it the methods and institutions in vogue in the
larger cities of America, he will immediately and entirely concur in
the statement that only a system of careful investigation of the indi-
vidual case is in accord with correct principles of poor-relief. More-
over, he will fully understand why, in Germany, the development of
this principle has led to outdoor relief as the principal form of public
relief, while in America indoor relief, the almshouse, is predominant.
This contrast results from that between a system of honor offices and
one of salaried offices. If, in Germany, each commune has hundreds,


if necessary, even thousands, of citizens who are wiUing to assume
the task of helping the poor, it is evident that they can rightly perform
this duty only by entering into some sort of neighborly relations to
the poor. And if, in America, it is not possible to disburse public
funds and public means otherwise than through salaried public offi-
cials, it is no more than right to demand such control and supervision
as is possible in the almshouse. Add to this the fact that the frequent
changes of administration, both state and municipal, place public
offices within the grant of each new manager, that appointment to
office has become, in no small degree, a reward for services rendered
elsewhere, and the need of some means of control is very much
augmented. Especially does this hold true for poor-relief, where
there is danger lest the aid granted be made a reward for political
services rendered by the recipient.

It is not mere chance that Warner, whose book is a summary of
rich experience and a fine theoretical understanding and insight,
arrives at the very samiC conclusion and expressly says : "It is through
the development of a system of honor offices that outdoor relief in
Germany has been robbed of its dangers, and it will be in part by
the extension of the honor-office system in this country that the spirit
of willingness to serve the state may be developed."

So long as one holds to the principle of individualization he will
concede that outdoor relief, with well-qualified helpers and visitors,
gives the greater assurance of careful investigation and continued
surveillance of the environment of dependents, and of their rapid
return to normal economic conditions. The advantages are these :
It is possible to find out exactly what the condition of the dependent
has been previously, to get a knowledge of his character and the life
he is leading; to look into his home surroundings and to ascertain
the state of health, education, etc., of himself and of his family.
Furthermore, it is much easier to decide whether aid shall be given
in the form of money or of provisions, by the securing of work, or
by intervening with some private charity. True, the frail and the
sick must still be cared for by indoor relief, but not in the workhouse.
This principle of individualization makes it possible, also, to separate
the family and legally to prosecute the criminal or drinking husband,
while at the same time the innocent family is supported. Under
circumstances recourse may then be had to the workhouse. This
should be done only in exceptional cases ; but then this method should


be applied with the utmost rigor and severity, every other form of
aid being denied. But in order that this be successful, it is abso-
lutely necessary that the almshouse be, in reality, a workhouse, i. e.,
maintained solely for persons who will not work, but who can work,
and will finally be forced to choose this way of escaping the pangs of
hunger. Should they seek to satisfy their wants by culpable means,
as begging, stealing, or teaching their children to do these things,
they are to be placed in a workhouse by force, or turned over to the
civil authorities. The baneful custom of making the almshouse "the
charitable catch-all for the community" must be abolished entirely.
Especially is it necessary that children, the sick, and the frail be cared
for in separate institutions. When aged people are kept in the same
institution with indolent persons, there is great danger lest the in-
dulgence and forbearance necessary toward the former slacken the
discipline and thus alter the entire character of the place. The re-
verse may also come true ; the strictness and severity necessary in the
reformatory treatment of the lazy and immoral may make the dis-
cipline that of a house of correction, and work injustice and injury
to the aged and feeble.

All the more important and well-conducted poor-relief organiza-
tions in Germany base their efforts on these principles. The visitor
is required to inform himself by personal visits, inquiry among neigh-
bors, at bureaus of information, etc., — if necessary, even calling in
the advice and assistance of the public physician for the poor
(Armenarat) — concerning the health of the dependent and his family,
the sanitary condition of their dwelling, etc. ; he is also to find out
whether or not the dependent be possessed of any property or means,
whether he may have any claim on relief funds of any sort, or upon
relatives ; besides all this the visitor is to ascertain the exact amount
of the earnings both of the dependent himself and of his relatives,
then determining the manner and amount of aid to be granted, after
due consideration of all these facts. In the collecting of the infor-
mation the business management assists if necessary. All these
matters are then to be constantly watched over, the visitor recording
all information in the books he is required to keep concerning each
family under his charge. Due attention and consideration must, of
course, be given to important changes, as the remarrying of a widow,
death of children in a dependent family, inheritance of property, etc.
The books mentioned above are to be kept in such a manner as to


enable one at any time to get a full and clear idea of the circumstances
in the case. Whenever the aid in a particular case is temporarily
discontinued, the book is returned to the business management, where
it is kept, to be reopened should the same family renew their applica-
tion for support. When a dependent moves from one district to
another, the book passes into the hands of the visitor in the district
into which he moves.

The visitor first refers the applicant to those who may be indebted
to him or otherwise under obligation, relatives, employers, insurance
or benefit funds (Versichcrungskassen), etc.; in this direction the
visitors oftentimes accomplish a great deal in recalling faithless per-
sons, especially relatives, to their duty and their rightful obligations.
Often the visitor has connections with some private charity to which
he can appeal in the interest of especially worthy people. Frequently
he will even supply an immediate want from his own purse, seeing
that the case is only a temporary exigency and that the applicant has
never before been dependent upon public relief. In many cases, too,
the visitor is able, through his own personal influence, to find employ-
ment for his charge, thus making it possible to relieve the latter's
distress by a temporary allowance only. The training of the citizen
in the duties of a visitor and helper is productive of excellent results,
arousing in him a manifold interest for his ward, and teaching him
to search out all possible ways in which the needed relief may be
supplied most promptly and most thoroughly. It is unnecessary
to state that this principle, which is, of course, emphatically expressed
in the regulations, is not obeyed by all, that many slight their duties
as visitor and helper and regard the whole work in an altogether too
perfunctory manner; on the whole, however, this work is not only
very successful, but of very great variety both in manner and direction
of their efforts.

Whenever the conditions in any case are found to be such as to
warrant relief at public expense, the total receipts of the family are
to be ascertained and the allowance fixed accordingly. The length
of time for which and the amount in which assistance is to be given
must depend upon the nature of the distress and its probable dura-
tion. This aid consists principally in money, provisions being used
only in a supplementary manner, chiefly clothing for children of
school age, together with such articles as bedding, underwear, and
the like. In general, however, the principle is held, that the depend-


ent himself will know better than any other person which of his needs
should be satisfied first of all ; it is furthermore believed that the
expending of money is the best possible means by which to acquire
frugal, economic habits. The visitor oversees the expenditure of the
money in a general way, to see that it is rightly and carefully spent.
Should the dependent prove injudicious and careless in his use of the
money, the allowance is of course withdrawn, or its revocation at
least threatened. The least anxiety and suspicion are necessary in
the case of widows, aged people, and children, whose physical condi-
tion, or whose inability to earn a living leaves no question as to the
necessity of help. Care must nevertheless be taken, in these cases, to
search out relatives, and especially adult children who may be able
to provide for their aged parents. Such search, conducted in the
main by the business management (Gesclmffsvenvalfung), besides
making a large number of allowances superfluous, has the general
social effect of reminding the people that the first duty of a child is to
care for its parents, a duty of which the people of Hamburg, for
instance, previous to the reorganization, had become most shamefully
oblivious. The rules pertaining to able-bodied persons are very
strict; likewise those pertaining to women and children whose hus-
bands and fathers are living, but are reported as having deserted their
families. Even in these cases help cannot be denied when actual
distress has been proved ; but the allowance is always for a very brief
period only, and its necessity thoroughly investigated upon each
renewal of the application. Under no circumstances must the faith-
less father be permitted to feel that now he has deserted the family
they are better off than if he himself cared for them. And yet just
such cases are the bane of nearly all relief organizations ; for, w^hile
women and children, who are sometimes guiltless in the matter, can-
not be left in the depth of misery and distress, it often turns out that
husband and wife play into one another's hand, the wife pretending
to be forsaken, only to draw an allowance.

The amount of the allowance depends upon the circumstances of
the family ; the number of children, the age of the father, etc. The
fixing of the amount in a particular case is left to the judgment of
the district, except where a definite amount per head is fixed by the
regulations. Very serious objections might, however, be urged
against this latter plan, which is in use in certain cities : when, e. g., the
limit set for the head of a family is 3 M., for the wife 2.50 M., and for


each child from i to 2 M., according to age, a large family will some-
times draw an allowance greater in amount than an ordinary laborer
could earn. Besides, it is very difficult, with a fixed scale, to take
cognizance of a change in economic conditions, or a change in the
scale of wages ; when, on the other hand, the fixing of the amount
is left to the wisdom of the visitor of the district, the whole situation,
all the facts, can be duly weighed and considered, the various other
sources of income, opportunities for temporary employment, etc.
True, this system is also not entirely free from objections ; it leaves
room for arbitrariness in fixing the amount of an allowance ; and
where it is in vogue it is found that in districts where a large num-
ber of wealthy persons act as visitors the allowances are too high,
in the inverse case too low. In this respect we feel very keenly the
lack of any trustworthy statistical reports concerning the domestic
economy of the class next above the pauper class, i. c, of the lowest
self-supporting class, whose income must of necessity be a little
higher than that of those who receive public aid.

Besides giving aid in the form of money and provisions, the public
relief furnishes free medical attendance in all cases ; for the calling of
a physician, midwife, or nurse, easier forms have been introduced, so
that no one, even in the most urgent cases, need suffer for want of
prompt and immediate help in the hour of need. But the importance
of this department of the public relief has fallen off considerably of
late years on account of the development of insurance, the majority
of workmen now having access to some sick insurance fund. The
most valuable means of promoting health, viz., healthful dwellings
and good ventilation, often, alas ! cannot be had, because of the
wretched housing common to all large cities. It is an undeniable
fact, however, that the various attempts at improvement in this matter
have been due, in no small degree, to the participation of so large a
number of citizens in the administration of public relief. For the
visitors again and again discover what hotbeds of disease and immor-
ality poor dwellings are ; and even the most selfish taxpayer cannot
fail to see the force of the argument that the mere possession of a
better dwelling will save a large number of persons from ever falling
in need of public aid, and thus reduce very materially the expenses
of public charities.

Under the system of repayments known in Germany, as well as
in Scandinavia and Switzerland, a large part of the relief is really a


loan to a citizen in distress. Thus in Hamburg, in the year 1901, in
the receipts were counted 206,374 marks, which sum had been paid
back to the pubHc treasury by persons relieved, or by their relatives.
This is an additional indication that in the future some kind of insur-
ance against unemployment may be found which will make such
appeals to c'harity unnecessary.

Furnishing capital for business is under certain circumstances a
function of public poor-relief. A poor woman in dire need received
aid to carry on a small fruit business, because otherwise she would
have to be supported, and the highest authorities pronounced this

Participation of Women in Public Charity. — In 1896 the Ger-
man national society of charity passed this resolution : "The par-
ticipation of women in public care of the poor is to be regarded
as a pressing necessity. It may be brought about according to the
circumstances of particular situations ; and first of all by inviting
women to become members of the corps of visitors with the same
rights and duties as those of men ; and along with this supplementary
activity in cooperation with public relief; and also by friendly agree-
ments between public officials and the representatives of women's
benevolent associations." This resolution may be taken to express
the deliberate conclusions of men who have been schooled in the
practical experience of administration. Opposition to the introduc-
tion of women into the councils of city charities appeared in Hamburg
and Berlin, and it was based on the idea that men could not freely
discuss some of the brutal facts of pauperism in the presence of
women, and that many vital subjects would be neglected on this
account ; and that it would be inconsistent with the domestic duties
of women to take a share in these public honor offices. The opposi-
tion came from some of the male visitors, not from the salaried city
officials of poor relief.

In answer to these objections it is declared that, since the causes
of misery are largely due to household defects, women are naturally
the best advisers of the needy families, since they know far more than
men about such matters. Women succeed best in caring for the sick
and for children, in housekeeping, and they surpass men in the
qualities of self-sacrifice, tenderness and practical sagacity. Yet
many young women, whose education has been more aesthetic than

^Decision of the Bundesamt fur das Heimatwesen, January 23, 1904.



scientific, lack the necessary knowledge of physiology, hygiene, sani-
tation and law to fit them for the task.

The poor relief board of the city of Posen has recently ordered
that women visitors {Annenpflcgcrinncn) , chosen for three years,
are entitled to vote in the district commissions and are required to
attend them regularly. They are to care for cases which the commis-
sion thinks most suitable for women to deal with. Especially when
relief in kind is voted may women be charged with distribution, and
they are to give particular attention to cases of sickness in families ;
and when private charity is called to assist the women visitors are
authorized to make the requests.^

C. Private Charity, Benevolent Associations, Societies of
Women, Red Cross Societies.

Intermediate Forms. — In the municipal systems of outdoor relief
the city requires of its citizens that personal service on behalf of the
poor which mediates between public authority and voluntary benefi-
cence, for the almoner is brought into relations with the needy which
call out far more devotion than could be required by any law. In
certain cities endowments have been left to the care of municipal
administration whose income flows from an originally voluntary gift,
but which reaches its goal by the channel of public offices.

Private charity frequently serves as a pioneer for public assist-
ance. Thus schools for instruction of girls in household arts have
been established by private associations, and when once the public
sees that the method is useful to prevent pauperism the muncipality
or the public school system extends the agency with public means.
In a similar way the institutions for defective, blind, deaf, feeble-
minded, insane and epileptic, are gradually transferred from private
to public care. During the transition period the state or commune
may subsidize a private agency which proves to have general utility.
Tlie fundamental principle of relief, the personal fellowship in the
neighborly eflFort to help each other upward, is at the basis of both
public and private assistance. Voluntary charity contributes what it
can, and public relief expends what is necessary to meet the need.
Private philanthropy makes its own conditions and regulations. In
this characteristc lies the danger and the advantage of private charity.
Officers of the law must treat all citizens alike ; while the individual
purposes of benevolent persons may dictate a special distribution of

'Zeitschrift fur das Armenwesen, April, 1903, p. 115.

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonModern methods of charity; an account of the systems of relief, public and private, in the principal countries having modern methods → online text (page 3 of 73)