D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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American Philosophical Society in 1877, and received, the same year,
the degree of Doctor of Laws from Columbia College. — American
Journal of Science.




3Ies»-8. Eilitorx.

YOUR editorial on " Self-Govcrnment
in Education," in which you give an
account of the interesting experiment that
has proved so satisfactory at Amherst Col-
lege, suggests to me that Amherst is by no
means a leader in applying the principle of
self-government among students. In say-
ing this I imply no detraction from the
credit due to Amherst ; on the contrary, it
is rather a subject of congratulation that
this college has been so conspicuously suc-
cessful in carrying out a policy the impor-
tance of which has been long recognized,
but which could not always be carried into

A little over fifty years aqo, the Univer-
sity of Virginia was founded as a group of
independent schools in which students were
permitted perfect freedom in the election of
courses of study ; and in their relations with
the faculty the system of espionage, so uni-
versal in other educational institutions, was
entirely discarded. The chairman of the
faculty was of course brought into contact
with students who abused their freedom,
but the student's responsibility as a man
was always recognized, and no trammels
were imposed upon him beyond the obliga-
tion to respect the rights of others. It was
assumed that he knew thoroughly the object
to be attained by his attendance at the uni-
versitj-, and the obligations implied in asso-
ciation with polite society. If he should
fail to exercise enough diligence to win
success in the final examinations, he him-
self was the only loser, and the opportunity
was afforded him to try the same course an-
other year. But if his example was deemed
bad, or any disturbance was traced to him
by ordinary n)ethods without espionage,
private admonition was bestowed by the
chairman, or he was advised to leave. This
advice, thus quietly given, was adopted, and
the publicity of expulsion usually avoided.
From personal experience in this institution
ten years ago and again five years ago, the
writer does not hesitate to say that as a
student he enjoyed all the liberty that is af-
forded him in \ew York City as a member
of society.

In 1866 the University of South Caro-
lina was organized upon the same general
plan that had been long carried into effect
in Virginia, and with similar results. Owing
to political complications in that State, the
University was disbanded in 1S70, but dur-

I ing its existence the principle of self-gov-

! ernment among students was carried out in

full. A students' court was occasionally

held, and on no occasion did conflict arise

with the faculty.

In 1870 a system of local self-government
for the students was adopted in the State
University of Indiana. The experiment has
been on the whole successful, and a descrip-
tion of many of the details has lately ap-
peared in print. There were at times diffi-
culties which seemed to necessitate total
abandonment of the plan ; but each year's
i experience has given strength, and no re-
turn to the old system is now considered
, advisable.

The late report of the President of Har-
vard affords much that is interesting in re-
lation to methods of college instruction and
I discipline. The growth of individual free-
i dom for the student has been as noticeable
as the increase of breadth in the scope of
j the university. The same remark applies
I to Columbia College, as shown by the last
annual report of President Barnard. In-
i deed, in all of our best institutions of learn-
I ing the day of espionage is past, recitation-
I marks arc to a large extent abandoned, and
students are regarded as agents that are not
' only free, but also self-respecting, responsi-
ble, and i)ossessed of enough common-sense
to appreciate the objects to be attained by
entering upon a course of college study.

But the appreciation of self-government
is not wholly confined to those who take
part in the work of our higher institutions.
In the colnmns of the New York " Evening
Post," last December, appeared a series of
articles on "Self-Govornment in Schools,"
in which the writer, one of the most success-
ful teachers of our city, gave an exceedingly
instructive recital of experiments which he
has been cautiously conducting for a num-
ber of years past, to test the advisability of
substituting the freedom of the republic for
the centralized power of an autocracy in the
schoolroom. He has found that a large
measure of self-government is quite admis-
sible, even where pupils are far below the
age at which admission to college is possible.
I The president of the school republic sub-
I jected himself to the same laws by which
I juvenile voters were bound, and in the end
i found he had nothing to regret.
I Indecil, every intelligent teacher in an
! intelligent community to-day, whether his
\ sphere of duty be in the lecture-room, the
I class-room, or the schoolroom, has been


obliged to adapt himself to the evolution of j
society. If he fails to respect that freedom
of thought, of belief, of action, which our
civilization makes necessary in all social re-
lations, he finds it necessary to seek other
fields where social evolution is not suf- i
ficiently advanced to make him an inter- '
loper. The same spirit in society which has
caused the abolition of the birch rod in
school, except in cases of peculiarly low
personal organization, has caused the abo-
lition of cspionaj;e in colleges and univer-
sities. In calling the attention of your
readers to the methods by which success is
attained in institutions like Amherst, where
not only the right but the duty of self-gov-
ernment among students is insisted upon,
you are aiding the work of educational re-
form, and all such efforts are entitled to the
acknowledgment of those whose work is
education. W. Le Conte Stevens.

40 West Foetibtu Street, New York. |
July 23, lt>Sl. )"

Ifessrs. Editors.

AViLL you permit mo through the col-
umns of your journal to ask for a scrap of
information that I have been imable to ob-
tain from any books at my command, or
from any other source. Infesting the isl-

ands of Lake Eric is an insect which from
all accounts plagues human beings in much
the same manner that the chigoe or chigre —
commonly called jigger— of the South is
said to. The islanders call this insect a
"midget," also a "jigger," and say that it
is most numerous in bushes or the under-
growth of the woods ; tliat it is almost in-
visible to the naked eye ; and that when it
effects a lodging on the human body it bores
through, and lies under, the skin, causing
the very annoying and sometimes painful
" bites " that are experienced by visitors
to the islands. I have frequently suffered
from these " bites," which are far more dis-
tressing than the most aggravated mosquito-
bites, but have never been able to find any-
thing of the little pest tliat gives them. I
am told, however, that, if a " bite " is ex-
amined as soon as it begins to itch, the
" midget," an infinitesimal yellow insect,
may be seen in its center. The " midget "
seems to be unlike the chigoe of the West
Indies and South America, judging by cyclo-
pedic accounts of this latter insect, only in
the respect that it does not, as far as I have
been able to discover, rear its progeny
under the skin it bores into. Perhaps you,
or some of your readers, will be kind enough
to inform me what the " midget " is, its true
name, etc. Respectfully,

Dean V. R. Masley.
Toledo, Ohio, July 16, 18S1.


DIES' deposit:'
THE " Atlantic Monthly " did well in
publishing in its July issue two
articles on the "Ladies' Deposit," a
fraudulent banking concern in Boston,
of which so much was said last year.
One of these articles, by Mr. Henry A.
Clapp, gives a history of the scheme, and
is e\ndently written with care and with
good knowledge of the facts. The other
paper is by Miss Mary Abigail Dodge,
who had some experience with the insti-
tution, and she presents the feminine
side of the case. As the excitement of
the affair is now passed away, and we
have the main facts fairly before us, it
seems proper to look a little into the
lessons it teaches ; and to do this it will
be desirable to recall briefly its lead-
ing features. In this we follow the
statements of Mr. Clapp.

By whomsoever planned, the scheme
of the "Ladies' Deposit" was carried
out by a woman named Howe, and she
was undoubtedly its master-spirit. The
revelations at the sequel show her to
have been a vulgar female impostor, a
clairvoyant, and fortune-telling advent-
uress, who had run a long career of
petty crime in New England, She first
married a half-breed negro, or Indian,
named Solomon, who is now living in
Rhode Island. They lived together
some thirteen years, but the marriage
was void on account of the law against
the union of persons of different colors.
She next married a man named Lane,
or Chase, Mr. Solomon being a diligent
promoter of the second union. Lane
is said to have died at sea, when she
married Florimund L. Howe, a house-
painter and dancing-master, who is her
present husband. The pair adventured



about the country for several years,
getting a miserable living in precarious
ways, and the woman's conduct was at
times so "queer " tliat in 1867 she was
sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in
Taunton, where she remained two years.
In 1875 slie was caught in the perpetra-
tion of an elaborate set of frauds and
sent to jail, but got out before the ex-
piration of her time through a techni-
cal mistake in her indictment.

She is represented as illiterate and
in many ways very ignorant, but " she
has always been a keen observer, a
quick learner, and a shrewd student of
Imman nature. It would be more near-
ly correct to call her unmoral than im-
moral ; for from her extreme youth she
appeared to have a serious constitution-
al difficulty in discerning the difference
between right and wrong, between her
own property and her neighbors'. All
her thieving has been marked by a grand
air of unconsciousness, rather than by
eager, covetous greed. Her disposition
seems to be somewhat good-natured and
generous, and to show a kind of native
bonhomie, and at the height of her pros-
perity as a ' banker ' she became very
popular with a certain set which was
especially rich in meismerists, fortune-
tellers, and female physicians of the ir-
regular sort." She has " abundant cun-
ning," " a great natural gift of iitter-
ance," " a singularly plausible manner,"
and to lier other accomplishments it
must be added that " she is one of the
most exuberant, spontaneous, imagina-
tive, and unnecessary liars that ever

This woman at length planted her-
self down in Boston as a "banker."
"When she began, or how she began, is
involved in mystery. Iler scheme seems
to have been copied in its main features
from that of a Bavarian swindler —
an ex-actress named Adele Spitzeder —
"which was operated in Munich from
1869 to 1872, and by which the Bavari-
ans were cheated out of millions of dol-
lars. . . . Both opened banks of deposit.

promised preposterous returns of inter-
est, and successfully invited loans of
money from the public. Neither had
any pecuniary capital or offered any se-
curity, the sole and sufficient reliance
of each being upon her own impudence
and the combined cupidity and credu-
lity of her customers. Each made
friends by playing the Lady Bountiful
upon occasion, had a mixed party of
gulls and knaves committed to her
cause, drew herself out of poverty and
into luxurious comfort by means of her
bank, ended her career in prison, and
left assets enough behind her to pay
her creditors a dividend of about five
per cent." It is significant that the as-
tounding Bavarian fraud had run its
course and exploded, and was reported
ail over the world seven years before
the successful repetition of the experi-
ment was made in Boston.

The main trick of Mrs. Howe was,
however, a shrewd improvement upon
the Bavarian method. For while Frau-
lein Spitzeder took deposits from every-
body who would make them — high and
low, rich and poor, male and female —
Mrs. Howe artfully restricted the bene-
fits of her institution to women, and
to those, moreover, of small means. No
woman owning a house could make a
deposit, and no deposits were received
less than two hundred dollars, nor more
than one thousand dollars. Interest at
the rate of eight per cent, per month
was paid every three months — that is,
twenty-four per cent, quarterly — and
the payment was in advance. To the
question how it was possible to pay
such large interest, the reply was, " We
never disclose the methods by which
we do business"; " we do not solicit";
"you need not deposit unless you
wish"; "we never give references."
But, notwithstanding this, it was stat-
ed that the "Ladies' Deposit" is a
charitable institution for the benefit of
single ladies, old and young, of small
means, and it was obscurely intimated
that the money was intrusted to the



Boston agency for this charitable use
by a rich " Quaker Aid Society " of
Virginia. Mrs. Howe refused to tell
how the funds tlius derived were in-
vested, because, as she craftily said,
"she was afraid of the displeasure of
her superior officers." Yet, thorough-
ly baseless as was the project which
could give no open account of itself,
and utterly absurd as were its prom-
ises, it nevertheless had a rushing suc-
cess. Each new depositor had to be
introduced by a previous depositor.
There was a great show of strictness
in inquiring into tlieir fitness. The
first depositors, when they had got
their enormous interest, reported it to
their friends, and tlie craze spread rap-
idly among the Boston women to avail
themselves of the speculation. That
they were the recipients of a charity
made no ditlerence. The bank would
have nothing to do with men, and con-
stantly encouraged the idea that wom-
en were abundantly capable of trans-
acting their own business without mas-
culine advice. And so money poured
in by tlie thousands. The big interest
was paid out of the influx, and if a
depositor wanted her money back she
could have it any day but Sunday, and
with it she got the curt notice that she
need not apply again. The result was
that the " miserable old rogue," with
her "swindling savings-bank," in the
course of a few months drew from the j
pockets of ten or twelve hundred New
England women no less than half a
million dollars. The "Boston Adver-
tiser" at length attacked the concern
vigorously, and it collapsed in three
weeks. A few of the earlier deposi-
tors received their large interest, and
got out also with their principal ; but
when the scheme was pushed into in-
solvency there remained only five per
cent, of their investments for some
eight hundred depositors.

As was natural, the women who
had walked into this trap and lost their
money were roundly denounced for

their credulity and business incapacity.
Miss Dodge resents this charge in her
usual spirited way, launches profuse in-
vectives upon the men who broke up
the fraud, and, while not excusing Mrs.
Ilowe, defends her sex from the assaults
of masculine " insolence, ignorance, and
stupidity." She proposes to show that
" the history of the Ladies' Deposit does
not demonstrate the credulity of wom-
en, the immorality of women, or the
educational or political incapacity of
women." If "not successful in proving
these positions, she, at any rate, shuts
the mouth of her masculine critics by
showing that men too are abundantly
imposed upon and cheated, and are
therefore credulous and stupid as well
as the women.

The subject is here widened, and our
chief interest in the afliiir relates to this
aspect of it. What are the conditions
tliat made this transaction possible?
What are the causes that led to it and
whicli lead to other kindred results?
The particular event has passed away,
and in itself is of but little moment ;
but what sort of a tree is that which
bears such fruit? The state of mind
that produced it still continues, and
we may expect the same things to be
done again and again, with only a
change of names, forms, and tactics.
That which has just now had a con-
spicuous feminine expression is by no
means wholly an affair of sex, but is
a common phenomenon. The Ladies'
Deposit was in fact but a drop in the
bucket compared with the omnipresent
impostures and cheats of all grades and
qualities which are transacted every-
where. What is the condition of mind
which leads to them ?

We state nothing new in saying that
such impostures as Howe's bank prove
a widespread deficiency in mental cul-
tivation. It has been urged that there
is a gross want of instruction in our
schools in the elementary principles of
economics, a knowledge of which would
serve as a protection in emergencies of



this kind. Undoubtedly more of politi
cal economy in our common-school edu
cation would be useful, but it must be [
remembered that our swindles are by
no means limited to the financial sort,
while the i)ublic mind is probably more
alert in this direction than in any other.
To rectify the evil by the application
of special knowledge would require
scores of new subjects to be introduced
into our public-school curriculum. Be-
sides, had political economy been taught
in the New England schools as other
things are there taught, we are not sure
that it would have made much differ-
ence with the chances of Mrs. Howe's
banking adventure. The difficulty was
not so much a lack of knowledge on
this particular subject as a lack of that
mental preparation which would qualify
for meeting the whole class of imposi-
tions of which the Ladies' Deposit was
but a single example.

The Boston women were undoubt-
edly cheated through their credulity,
and this state of mind was palpably ex-
emplified by a thousand of them. But
the same state of mind is exhibited by
many other thousands of both men and
women all over the country ; and it is
this which has to be met by education
before any etficient protection can be
gained against its mischievous results.
Credulity is easy belief, and the correc-
tion of it is, of course, hardness of be-
lief. The credulous person is careless
of evidence, and is, therefore, readily
duped; the only remedy for this is
doubt, distrust, an appreciation of the
importance of evidence, and a trained
capacity to judge of it. It is necessary
that this state of suspicion and ques-
tioning become a habit of the mind,
and the sifting of evidence in practical
atiairs a distinct branch of mental cul-
tivation. To escape the evil effects of
credulity it is needful that disbelief a.s
an attitude of mind be encouraged as
a virtue. The resistance to evidence
must be active and vigorous until it is
proved to ln» not suurious .'nxl illusivf.

but sound and valid. Our current cult-
ure is here profoundly at fault. Lit-
erary education, as such, does not favor
this habit of mind ; scientific education
properly pursued leads to it necessarily.
Literature flourished in its highest forms
in the ages of credulity, while modern
science only arose with the growth of
the spirit of doubt. Training in the
methods of scientific study seems, there-
fore, to us, the only adequate remedy
for that laxity of thinking and dull cre-
dulity of the popular mind in which
widespread deceptions and impostures
have their origin.

But science also greatly helps us
here in the things it teaches. It famil-
iarizes the mind with the conception
of an order in human life, the iuAancible
operation of cause and effect in social
affairs, and the laws of proportion be-
tween actions and consequences to
j which all persons are subject. That
j there are natural laws in society which
I work out their inevitable results is a
j lesson that requires to be learned as
[ well by the individual as by the state;
' and scientific education alone can fa-
miliarize the minds of the young with
this vital truth.
' Here our literary education fails.
It does not reach, and expound, and
enforce this class of ideas. It is so
thoroughly verbal and critical in form
and spirit as actually to arrest the
mind on its way to the study of things.
In this way absorption in literature be-
comes a barrier to science, which, by
its nature, must detxl directly with
facts and principles. Science merely ad-
dressed to the apprehension, and lodged
in the memory like literary acquisitions,
is not true science ; and little would be
gained by introducing social science
into our schools, to be pursued there in
the manner of other studies. Literary
culture, as it predominates in our educa-
tional institutions, neither prepares the
mind to deal intelligently with ques-
tions of evidence nor does it imbue it
witli riirht conceptions of social order



and the laws of human relation, and it,
therefore, affords but little protection
against those vagaries and extrava-
gances of belief which have their root
in credulity.

Miss Dodge's apology for the wom-
en, in the "Atlantic," is a good illus-
tration of this. Keen, brilliant, thor-
oughly cultivated as she is, she does
not seem for a moment to recognize
that the first duty of every woman
introduced to Howe's bank was to
demand and insi-st upon the clear evi-
dence of its validity. She does not
seem to consider that intelligence or
judgment of facts had any function in
tlie affair. Promises certainly extrava-
gant were made, and stories certainly
improbable were told, and they were
all swallowed without a serious ques-
tion, but Miss Dodge can see no credu-
lity in it ! The notion that the concern
was a grand charity appeared so possible,
so probable, and so noble, that the poor
women were justified in investing in it
without any of those precautions that
are dictated by universal experience in
these matters. Indeed, Miss Dodge
seems to think that Howe's bank is a
kind of ideal type of beneficence on
which this miserable world might well
be remodeled. In the good time com-
ing we are entitled to expect bound-
less largess, and a thundering rate of
interest for everybody. She says : " If
there had been a great charity at the
basis, I do not see how any wiser
mode of distribution could have been
framed. In view of the inexpressible
relief which was afforded in the dozen
or so cases of which I learned in the
course of the discussion, I feel a thrill
of regret whenever I remember that
there was nothing in it."

As a matter of probability, that is
of evidence as a basis of action. Miss
Dodge thinks that eight per cent, a
month is not half so incredible or ab-
surd as the working of the present or-
der of nature. With God's government
of the world at a paltry six or seven

per cent, annually she seems disgusted,
declaring, " In regard to general prob-
ability I candidly avow that no origi-
nality and no magnitude of charity is so
incredible as that the Omnipotent Cre-
ator of the world should let things go
on as they are."

Miss Dodge reasons that the women
were excusable for patronizing Mrs.
Howe's bank with its magnificent prom-
ises because people do actually get bene-
factions often princely in all sorts of

j irregular and improbable ways. Dr.

j Cullis's Home for Consumptives in the

I heart of Boston, professedly supported
by prayer alone, and the Woman's

I Faith Home for Incurables, in Brook-

I lyn, supported also as is said by faith
and prayer, are thought worth refer-
ring to, and she adds, " If Christ could
fish up money out of the sea where-
withal to pay his taxes, and if he said,
'He that bolieveth on me, the works
that I do shall he do also, and greater
works than these shall he do,' why
should it seem a thing incredible that
he should pluck from the pockets of
the rich a hundred-fold or ninety-six-
fold the slender means of the deserving

These are side-considerations for
her religious critics, but Miss Dodge
thinks that politics teaches the same

j lesson. She says, " No one can live
long and intimately in political circles
without being prepared for any develop-
ment whatever of generosity and mag-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 87 of 110)