Survey Associates.

The Survey (Volume 58) online

. (page 45 of 130)
Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesThe Survey (Volume 58) → online text (page 45 of 130)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Hoover and James L. Fieser, acting director gen-
eral of the Red Cross, which is making a tour of the
flooded region, from Vicksburg to New Orleans.
He will interpret the emergent work of relief and
rehabilitation in which government and volunteer
forces are mobilized, and arrange for adequate ap-
praisal in later issues of the enduring problems of
reconstruction confronting the devastated region.

A Regular Errand of Childhood in the Dampish Nineties

Illustration from The Qay Nineties,
Reminiscent Drawings by R. V. Culler,

published by Doubleday, Page & Company


May 15

Volume LVIII
No. 4

Settlement vs. Saloon

Some Notes on Twenty Years of Competition for Leadership in the

Des Moines Bottoms


IN 1904 when I became resident director of Roadside
Settlement in Des Moines, the House stood directly
across the street from the Wayside Saloon and occa-
sionally a Wayside patron mistakenly stumbled into
our front door. A year later Roadside moved to the
South-east Bottoms, a plat in which the first deed of con-
veyance stipulated that no saloon should ever be located
on the land. So we were not again neighbors of a saloon,
but for ten years we were neighbors of all the products
of the saloons. Drunken men were the commonest sight on
the streets, as were haggard women and ragged, under-
nourished children.

One street intersection, just outside our district, had a
saloon on each of the four corners, the next had three, and
practically every intersection passed by our neighbors on
their way to work had one or more saloons, with others
between intersections. A flaunting red-light district lay
between us and the downtown section.

As far back as 1905 Iowa had restricted saloons. As I
recall it, no seats were allowed drinks must be taken stand-
ing. It seemed to me a sad way to drink and as I saw
below the half-screen the line of feet, my own ached in
sympathy for the men condemned to such tiring festivity.
In spite of this drawback, the saloons and the pool-halls
which adjoined them were the chief social meeting-places for
the men of our neighborhood. Half a dozen times I was
told that a saloon-keeper said, when he heard that Roadside
was building a gymnasium and club rooms in the Bottoms,
"That will play hell with my business; the boys will have
some place else to go."

The saloons closed early in the evenings, 10:30 I think
it was. No woman who knew the Bottoms nor any sober

man took the trolley that left the downtown station at that
time. They waited for half an hour, because that car,
especially on Saturday nights, was filled with a drunken
crew, sick, cursing, fighting, refusing to pay fares, threaten-
ing the conductor. On Saturday nights we always locked
the front door and surveyed from a window the arrival of
the "drunk car," as it was popularly known. Usually a
few men were thrown off, sometimes at the expense of
broken panes of glass in the car. For some reason those
who should get off at our corner refused to do so unless
urged and assisted, and often the street was vocal for an
hour as they recited loudly to the moon or the dim gas-
light the reasons why they shouldn't have alighted there.

Sunday morning was a gray time in the neighborhood.
For a number of years I was director of the primary room
in a nearby mission Sunday School and each week my heart
ached for some children, who, I knew, crept out of their
homes on Sunday mornings with scant breakfasts because if
fathers were awakened they forbade their leaving the house.

Appeals for protection from families terrorized by
drunken men were of almost daily occurrence. One hears
so often that strong drink makes men gay, happy and gen-
erous. After a long acquaintance with many drinking men,
I may say I have known very few who seemed either gay
or happy and fewer still who evidenced any generous or
kindly impulses when under the influence of liquor. Per-
haps the northern and the native-born most of our neigh-
bors were from northern Europe or native-born take liquor

more sadly!

Roadside very soon became a shelter for families driven
from home and its director a sometimes militant adviser.
One woman came regularly for months to tell me a sad


1 98


May 15, 1927

tale of violence to her and her little children. I dried
her tears for a good many weeks but it was a monotonous
story and one day when she began her woeful tale I said
impatiently :

"Why do you let him hit you ? You are as big and strong
as he is. Hit him back." She looked at me with startled
eyes I can see her face now after all the years and said :

"I be afraid of him."

"Why be afraid ? You are strong. Hit him first when
he begins to abuse you. I'm tired of your coming in here
every week with the same old story. If you are going to
live with a drunken husband either stop whining about it
or take care of yourself," and I turned her out of the office.

A WEEK later she came in with a perfectly awe-
struck look on her face, and began with no preliminary

"What you tell me to do, I do. He come home drunk
and swear at me and I pick up a bucket and hit him on
the head hard and the blood run down fast."

"What did he do?" I asked, wondering if I'd be held
as accessory to a murder.

"He looked queer," she replied, "and he tie a rag round
his head and go to bed and this morning he say nothing."

I may say that this man was really cured of drinking by
this method further applied, but I would not recommend it
as a promoter of domestic harmony.

From another family, the mother, five children and a
woman boarder, appeared one evening, bringing in with
them such an odor of kerosene that two or three clubs meet-
ing in rooms nearest the front door promptly adjourned to
find out what was happening. The mother explained that
Pa had come home drunk and had thrown kerosene over
them all as they sat at the supper table. He was about to
set fire to them but his hand was so unsteady that while he
was trying to scratch a match they escaped.

Another neighbor was sent to a fresh air camp, with the
four youngest of her ten children, the other six being cared
for by relatives. Husband had professed great appreciation
of the outing for his family and entire ability to care for
himself in their absence. Two days later I had a long
distance telephone message from the camp manager.

"Mrs. A.'s husband has sent her word he is sick and
she must come home. Mrs. A. wants you to go and see
if he is sick or just drunk."

"I am perfectly sure he is just drunk," said I unsym-
pathetically, but I verified my diagnosis. Husband was
lying on the porch covered with flies, smelling to Heaven
and much too far gone to reply to any inquiries about his

A drunken man walked up and down the street in front
of the house for some hours one day, waiting, as some one
presently discovered, to shoot me, because my testimony had
served to send his daughter to the State Industrial School.
Fortunately I had gone away for a few days and he sobered
up or forgot his grievance before my return. Over and
over again we were threatened with violence by drunken
men whose families we had protected or who fancied they
had been injured by Roadside residents, but none of us was
ever harmed.

Roadside provided the first public baths in Des Moines,
showers for men and tubs for women and children. We
occasionally found drunken men, fully dressed, in a bathtub,

expected and sometimes hoped to find one drowned, but
either they went to sleep without turning on the water or
made such a noise when it began to flow, they were heard
and dragged out.

The police patrol-wagon was a frequent caller in those
days and the officers were kind to us and as helpful as they
could be. Fortunately or unfortunately the complaining
wives nearly always forgave their husbands and the police
complained then, as now, that it was useless to place a
charge against the men as wives so seldom appeared to sup-
port it. They could only be held over night and then be
released to drink again.

I could go on for pages with stories out of our experience
and with others far more tragic of children brought up in
such an atmosphere and so handicapped by heredity and
environment. We made no surveys in those days and I
have no statistics of the number of habitual drunkards in
the district, but for the first ten years of my residence
drunkenness was responsible for the most difficult problems
with which Roadside or any social agency had to deal and
for a very great majority of the crimes committed.

The saloon of course was mixed up with politics. A
saloon-keeper was said to hold the Bottoms vote in his hands.
His friends made up the majority of the election boards
and his candidates in city elections, at least, polled good

Iowa women had a vote on bond issues and some special
taxes for many years before full suffrage was obtained. The
judges in our precinct certainly detested having women vote,
but always there was my vote, with usually two or three
other Roadside residents and three women from a progres-
sive family living near us. Usually the whole women's vote
arrived at the polling place together and was treated with
scant courtesy. One man, who always served on the board
and who was always drunk on election day and most other
days, sometimes restrained an expression of opinion until we
had turned away from the booth, but we heard his opinion
of women before we reached the door.

AT 1 the state referendum on suffrage in June, 1916, I was
president of the state suffrage organization and the
executive secretary was living at Roadside also. We went to
the polls early to vote on a bond issue, having of course no
vote on the suffrage question. Although Iowa was at that
time legally dry, most of the election board seemed slightly
tipsy. One member, who belonged to one of our gym classes,
was very friendly and insisted we should vote on suffrage.
He pressed the special ballot on us both and was puzzled and
disappointed that we showed so little enthusiasm for our
own cause. The before-mentioned member cursed us loudly
and vehemently and as we left the room attempted to rise,
apparently to follow us, but he was so drunk he fell head-
long and as we passed out we left him stretched at full
length on the floor, uttering denunciations of women who
wished to move out of their divinely appointed "spere."

After 1920 I served in the same precinct in every election
for three years, and never in that time was any man who
served with me in the slightest degree under the influence
of liquor. So quickly did the old order pass! Its passing
may be credited to woman's suffrage or to prohibition or
to both.

Prohibition came into effect in Iowa under state enact-
ment in 1916. There had been county and local option

the custodian having been successfully eluded. We always laws for years and these were constantly being strengthened

May 15, 1927


and extended. Des Moines saloons were closed under local
option some months befdre state prohibition went into effect,
and some men still secured liquor. It was said over and
over again, then as now: "There is more drinking than
ever. Prohibition does not prohibit. It is far better to
have the licensed saloon than the bootlegger."

With the passing of the saloon in our neighborhood, fam-
ilies who had no furniture began to collect a few pieces.
Bedsteads and mattresses were seen where before there had
been heaps of rags. Children who had stayed away from
school for lack of suitable clothing became more regular in
attendance. More shoes appeared to have been bought for
the feet that wore them. Women who had been unable to
attend neighborhood gatherings for lack of proper attire
appeared in new dresses. Men who had never been seen
publicly with their wives and children escorted them occa-
sionally to Roadside parties.

TRUE, some of the old drinkers had occasional sprees,
but liquor was high in price, not easily obtained and
dangerous to life. A bootlegger acquaintance said to me in
1916: "All you say about the danger is true. I know I am a
damned fool to sell the stuff but I am not such a double
damned fool as to drink it." A few months later his widow
came to arrange for day-nursery care for her three small
children while she went out to work. Speaking of her
husband's death, she said: "It was just his own carelessness
that killed him. He drank a bottle of liquor that his part-
ner told him was genuine. You can't trust nobody on the
pedigree of liquor."

I was away from Roadside except for occasional visits
from October, 1916, until October, 1918. Since 1918 there
have been periods when our neighborhood seemed very dry
and other periods when it seemed very wet. There have
been flurries of arrests, investigations and clean-ups but sel-
dom has there been sufficient evidence to convict and fines
have been mostly remitted or unpaid. It is, of course, diffi-
cult to induce a bootlegger to admit that he has sold liquor
illegally, and difficult to induce a drinker to testify where
he seemed the liquor he so evidently drank; apparently
without evidence as unquestioned as this, few conscientious
judges will sentence a man and if it is done the higher court
may usually be depended upon to reverse the decision.

A good many times between 1918 and 1924 members of
settlement groups have come to the house under the influence
of liquor. Usually they have left quietly when told their
presence was undesired and apologies have been made later.
Usually they seemed to have had only a limited supply of
liquor and to recover from it in a few days. Most of them
are men from twenty-five to thirty-five years of age who
began to drink in pre-prohibition days. I know only an
occasional younger man who has acquired the habit since

Since November, 1924, I have been away from Des
Moines except for two visits. My successor at Roadside
told me that this was a period of unusual activity in both
drinking and selling liquor and that in the past two years
there have been again alternating periods of wetness and
dryness. Last August as I sat in a friend's house, I asked
her opinion of the liquor situation. She has lived in the
Bottoms almost as long as I have. She said : "Every house
in the next block, on this side of the street, is making or
selling, or both making and selling." I asked how she
knew this and she said chiefly by the number of expensive


automobiles which stop in front of the houses and the well-
dressed men who go in. I asked if she thought the situation
as bad as before prohibition and she said "Yes," and then
she hesitated and added, "Well, I'm not sure. There are

>t as many drunken men on the street as there were then
.nd there are no children carrying pails home."

A group of women members of a settlement club agreed
n saymg, "It is terrible. There is lots of selling all over
the Bottoms and it is terrible how many men are drinking."
One^ added, "Some women are drinking too, and some sell-
ing. I asked them if it seemed as bad as in the saloon
days. They agreed that the present situation is not com-
parable to that period. They knew more of the old days
than I, and of the hardships of women and children with
drunken husbands and fathers. I asked if any of them knew
men who now came home drunk to drive the family into
the street. They told me of but two men who are abusive
at home, spending all their wages for drink, and, said one
of the women cheerfully, "Both of them are old and they'll
not last long."

We talked about unemployment, which is very general
in Des Moines now the agricultural depression reacts
everywhere in Iowa. They thought drink had very little
to do with unemployment. There were drinking men with-
out jobs, but they were the men who were often idle. They
had been idle for longer periods, naturally; sober men get
the first jobs that are open. They told me of a number
of families living in comfort from the sale of liquor but
they all said most of the liquor is bought outside the neigh-
borhood. We talked about "dope," too, but they said noth-
ing to indicate that its use had increased in the Bottoms.
One thing that was said was enlightening. "Women are
not so helpless now as they used to be. Girls can do more
kinds of work, and even middle-aged women can find jobs
where the work is not so hard and where they make good
money." The thought was that women now do not toler-
ate the old order of poverty and abuse.

A visitor from another organization who came into Road-
side one day said she had been calling on Mary B., whose
mother had led a hard life because the father drank and
they were extremely poor. "They are prosperous now,"
said the visitor. "Mary told me her papa used to drink
something awful. But he is scared of bootleg whiskey be-
cause so many men have been killed by it, so now he gives
all his money to her mama and they are building a new
house and getting along just swell."

A FEW days later I called on another friend whose
drunken husband deserted her after she had borne three
children. She supported herself by day-work. At eighteen
the daughter had died of tuberculosis and at twenty, one
of the sons. The second son and his wife died from drink,
leaving her a legacy of two small grandsons. She worked on
washed, cleaned, put them through the grade school, had
them taught trades. Now she is seventy and the younger
grandson, the hope of her old age, is traveling the path his
grandfather and his father traveled before him. My friend,
who had suffered from three generations pf drinking men,
said: "Men can't help taking the drink when it's round
them." I said, "It ought not to be around them these days
but apparently the law can't be enforced."

She lifted her brave old head on which too many tragedie
have fallen, and with the fighting look still in her eyes
replied: "Can't be enforced and you say that? It can



May 15, 1927

be enforced. You know it can be if them that should do
it would do it."

The impression seemed to be general among those with
whom I talked that most of the drinking in Des Moines
is among the well-to-do. Many well-to-do men seem to
have acquired a liquor inferiority complex. They feel they
must show their world they can secure and serve liquor,
and thus prove that they belong socially and financially to
the class able to support bootleggers. Keeping and drinking
liquor is to them a social obligation, in the same category
as membership in the most expensive country club. The
well-to-do young people who are drinking seem to come
from these families and to get the complex and the liquor
in their own homes.

Drinking among young men and women in our neighbor-
hood is not general, so far as I could learn or observe, partly,
I think, because of the expense. The well-to-do can keep
both a car and a flask. In our neighborhood we must choose,
and generally we choose a Ford. One is impatient some-
times at the proportion of the family budget which goes into
automobiles, but after all, using a high proportion of the

family income for a car is infinitely better than using it for
strong drink.

As I recall the Bottoms of 1904, I know that the lives
of its people have been revolutionized. How much of this
revolution is due to prohibition I do not know. But I do
know that the shuffling drunkard I saw stumbling along
Scott Street a month ago is exactly as sodden and degraded
as the drunkards who stumbled along that street twenty-
two years ago, and I know that all the helpful forces of
modern life, material and immaterial, can do nothing for a
man whose brain and body are paralyzed by liquor.

There is illegal drinking and selling in the Bottoms as
there is in so many communities. Who is most to blame I
do not know. I do know that if the city, county, state and
federal forces charged with enforcement of the law were
working cooperatively instead of uncooperatively and were
supported by the citizens who are law-abiding, the prohibi-
tion law would be enforced. Even with partial enforce-
ment, drunkenness in the Bottoms twenty-two years ago and
drunkenness there today is as smallpox was before and since
men have learned the use of vaccination.

Who Commits Suicide?


MAY and June are the open season for suicides.
The number runs in a crescendo up through
these months, declines through the summer
and early fall, tilts gently upward in Decem-
ber, then dips again in the late winter and
early spring. No one knows whether this increase during
the late spring is due to the restlessness of "spring fever,"
or to some unanalyzed physiological reaction to changes in
temperature, humidity, and so forth. The differences in
rates between the seasons are not so great, however, that
they need affect the fundamental analysis of causes of suicide.
Perhaps the most interesting thing they suggest is that
suicide is not necessarily a reaction to the material hard-
ships of poverty or hunger or cold, which press most closely
during the winter months. The alternative suggestion is
that suicide is a reaction to social and psychological mal-
adjustments, to thwarting of vital interests and ideals, to
disturbances of one's chosen mode of life, which may seem
more acute and unendurable during the restless spring

From the point of view of suicide, the United States is
comparatively "healthy." Here for every IOO,OOO of the
population, u.8 people kill themselves each year (1922).
In France the corresponding rate is 21.9; in Germany, 21.4;
in Denmark, 14.5. Not all of Europe is suicide-ridden,
however. In Sweden the rate is IO.T suicides per 100,000
people (1918); in England and Wales, 9.1 (1919); in
Italy, 6.9 (1916); in Norway, 5.3 (1920). The explana-
tion of the varying European rates must be left for some
European investigator.

While the rate of the United States in general is relatively
low, there are distinct localities and groups where suicide is
rife. A map with cross-hatchings to show the rates by states
pictures the South almost white (almost without suicide),
the East and North of varying degrees of grayness, the

far West dark, with California almost black preeminent
in suicide as in many other things.

In whatever locality the comparison is made, cities out-
rank surrounding rural districts by about 30 per cent. For
the registration states of the United States in 1922, the
urban rate was 14.3 suicides per 100,000 people, the rural
rate, 9.5. The trite explanation for this difference is that
city life wears on people's nerves more heavily than country
life. Perhaps although there is much talk of the grinding
monotony of country life. There are other factors worthy
of consideration. In the rural communities values are less
individualistic than in the city. Man has more "duties" to
his family, his community, his God, in the country than in
the city. Suicide is not so much a matter of individual
concern. Moreover, the rural community even in its
present distraught condition incorporates the individual
more closely into a group which first sets social standards to
define his needs and interests and then provides for their

The rural person has, in family, church, club, school,
neighborhood groups, trading centers, opportunity to meet
and make friends, to select husband or wife, to receive advice
and help, when in grief to be comforted, and when old to
receive care. There is, too, in the monotony and simplicity
of rural life, a concentration on elemental needs and an
avoidance of the variety of interests and ambitions to which
the urban person is subjected and which necessarily increase
the chances of disappointment in working out a satisfactory
life organization.

A STUDY of types of communities shows that all com-
munities organized, as is the rural community, on the
basis of homogeneous groups which enmesh the individual
firmly in the social codes and customs and provide for his
major needs, have low suicide-rates. Suicide is almost un-

May IS, 1927


mown in isolated primitive villages. There is very little in
eligious communities where the church undertakes to con-
:rol the entire life of the individual. Thus Catholic com-
munities have low rates, and in the United States the
Mormon states have much lower rates than adjacent states.
The high urban rate does not seem, then, to be so much
a matter of mere nerve strain as of confused values, of the
loss of a sense of obligation to anything but individual in-

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesThe Survey (Volume 58) → online text (page 45 of 130)