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almsgiver, and have been so considered by the church? Again, there are some churches which have but few poor connexions. Will not such churches contribute a certain number of visitors to the district in which the church stands, who will attend the Conference? In any case, the public good requires the coöperation of every church and religious body.
The work of the Committee of each District Conference includes one branch of labor too often omitted or forgotten. Each member should be informed respecting the public departments of protection for the unprotected; what may be lawfully asked and received in cases of need; what shelter, what relief, what advice, or what methods of transportation; also, what loans may be obtained; where, and how children may be cared for, and the best methods for saving.
In short, the Committee should hold its seat, not from any supposed superior wisdom, but from a power of which it is perfectly possible for persons of average intelligence to possess themselves; I mean resource, the ability which knowledge can give, prompted by sympathy, to turn quickly when called upon for relief, and to answer, "If the Conference considers this application a suitable one, at this or that place, relief may be obtained."
Closely related to this question of organized administration of charity in cities, is public out-door relief, or the distribution of money raised by taxation for the city poor, to which, under certain restrictions, they have a right by law. This "right" is one of the greatest of man's inhumanities to man. How is the law to estimate, for instance, a woman's capacity to take care of herself, or the injury to her children from receiving a pauper's fund? Questions of relief which visitors find most delicate and difficult to decide are complicated by the demand upon public moneys made by a large proportion of the poor.
In this country, where every kind of labor is needed, and more of it, at lower rates, is constantly in requisition, it is the blind leading the blind, and all falling into the ditch together, for us to allow public money to be bestowed in what are called settlements by law, instead of being given after investigation, and according to the individual need. What these people do require is education, beginning with the lowest forms, in order that money invested in their behalf shall be anything but a future disgrace to our nation. By the lowest forms of education, I mean industrial education in
its simplest development, the use of the hands and feet for some common good.
It should be carefully observed by the officers of a District Committee, that their position, as such, has nothing to do with the management of loan systems, or savings, or tenements, or any form of relief. Their business is to understand where such systems exist, to discover if well administered, and to keep the roadways open between them and the reedy. Of course, their influence will be invaluable for holding all such institutions up to the best working point, but, by virtue of their office, they are examiners and indicators, and must carefully avoid the dangerous mistake of losing sight of their first duty in any such detail. Each member will have as much to do as one person can well perform, under ordinary circumstances, to obtain the proper information and communicate it, especially when we remember that no officer is considered entirely exempt from the practical experience of visiting.
In this connection, an illustration occurs of what happened in my own ward; nor is it an occurrence to be proud of at this date.
On three separate occasions last winter, it was voted that certain sums of money should be paid for relief, the objects being of the best,-once to send children to a place of safety, once to tide a family over a difficult strait caused by illness, and once for a carriage. But when the yearly account was presented, beside the lawful charges for agent, rent, and stationery, there stood thirty dollars as given in relief. That thirty dollars was as much a blow to the system as if it had been thirty thousand dollars. The Committee, for the first time, saw the mistake; there was a door left open where every abuse could slip in. If one district gave money in relief for whatever reason, why might not other districts follow? Before making our accounts public, the Committee discovered that each of those cases could have been settled by appeal to the proper sources. Therefore, they ignominiously paid their own bills, and the public account stands as it should.
One point remains for our brief consideration. Many of the Boston districts contain five or six hundred families who receive aid; of this large number, not more than one hundred and fifty on an average are properly visited and cared for by agent and visitors. New cases sent in as having applied for help in the street, or otherwise, and requiring immediate investigation, in
order to relieve the mind of the person applied to, who has gener-
How then? First, Every new case sent from outside, because
look more closely, perhaps, into the condition of their charge, or to modify their plan of procedure, materially, in connection with especial persons.
Another measure for obtaining knowledge of families in the district, who cannot be regularly visited for lack of helpers, will be to gather the children into little schools; sewing-schools, Sundayschools, vacation-schools, kitchen garden, kindergarten, cookingschools, or wherever the Committee may see opportunity to place them, and the elders into industrial schools, laundries, sewing, carpentry, and the like. Last year, a weekly evening-school for boys brought in a number whose homes were quite unknown to us; also, at Christmas, and other festivals, we may be brought into relation to new families; and if we at such periods, and with such aids, confine our attention entirely to our own district, the time will not be long when we shall have the whole number of recorded recipients of relief within the borders in hand, and very much reduced. But, if a beginning is never made, and our energies are spent in trying to elevate and educate the few, helping them up very successfully, as we may, we shall find a large body straying about, the same as ever, begging and imposing upon the community, until we shall become only "the one more society," so much dreaded everywhere, and the end of organization will remain unfulfilled. We must be content for a time to do more than we can, that is, we must do less well than we can for the few, until we understand the general need somewhat better, and have more help to grapple with it. The rock ahead has always been that men and women in this business lose sight of the idea, and are ensnared in ruts and in details. Let the Committee, at least, hold its head above water.
In this connection, the experience of Miss Mary Carpenter, in the ragged schools of England, is worthy our consideration. She says it was with the utmost difficulty she could keep attention fixed upon the lowest strata. The moment her children had opportunity they were lifted out of their old degradation and became a different class. Teachers and friends naturally wished to keep on with the hopeful cases, but she was obliged continually, as it were, to plunge her own hands down to the very bottom, and bring up those who had sunken there. This also should be the work of our district committees.
The foregoing difficulties, and how to meet them, turn upon a
subject almost too familiar to be mentioned, the need of more
"I feel most deeply," writes a friend, "that the disciplining of our immense poor population must be effected by individual influence; and that this power can change it from a mob of paupers and semi-paupers, into a body of self-dependent workers." Believing this, any labor among the poor becomes not only a hope which is constantly nourished by success, but it also assumes the form of public responsibility, where every man and woman may do his or her part. Visiting the poor does not mean entering the room of a person, hitherto unknown, to make a call. It means that we are invited to visit a miserable abode for the purpose of discovering the cause of that misery. A physician is sometimes obliged to see a case many times before the nature of the disease is made clear to his mind; but once discovered, he can prescribe the remedy. How many visitors fail in this long undertaking! We are at a great disadvantage; we go without authority, and often without knowledge; we are met sometimes with distrust and possible dislike. I can only say, in face of all failures, the success has been triumphant. But, looking at the failures, I am more and more persuaded that we are working at too great a loss. In army words, "we lose too many men." A partial cure for this is to be found in the tenement house system, as introduced by Miss Octavia Hill, and pursued in New York, and in a large tenement of Ward 7, in Boston. There seems to be no reason why oversight of the homes of the poor, which may give the visitor a hold upon the tenant, should not be more general. A proposition for governmental supervision, quoted in one of the reports of the Board of Health, has been suggested as possible and necessary. Such oversight would assist benevolent work in the homes of the poor, immeasurably.
The value of organized charity lies with the visitors, not in the organization; and, as in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, from which we have derived so many suggestions, no officers are exempted from this duty, so with our district committees, we allow no one to be ignorant of it. Constant experience keeps a continual sympathy alive between the committee and visitors. They all labor together, therefore their chief desire is to increase their numbers, seeking to relieve each other of too great a burden, instead of the old habit of asking more work from the same