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Woman in Sociological Reform: Pauperism. Read before the Des Moines Woman’s Club November 25th – 1891 by Mrs. Mary Magnum Raymond.


Woman in Sociological Reform: Pauperism. Read before the Des Moines Woman’s Club November 25th – 1891 by Mrs. Mary Magnum Raymond.


A paper delivered to the Des Moines Women's Club, stored in a portfolio of early papers in the presentation suitcase.


Raymond, Mary Magnum
Des Moines Women's Club


Des Moines Women's Club


25 November 1891


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Archives, Des Moines Women's Club, Hoyt Sherman Place, Des Moines, Iowa

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Archives, Des Moines Women's Club, Hoyt Sherman Place, Des Moines, Iowa

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30 October 2018


Woman in Sociological Reform: Pauperism.
Read before the Des Moines Woman’s Club November 25th – 1891
Mrs. Mary Magnum Raymond

“Sociology” says Dr. Mulford, “is the coming science, and the family holds the key to it.”

I shall make no formal attempt to demonstrate this proposition, -- and yet so deeply impress by it have I been as I have studied this work and the vantage ground that woman holds in social reforms together with the established fact that the family is the great social safe-guard — that it shall stand for you as it has for me as the first and most practical principle to be developed.

Already the time has passed when woman’s fitness as a factor in sociological reform and discussion needs to be urged. I cannot say that she always has a recognized value. As in the church, she may work as hard as she pleases if she will only keep real still in meeting, so in all recognized endeavor to relieve distress, poverty, disease and crime, she has been as yet but a bearer of wood and a carrier of water.

I must make one great and striking exception – that of the temperance work, and that has it not been largely because of the appeal to the home and to the family-ties that has made her so successful in this department. There are other lines of reform in which she has a hand --preeminently from its nature in that of the White Cross League or the “Social Evil” and also in that of Prison reform, which was most thoroughly discussed in this Club two years ago. The care of the Blind, the Deaf and Drunk and the Insane and feeble-minded has been so well done in the State of Iowa, that the individual citizen has had little need to agitate these branches. I believe, Dorothy Dix would still find opportunity in our County Poor-Houses for her extraordinary talent, and these will doubtless only be helped when private benevolence has suspended the County Poor Fund. And so, I pass without apology to the other great social problem that is just being approached with the same enthusiasm and intelligence as its twin sister impertinence the problem of pauperism.

It seems so strange that altho this evil is as old as civilization it has never held a position of prior importance in either social or political science. Like many other movements, it has waited until woman should work shoulder to shoulder with man, which is poor in itself that she is needed in its discussion. And latterly there can be no excuse for ignorance on the subject. Our literature is full of it. We cannot take up a news paper or a magazine or review on even a modern novel without encountering the subject in some form. Not only are so called charitable workers, but intelligent and learned men and women studying the subject with a serious steady purpose. There is a universal and well-grounded dissatisfaction with the old way of dealing with human suffering. One finds this creeping into our fiction first as we always feel the pulse of the world towards suffering humanity first in its stories. Beginning with Victor Hugo’s master-piece we find the first bold statement of the new attitude towards him who was lost his footing in society. We remember when the galley slave meets the Bishop and the good man says “I dedicate you to a new life.” And the same invest and noting after new light and a different better way, how its variations sing through Dickens and our Bret Harte! We cannot forget Mrs. Perdiggle and her unwelcome suggestions or gentle Esther Summerson with her delicate courtesy and the handkerchief over the dead baby’s face.

Another class of novelists then take it up and we have the life of Edward Derris (?), George MacDonald’s, Robert Falconer, and David Elginbrod. Mrs. Whitney’s books breathe the same spirit in a different atmosphere and the more recent flood of literature of the Walter Besaut type is very suggestive. While Little Dorriit and Oliver Twist were sent out, each to answer public indignation against certain evils, Arnold Toynbee was saying of this evil and its possible cure. “Men formerly thought that the direct action of the benevolent instincts by means of self-denying gifts was enough to remedy the misery they deplored.” There was a time when we could give a beggar a dime or a dinner and go on our way rejoicing in the soothing assurance that we had earned the blessing of him that was ready to perish. And men sought to purchase pardon for their sins by endowing a hospital or a row of cottages to old women. But that day has gone by. Now we are coming to understand that a gift is valueless, even harmful, unless on gives with it something of one’s self, of thought and sympathy to the individual. When we help a man, it is in order the we may change him!

I have been reading Gen Booths “In Darkest England,” and the class for which he claims such priority of urgency, he calls “the lost, the outcast, this disinherited of the world; and when he asks – “who are “the lost,” he answers, “Not in a religious sense, but in a social sense. The lost and the outcast are those who have gone under, who have lost their foot-hold in society, those to whom the prayer “Give us day by day our daily bread” is either unfulfilled, or fulfilled by the Devil’s agency, by the earnings of vice, the proceeds of crime, or the courtroom time enforced by the threat of the law. We call these in everyday language, the slums and it covers for our purpose the description of the pauper. “But,” says Mrs. Macy in her valuable papers on this subject, “we are wont to believe that we have no slums—at least outside of those in four of our largest cities. That our blessed land of freedom, of opportunity, of equality, of hope, and a possible future for every man recognizes no Lost except the morally lost. That no individual goes under or loses foothold really in our republic except thru crime. That we know nothing of the old world’s ranks and orders, it’s masses and classes, its ages of oppression and worry’s. its inflexible customs and land entrenched behind a barricade of centuries of error. We had a boundless Virgin Continent with inexhaustible physical resources—enough for all; it was peopled by a race of unequalled energy and unsurpassed variety of gifts from the choicest of earth’s children and fitted in the Providence of God for its great undertaking by a history such as no other nation ever had. We had a government founded on the eternal rock of truth and justice to all, and with all this we had the experience of past ages to guide us.”

And what have we done while distant lands whose pauper populations have become an alarming nuisance to the stability of government and society and have looked to us with hope at first, and latterly, with discouragement as they see us throwing away our rare opportunity and allowing this same parasite to foster itself upon our new and clean and vigorous civilization? We have treated the whole matter – as Mrs. Macy suggests – with the good-natured kindly benevolence which is a characteristic natural. We have trusted the beneficent working of our free institutions, political and educational, to connect the evils to which we have been not totally blind, and meantime we are used the old way of meeting the immediate need and have given a few more millions to cover up the sore for the present. The atmosphere of America – independent and cheerful, the thought not suited to considering an object degraded pauper class. And now we wake to the realization that we have a pauperism not one whit different in essence from that which curses other lands. It is rooted in the same causes and bears the same bitter fruit.

I am well aware that there are other signs than the prophecy of Dr. Mulford that Sociology is to be the science of the future, and that it is already becoming fashionable. Slumming has been indulged in by many fashionable people in so called “high life” and is one of the amusements of the Prince of Wales. New York snobs now go in disguise among the poor for a new sensation. Local science clubs are also fashionable, and men and women have adopted certainly a most harmless fad. They theorize about the poor as they do about the last opera or the new method of making rain. I only hope it may not do harm to anyone who earnestly wishes to add something to the practical solution of the problem. Arnold Laywill says, “There is a historical and philosophical phase which one must know something of if they would be honestly intelligent about the poor.” Let us take for example the matter of treating “indoor relief” among the poor intelligently, in connection with charity work. Outdoor relief is, as you know, the term used to distinguish the help given to the pauper’s home (either by himself as he begs at your door, or by some member of his family) in distinction from sending the pauper to an asylum or hospital – the latter being called “indoor relief.” But when the outdoor relief is practiced, there is opportunity for untold harm. History tells us this.

There was a time in English history when an attempt was made to insure to every family a comfortable living by the giving of relief from the public treasury to the indigent, and additional wage to those whose earnings were inadequate – however vicious or indolent or improvident the receiver. This experiment stands as a warning for all ages and all lives. The report of the commissioners appointed by Parliament in 1832 to inquire into the Poor Law system has made if forever impossible for any intelligent woman, to doubt that such aid is the greatest possible menace to the welfare of a community. The terrible effects shown by that report to have been brought on by the operation of the Poor Law upon the character habits and condition of the masses of the English people are frightful beyond bounds. The decay of industry, forethought, manly independence and temperance and even natural affection was wide spread not only among the poor but all the laboring classes. A man had but to prove himself destitute, and he could secure comfort and ease – when there should be work! A fearful cast England taught us that outdoor relief may be given so lavishly as to create natural bankruptcy.

The poor rates in England that year in some counties absorbed more that the products of the soil after the expenses of cultivation had been paid, so that many farms were given up, and it was reported in one parish that the whole land was offered to the assembled paupers but they refused it saying they would rather continue their old system of receiving relief. In one port of England the tax for this relief of the poor alone amounted to two and a half dollars an acre on the farming land. One English writer of this period truly says, “National prosperity is sapped at its very foundation when once the feeling is spread that the bounty of the charitable will enable men to live without labor.”

Then there is another period of history - that delightful and no less instructive story of how pauperism was abolished in Bavaria by Count Rumford. How, on the first of January 1790 – New Year’s day – from time immemorial the Beggars Holiday – every beggar (and they swarmed the streets) was told by the army officers and city officials stationed throughout Munich, that henceforth begging would not be permitted in Munich, that if he was in need, assistance would be given him, and if detected begging again he, would be severely punished. Every beggar was sent to the Town Hall, his name and residence inscribed upon the register, and he was directed to report to the Military House Industry where he would find dinner, work and wages. Every beggar was assisted, and in one day a stop was put to begging in Bavaria. The preparations and training for this New Lease day, the building of the Houses of Industry, as they were called, and the education of public sentiment to persuade the citizens of Bavaria to cooperate, all these are worthy of study to the would-be worker in this problem. In the early part of this century, the outrages of the “white feet,” Leady Blare Boys and ”Tory Alts” (?) may be well compared with the cooperative experiment at Kalahine by Mr. Craig and the Eberfield Plan.
The influence of war on population in producing a restless roaming class that are good material for recipients for public bounty may will be considered in connection with the civil war. Vicar McCullough in a burning paper on the social degradation of certain forms of relief says, “We have every reason to believe that some of this parasitism comes from the old convict stock which England threw into this county in the seventeenth century. The wandering tendency so marked in the cases of the famous “Brocker” family and the “Pike” is illustrated here as in that Indiana family which came originally from the South Atlantic Coast and whose history is given in Mr. McCullough’s “Study of the Tribe of Ishmael to Dr. Dugdale’s “Study of the Pikes” and “Margaret the Mother of Criminals.” For six generations, this tribe of Ishmael produced 1,672 individual paupers. And this reminds me that I touch a subject near home, and which, though your attention may have been called to it, has peculiar significance in this connection. Polk County is now supporting its fourth generation of paupers, each member or each generation having a family from five to nine children. A verifiable beginning for a typical family tree to be used as a historical warning in some future paper before the National Society for Associated Charities.
In connection with the historical study of this question, I have endeavored to find a stated law in relation to the distribution of pauperism. There is a law discoverable in relation to the distribution of crime, and also of insanity. That of crime is concentration in great cities and is therefore in direct proportion to the density of the population. The distribution of insanity is possibly due to the newness of this country, and there is also a law of race – the colored race having the smallest proportion of insane, the whites next and foreigners the largest. These are laws that can be discovered and by analogy we should say there might be a law discoverable as to pauperism. And because there is none, I suppose the necessary lists for statistics are wanting. The state takes charge of criminals and insane at once, but those who go to the County Poor House are a small proportion of those who live in the public. Alas, that it should so often be the case that a poor man becomes a pauper in reality, because in spirit, the first time he receives alms from what is intended to be a kind act! Some figures however have been gathered as approximate – always from the nature of the service under rather than over estimating the number. I take those of Prof. Ely of John’s Hopkins University in a paper published in the North American Review last April. He gives the United States not less than three million paupers, with an expenditure of twenty-five million annually. Adding to this direct cost an estimate of the loss to the country in labor, he makes one hundred millions of dollars a very conservative estimate. A more astonishing fact, and one that comes closer home to us, is that the State Board of Charities of Illinois have shown that in that prosperous commonwealth the burden imposed by pauperism is growing at six times the growth of the population of the State. In Iowa we have no statistics, for we have also no State Board of Charities – tho even little, young South Dakota has taken this advanced step – yet I see no reason to believe that we are better off than Illinois.

We have in some respects a more advantageous position that other states. Our especially healthy climate, the absence of large cities, and of undue accumulation of wealth in individual hands, our small foreign population and that of the better class of Swedes, Norwegians and Germans (undecipherable) and an absence of Italians, Poles and Irish, our splendid public school system, our varied and ever multiplying industrial opportunities the greatness of our harvests, the high moral time so generally prevalent and a public sentiment which has from the beginning fought with considerable degree of success against the sale and use of intoxicating drinks. Iowa should have led the world in an intelligent, active and effective effort to prevent in her borders the pauperism that other states are working to cure. The causes of the evil are easy to find, or at least to theorize about. Theorists, like Henry George and Gen Booth, are given to ascribing unjust land laws and the curse of the drink habit. Many are coming to believe with Octavia Hill that alms-giving is the root of the whole evil— “Such gifts,” she says, “as the poor are in the habit of receiving from the rich.”

Perhaps the four causes given by Robert Treat Paine of Boston in an address before the National Society of Associated Charities at Baltimore, are as generally received as any.

1st Indiscriminate charity; 2nd the (?) shop; 3rd The filthy home; 4th Neglected child life. Add to these the one that Prof. Ely considers paramount, namely heredity, and we have enough general causes. One who has given the matter much thoughtful attention gives five special conditions for the increase of pauperism in Iowa. After granting the great influence of heredity –1st the vigor of our long and severe winters. Men are thrown out of employment. This is supposedly casual and accidental, but “the casual by misfortune tends to become the casual by inclination.” The writer suggests educating the poor to save. There are many provident schemes in every town almost for this. In England they have a system of postal savings banks by which the government keeps safely every penny that is deposited therein every week. I presume we shall come to this. Does anyone wonder what the poor may save? We see every day families that we know are dependent entirely on their daily earnings spend part of it on tobacco, on foolish finery, and still worse on unhealthy and degrading amusements.

2nd Defective Sanitation. Even in our smallest towns a single filthy home may poison a multitude. Only the law can help in this matter, and the law will not be exercised without the necessary public sentiment. The poor are especially exposed to bed sanitary conditions, and this perhaps actual illness be not produced. The results of a lowered vitality and diminished strength are especially deplorable. The poison which slowly saps their strength takes the stock in trade. Contagious and infectious diseases are always preventable. They should cease to exist in civilized countries. My attention has been called to a letter by Prof. Leindsley of New Haven on this subject. He says “The time will come when a death from typhoid fever will be as proper a subject for the investigation of the coroner as a death by any other poison. There is nothing on earth so mighty to direct and control the attention and efforts of men as the almighty dollar. Whenever our state legislatures get so far enlightened as to make communities responsible for the suffering of their citizens by infectious diseases. and compel payment to every sufferer from the public treasury, then public hygiene will receive the attention which its importance demands. The final consequence would be, and in a very few years, a great reduction of sickness.” Prof. Ely also says, “Thousands of lives are saved every year in Liverpool, London and Glasgow by the improved conditions of life introduced by public authority, and which public authority alone could introduce. We must remember exactly what this means. It does not mean merely fewer deaths, but less illness, greater robustness and strength for the population as a whole, consequently a greater capacity for self help and self-support, less pauperism and fewer dependent widows and orphans. It may be said without any hesitation that a single sanitary law even with imperfect means of administration has accomplished more than all the achievements of private philanthropy in a generation.

North Des Moines Sewage
Case of Mrs. M_ from Janis’s (?)

I cannot think but that our Womans Club is just the body to take up in its own way the sanitary condition of our city. The New York and Brooklyn ladies have given us a notable example in their resistance to filthy streets and alleys. We held our darlings very close last winter when the dreaded yellow card began to dot the doorways of almost every block. By careful watching and the use of many preventives we saved ours perhaps. But our hard-working care laden neighbor had no time and strength to give her baby the same watchfulness. And it is the City Authority alone that can insist on sanitary precautions.

3rd The filthy home and evil associations. Perhaps in this direction have we made better advancement than in any other. I wonder sometimes at the helps that are abroad to help make the poor-man’s home homelike and attractive. Octavia Hill says, “Filthy places grow cleanly when cleanly people pass often in and out” Certainly the pauper’s home is only to be changed by the promotion of neighborliness and to promote healthy and elevating associations and amusements. I will point to the City poor that we are some time to have. One of the best preventives of bad associations for children will be a large free playground for the poor. Let us begin at once to lay the foundation for a Bisart’s Palace of Delight for Des Moines.
When we come to heredity, we remember some mere remark about influencing a man by beginning with his great grandfather, and the old, old question comes up – “What is right and just for us to do with the children. I have claimed that it is the family life that is to be the saving of the poor – and shall we enter the family on any pretext and take the children from the parents that they may have a chance under new and encouraging environment. Certainly we shall use our common-sense, or that symposium of sense and justice that we call “the state” shall know that a father that is diseased physically and morally, and to whose fatherhood the condition of his offspring have pleaded in vain, has not the elements to make a home or what we mean by family life. The magnificent work done by Homes for children all over our nation is a sufficient answer. But we have not touched bottom yet! What right has a man who does not, will not, does not want to or expect to support a family – to have a family? Is not this the place for the state to interfere?

You will all of you remember Mr. Redhead’s bill, introduced but smothered at once as utterly impractical, requiring a man to show that he can support a family before allowed to marry. Society when we have a State Broad of Charities – when every pauper is a registered and a marked man – the good sense of such a law will make it practicable. Hasten the Day!

And now that I have spent most of my time on the curse and causes of pauperism, have I any cures? It is with the cure that the Christian and philanthropic people are “at work.” I need not tell you that it is to be dealt with scientifically in the future – work that is to accomplish this end.

It will be remembered when David Copperfield had during the progress of his journey towards Miss Trotwood reduced himself to the condition characterizing the generic poor, even that strong-minded lady was unable to cope with the problem and appealed to Mr. Dick for assistance. Which worthy person with a promptitude which proves beyond a doubt that he must have given the matter much secret consideration, replied sensibly but suggestively “Wash him.” This feat successfully accomplished Mr. Dick further counseled “Feed him” and Mr. Dicks immortal treatise in what shall we do with the poor was complete. This was the old charity and not until these latest economist have given for a new charity – namely so, wash and feed his soul that he shall of himself keep his body clean and his stomach filled – has there been other than an annotating and expanding of this solution to the problem of David and in what does the new charity differ from the old?

1st The old system of charity – that of giving doles of food and clothing hid it is to be measured charity and organized work to accomplish the end. Organization is the endeavor to make the poor instrumental to the good of the whole. Separate and unorganized the new charity would accomplish little more than the old and would be more or less injurious. Combined and organized it is serviceable. The idea of charity and organization are akin here. The constant consideration for others which the one represents as a motive, the other represents as an actual force. Before the giving took but a few moments – the transfer of food or clothing to the individual. Now – because the man is to be helped permanently - because his condition is to be changed, because you are to act as a friend – the giving may take a day. Individuals cannot give at the timely opportunity the time and thought always and so we organize, and we find some one or two or three who care so manage as to give their time and thought to investigation and planning the best all around for the recipient. The cardinal ideas of the charity organization are few and simple and are based on scientific principles.

1st A trained agent, a physician to diagnose the disease and prescribe an immediate remedy or to occasionally direct the patient to a specialist. A nursery, a wood yard, a labor bureau.

2nd A committee of clearheaded, warm-hearted men and women and a consult clinic of physicians carefully to consider and decide on the care.

3rd A volunteer visitor and a trained nurse.

In other words—
1st The most thorough and accurate investigation.
2nd Prompt and adequate relief after careful consultation, - relief that shall be remedial and not a further cause for pauperism.
3rd Hearty cooperation of every relief-giving agency and registration of every applicant.
4th The volunteer work of friendly visitors, keeping watch over the poor people to guide and help them to self-help.

Organic work needed because in the shortcomings, failures, unhealthy and violent working of our social system this strange and morbid type called the pauper has been evolved. It is easy to talk of the pauper class, but not so of some of the individual paupers. Perhaps even to some of us a pauper – per se – is an unfamiliar thing. We have known the poor – “The poor ye have always with you.” (tho I think the deserving poor are not with us as wayside beggars.) – but poverty as we have known it has meant hardship, struggle, the absence of luxury and comfort, sometimes absolute and distressing want but, thank God! more often that otherwise a stimulus to character and ambition. Poverty has been an accidental circumstance. But now we are beginning to know the pauper – the man not simply poor in his surroundings but poor in himself – weak, enfeebled, debilitated, and devitalized. We will call for a new adjustment of our theories and of ourselves. We are surprised to find that we can only study a little way into the analysis of the poverty of the poor before we must stop and analyze the wealth of the rich. And as in the study of crime we turn to our democratic institutions as the great political safeguard and expect to find it able to preserve social unity under the economic forces that are pushing men into crime; so in the study of pauperism we must look to the family as the great social safeguard. I know that some say the family is beginning to fail under the great strain that is falling upon it, that It has lost much in idea under the growth of individualism and that it is losing much more in practice under the looseness of social custom. “Marriage” it is said, “is no longer a self-protecting ordinance. It has ceased to be honorable in the sight of all men.”

Then I claim that back of all sociological reform and as the basis of it; behind all love and pity for the poor and the outcast and the unfortunate, and because of the work she may do for these she is first to save the family in its ideal and practical unity and purity. For this she is responsible first, and only then will she be given the key that unlocks the problem of the paupers and the drunkard’s existence. Then will she have a true conception of what the best citizenship is. She is to give to the pauper’s family the desire to make the most of the best – no matter how little that may be. She is to give out of the riches of her own beautiful home life and Christian heart. Along with the love she carries is to be sanctified common sense and with the new spirit, or method, a loyal submission to the divine, eternal right. Her object is restoration and her motto – not alms, but a friend.”

Mrs. Sherman in her paper before the Chicago Club entitled “The New preaching of the gospel of charity,” says, “The new charity requires of the rich that for the common good they submit to labor in some field, and that they help the poor to become self-dependent and competent fellow citizens.” And if gifts should be the least token of the sympathy that prompts it, and that devotion, intelligence and common sense should use the gift so that it influence and elevate character. The new charity is rather a spirit and a method; not the giving of alms to the poor man, but the giving hope and strength to the man devitalized and discouraged.

I can think of nothing so well fitted to illustrate this as the dear old story of the man who lay at the beautiful gate of the temple asking alms. To him alms meant food and shelter and a man to bring him to the temple and home again. He had no conception of other help than this. The answer came to him “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give of thee – in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk.” This was the new, the personal charity; help to stand on his feet and become a self-supporting man again. Such as I have – not money, not influence, only the gift of sympathy, help and courage. Out of this “Such as I have” has come all this wonderful variety of modern civilization. Whatever one has in surplus or abundance, another somewhere has need of. And I believe the great need of the poor is first justice and their human interest. There is always a fondness in literary circles for analyzing human nature. There can be no personal love or charity without reverence for human value as such. And if we will but take up the human interest in the pauper, it will bring a wealth of personal love to the lack of it in any individual. And out of all this cause and cure – this suffering and the charity that is to help it, is to come a new life for our whole social system. A life which is the touch of a higher motive, imagination, hope, courage, wiser living and higher thinking. And then the great gulf between the rich

man and the pauper will be crossed by those
in this loud stunning tide of human cares and crime—
with whom the melodies abide of the everlasting chime;
who carry music in their heart
thru dusky love and wrangling want.