Charitable Words: Women, Philanthropy, and the Language of Charity in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Charitable Words: Women, Philanthropy, and the Language of Charity in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Charitable Words: Women, Philanthropy, and the Language of Charity in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Charitable Words: Women, Philanthropy, and the Language of Charity in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Synopsis

Mismanaged by local authority, in the 19th-century, Dublin lacked sufficient industrial development to provide adequate employment. Dublin's charitable workers attempted to improve the lives of the thousands who flocked to the city in search of relief. As a means to examining the hidden incentives of charity, the author offers a discussion of the language of charity in this setting. She notes how contemporary notions of race, class, and religion influenced how Ireland's philanthropists thought of and related to the poor. While much has been written on the perceived racial inferiority of the Celt as compared to the Anglo-Saxon, Preston suggests that the Irish upper classes, in seeking to gain equal footing with the British elite, adopted the same language to describe the poor.

Intense sectarian strife marred Irish charities and undermined the smooth operation of social services. Preston offers insight by focusing on two women philanthropists who battled for the souls of Ireland's children. She also explores those who remained above the fray, such as the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, who offered aid to all regardless of creed. Within the charitable records of this group, Preston contends that one can see how the Society changed over time and that, in Ireland, the industrial revolution as well as the 1798 Rebellion, contributed to the Society adapting to the mainstream. Finally, the women of charity helped to establish a modern nursing system for Ireland, and this work details their efforts at turning nursing into a respectable profession for women.

Excerpt

An account of Dublin, published in 1822, while extolling the virtues of those of rank and fortune in the city, also noted that it “… contain[ed] a large mass of human beings in the most squalid and wretched conditions … it is not possible to walk in any direction half an hour without getting among the loathsome dwellings of the poor.” Eighty years later the Rev. Gilbert Mahaffy, in evidence before a parliamentary committee on streettrading children, observed that “Dublin is relatively the poorest [city] in the kingdom. There is a large number of people living on the absolute verge of poverty… there are large numbers of people living on such small sums of money that we who know them wonder how they keep body and soul together.” While it seemed as if the circumstances of the poor had altered little in those 80 years, what these observations hide is the extensive nature of philanthropic provision that had developed in the country, but particularly in Dublin, throughout the nineteenth century. The provision of charity in Dublin, the subject of this book, had grown so extensive that it took almost 300 pages of a guidebook, published in 1902, to describe the charitable organizations in existence, their facilities, and the clientele they served. G. D. Williams’s Dublin Charities lists hundreds of charitable organizations operating in the city. “Dublin,” he noted, “like all other large cities and towns, has a very large poor population; it has also a noble army of Christian workers, who are constantly devoting whole-hearted energy in doing all they can to alleviate sickness, suffering and poverty.” There was one major problem with all this charitable activity, a lack of cooperation between the different charitable groups. “Surely,” Williams asked, “if there was more co-operation, closer scrutiny . . .

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