From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

By Robert H. Bremner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Rise of Social Work

The great problem of all charity, public or private, is how to diminish suffering without increasing, by the very act, the number of paupers; how to grant aid, in case of need, without obliterating the principle of self-reliance and self-help.

FREDERICK H. WINES, Secretary, Board of Public Charities of the State of Illinois, Second Biennial Report, 1872.

But because we cannot do all we wish are we to do nothing? Even as things are, something can be accomplished. Is no life-boat to put out, and no life-belt to be thrown, because only a half dozen out of the perishing hundreds can be saved from the wreck?

London Congregational Union, The Bitter Cry of Outcast London.


Public Relief and Scientific Philanthropy

P UBLIC poor relief was in bad repute in nineteenth-century America. Some observers, such as Josephine Shaw Lowell, attributed the disgraceful condition of almshouses at the close of the Civil War to the preoccupation of earlier reformers with the slavery issue. Even more directly, however, public indifference toward the helpless stemmed from the emphasis upon individual self-help which was the religion of the respectable in the vigorous young republic. The energies of the common man, so long smothered in older casteridden nations, were concentrated in America on demonstrating the worth and rewards of hard work in a free and fortunately endowed society. There was so much work to be done, so many opportunities for the competent to seize, that noblesse oblige was often deemed a

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