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National Conference of Charities and Corrections: Social Progress from Its Beginnings

The Relation of the National Conference Of Charities and Correction to the Progress of the Past Twenty Years (1873-1893)

By Hastings H. Hart, President

Editor’s note: Hastings H. Hart was at the time Secretary of the Minnesota State Board of Corrections and Charities.Hastings H. Hart, President of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1893 [View Image]
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Hastings H. Hart, President of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1893

At this twentieth meeting of the National Conference of Charities and Correction we are to depart from our usual programme…and the time of the Conference will be devoted to an historical review of the progress made and the reforms accomplished in the field of Charities and Correction during the past twenty years….The National Conference of Charities and Correction has a prophetic mission. It looks forward, and not back; but I believe that we may profitably devote the necessary time to discover what has been achieved and what has been left undone, that we may go forward more intelligently to the tasks of the future.

Those who are engaged in a great work are often too impatient of the time and labor necessary to make full and accurate records of their work; yet it is these records by which we are able to avail ourselves of the experience, and to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors. It is painful to see well-meaning people expending their strength and their resources in repeating mistakes which might have been avoided by a knowledge of what others have done before them; to see bad organizations, wasteful systems, defective buildings, whose faults might easily have been remedied. It is unnecessary, therefore, to offer an apology for the programme which is presented to you.

The reports of the several committees will present a topical review of the work in each of the leading departments of charity and correction, and the reports from the several States will show what has been accomplished locally.

We are to survey the progress of twenty years. I believe that it may be said, without exaggeration, that no other twenty years in the world’s history have witnessed such advances in the care of the unfortunate and the treatment of delinquents. Other like periods may have done as much to originate new ideas and formulate new principles; but in this generation we have seen the rapid spread of these principles from institution to institution and from State to State, until reforms are accomplished in five years that would formerly have required forty years, and the danger sometimes is that the newer methods will be introduced before the people are sufficiently educated to make them efficient.

Since the National Conference of Charities and Correction was organized we have seen magnificent systems of charities and correction grow up, almost from the root, in great commonwealths like Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and Oregon. In the State of Minnesota alone the number of people under public care has increased in twenty years from seven hundred to four thousand. This Conference has seen a radical revolution in the treatment and care of the insane. It has seen a fivefold increase in the number of feebleminded children under public care. It has seen the abolition of the asylum idea with reference to deaf and blind children, and a great change in public sentiment as to the methods of dealing with dependent children in favor of natural treatment in homes. It has seen the abolition of children’s prisons and the reorganization of reform schools on the family idea. It has seen the development of the adult reformatory from the opening of the women’s prison at Sherborn, in 1877, until we have now six adult reformatories in operation, with three thousand prisoners. It has seen the birth and development of the idea which has become formulated under the title of “Charity Organization,” involving the co-operation of all charity workers for the scientific study of the causes and preventives of pauperism and the wise application of the principles thus discovered. It has seen the recognition in our national laws of the principle that, if America is to continue to be a desirable resort for the oppressed and the unfortunate of other lands, she must restrict the immigration of those classes to such numbers as she can assimilate. It has seen changes in our legislation relative to criminals and insane persons so radical that the conservative people of older nations have looked on aghast.

In short, the past two decades have witnessed a mighty movement in this field– a movement which has outstripped the marvelous growth of our population, and has even outstripped the wonderful accumulation of wealth in this country; for both the ratio of the population under public care and the proportionate expenditure of public funds in their behalf have greatly increased.

Influence of the Conference Not Measurable

It is my task to trace, as far as may be, the relation of the National Conference of Charities and Correction to this great movement. This task, which seemed at first comparatively simple, proved on experiment not to be an easy one. To simply summarize the progress recorded in the nineteen volumes of the Proceedings of the Conference would require a volume; and, even if that were done, to trace the influence of the hundreds of able papers, as well as the discussions from year to year, is impossible. It is like attempting to measure the influence of a great newspaper or a great university. The task is complicated by the relation of this body to the State Boards of Charities, the National Prison Association, the Society of Medical Superintendents of Hospitals for Insane, the Association of Medical Officers of Institutions for Idiots and Feeble-minded Persons, the American Social Science Association, and other kindred bodies.

You will find the ideas which have been formulated in the Conference built into the walls of prisons and hospitals for insane. You will find them incorporated in the statutes of our Commonwealths, even in the constitutions of some of the newer States. Tens of thousands of the poor are less miserable today because of the work of this body. Thousands of unfortunate children have had their lives turned into safer and happier channels. Thousands of the insane and the feeble-minded have been lifted into the plane of human beings. Hundreds of criminals have felt the inspiration of a loftier purpose through the living thoughts that have been disseminated from this Conference.

The truth is that this Conference is a part of the great movement of which we have spoken, and it cannot well be considered apart from that movement. There is a reciprocal action between the Conference and the State Boards, the charitable societies and the institutions. On this platform has been opened a free parliament where every shade of opinion finds free expression. The members come together fresh from the actual work of administering public institutions, caring for the poor, or studying sociological questions. They bring fresh thoughts, born of the necessities of practical work. They ask urgent questions, calling for instant solution; and having learned their lessons, like the pupils in Dotheboys Hall, they straightway set off to put them in practice, only to return the next year with new experiences for farther comparison. Thus the Conference has become the embodiment of contemporary thought, gaining strength with the increase of intelligent ideas, until the twenty members of the Conference of 1874 have increased to the five hundred of 1892.

The influence of the Conference is not limited to the effect produced upon its members as they sit in its sessions and listen to papers and discussions. The mere presence of the Conference in any city produces a powerful effect. The local press and the local pulpits begin to discuss philanthropy and prison reform. Large’ audiences gather together to hear the discussion of popular themes, and new currents of public thought are started. The published Proceedings of the Conference exercise an influence hardly second to its meetings. The annual volume (the Proceedings) circulates widely at home and abroad, and deliberate reading often produces more effect than the original hearing. Another potent source of influence is the personal contact of the members with each other. It is a matter of frequent testimony that the meeting with individual members in the hotel corridors and on the journey to and from the Conference is nearly as profitable as attendance upon the public meetings.

Exerting its influence in these different ways, the Conference has become a balance wheel, steadying the movement of the system of charities of the whole country, checking hasty and ill-considered movements, and spurring up the tardy and ultra-conservative. Those of us who are accustomed to inspect public institutions could multiply instances where important reforms have been executed by unwilling hands under the pressure of public sentiment created by this Conference.

The influence exerted by such a body as this is far-reaching and pervasive, and the surface indications are often deceptive. Its most powerful action may be concealed, while those movements which seem to be directly connected with it may have other springs which we do not perceive. Two illustrations may indicate the difficulty of this undertaking:

In I886 ex-Governor Hoadly read a paper before the National Conference of Charities and Correction on the “Pardoning Power,” in which he advocated the parole system and the indefinite sentence. Six years later Governor Merriam of Minnesota, in preparing an article for the public press, read Governor Hoadly’s paper, and was so impressed by it that he decided, without legislation, to inaugurate a conditional pardon system, with the grade and mark system, in the Minnesota State Prison. This was successfully accomplished, and resulted in the enactment of a law by the legislature of 1893 establishing the system legally in the Minnesota State prison. This result was directly attributable to the National Conference of Charities and Correction; yet the connection might easily have been entirely unrecognized. On the other hand, it is possible to give to the Conference honor which is not its proper due. In response to an inquiry respecting the influence of the Conference, Hon. C. D. Randall of Michigan, the original author of the famous law establishing the State Public School of Michigan, wrote, “I am sure that the report of the Conference in Cincinnati, the first one held, a copy of which was presented to me by our friend Mr. Brockway, when I was a member of the Michigan Senate in 1871, had much to do in giving Michigan its present unique system for the protection and care of dependent children.” As a matter of fact, the National Conference of Charities and Correction was not organized until 1874, and even so exact a man as Mr. Randall has been misled by his memory into giving honor to the Conference which belongs of right to the National Prison Congress….

State Boards Of Charities

The relation between the National Conference of Charities and Correction and the State Boards of Charities has been one of reciprocity. The Conference owed its origin to the State Boards, and in its turn it has become the mother of new ones. Eleven State Boards had been organized before the National Conference of Charities and Correction, and eight have since been added. The creation of the State Boards of Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, and Indiana, may probably be credited directly to the influence of the National Conference.

The State Boards of Charities have kept in close touch with the Conference. They have contributed to it their best thought and their freshest experience, and they have been quick to avail themselves of the best that it had to offer. We have only to mention the names of Sanborn, Hitchcock, Shurtleff, Mrs. Leonard, Letchworth, Hoyt, Roosevelt, Dwight, Craig, Mrs. Lowell, Garrett, Luther, Byers, Brinkerhoff, Neff, Follett, Gillespie, Barbour, Storrs, McCulloch, Johnson, Wines, Robinson, Elmore, Wright, Giles, Mrs. Fairbanks, Faulkner, Dana, Bell, Willis, Reed. Appel, Slocum, and O’Reilly, to emphasize the relation of this body to the State Boards. In answer to recent inquiries, I have received emphatic testimony from many of the officers and members of the State Boards as to its influence upon their work, especially in the younger States, where the development of the past twenty years has been most rapid….

Charity Organization

This Conference is itself a form of charity organization, and it works for the organization of the charities of the United States and the co-operation of State Boards of Charities in a manner similar to the work of charity organization in cities; but the term ‘ charity organization” is used, technically, in relation to societies in cities.

The history of charity organization is closely identified with that of the National Conference. It has had such representatives as Robert Treat Paine and Miss Zilpha D. Smith, of Boston; Hon. Charles S. Fairchild, Charles D. Kellogg, Professor Theodore Dwight, Miss Louise Lee Schuyler, and Mrs. C. R. Lowell of New York, Seth Low and George B. Buzelle, of Brooklyn; Philip C. Garrett and Dr. James W. Walk, of Philadelphia; John Glenn and Miss Richmond, of Baltimore; Mrs. Spencer and Professor A. G. Warner, of Washington; T. Guilford Smith and N. S. Rosenau, of Buffalo; E. R. Donehoo, of Pittsburg; Levi L. Barbour and Dr. Post, of Detroit; P. H. Ayres, H. Thane Miller, of Cincinnati; Rev. Oscar C. McCulloch, of Indianapolis; Rev. C. G. Trusdell and Rev. Graham Taylor, of Chicago; George A. Brackett and George D. Holt, of Minneapolis; Rev. S. G. Smith, D.D., and John D. Ludden, of St. Paul; Thomas Uzzell and Mrs. Jacobs, of Denver; and Rev. Charles Wendte, of Oakland.

Charity organization societies had begun to spread in England when this Conference was organized, but had not found a foothold in the United States. At the first meeting of the Conference, in I874, Rev. John Hall, D.D., of New York, gave a very interesting account of an attempt to establish in New York a bureau of charities, “which,” he said, “was to ferret out impostors and to make charities reach only those who were in real need,-a sort of clearing-house of charities.” The effort had failed through lack of co-operation; but the need of some more universal solvent than existing charitable societies was distinctly recognized, and. Mr. Charles D. Kellogg, of New York, writes: “I trace the inauguration of the New York Charity Organization Society to the prominence given to charity organization work in the National Conference, acting upon the members of the State Boards of Charities in this State.”

In the Conference of 1880 there was for the first time a committee on the organization of charities in cities, and the first great paper on the subject was read by Rev. Oscar C. McCulloch. From that day on charity organization was a child of the Conference, and became one of its most enthusiastic and interesting departments. The movement spread from city to city with great rapidity until there are now more than eighty societies classified as charity organization societies.

The work drew to it many highly trained men and women; and what has come to be known as “scientific charity” was evolved, comprising the study of the causes of pauperism, means of prevention, plans for self-help, and organization of friendly visitors and provident schemes. In 1886 a charity organization section was organized for the study of details of organization, methods, and principles; and the public meetings of the charity organization section have continued to excite great interest….

Care And Treatment Of The Insane

The subject of insanity has received much attention from this Conference. It has been discussed by such experts as Dr. Bancroft, of New Hampshire; Dr. Pliny Earle and Dr. Nathan Allen, of Massachusetts; Dr. Stephen Smith and Dr. J. B. Chapin, of New York; Dr. Alice Bennett, of Pennsylvania; Dr. Richard Gundry, of Maryland; Dr. W. W. Godding, of Washington; Dr. Peter Bryce, of Alabama; Dr. A. B. Richardson, of Ohio; Dr. W. B. Fletcher and Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, of Indiana; Dr. R. S. Dewey, of Illinois; Dr. H. M. Hurd and Dr. E. H. Van Deusen, of Michigan; Dr. O. W. Archibald, of North Dakota; and Dr. E. T. Wilkins, of California….

The discussion has not been limited to medical experts, but the laity have made able contributions. Mr. F. B. Sanborn, of Massachusetts; Mr. William P. Letchworth, of New York; General R. Brinkerhoff, of Ohio; Secretary Fred H. Wines, of Illinois; and Messrs. Elmore, Vivian, Giles, and Wright, of Wisconsin, with many others,-have taken an active share in the discussion.

At the first meeting of the Conference, in 1874, Dr. Chapin attacked vigorously the vicious system, then at its climax, of building hospitals for the insane at a cost of $1,500 to $3,000 per bed, while multitudes of insane, equally deserving, were left in miserable condition in poorhouses.

Two leading ideas have directed the discussion of the commitment and care of the insane in the Conference. Of these the first is that it is the duty of the State governments to assume the responsibility for the care of the insane, and not to leave it to local corporations or private individuals. There has been vigorous discussion from the first meeting of the Conference as to whether all public patients should be kept in State institutions or whether chronic patients should be kept in county institutions. A strong wing of the Conference, led by the Wisconsin delegation, has maintained that county care under stringent State supervision is preferable to State care for this class of patients, because: first, the conditions of small institutions are more homelike, afford more employment, and involve less distance from friends; and, second, patients can be more economically cared for, without sacrificing anything essential to their welfare or their comfort.

The Wisconsin people proved their faith by their works. They created twenty county insane asylums, from which the abuses of almshouse care were eliminated by a State subsidy, conditioned upon strict compliance with the requirements of the State Board of Charities and Reform. They invited interested people from all parts of the Union to visit these asylums at the expense of the State of Wisconsin. The visitors found comfortable buildings, accommodating fifty to one hundred patients each, in charge of intelligent farmers with their wives. Most of these asylums had open doors and non-restraint. The inmates were manifestly well cared for, and better contented than the average State hospital patient. Large farms furnished an unusual amount of employment with a corresponding reduction of expense. The most critical observers had to admit that the system, as administered, was satisfactory. Nevertheless, the Wisconsin system has not been adopted by a single State. New York and Pennsylvania came nearest the Wisconsin system of county care of the insane; but, after many years of discussion, the State of New York has finally adopted legislation providing for the care of all public insane patients in State institutions, except in the cities of New York and Brooklyn. In Pennsylvania the legislature of 1891 made provision for a new State asylum for chronic insane, to accommodate about one thousand patients. The same legislature appropriated $190, 000 to reimburse counties maintaining their own insane; but the bill was vetoed by Governor Pattison on the ground that “humane and disinterested investigation of the condition of the insane in county almshouses has abundantly proved that the system of treatment in State institutions is vastly preferable to that of local care.” The State Committee on Lunacy in their report for 1891 say: “There seems to be no objection to the reception of insane into the better class of almshouses until more suitable provision can be furnished; but it must be conceded that generally the standard of care in the majority of county institutions is far below that which the insane of any class should receive.”….

The second great idea that has pervaded the discussion of insanity in this body is the recognition of the insane patient as a person, with individual and personal rights. The working of this idea is seen in the advocacy of greater care in committing the insane to hospitals, legalizing of voluntary commitments, increase of personal liberty, compensation for labor, etc. It is seen also in the efforts to increase the comfort and happiness of the insane and to improve the service….

Treatment of the Feeble-Minded

When this Conference was organized, there were in the United States seven institutions for the care and training of the idiotic and, feeble-minded, containing about 1,000 inmates. Now there are some seventeen institutions, containing about 5,000 inmates. So that the system has grown up, for the most part, under the observation of this organization.

While the care of the feeble-minded was discussed incidentally in the Conferences of 1875, i877, I879, i880, and 1882, the first special committee on this subject was organized for the Eleventh Conference, in 1884; but since that time the subject has received adequate attention. The leaders in this work have entered heartily into this organization. In fact, I cannot recall one man who has attained eminence in this specialty who has not been a member of this Conference. Dr. S. G. Howe, Dr. Fernald, Dr. H. B. Wilbur, Dr. C. F. Wilbur, Mr. Richards, Dr. Kerlin, Dr. Doren, Dr. Fish, Dr. Powell, Dr. George H. Knight, Dr. A. C. Rogers, Dr. Stewart, Dr. Greene, and Miss Mattie Gundry have all been enrolled with us….

Dependent Children

At the first meeting of the Conference a committee was appointed with the significant title “A Committee to consider the Condition of Destitute and Delinquent Children and the Prevention of Pauperism.” This title suggests the thought that has dominated the discussion of the child question in this Conference; namely, the prevention of crime and pauperism by proper care of dependent and delinquent children. At the Conference of 1875 Governor Bagley, of Michigan, set forth admirably the Michigan plan, then only four years old, and Miss Mary Carpenter read an excellent paper entitled, “What should be done for the Neglected and Criminal Children of the United States?” From that time on the child question has absorbed much of the attention of the Conference. At first, dependent and delinquent children were classed together, and, indeed, they were often kept in the same institutions; but, gradually, the two classes were separated.

Among the workers in this department who have been active members of this Conference are: Elizabeth C. Putnam and Mr. Charles W. Birtwell, of Massachusetts; Charles L. Brace and William P. Letchworth, of New York; Homer Folks, of Pennsylvania; J. H. Mills, of North Carolina; Judge J. C. Ferris, of Tennessee; Dr. A. G. Byers, of Ohio; Hon. C. D. Randall and J. N. Foster, of Michigan; L. P. Alden, of Indiana; l)r. F. M. Gregg, of Illinois; G. A. Merrill, of Minnesota; C. E. Faulkner, of Kansas: and Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper, of California.

The work of this body has probably been as efficient in dealing with the child problem as any other. It found four plans in vogue: first, the almshouse plan, whereby children were kept in association with adult paupers; second, the asylum plan, under which orphan and dependent children were taken and brought up in institutions until the age of fifteen to eighteen years, the asylums being subsidized, in some cases, from the public treasury; third, the placingout system, whereby children were sent out from New York and other large cities by the thousand to be located in country homes at a cost of ten to fifteen dollars each; fourth, the Michigan system, which combined the last two, children being received temporarily into an institution only to be transferred at the earliest opportunity into a selected family home, but to remain under the guardianship and close supervision of the State. These systems have been discussed with increasing interest in this body; and, as a result, the keeping of children of sound mind and body in almshouses is now forbidden by law in many of the States. “Orphan asylums ” are fast giving place to “children’s homes” and “State schools “; and institution life is coming to be recognized as an artificial and undesirable condition, which should continue as short a time as practicable. The placing-out system, as practised twenty years ago, has been abandoned. Children are sent out from New York in small companies, and are placed with greater care and at more expense. The Children’s Home Society has rapidly extended its work into seven States, and carries on the placing-out system with much care at a cost of about $50 per child; and in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania many children are boarded out in selected families, temporarily, at a low rate, as preliminary to settlement in “free homes,” and State schools on the Michigan plan have been established in several of the States.

In a few States the practice of indiscriminate association of dependent and criminal children in the same institution continues, but even in those States the practice is discountenanced as a wrong upon innocent children. The Committee on the History of Child-saving Work presents, as its report to this Conference, an elegant volume of 330 pages, printed at the expense of the members of the Committee, to which you are referred for fuller information.

Delinquent Children

Twenty years ago this Conference found the juvenile reformatory well advanced in the right direction. In Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, and probably in other States, children were sentenced until their majority, unless sooner reformed; and the grade and mark system with the parole system prevailed. In Ohio it had been demonstrated that bad boys could be held more securely without bolts, bars, and walls than with them, and the practicability of the cottage system had been demonstrated. Yet there was work for the Conference to do, and it has been worthily done by such representatives as Miss Mary Carpenter, of Massachusetts; Superintendent Ray, of New Hampshire; Superintendent Howe and Mrs. Bond, of Connecticut; Chaplain Nutting, of Rhode Island: Superintendent Israel Jones and Captain Fulton, of New York; Mrs. M. E. Cobb, of Pennsylvania; Superintendent Hite, of Ohio; Superintendent Otterson, of New Jersey; Superintendent Caldwell, of Kentucky; Superintendent Charlton, of Indiana; Bishop Gillespie, Superintendent Gower, and Miss Emma Hall, of Michigan; Superintendent Scouller and Mrs. L. R. Wardner, of Illinois; Mrs. Cobb, of Wisconsin; Superintendent Riheldaffer, of Minnesota; Superintendent Mallalieu, of Nebraska; Superintendent Lindsley, of California; and Henry Oliver, of Washington….

The chief points of progress during the twenty years have been: first, the general extension of the Ohio family plan, the removal of high walls and prison features, and the establishment of homelike conditions; second, the general extension of the indeterminate sentence, with the grade, mark, and parole system; third. the establishment of the probation system in Massachusetts, Michigan, and to some extent in Pennsylvania, whereby children’s sentences may be suspended during good behavior, under supervision of a friendly officer; fourth, the introduction of technological instruction and practical trade teaching; fifth, the commitment of girls to separate institutions; sixth, the separation of delinquent children from those who are merely dependent.

At the Second Conference, 1875, Miss Mary Carpenter read an excellent paper on ” Neglected and Criminal Children,” in which she said without challenge: ” The State should assume control of all the young persons under the age of fourteen who are without proper guardianship. All may be classed together under that age, for there is no distinction between pauper, vagrant, and criminal children which would require a different system of treatment“; and at the same meeting Mr. Letchworth offered the following resolution, which, after full discussion, was unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the Conference recommends that the various State Boards use their influence to bring about such legislation as shall cause dependent children to be removed from almshouses and jails, and from all association with (adult paupers and criminals, and placed in families, asylums, reformatories, and other appropriate institutions.

But in the Conference of 1886, after eleven years’ further observation, Mr. Letchworth said: ” It has long been painfully evident to me that there was a lack of discrimination in sending young persons to reformatories. We find in the same establishment the truant, the homeless child, the wayward, the petty thief, and the felon. Thus a great wrong is inflicted upon the innocent,– the greater because of their helplessness.” Mr. Letchworth’s change of view on this question was shared by all who followed the discussions of the Conference in those years.

Prison Reform

Prison reform has been most efficiently promoted by the National Prison Association, and many members of this Conference have been members also of that association; yet the subject has not been neglected in this body. The Conference has had the honor to enroll among its members such prison reformers as President Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio; Mrs. Ellen C. Johnson, Colonel Gardner Tufts, and W. F. Spaulding, of Massachusetts; Professor Francis Wayland, of Connecticut; Superintendent Z. R. Brockway, W. M. F. Round, and Eugene Smith, of New York; J. W. Langmuir, of Quebec; Richard Vaux and Chaplain John L. Milligan, of Pennsylvania; G. S. Griffith, of Maryland; General R. Brinkerhoff, Chaplain A. G. Byers, and Superintendent W. D. Patterson, of Ohio; Mrs. E. L. Hendricks, of Indiana; Captain Joseph Nicholson, Mrs. D’Arcambal, Warden H. F. Hatch, and Chaplain George H. Hickox, of Michigan; Warden J. W. McClaughry and C. E. Felton, of Illinois; Hon. John W. Willis, of Minnesota; P. D. Sims, of Tennessee; and Hon. E. R. Highton, of California….

There has certainly been a great advance in the public thought on this subject, chiefly in the recognition of two truths: first, that the proper object of imprisonment is not to get even with the criminal, but to protect society; second, that the best possible protection of society is the reformation of the criminal. On these two thoughts hangs nearly all of the progress of the past twenty years.

Great gains have been made, yet the work is only begun. The meddlesome hand of the political schemer and the pardon-broker has done much to nullify the wholesome influence of the parole system in several States, resulting in its abandonment in South Dakota. And while the abominations of the county jail system continue and the lease system still prevails in Montana, Nebraska, and several other States, the Conference need not abandon its committee on prison…

Public Relief of the Poor

It is difficult to show the relation of this Conference to the public relief of the poor. Indirectly, the Conference has exerted an influence through the State Boards of Charities, most of which have supervision of that work in their several States. Directly, the Conference has made an impression upon the public officers of cities and counties who are engaged in the work of caring for the poor.

In the Conference of 1874 much time was given to the discussion of pauperism,– indoor and outdoor relief, settlement laws, and the prevention of pauperism….

In 1887 “The Cost of Outdoor Relief” was discussed, incidentally, in connection with the work of State Boards of Charities. In 1888 there was, for the first time in several years, an adequate discussion of “Municipal Charities” and “Outdoor Relief,” under the leadership of Seth Low and George E. McGonegal. In 1891 the arguments for and against outdoor relief were presented.

The subject of almshouses has been but little discussed. In 1879 Mr. C. S. Watkins ventilated the condition of almshouses in the North-west, and General Brinkerhoff presented model plans for almshouses. In 1884 Hon. H. H. Giles presented a report on “The Construction and Management of Almshouses,” and Mr. Sanborn read a paper on “The Management of Almshouses in New England.” In i886 Dr. A. G. Rogers read a paper on “Administration of Jails and Poorhouses.” In 1889 two very practical papers were read, one by A. O. Wright on “Employment in Poorhouses,” and one by Dr. Hal C. Wyman, presenting a study of the, almshouses of Michigan. In I890 Dr. C. W. Chancellor discussed “Almshouse Abuses and Reforms.”

The direct discussions of public poor relief have been fragmentary and unsatisfactory, and the Conference has probably exerted much less influence in this direction than in many others. Indirectly, however, through the discussions of ” Charity Organization,” a very strong influence has been exerted upon the administration of public and outdoor relief; for the charity organization societies, generally, have made themselves felt in the direction of improved methods of dealing with the outdoor poor.

Immigration

The subject of immigration engaged the discussion of this Conference at its second meeting in 1875 and again in 1877. The subject was then dropped until 1881, when a committee appointed in the previous year made a brief and pungent report, recommending national legislation. The committee was continued; and in 1882 Dr. David Rogers reported “that the committee had held several meetings, had taken measures to secure legislation from Congress to prevent the importation of persons of the criminal and dependent class from European cities, and had succeeded in securing such legislation.” This law prohibited the landing “of any lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge.” The Secretary of the Treasury was authorized “to enter into contract with such State commissions, boards, or officers as might be designated by the governor of any State ” to supervise the affairs of immigrants. Such contracts were made with the State Boards of Charities of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and through the officers of these boards the National Conference was kept fully informed from year to year of the workings of this law.

Notwithstanding the operation of this law, it appears from the reports of the committee that a disproportionate number of vicious and pauperized immigrants have been landed. The committee of 1892 advocated a system of consular inspection for intending immigrants, in order to avoid contagion, physical, economical, or moral, which results from unrestricted departure of all classes from other shores to our own. Legislation intended to accomplish this purpose has since been enacted, but in a somewhat different form.

The committee of 1892 considered, also, the important question of interstate migration, and proposed the enactment of a law by Congress for its regulation. Considerable light was thrown upon this subject by the Rev. Samuel A. Eliot’s paper on “The Migration of Invalids.” This question of interstate migration is increasing in importance with the growth of the country, and is worthy of the most careful study of this Conference. Professional criminals and migratory paupers pass from State to State with great facility, imposing unjust burdens wherever they go.

Characteristics Of The Conference

The success of the National Conference of Charities and Correction may be traced, in large part, to some of its distinctive characteristics.

First, its catholicity. The Conference has embraced men and women of all creeds and those of the most diverse views; the people who favor institutions and those who oppose institutions; those who

believe in outdoor relief and those who would dispense with outdoor relief; those who advocate retributive punishments and those who believe that retribution has no proper place in correctional institutions. Yet there has been a remarkable absence of acrimony and heat in the deliberations of this body. All have shown a disposition to hear and to learn from those who held views other than their own. When the Conference met in St. Paul, a good Orthodox deacon from Ohio was among the delegates. When he saw Dr. Dana of the Congregational Church, Archbishop Ireland of the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop Whipple of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and Rabbi Sonneschein of the Jewish Church sitting on the same platform and united in the one inquiry, ” How to elevate the Miserable and save the Erring,” he could not understand it. When Bishop Whipple took occasion to speak appreciatively of Archbishop Ireland’s work for temperance, and when Rabbi Sonneschein delivered a most fitting and appreciative eulogy upon Bishop Robertson of Missouri, who had lately died, the deacon felt that the millennium must be near at hand.

Second, its optimism. Many of the people who compose this Conference are engaged in what might be considered the most discouraging work in the world,-the reformation of criminals, the redemption of confirmed paupers, the rehabilitation of degraded tramps, the care of the hopelessly insane, the effort to kindle the faint spark of intelligence in the mind of the imbecile. Yet the nineteen volumes which compose the records of this Conference are almost entirely free from any trace of pessimism.

Third, its practicality. There have been frequent expressions of surprise by citizens where the Conference has met that it was so eminently practical. For some reason there is a popular impression that people who devote themselves to charitable work are visionary or “cranky”; but these who compose this Conference are practical people, accustomed to accomplish practical ends by practical work.

Fourth, its personnel. The success and usefulness of the Conference have been very largely due to its personnel. President Hayes said at the St. Paul Conference in 1886: ” Name the famous prisons, asylums, reformatories, and other similar institutions, and the eminent specialists at their head, and you will find you have named the prominent members of this society. In like manner the students and writers on this subject, and those who have travelled and observed what has been done abroad, are members of this association.”

Mention has already been made of some of the active members of the Conference. To mention all whose membership has been an honor to the Conference would be to call the roll of many hundreds. In addition to those already mentioned, I will only name a few out of the many who are worthy of special mention.

Among the most useful and the most interested members of the Conference have been the governors and ex-governors of States. Every governor, by virtue of his office, becomes more or less familiar with the charities and corrections of his State, and discovers the advantages arising from such a Conference. As a result, the governors of the several States have been very ready to send official delegates; and at least twenty-five governors and ex-governors have been members of the Conference, including Governor Long, of Massachusetts; Governor Tilden, of New York; Governor Hoyt, of Pennsylvania; Governor Jackson, of Maryland; Governor Vance, of North Carolina; Governor Hayes, Governor Hoadly, Governor Bishop, and Governor Foster, of Ohio; Governor Bagley and Governor Jerome, of Michigan; Governor Hovey, of Indiana; Governor Collom, of Illinois; Governor Anderson, Governor Blackburn, and Governor Knott, of Kentucky; Governor Fairchild, Governor Smith, and Governor Rusk, of Wisconsin; Governor Ramsey, Governor Pillsbury, and Governor Hubbard, of Minnesota; Governor Crittenden, of Missouri; Governor Routt, of Colorado; and Governor Waterman, of California.

The relation of these governors to the Conference has not been simply a perfunctory matter of official courtesy. They have furnished some of the most important contributions to the Conference. Governor Tilden’s address at Saratoga in 1876 touched some of the root principles of true charity. Governor Bagley’s address at Detroit in 1875 announced the principles and methods of care for dependent children which have been steadily coming to the front ever since. No one who heard it has forgotten the fiery courage with which Governor Anderson assailed the lease system at Louisville in 1885. Governor Hoadly’s great paper on the “Pardoning Power,” read at the St. Paul Conference, was a masterly presentation of the subject.

The Conference has had the co-operation of many of the leading students of sociology,– such men as Carroll D. Wright, of Massachusetts; Professor Graham Taylor, of Connecticut; R. L. Dugdale and Dorman B. Eaton, of New York; General F. A. Walker and Professor W. T. Harris, of Washington; C. T. Reeve, of Indiana; and President John H. Finley, of Illinois; also of such men of letters as Colonel T. W. Higginson, George W. Cable, Charles Dudley Warner, and Julian Hawthorne.

Many of the leading clergymen of the country have been members of the Conference, including such men as Dr. M. McG. Dana, of Massachusetts; Dr. John Hall, of New York; Dr. Washington Gladden, of Ohio; Father Bessonies, of Indiana; Bishop Gillespie, of Michigan; Archbishop Ireland and Bishop Whipple, of Minnesota; President Gates, of Iowa; Bishop Clarkson, of Nebraska; Bishop Robertson and Rabbi Sonneschein, of Missouri; Rabbi Leucht, of Louisiana; and Rev. Horatio Stebbins, D.D., of California.

Many notable women have been enrolled among us: for example, Mrs. L. M. N. Stevens, of Maine; Mrs. Julia C. R. Dorr, of Vermont; Mrs. Clara T. Leonard and Mrs. Isabel C. Barrows, of Massachusetts; Mrs. J. K. Barney, of Rhode Island; Mrs. C. R. Lowell and Mrs. Louise C. Houghton, of New York; Clara Barton, of Washington; Mrs. President Hayes, of Ohio; Mrs. Thomas A. Hendricks, of Indiana; Mrs. Agnes D’Arcambal, of Michigan; Mrs. J. M. Flower, of Illinois; Mrs. T. B. Walker, of Minnesota; Dr. Jennie McCowen, of Iowa; Mrs. A. Jacobs, of Colorado; and Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper and Mrs. S. B. Spear, of California. While these people have contributed to the success of the Conference on the one hand, on the other hand their continued interest has borne standing testimony to its value. Such men and women do not spend their time and their money in travelling to the ends of the country to attend a useless meeting. With such people united in a great purpose, great results were to be expected.

Fifth, the simplicity of its organization. The time of the Conference has not been consumed in parliamentary wrangles or in struggles to amend the constitution, for there was no constitution to amend. There have been no bitter contests over the adoption of platforms. It has been the unwritten law of the Conference that all resolutions should be referred to the Business Committee without debate. Mr. Elmore has been the standing chairman of the Business Committee; and he has kept the most harmless-looking resolutions under water, as the police keep infernal machines. As a result, there have been no factional wars. On one occasion a zealous brother introduced a resolution in favor of the establishment of boards to prevent the adulteration of liquors. The resolution was referred to Mr. Elmore’s committee, but the committee neglected to report. The zealous member besieged the chairman of the committee with applications for a report, but was put off from time to time. Finally, he insisted on a report, and the chairman of the committee reported as follows:

If there is one thing that this committee desires more than another, it is pure liquor; but, in accordance with the uniform practice of this Conference, not to pass resolutions even for the most desirable purposes, the committee respectfully recommends that the resolution be laid upon the table.

The author of the resolution was satisfied, and the report of the committee was appreciated by the Conference in view of Mr. Elmore’s well-known abstemious principles.

When differences of opinion have arisen, each side has had equal opportunity to express and print its views; and the effect has probably been quite as great as if a series of resolutions had been passed by a bare majority.

Such has been the work of the National Conference of Charities and Correction for the past twenty years. Let us hope that the work of the coming twenty years may be as earnest, as honest, as harmonious, and as fruitful as that of the past.

It would be a narrow view of the work of this Conference to suppose that it is restricted to the reformation of abuses, and the improvement of methods and systems. It is the work of the Conference to share in the founding of the institutions of a mighty nation; to determine, to some extent at least, what shall be the policy of this nation for a thousand years to come. It is not simply to correct abuses in a few institutions, but to establish such principles and methods as shall prevent their repetition for generations. It is not simply to reform a few criminals, but, if possible, to stop the springs of crime. I know of no more worthy ambition for any lover of humanity than to have some share, however humble, in organizing forces that shall operate for the blessing of the human race for ages to come.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hart, H.A. (1893). President’s Address. Proceedings of the National Conference on Charities and Correction. Chicago, IL: National Conference on Charities and Correction. Retrieved [date accessed] from /organizations/national-conference-of-charities-and-corrections-progress/.

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