Massachusetts  Report On Public Charities: 1876

 Introduction: As Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn held the most powerful position on the board. He had a decisive influence on the topic and tone of the boards’ investigations, which often reflected his interest in the burgeoning field of statistics. This report to the National Conference of Charities illustrates Sanborn’s deep faith in the power of statistical research to illuminate the nature of social problems.

Sanborn’s speech also demonstrates his fear that the ranks of the dependent poor and the consequent costs to the state would continue to expand exponentially—a fear shared by many charity reformers and policymakers during the severe depression of the 1870s.

REPORTS FROM THE STATES REPRESENTED.

The chairmen of the State Boards were called on to make report concerning the public charities of their respective states. Massachusetts, as having established the first Board of Charities, was first requested to report. The chairman of the Massachusetts Board, Mr. F. B. Sanborn, complied with this request as follows:

 REPORT FROM MASSACHUSETTS.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Conference:

The state which I represent has a system of public charities more ancient and more complicated, as you know, than that which many of the states have had occasion to adopt. So long ago as 1675, the colonies of Massachusetts and of Plymouth, not yet united in one province, provided by law for a class of public poor, who were to be relieved not by the town where they lived, but from the common colonial treasury. This distinction between the ” settled ” and the “non-settled” poor has continued till this day, and under it all the public charities of the commonwealth of Massachusetts have gradually grown up. I will not dwell farther upon the peculiarity, but will to-morrow submit to the Conference a printed report, recently made by the Massachusetts Board to the Centennial Commission in which the history of our state charities is traced from 1675 to the present year. This report shows, and in brief I will state, that the people of Massachusetts now numbering 1,652,000, are annually expending in public charity, about $1,650,000, or one dollar for each inhabitant. Of this large sum the 340 cities and towns expend about $1,3000 and the state about $350,000 including in the latter sum the net cost of the Board of State Charities and its four departments, which in 1875 was about $39,000 and will this year be somewhat less. Of this large sum ($1,650,000), about $1,050,000 was paid for the full support of in-door relief of less than 12,000 persons during some part of the year, the average number being not far from 6800 and about $600,000 for the partial support (out-door relief) of an estimated number during the whole year, of about 50,000 persons. At a given date, however (March 1, 1876), the number of different persons receiving out-door relief did not much exceed 25,000, and those receiving in-door relief numbered about 7,600. At the same date about 1,100 vagrants or tramps were lodged for the night, making a total of paupers at the close of last winter, of about 33,000 then receiving relief. This included, however, at least 2,400 insane paupers of whom 1,900 were in lunatic hospitals and asylums.

Estimating pauperism in Massachusetts, then, upon the basis of calculation long adopted in England, we had, on the first of March last, about one pauper for every fifty of our population. This is a much larger proportion than we had before the panic of 1873, for I suppose that the number of paupers on the first of March, 1873, did not exceed 22,000, in a population of nearly 1,600,000, or one in 73. The increase of pauperism since has been due to the “hard times,” and from December, 1873, to March, 1875, this increase was very rapid. We believe, however, that it is now checked — that we have seen the hardest winter for the poor, and that the approaching winter will not throw upon the public so many paupers, with the exception of one special class, to be named presently, as were relieved in Massachusetts last winter.

Mr. David A. Wells, President of the American Social Science Association, here inquired upon what facts Mr. Sanborn based his conclusion that the increase of pauperism had been checked in Massachusetts.

Mr. Sanborn. Upon the following: we find that the class from which our paupers come has been considerably diminished by emigration from the state, or by dispersion among their kindred and friends in other parts of the state or of the United States. For example, in Fall River, which has had a large number of persons receiving out-door relief, the population has diminished by two or three thousand within a year past, and many of those who have gone away were the poorest class. In other cities and large towns the same thing has been noticed, to a less extent. Again, although the times are still hard and there are a great many persons unemployed, we find a general impression, that trade is improving, and that the next winter will be easier than the last two have been. Many cotton mills are manufacturing more now than six months ago and at a larger profit. We scarcely venture to say that the worst is over, but we think so, and that pauperism is ebbing again, after its late increase.

There is one class of the poor, however, which constantly increases in numbers and in cost, whether the times are good or bad — the chronic insane. We have a great number of this class in Massachusetts and it is steadily growing larger. We do not find that recent insanity is any more common than formerly, it may be so, but there is no conclusive evidence. But that the chronic insane are more numerous is self evident, and the proper place and means of providing for them are continually under discussion in our State Board of Charities, as they are in the New York Board, the Pennsylvania Board, and elsewhere. This is the most pressing subject that we have to consider in our state, and to meet the demand for more hospital room, Massachusetts is now building two great lunatic asylums or hospitals at Worcester and at Danvers, for a total cost of between $3,000,000 and $3,500,000, yet capable of comfortably receiving no more than 1,000 patients. We have, in fact, the same tendency towards extravagance in hospital building, to which you, Mr. Chairman, have alluded as existing in New York. The Massachusetts Board of Charities has always resisted this tendency, and has long advocated, what New York has tried, and Pennsylvania is going to try, and what all the states will finally come to, in my opinion, the separation, to a great degree, of the chronic and practically incurable insane from the recent and curable cases. When our two new hospitals are completed this separation can be better effected in Massachusetts, and our board has already agreed upon a plan for this, and for the better classification and treatment of the curable insane, a plan which will be submitted to the legislature next winter.

In respect to our public establishments in Massachusetts, hospitals, almshouses schools for poor children, etc. I may say that they are in better condition, upon the whole than the were a year ago. This is particularly true of our largest almshouse at Tewksbury, where the medical management has been made recently more efficient and responsible than formerly. The number and character of these establishments will appear from the printed report, already mentioned, which I shall have the honor to submit to the Conference tomorrow. This is all, Mr. Chairman, which I have to say by way of report this afternoon.

Sanborn, F.B. (1876). Massachusetts report on public charities. Presentation at the annual meeting of the Conference of Charities, Saratoga, NY.  Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=10749.

Source: National Conference on Social Welfare. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/n/ncosw/

 

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