Charles Richmond Henderson (1848 – 1915): Minister, Professor, Sociologist and Prison Reformer

By Ian Lewenstein who researched and transcribed this document

Charles Richmond Henderson was born in Covington, Indiana, December 17, 1848. After attending the elementary schools of this native town, he entered high school at La Fayette, Indiana, where he studied until his graduation in 1867. The first year of his college work was done at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He then entered the old University of Chicago from which institution he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts with distinction in 1870. The following three years were spent in the Baptist Union Theological Seminary of Chicago where he took the regular theological course in preparation for the Christian ministry. During his Seminary days he assisted in a mission church near the Union Stock yards where he was brought into close contact with the poorer classes, and had his attention specially directed to those social problems which became his chief interest in later years.

Upon his graduation from the Seminary in 1873, he became pastor of the First Baptist church of Terre Haute, Indiana. His nine year pastorate of this church was very successful. The membership was largely increased, a new church building was erected, and the church became one of the most influential in the city. A marked characteristic of his preaching was the frequency with which he discussed social conditions and the problems that concerned the workingman.

His activities, however, were by no means limited to the routine work of his parish. He was a frequent contributor to the church papers, and found time to take active interest in the civic affairs of his city. He was the leading spirit in starting the work of the Charity Organization Society in Terre Haute in 1882. At the meeting called to consider the advisability of forming such an organization, Mr. Henderson read an elaborate paper giving a history of charity work in different countries and outlining the work of the Charity Organization Society which then was a new organization in America, having been introduced from England only five years before in 1877. At the request of a wealthy citizen who had bequeathed $300,000 to the city for the erection and support of a hospital and asylum, Mr. Henderson made a tour in the United States to inspect different charitable institutions for the purpose of making recommendations as to the wisest expenditure of this money. During the closing year of his pastorate in Terre Haute, he was a member of the Board of Managers of the Rose County Orphan’s Home, chairman of the Charity Organization Society, chaplain of the McKeen cadets, and an active member of the Literary Club. These varied duties were not allowed to interfere with his studies which were carried on in many fields of research with great persistence and regularity. A writer in the “Standard” in 1881 said of him: “He is an earnest and indefatigable student in all branches of knowledge collateral to his work.” According to newspaper reports he was the most popular pastor in the city, and the Evening Gazette in its editorial comment upon his resignation, said: “The removal of Mr. Henderson and his estimable wife from Terre Haute is a loss so serious to our city as almost to be in the nature of a calamity.”

From 1882 to 1892, Mr. Henderson was pastor of the La Fayette Avenue (later Woodward Avenue) Baptist church of Detroit, one of the largest and most wealthy churches in the city as well as one of the most influential churches in the Baptist denomination of the middle west. In the midst of this aristocratic environment, he by no means lost his interest in problems of social amelioration. It was a matter of common remark that the people who crowded his church on Sunday evenings were largely servants and members of the working classes. His sermons were attractive not because they were of a sensational nature, but rather by their eloquence and by skillful application to the real problems of the people.

It was during this period that he became actively connected with the national organizations dealing with charity work and prison reform. In 1884 he gave his first address before the National Conference of Charities upon the subject “Cooperation of the Churches” in which he urged the abolishing of outdoor state relief. “We aim,” he said, “to do for the benevolent instincts of men, through information, argument and counsel, what various European governments do by police force. Our methods are adjusted to the characteristics of a free people, who insist on giving, as they do other things, without government intrusion.”[1] In an article on “Pauperism” published the same year, he further elaborated these arguments. Doubtless at this time Spencer’s theory of the State exerted considerable influence over his ideas concerning charity administration. In a recent communication to the Survey on the subject of public and private charity, Dr. Henderson said: “Some of us remember that in the gush of springtime, we of the C.O.S. had visions of the total and early abolition of outdoor public relief. We ignored the history of relief in England in the century previous to the enactment of the Poor Law of 1601; we were not then so familiar with the Elberfeld system and the possibility of organizing friendly visitors under municipal administration; we did not have so keen a hope as now of reforming the Civil Service; we did not foresee the action of France in 1905 which brought over the first Latin nation to the public outdoor relief policy, and we did not understand how deeply rooted in custom, law, and democratic sentiment this mode of relief actually has become since Colonial days in our country.”[2]

Through his sermons on social problems and addresses before various organizations, he came to be recognized as a leader in civic and social reform in his city. A writer in the “Advance” in 1887 made this assertion: “Rev. C.R. Henderson is the only minister in Detroit, either Catholic or Protestant, who has as yet given any evidence of a study of economic questions. His sermon on ‘The Future of the Workingman’ is only one of a number he has delivered upon the labor question.” Another editorial writer commenting on an address he gave before the Knights of Labor at Detroit said: “Dr. Henderson is a man not only of keen and profound sympathies for the workingman, but is a student of social subjects.”

It was natural then that he should be called upon during the great street car strike in Detroit in 1891 to aid in finding an amicable settlement of the different issues involved. The Board of Arbitration composed of two members of the street car company and two men representing the employee unanimously chose Dr. Henderson as the impartial member of the Board. Mayor Pingree of Detroit testifies as follows in regard to his success as an arbitrator:

“His honest and skillful adjustment of the differences between the strikers and the company put an end to the strike within 24 hours and relieved the city of Detroit of a strain of excitement which threatened to find expression in riot and bloodshed.”[3]

In all his public utterances, Dr. Henderson was characterized by vigor of statement and fearlessness in expressing his convictions. In his battles against existing evils there was no suggestion of a compromise in order to avoid antagonisms. The liquor interests are delivered this telling blow in one of his addresses in 1887: “Either the saloon must go or free government perish. There is no possibility of their existing perpetually side by side. Municipal governments managed in the back rooms of saloons lay weights on virtue in the race of life.”

Since Dr. Henderson was a man of liberal views in theology, it was but natural that his frank statements of his beliefs should bring down upon him severe criticisms from his more orthodox colleagues. During his pastorate at Terre Haute his cordial relations with his people were once threatened by his public statements concerning hell and eternal punishment. A writer in a church paper, in commenting in 1890 on one of Dr. Henderson’s liberal sermons said: “We regret that even with the lapse of years for the maturing of thought and investigation, he is still compelled to answer ‘I don’t know’ on so many points suggested by his creed. It must be that Dr. Henderson belongs to that class described by the Apostle who ‘are ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.’”

In spite of all the demands made upon him by his large parish and by the wider interests of civic welfare, he maintained his studious habits and acquired the reputation of being a man well informed on a large variety of subjects. While engaged in superintending the erection of his magnificent new church building in Detroit, he so surprised the New York architect with his accurate knowledge of the Gothic style of architecture that the latter inquired if Dr. Henderson had been an architect before entering the ministry. The Detroit Free Press of May 8, 1892, in a series of sketches describing the private life of the leading ministers of the city, had this to say about Dr. Henderson:

“He has collected one of the best libraries of general information that there is in the city. The poets, the scientists, the metaphysicians, the theologians, the historians, the cynic, the satirists are all represented. Nearly every phase of thinking is there. The great writers of all creeds and the most admirable exponents of all religious beliefs are systematically arranged, so that the pastor may at once place his hand upon what he wishes. The best works of all ages in English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew are there, and the occupant of the ‘den’ is familiar with their text. Darwin and Herbert Spencer are side by side. In fact, Mr. Henderson is a good deal of a scientist himself. He will go prowling around the back yard and the front yard of his house for bugs and worms, and has entrée to the back yards of all his neighbors.—Every variety of bug, insect, or worm that flourishes in the locality has been collected and the manner of living been given careful study.—Besides bugs, the pastor collects butterflies and moths. The microscope is also a source of great recreation with him. Most men when tired with work, seek the diversion of the theater or go to a concert. Mr. Henderson has not been in a theater more than a half dozen times. It is not that the objects to the theater, but that his evenings are otherwise occupied. A half an hour with the microscope is surest relief for him when his brain is run down with intense study. Vegetable and animal life are alike interesting and the many beautiful forms of diatoms have afforded him as profound pleasure as many people take in gazing upon a picturesque tableau upon the stage or listening to an artistic interpretation of some musical composition.

“His favorite poets are Shakespeare and Wordsworth, and the love for nature experienced by the latter finds an interesting response in the mind of the reader. Alfred de Musset, the emotional but art-loving Frenchman, he considers the Tennyson of France, and admires deeply the harmony and exquisite form of his many poems and prose works as well as the excellent selection of ideas which are advanced. He feels interest in Dante and is at present reading his poems in the original. The copies of Heine’s works look well-worn as though much read, and the same can be said of Schiller and Goethe. That admirable but worldly essayist, Montaigne—occupies a prominent position on the shelves and nearby are the complete works of that greatest materialist, Rabelais.—Seventy volumes of Luther are ‘well-thumbed’ while the hundreds of volumes of theological works bear evidence of usage. Books of reference abound.”[4]

It was no surprise then to those who were acquainted with his interest in scholarly pursuits and his work along social lines that he should be asked by President Harper in 1892 to become a professor of Social Science in the University of Chicago. His 19 years of service in the ministry had been of such a nature that it was the best possible training for his new sphere of work in the university. His experience in the practical work of social reform together with his continuous study of economic and social questions gave him the equipment he needed to become a leader in the new science of sociology which was then just gaining recognition in academic circles. A writer in the “Standard” in August 1892 commented as follows upon his call to the university:

“It will be gratifying to the friends of the institution to learn that Dr. Charles R. Henderson of Detroit has become a member of the faculty. He has been made recorder of the university and professor in social science.—During the past year he has been invited to college presidencies.—He has also been strongly pressed to accept the pastoral charge of some of the most prominent churches in the denomination at a much larger salary than the university could offer him. He comes to the university however moved by a profound interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of the students as well as in the formal and official duties to which he has been called. He has long been an eager student of social science. The treatment ofthe most practical social problems has formed an important part of his work in Detroit. He has there so gained the confidence of capital and labor that he has more than once been called in to arbitrate between them.”

Dr. Henderson entered upon the duties of his new position with the enthusiasm and capacity for hard work which had characterized his years in the ministry. The annual register of the University for 1892-1893 announced the following courses in social institutions to be given by Assistant Professor Henderson: Social Institutions of Organized Christianity, Social Treatment of Dependents and Defectives, Criminology, The Family, Non-Political and Non-Economical Social Institutions, Methods of Promoting Social Welfare by Voluntary Organizations, and a Seminar for research work. The following year his title was changed to Associate Professor of Sociology and University Chaplain, and five additional courses were added to his department: Economical and Governmental Agencies for advancing General Welfare, Social Conditions in American Rural Life, Modern cities and Cooperation of their Beneficent Forces, Sociology of the New Testament, and Historical Development of the Great Philanthropies and Reforms.

In spite of all the labor that must have been involved in preparation for the teaching of this large list of courses, Dr. Henderson found time during his first year at the University to publish his first book, “An Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes,” which appeared in 1893. This book which was a pioneer in its field bears but slight resemblance to the new and enlarged edition published in 1901 with which present readers are most familiar. In the preface and introduction to the first edition the author says: “This book is the fruit of twenty years and more of study and experience and lecturing on the subjects treated.” “It is here our effort and aim to give educated leaders of society such a method of study and such codified results of past study and experience that they may think effectively and act wisely.” “We shall here attempt to state in the most condensed form possible the elements of the subject, and the most important received conclusions of the most reliable authorities with somewhat full bibliography for future readings on special points. We profess to give nothing more than an introductory essay on a subject of worldwide interest.”

The book is divided into four parts: (1) Dependents; (2) Defectives; (3) Crime and its Social Treatment; (4) Social Hygiene and Therapeutics. Under these different heads the author arranged in topical form a large mass of facts which showed that he was not only a practical social worker but possessed a wide acquaintance with the available literature on the subject as well. As was stated in the introduction, it did not pretend to be an exhaustive treatise. Many of the paragraphs were very brief and contained but a mere outline of the topic treated. The book was an attempt to present in a systematic way the best scientific conclusions which had been reached by experts in their care and treatment of the anti-social and unfortunate classes. The frequent citation of authorities and presentation of various opinions called forth some criticisms on the part of those who preferred their information to be handed out in a more digested and final form. One reviewer said: “Such a book cannot fail to be valuable, but it can and does fail to be a great book, or a good one.—The book has the weakness of eclecticism. No two things are more fundamentally alike or more easily confounded than non-committal eclecticism and judicial personality. It is the former which in a measure characterizes this book. We feel after reading it that it has told us many things, but has left us to do much of that which is an author’s real work, namely, interpret facts. We do not forget that this is peculiarly difficult in the subject in question and that a satisfactory book is perhaps impossible at present. But if the spirit moves anyone else to try, let him not desist through fear that the work is accomplished.”[5] In general, however, the book was very favorably received and was adopted as a textbook in a number of American college and universities. The following review is a fair type of the comments on the book made by the public press of that day: “Professor Henderson’s book is among the earliest of the long list of volumes which the public may rightfully expect from the members of the teaching force in the University of Chicago. It is worthy of particular note that the style and whole arrangement of the work fit it for use as a textbook, though it is admirably well adapted for private reading by any serious students of the subject discussed.—We do not know of any other American book which covers the particular field to which this one is devoted in an abler or more thorough manner.”[6]

While the book in its original form has long since passed out of print and out of date, yet it formed an important landmark in the development of practical social science. It was the first serious attempt in America to present a complete view of the work of society along charitable and corrective lines. The new note that it struck was its emphasis upon the fact that all the interests of society were affected by the existence of the depraved and unfortunate classes, and that therefore the work in their behalf was a social task which must be shared by the whole community. The entire book was characterized by the spirit of optimism which faced the most difficult social problems with the confidence that an ultimate solution would sooner or later be attained. As it is stated in the closing chapter:

“The evolution of the race, the victory over evil, the prospect for the entire disappearance of the pauper and defective stock, the very hope itself born of past achievements, indicate that we are moving toward an age when it will be far easier to hold unquestioning and unclouded faith in the absolute and eternal truth, love and beauty of God.” “The conclusion of our own studies is practically this: we are not merely to medicate and dress an ever open sore of pauperism and insanity and idiocy and crime, but to cure it. It is in that faith we began our lectures with the ideal of a divine kingdom, with increased faith we close.”

In 1894 Dr. Henderson published a small booklet entitled a “Catechism for Social Observation,” which gave an outline of the method to be followed in making a social survey. It contained a detailed analysis of the essential facts to be observed and noted down in making an investigation of social conditions either in the country,town, or city. It was in fact one of the first guides to the laboratory work of sociology issued in America. The booklet also contained an address in 1894 on “The Sociological Method of Unifying Studies,” in which he outlined his views about sociology as follows:

“I take it that the purpose of sociology is threefold: to discover and present the system of social relations as a living reality, developing according to law; to discover and present the ideals and standards by which we can approximately determine what society ought to strive to become; and to discover and present the essential conditions and rational methods of promoting the wellbeing of men in organized society.—In one brief address I can hope to do no more than to hint at lines of inquiry. But instead of presenting to you a grinning skeleton of a system, I will attempt to clothe the abstractions of definitions with the flesh and nerves of real life in an actual community. If you will carefully follow me while I seek to depict the essential features of one town, I think that you will at least understand what I mean by Descriptive, Statical, and Dynamical Sociology.”

“The principle of procedure is that taught in Tennyson’s bold declaration that if he could understand the little flower in the crannied wall, root and all, he should know what God and man is. And if you can find out what one small township or village is, all in all, your microcosm will reveal to you all sociologies and all philosophies.” Then follows a description and analysis of a certain village at the close of which he says, “We sum up in these words: Descriptive Sociology is sight; Statical Sociology is insight; and Dynamical Sociology is foresight.”

In 1895 Dr. Henderson went to Europe and spent the summer semester at the University of Berlin studying economics and social science with special reference to German philanthropy and poor relief under the direction of Professor Schmoller, Wagner, and others.

The next book issued by him was “The Social Spirit in America” which appeared in 1897. It was written for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and was a part of their course of required reading for the year 1897-98. The authors’ purpose was as he says “to show the good citizen how he could best work for the commonwealth.” “Such a survey as is here attempted may assist active workers in limited fields to appreciate the kindred labors of others; may increase the feeling of fellowship; may lead to rational cooperation; may enable those who are prone to regard with suspicion if not contempt the efforts of neighbors to hold them in honor and esteem.—By this better understanding wasteful methods may be brought under the regulative control of enlightened public opinion.”

The plan followed by the author was to enumerate and describe the principal concrete methods which are being used in different parts of the country to improve social conditions. Among the topics discussed are: “Better houses for the people;” “Public Health;” “What Good Employers are doing;” “Organizations of Wage Earners;” Economic Cooperation of the community;” Political Reforms;” and “Socialized Beauty and Recreation.” The book made clear the fact that a more enlightened and humanitarian social spirit was permeating the different institutions of society and gradually evolving a better social order. Its value consisted not only in the accurate information it contained about American social institutions but also in its inspirational nature. It had a wide popularity and in a revised form was reissued in 1901.

In 1898 two books were published by Dr. Henderson: “Social Settlements” and “Social Elements.” The former was the first member of a series entitled “Handbooks for Practical Workers in Church and Philanthropy,” edited by Professor Jackson of New York University. It is a small, compact volume of 196 pages filled with information about the social settlements established in America and England. As a brief survey of the history of the social settlement movement together with a statement of their aims, methods and results, it is very valuable not only to the practical social worker but to the student of social science as well.

“Social Elements” was a more pretentious volume of 405 pages and contained the most adequate expression that had yet appeared of the author’s views on the more abstract phases of social science. Since it was intended for ordinary readers as well as for students, it was written in a popular style as free as possible from technicalities. The book was divided into four general divisions: Part I: Basis of Society in Nature; Part II: The Social Person; Part III: Social Institutions; Part IV: Social Psychology, Order and Progress.

In the introduction we find the following statement of the nature and task of sociology: “Sociology is the science of survey, synthetic, teaching us to comprehend what special sciences dissect, analyze, and treat apart. It will be the aim of the writer to indicate at the suitable points the relation of each special study or science to other studies and to the united interest of mankind.—It will readily be seen that it is not the office of such a book as this to teach the contents of all the sciences. These must be learned of those who profess them, the masters in the fields of chemistry, physics, geography, biology, psychology. It is our present duty to exhibit the social whole in which these special studies form parts, and we shall borrow from each in order to relate all. The new element we add is comprehension, relation. That is an element which is implied in each, but cannot be displayed by each. In a watch factory the various parts of the instrument are first made by many workmen, and yet there is no timekeeper until they are all—springs, wheels, jewels, pivots, posts—‘assembled;’ and it is the business of a certain workman to bring all the separate parts into one effective whole. The artist who assembles the different parts may not be able to make anyone of them as well as the person who devotes his life to that piece; and yet all parts are useless unless they are connected in one system and made complete by joining. It is the business of sociology to ‘assemble’ the elements of social life, to present life as one, and not a heap of disconnected parts, each a sphinx so long as it is apart from the others.”[7]

In his discussion of the physical basis of society, he shows the part that nature plays in the development of man and his social institutions. The influence of climate, fertility of soil, and physical forces are depicted in a striking way, but not without due recognition of the fact that man is more than an animal and that real social forces are mental and not physical.

The study of social institutions must be preceded by a study of the individual. As the author says: “We may take at random anyone out of the millions of persons who live in civilized lands, and by study of his mode of being we are at once in contact with the facts of society. The nature of man helps us to explain the community.”—“There is no social mental experience outside of individual persons. There is no social brain or consciousness apart from the separate brains and inner lives of the millions of individuals who compose the race.”[8] However he does not mean the isolated individual apart from society, but studied in his many-sided relations as a member of different social groups.

Part three which deals with social institutions discusses such subjects as The Family, Auxiliary Institutions, Industrial Organization, The School and Social Service, The State and the Government. In a chapter on “The Social Movement for Economic Betterment” he utters these discriminating words about the problem of the working classes: “It is not increasing poverty and depressing pauperism and desperate misery which incite social unrest and discontent, so much as it is the taste of better means of living. The poor are not growing poorer but richer, as we have proved, and they find it so agreeable that they naturally wish for more nectar of the same kind.”[9] In a sympathetic manner the author passes in review the different social inventions designed to improve the lot of the working men, and comes to the conclusion that they “reveal the progress of social sympathy, of the power of organization, and of hope of amelioration.”

The closing chapters of the book deal with problems of social psychology in which he discusses the concepts of association, suggestion, imitation, social control, and progress.

“The philosophical belief,” the author states, “which runs through all the chapters is not pessimism and is not optimism, but rather what George Eliot called meliorism.” The book is characterized by a hopeful spirit which looked forward with confidence to the coming of better things. All through its pages it is evident that it was written not by a disinterested observer of social phenomena, but by a man whose heart and soul were in the struggle for the uplift of his fellowmen.

The next literary work of Dr. Henderson was the issuing in 1900 of an abridged edition of Thomas Chalmers “The Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns.” This important work of Chalmers was so large and diffuse that it had not received the attention it deserved. To overcome this difficulty, Dr. Henderson prepared a brief edition of its more essential parts arranged topically so that the discussion could be more easily followed. A valuable feature of the book was the introduction written by the editor in which he pointed out the importance of Chalmers’ work and subjected his teachings to keen criticism.

In 1901, Dr. Henderson spent six months at the University of Leipzig studying economics, statistics, and pedagogy, and at the end of this period of study was, upon examination, granted the degree of Doctor of Philosophy summa cum laude. The subject of his Doctor’s thesis was “Die Okonomische Lage der Kleineren Collegien im Staate Illinois.” (Economic problems of the Smaller Colleges in Illinois). Upon his return from Europe he was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society in recognition of his attainments in scholarship.

This same year he issued a new edition of his first book, “The Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes,” which was made practically a new book for every chapter was rewritten and over a hundred new pages were added. In its revised form it embodied his more mature convictions and was a far more adequate survey of the subjects treated than was the original edition. Alexander Johnson, in his review of the book in the American Journal of Sociology said: “It is not only the best, it is the only complete textbook extant upon its subject.—The fourth part of the book, entitled ‘An Introduction to Criminal Sociology,’ is by far the best brief resume of the science of crime and penalty that has so far appeared in the English language.”[10]

It was at about this time that Dr. Henderson wrote two articles, “The Scope of Social Technology”[11] and “Practical Sociology in the Service of Social Ethics”[12] which were probably his best contribution to the scientific discussion of modern social science. His purpose in these articles was to lay a scientific basis for practical sociology by demonstrating that it was not merely an art but a scientific discipline. Many regarded sociology as merely descriptive and explanatory, a view which gave no real place to social technology as a university study capable of scientific treatment. It was generally recognized that sociology by collecting data and testing results could furnish information about methods for improving society which would be better than mere guesses or opinions of individuals. It was, however, denied that sociology could “develop a method deserving of the name of science and which could make social improvement a matter of knowledge.” In reply to those who held this position, Dr. Henderson said:

“At every stage of social progress the regulation of conduct on the basis of ever-growing knowledge is a necessity. If it is a proper object of social science to discover causes and tendencies it is also a proper object of science to formulate, so far as possible, in the existing state of science, the conduct which most perfectly corresponds with the known conditions of welfare.—

“It is difficult to form a scale for measuring the relative worth of the benefactors of mankind, and the attempt would be a waste of energy. But certain it is that when a chemist or physicist enlarges our knowledge of atoms, molecules, and modes of motion, the very structure and conduct of civilized communities must undergo a corresponding readjustment. But this readjustment, so far as it is not blind and unconscious, and is the result of foresight and plan, is the work of social science, not of chemistry or physics. Chemical discoveries revolutionized the utilization of waste in dye stuffs, slaughter of animals for food, coal mining and refining of petroleum, as well as modes of transportation and manufacture. But in order that the material and spiritual advantages of these discoveries may be equitably apportioned among men, some sort of a practical social ethics and politics must be built up by an intellectual process as truly scientific and also as painful and costly as that which led to the discovery of aniline dyes or the explanation of rent in theoretical economics.—

“In exact correspondence with medical science, social technology proceeds; for it also proposes ‘working hypotheses,’ new forms of organization, new methods of procedure, and tests their results by comparative and statistical methods.

“The medical practitioner can indeed try his drugs and surgery on the lower animals first, and even vary his hygienic treatment of men under his own conditions. The sociologist must usually secure the consent of communities to try their experiments on themselves. In a new country like our own, with 45 independent states, one can watch this process of trial under varied conditions.

“Precisely here lies the task of social technology—to guide these trials of form and method; to offer materials of knowledge which will save waste of time and money; to lay before isolated and adventurous leaders the results of race experience in the direction of their thought.”[13]

Dr. Henderson further argued that social technology like any other scientific discipline must make progress through some kind of specialization. Just how the field might be best divided is not yet clear, but he suggests as tentative divisions of the subject, the family, rural community, urban community, certain classes of society such as the criminal, dependents, wage earners, etc. In regard to methodology he names these steps to be followed in dealing with particular problems:

(1)  A clear statement of the problem as a community interest.

(2)  The end of the proposed social action must be defined.

(3)  Determination of all the causal relations and conditions.

(4)  Study of methods in use elsewhere to attain the proposed end.

(5)  Mental construction of the most rational plan.

(6)  Trial of the method decided upon.[14]

In 1903, Dr. Henderson prepared a report entitled “Modern Prison Systems, Their Organization and Regulation in Various Countries of Europe and America.” This material which made a volume of more than 300 pages was presented to Congress and was printed as a document of the International Prison Commission. It consisted of a large collection of data arranged in topical form designed to show the regulations governing the prison systems both in this country and abroad. The purpose in view was to get together sufficient material for a comparative study of the prison methods of various countries, and thus make possible intelligent action in endeavors to improve American prisons. In a lengthy introduction the author summarized the facts learned from the survey of the different prison systems, showed their causal relations and their significance in the development of prison science. The book contains in a small compass a vast amount of information which would otherwise not be easily accessible to the student.

It is indeed in work of this nature that Dr. Henderson has performed one of his greatest services in the development of social science. As a pioneer in modern philanthropic work, he has keenly felt the need of comprehensive surveys of the experiences and methods of all the civilized nations, and so he gave freely of his time to collect such information and present it in an attractive and convenient form.

Another important work of this kind was “Modern Methods of Charity” which was published in 1904 by Dr. Henderson in collaboration with several other writers. It is an encyclopedic volume of 700 pages giving an account of the systems of relief in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Switzerland, British Empire, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, United States, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, and among the Jews of Europe and America. More than 200 pages were written by Dr. Henderson himself, and over the entire work he exercised close editorial supervision. In a book of such wide scope some mistakes were inevitable, and considerations of space made necessary inadequate treatment of some phases of philanthropic work, but it performed a task hitherto unattempted by any English writer, the value of which was unquestioned.

The author’s purpose and the principles which guided him in preparing this book can best be seen in these words taken from the preface: “Ignorance of what other people are doing means blundering experiment, opinionated obstinacy in antiquated methods, and waste of energy and resources.—The comparative method of dealing with isolated phenomena of the same class leads by the most direct path to the discovery of the law, the principles of explanation and the principles of regulation and progress.—

“The attempt has been made to present facts without bias, yet with careful selection of phenomena which seem to be really significant and decisive. In each chapter will be found, in very condensed form of statement the facts relating to the extent of each kind of social need, the law governing state activity on behalf of the classes of dependents, the methods of public organization and administration, the cooperation of public and voluntary agencies, the provision made for defectives, helpless children and misguided youth, and the recent ministrant functions of government which have a tendency to diminish appeals to charity.

“Naturally interest in such practical subjects culminates in the induction of a judgment called a ‘social imperative’ because of the ultimate object of the entire investigation is the foundation of principles and rules for the guidance of conduct. The reader has the right to ask at each step: What of it? How does all this array of facts teach us to make a more economical use of public and private gifts to the poor? Are there any guiding maxims which will help the benevolent visitor and administrator to mitigate suffering, relieve distress, restore lost self-respect and courage, save children from growing up paupers and criminals, and preserve the race from degeneration? Such are the questions which serious minds ask in the presence of this inquiry. And the materials here brought together from thousands of sources and from all the most advanced nations of the earth have a message of guidance as well as of explanation, sympathy and hope.—Reason working upon this vast body of experience arrives at conclusions which though not absolutely final for all ages and lands, are relatively valid for given conditions.—If the metaphysician scorns these judgments as lacking in the sublime qualities of eternity, universality, and absoluteness, we can at least affirm that they are useful and necessary, even morally obligatory in our time and in countries with European civilization.”[15]

As a fair estimate of the book we can best quote these words of Ernest P. Bicknell: “It is not a discussion of principles, but a record of experiences and a statement of methods based on lessons of experience. It is not philosophy, it is not theory; but it is a foundation upon which theory and philosophy may be erected. It is the product of the hardest and most tedious delving, searching, translating, comparing, and verifying. As it is a pioneer, it has lacked the help which predecessors, however incomplete, would have given. It has broken new paths which will not have to be broken again. The courage and patient industry which the book represents compel admiration.”[16]

Among the methods of social amelioration advocated by Dr. Henderson, industrial insurance is one that has claimed a large share of his attention. For a number of years in his university lectures, public addresses, and published articles he has set forth his conviction that some form of compulsory workingmen’s insurance must be adopted as a definite part of our social policy. The first book which he prepared on this subject was entitled “Die Arbeiter-Versicherung in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-Amerika” which was published in Berlin in 1907. An English version of this work appeared serially in the American Journal of Sociology in 1907-08, and then was issued in book form by the University of Chicago Press. The book contained a very careful presentation of the essential facts concerning the systems of insurance in vogue in America, and showed the inadequacy of American methods to meet the situation. In a forcible manner the author marshalled the arguments in favor of compulsory insurance and urged a more careful consideration of this plan for social betterment.

“The economic condition of wage workers,” says the author, “calls for insurance as a necessary part of their protection against dependence and suffering. While the statistical material for determining the number of persons requiring social insurance is not entirely satisfactory, it does enable us to make a fairly accurate estimate for our purpose. There is a common assumption in this country that the wages of workingmen are so high that social insurance is not desirable; that with the ordinary private associations and insurance companies at hand, there is no demand for collective effort with some measure of governmental intervention, stimulus, and regulation. It is not necessary to exaggerate poverty to prove the need of a social policy of insurance. This is demonstrated by the fact that it is precisely the men of the successful classes who realize the wisdom of distributing risks and of providing a fund in case of incapacity for labor or of death, by the method of insurance rather than by depending entirely on savings and investments. If the ordinary professional man should wait until his investments would provide for his needs in long illness or for his family in case of his death, during the first part of his career, the family would practically be within a few months of dependence on charity. On the other hand, no system of saving or of insurance can do much for the non-industrial classes, as idiots, insane, paupers of all categories, vagabonds, and criminals. Workingmen’s insurance can help only workingmen—those who spend most of their lives earning a living and who are paid wages or small salaries. For defectives and paupers industrial insurance is inapplicable, and these must be supported by public or private relief; while delinquents are placed under public control at compulsory labor in coercive institutions. People of wealth can easily protect themselves by investments or by insurance in private companies. If they pay too much for this benefit, their business training enables them to discover legal means of redress and correction. But the majority of wage earners are not in like situation and require some form of collective action.”[17]

While Dr. Henderson is full of hope that our nation is on the way toward a social policy that will include some adequate form of workingmen’s insurance, he does not believe it will be attained suddenly by any radical legislation. Rather does he believe that progress will be made by coordinating and regulating and combining the various insurance schemes already existing in America. “The hope of progress,” he says, “lies in these germinal beginnings, and the problem immediately before the nation is one of synthesis.”[18] He possesses great admiration for the system of social insurance which has been so successfully worked out in Germany, but would not advocate the adoption of such a scheme in America where the people are not accustomed to the oversight of a strongly centralized government. He suggests that some plan might be worked out whereby the government could cooperate with the trade unions to attain the desired end.

Another phase of the work of social uplift to which Dr. Henderson has made a real contribution is that of the fight against the black plague, the so-called social evil. His most important publication dealing with this problem is “Education with Reference to Sex,” which was published in 1909 in the Eighth Yearbook of the National Society for the Scientific Study of Education. This monograph of more than 150 pages was a careful and straightforward presentation of the facts concerning sexual immorality for the purpose of showing that education in matters of sex is a social responsibility that we dare not any longer evade.

The book is divided into two parts, the first stating the pathological, economic, and social aspects of the problem, and the second dealing with the agencies and methods that may be used in promoting morality. “The investigation was taken up,” says the author, “and the treatise written at the earnest request of the Executive Committee of a society of responsible educations who had the conviction that they could not neglect the subject without failure in their official duty. The writer had himself for some years been compelled by his own university duties, by his position as president of the Chicago Society of Social Hygiene, and as trustee of schools for erring girls, and by his investigations of pauperism, crime, and industrial conditions in cities, to face this forbidding problem and seek light for its solution.”[19]

The book was a strong protest against the false modesty that made people blind to the sexual dangers of childhood and youth. The author believed that a policy of concealment would result in increasing evil, and urged that schoolteachers who had charge of the training of the young should devise some form of sex instruction that would make impossible sins of ignorance and that would best safeguard the interests of morality. In the opinion of the author, the real solution of the sex problem rests finally upon education. As he says, “At best, law, police, government, can do little more than affect the external conduct; they do not reach the springs of action, the habitual incentives, the active ideas, the personal motives, the spiritual valuations of satisfactions. Admitting all that may properly be claimed for the favorable reaction of even compulsory observance of decent requirements on the inner life, we must look to some influence far deeper and more pervasive for the ultimate self-regulation of life in accordance with the laws of social welfare and of the noblest life.This influence is education, and therefore we now turn from the medical profession and from the statesmen to that profession which deals with the character, the will, the moral nature in the most direct and persuasive way; we make an appeal to the schoolteachers, the parents, the spiritual counselors of children and youth.”[20]

Dr. Henderson’s approach to the sociological field was along the path of a deep religious interest in the welfare of men. His activities in social research and in the more scientific phases of his department of study never caused him to lose his zeal in matters pertaining to the practical religious life. As University Chaplain for more than twenty years, he has exerted a strong religious influence in the University, and although it is said that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country,” yet whenever he is announced as the university preacher, large crowds gather to hear his message. It was natural then that he should be called upon to contribute a volume on “Social Duties from the Christian Point of View” to the series of Constructive Bible Studies being issues by the University of Chicago. The book was designed as a textbook for the study of social problems by Sunday school classes and members of churches, and is divided into brief chapters suitable for lessons to which are added topics for discussion and references for reading. Its sixteen chapters discuss briefly such topics as the family, workingmen, city and country life, charities and correction, corporations, the business class, the leisure class, government, and international relations. The viewpoint from which the book is written is that “the churches of Christ have a social duty and a ministry in the service of mankind which extends to all human needs, so far as the church has resources to help.” It makes no pretense of being an exhaustive treatise, but merely opens up the discussion and serves as a guide for further study. The book is of great value in promoting among Christian people the scientific study of the problems of society.

In 1909 Dr. Henderson was appointed American Commissioner of the International Prison Commission, and the following year he served as president of the International Prison Congress which met at Washington. In its comment on his work in this latter position, the “Survey”[21] said: “He gave fire, dignity, and spiritual earnestness to the gathering of 40 nations over which he presided. As professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, students of foreign conditions and institutions, familiar with the languages of Europe, and active member of the American Prison Association, Dr. Henderson brought a remarkable equipment to his difficult task.”

In connection with his work as American Commissioner of the International Prison Association, Dr. Henderson was appointed general editor of four volumes on Correction and Prevention which were presented as a souvenir to the official delegates to the Prison Congress. These volumes which were entitled “Prison Reform,” “Penal and Reformatory Institutions,” “Preventive Agencies and Methods,” and “Preventive Treatment of Neglected Children,” were designed to acquaint the foreign delegates with the essential features and principles of American methods of dealing with crime and delinquents. Besides his work as editor, Dr. Henderson wrote the third volume of the series, “Preventive Agencies and Methods.” This book, as the author states was an attempt to study the various movements for social betterment from the standpoint of prevention of crime. Its scope was necessarily limited to the United States, and since it was a part of a series dealing with different phases of crime, it discussed only those agencies and methods which were directly concerned with counteracting criminal tendencies. The author at the close of his introduction summarizes as follows the argument of the book:

“Without committing ourselves to a rigid and mechanical order of treatment, we shall endeavor in each chapter and with each topic to make as clear as limited space permits: (1) The nature and extent of the social injury to be prevented; (2) evidence that competent specialists are aware of the peril to which the nation is exposed; (3) proposals for amelioration in preventive measures; (4) actual organization and experiments; (5) results obtained, as far as materials for a judgment can be obtained.

“A considerable number of delinquents, because of inherited or acquired defects, are incapable of being fitted for free life in society, and the social problem is elimination by human and effective methods. (Chapter I)

“The bodily defects which cause or increase crime, and are in some degree inherited, are largely due to conditions which may be removed by measures adapted to the purpose. (Chapter II)

“Misery and ambition lead to offenses of various degrees and kinds, and amelioration of economic life may reduce these causes of crime. (Chapter III)

“There are specific social evils which prompt to crime and they are amenable to control by concerted volition. (Chapter IV)

“Particular classes or groups of delinquents may be treated in such a way as to direct many of them from evil ways and restore them to normal conduct and usefulness. (Chapter V)

“In the law itself and in the government, evils exist which incite to crime, and a reformation of law, courts, and methods of administration will end to reduce the quantity of crime. (Chapter VI)

“All the world recognizes the value of education of children and youth in the struggle against crime, and it is believed that the methods of the schools can be improved so as to render them still more effective. (Chapter VII)

“Crime is a harmful and abnormal method satisfying human desires. The most effective methods of prevention of crime are those which awaken new and higher interests and offer to them legitimate and lasting satisfactions. (Chapter VIII)

“This in brief is the order of the argument.”[22]

The method followed in the presentation of the subject was to give as far as possible the opinions and conclusions of authorities in the different fields in their own words. The book is as the author claimed a source book on the subject. This feature, however, in the opinion of some, detracted from its value and provoked unfavorable criticism. Dr. Devine in his review of the book in the “Survey”[23] said: “We cannot help indulging the speculation as to what Professor Henderson could have done if, instead of pursuing the policy of compilation and quotation, he had assembled all the splendid material which he presents in these volumes and the still larger amount which he has obviously had at his disposal, had thoroughly digested it all and had then presented to the delegates the concentrated result in a brief well written volume half as large as any one of these four. It would have been more generally read, it would have reflected even greater credit on American scholarship, and it might easily have become a classic handbook of reference. The present work can scarcely serve such a purpose. It resembles too much the proceedings of the Congress itself, or of the National Prison Congress. One feels like congratulating the editor when he could not find an apropos quotation. He is then able to express his own conclusions and convictions with clearness and vigor.” While, however, there may be difference of opinion about the method of treatment which was adopted, yet the book itself was a distinct contribution to the field of criminology. In no other book can we find such an adequate survey of the methods being used throughout America “to avert anti-social conduct and remove conditions which tend to increase offenses against social order, welfare, and progress.”

In 1912, Dr. Henderson visited the Orient on the foundation of the Barrows Lectureship, and delivered in some of the principal cities of India, China, and Japan lectures designed to interpret to the peoples of the East the social movements of the Western world. These lectures, six in number, were collected into one volume, and published under the title “Social Programmes in the West.” In the brief compass of these lectures he tried to present the essential features of the measures that are being taken in the West to promote the welfare of the common people. The foundation under which the addresses were given was distinctively Christian in purpose, and Dr. Henderson was very frank in stating this fact to his Oriental audiences and in giving them a clear conception of his Christian faith and viewpoint. “I could not conceal if I would,” he said, “the faith by which I live. I am a theist and a Christian. I believe in God the Holy and I find his image in Christ. There is mystery in faith and there are many things I do not profess to know; but the Christian view of life, of God, of sin, of duty, of redemption, of eternal life, seems to me inherently reasonable, and practically the best for mankind.—

“I have come to tell you something of the modern revelation of Christ’s spirit in works of love, kindness, and justice; what He is doing through men for the infant, the sick, insane, the poor, the criminal, the toiling and ill paid wage earner. This concrete message, I believe, may be helpful here, interfused with the essential spirit which gives it all aim, ideal, worth, meaning.”[24]

Dr. Henderson’s mission to the Far East was carried out with great tact and success. While he made a careful investigation of the social and industrial conditions in the countries he visited, he did not criticize their mistakes or attempt to offer a definite social policy suited to their needs. His message was simply an outline of the most important achievements and ideals of the West. As he said: “I have not in mind specific proposals for direction of the Orient; the policy of a people must be worked out by itself, with all the help it can command from modern science. This is a slow and tedious process; but for this travail there is no substitute.—

“But I do have the ambition to describe, illustrate, and explain some of the essential aims, tendencies, and reasons of the social policyof the Western world, especially of that country with which I am most familiar, the United States. If from this sketch and the facts brought forward, the people of the East and their leaders find any building materials for their own social creations, they are welcome to tear down what is here presented and use any pieces of stone, steel, glass, or terra cotta, which may be convenient for their own plans.”[25] Dr. Henderson was by no means blind to the social needs of the people whom he was addressing, and he found ways of tactfully bringing home to them a realization of their true condition. On the occasion of an address given before the students of Madras, he pictured in such a realistic manner the social condition of medieval Europe that his intelligent audience could not help but recognize that it was also a picture of modern India.

While the contents of this book, “Social Programmes in the West” were intended for an Oriental audience, the book has value for Western students as well. It is a careful consideration of those phases of our social work which the author believes to be most fundamental and most worthwhile. As a brief survey of the best achievements in the realm of social technology, the book is worthy of serious study.

The most recent published work of Dr. Henderson’s is a small book on “The Cause and Cure of Crime,” which was published in 1914 as a part of the “National Social Science Series” edited by President McVey of the University of North Dakota. In this book of 175 pages are found in most condensed form the author’s views concerning the criminal and his social treatment. The field of criminology is without doubt the one in which Dr. Henderson has gained the widest distinction and in which he has the right to speak with the greatest authority. His attainments in this science have been recognized by the scholars of Europe as well as of America, and it is well known that as a member of the American Prison Association for more than 25 years, he has been one of the leaders in the advancement of American prison science.

This book, then, is of more than usual interest for it contains not only the mature views of Dr. Henderson, but is also a reliable statement by the best American authority of the present status of criminal science. While the small size of the book has made much condensation necessary, yet the author has not limited himself to mere dogmatic statements or unsupported opinions. As is his custom in all his writings, he has given considerable space to illustrative material designed to give weight to his conclusions. In answer to the question “What is a criminal?”, he presents in a brief form the life stories of a number of offenders, instead of confining himself merely to an abstract definition. He strongly opposes the theory that Crime is a disease. In his view the causes of crime may be deeply rooted in pathological conditions, but still crime itself must be regarded as the deed of a responsible person. In order that we might understand better all the factors that enter into delinquency, he urges the establishment of psychological laboratories in connection with courts and prisons. “We cannot insist too strongly,” he says, “on the necessity of care, of scientific and expert study of persons charged with unnatural crime, youth or adult, in order that the right verdict shall be rendered, the reasonable and just sentence imposed, and thorough measures be taken for social protection.”[26]

The prison he would use only in cases of last resort. As an alternative, especially for young and casual offenders, he advocates conditional liberation on probation with well-organized surveillance. An important suggestion that he makes in regard to the punishment of offenders is that the state should require restitution or compensation to the victims of crimes against property. In regard to this he says: “If thieves and knaves were required to pay back their plunder, we might reduce their number. If they have property it should be taken by the commonwealth and administered in the interest of those who have been defrauded or robbed. So long as an offender has any earning power in his body or brain, he should be required to labor at some kind of productive work until he had made full compensation. This should be a part of the ‘punishment’ and of the administration of public justice, for it would be one of the most effective methods of breaking up the ranks of the professional criminals.”[27] The closing portion of the book deals with preventive and constructive methods in which are described the measures being taken by our most enlightened communities to turn the criminal into a useful member of society and to hasten the disappearance of vice and crime.

At present Dr. Henderson is seeing through the press the latest product of this pen, a book entitled “Citizens in Industry,” which is announced to appear in the near future.

This brief review of the main portion of Dr. Henderson’s writings makes clear the fact that his contributions to the literature in his field of investigation have been many and important. For more than twenty years he has written books upon practically the whole field of applied sociology, much of this work being of a pioneer nature. However in spite of this large expenditure of his time and energy in literary work, he has never withdrawn himself from active participation in civic and social reforms. The following incomplete list of the positions he has held in various philanthropic societies will show something of the extent of his work along practical and administrative lines: President of the National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1899; President of the National Prison Association in 1902; President of the National Children’s Home Society from 1899 to 1902; United States Commissioner of the International Prison Commission in 1909; President of the International Prison Congress in 1910; Secretary of the Illinois Commission on Occupational Diseases in 1907; President of the Chicago Society of Social Hygiene; President of the United Charities of Chicago since 1913; Chairman of a Commission for the betterment of the unemployed in 1912 and of a similar Commission in 1914-15.

In the sphere of industrial legislation he has been very active in drawing up bills for the Legislature and has been one of the leading spirits in Illinois in securing the present high standard of laws designed to protect the workingmen. As a preacher and speaker on matters of social amelioration, he is in constant demand both within and without the University. Few men in America have done as much as he to further the philanthropic causes of his time. In the sphere of social technology he stands out as a man who not only gave his calling scientific standing, but who successfully demonstrated its practical worth in promoting the welfare of humanity.


[1] Proceedings of National Conference of Charities and Correction for 1884.

[2] Survey, May 23, 1914.

[3] In a letter introduction written by Mayor Pingree, Feb 6, 1895.

[4] Free Press, May 8, 1892.

[5] Jan. 1894, 667.

[6] Oct. 1893.

[7] Social Elements, 8.

[8] Social Elements, 42.

[9] Ibid, 172.

[10] American Journal of Sociology, July 1901, 128.

[11] American Journal of Sociology, vol. 6.

[12] University of Chicago, vol. 3:27-48.

[13] ?

[14] American Journal of Sociology, vol. 6

[15] Modern Methods of Charity.

[16] American Journal of Sociology, vol. II: 427.

[17] ?

[18] Industrial Insurance, 307.

[19] Yearbook of National Society of Education for 1909, 11.

[20] Yearbook of National Society of Educators for 1909, 74.

[21] Nov. 5, 1910, 193.

[22] Prevention Agencies and Methods, 15-16.

[23] Jan. 21, 1911, 658.

[24] Social Programmes in the West, 2.

[25] Social Programmes in the West, 17.

[26] Cause and Cure of Crime, 26.

[27] Ibid, 580.

Republished from: Henderson, Charles Richmond. Papers, [Box 7, Folder 3], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Lewenstein, I. (2006). Charles Richmond Henderson (1848 -1915): Minister, professor, sociologist and prison reformer. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *