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Hindrances To The Welfare And Progress Of State Institutions (1883)

Hindrances To The Welfare And Progress Of State Institutions

By Michael Anagnos

A Presentation at the Ninth Annual Conference of Charities and Corrections 1883

There is an essential difference between the American and English public institutions, both in the fundamental principles of their organization and in the sources from which they derive their means of existence.

In Great Britain no provision is made by the state in its sovereign capacity in favor of the defective classes. It is true that the field of beneficence is not neglected in the least; but the means for its cultivation are not furnished from the public treasury; they are raised by the donations and contributions of benevolent individuals. Society, as such, in its organic capacity, recognizes no obligation toward its unfortunate members. It is entirely left to private charity to perform this duty. But whatever is done under this form is so hampered by conditions calculated to minister to the vanity of the donors, is so ludicrously encumbered by a complicated machinery of parade and show, of empty titles and long subscription lists; of annual dinner and begging sermons, that, although it may be very gratifying to the feelings of the givers, its blessedness is rather questionable so far as the recipients are concerned.

In this country the policy of the state is to take care of every disabled or incapacitated citizen, and to provide the means of education for every child within its borders, in view not only of his assumed right, but also for the protection of the community itself against ignorance as a source of pauperism, and as unfitting men for the duties of citizenship. Hence public institutions for the poor and the perverse, the halt and the criminals, the blind and the deaf, the idiots and the insane, are established by law, and are supported by means raised by general taxation.

This policy, admirable and beneficial as it evidently is in most respects, is not free from grave disadvantages and certain dangers, the most serious of which are two: first, political influence in the administration and management of state institutions; and second, misapprehension of their nature, scope and objects.


It would be very difficult to exaggerate the disastrous effects produced by political or partizan intervention in the selection and appointment of the officers of an establishment, and in the direction or control of its interests. The lamentable condition of many state institutions in the west and south shows conclusively that this contemptible practice is the most threatening as it is the most insidious danger that besets them. It is a crying evil, affixing a stigma upon the communities which encourage and tolerate it. However it may be disguised under this pretense or that excuse, it is obviously pernicious in its character, demoralizing in its influence, unscrupulous in its aims, plunderous in its attempts, vindictive in its purposes, destructive in its tendencies and reckless in its action. Through the viciousness of this system the usefulness of state institutions is greatly impaired, and their efficiency crippled. Experienced superintendents, trained and intelligent teachers, skillful physicians, faithful officers and honest employes are summarily dismissed from their places for no other cause but simply in order to make room for corrupt politicians, and to gratify the hunger for office of their henchmen and associates who were howling on the confines of party strife. Under such circumstances the vital forces of public service are weakened, the springs of enthusiasm and earnest devotion to duty are dried, activity and hopefulness are succeeded by apathy and despondency, and men of acknowledged ability, scholarly attainments and independence of character are driven out of their chosen professions. This evil has already assumed such enormous dimensions in several sections of the country that it cannot possibly be cured by the ordinary means of grace; and, unless the good people of all political parties and religious sects unite in a determined effort to close the gates of public institutions against the whirlwind of political antagonisms, partizan strife and capricious favoritism — too often bringing with them confusion and desolation — the provision made by the state for the maintenance and support of these establishments will prove in many instances a source of annoyance and trouble instead of a blessing of convenience and permanent peace. So much for the causes and results of political interference, and for the necessity of its immediate repression.


Let me now proceed to the second topic of my paper – which I must confess is the leading motive in its composition — and state briefly the effects of the misunderstanding of the nature and objects of state institutions.

It is well known that some of these establishments have their origin in the idea of the supreme reign of law and order and the protection of society; others in the pity and sympathy for the disabled and suffering members of the human family; and still others in the right to a thorough education, which the state accords to all its children, irrespective of creed, color, social condition, or physical defects. In other words, public institutions are either penal, reformatory, eleemosynary or educational in their character. A thorough knowledge of this character, as well as of the main objects of each of the state institutions, will help those in authority not only to minister properly to the wants and training of their inmates, but to infuse into them that spirit of manliness, dignity and independence which is so essential in the encouragement of individual efforts to self respect and maintenance, and in the general successes of life. A misapprehension of this character will lead, on the other hand, to mistaken views of imaginary economy, or to more illusions as to the magnificent results of centralization in the administration of public charities, or to the adoption of unwise rules and measures which will prove in time positively detrimental to the vital interests of the society.

It is with sincere regret that I am obliged to say in this connection, that the very call to the managers of the schools for the blind to join in the deliberations of the “National Conference of Charities and Corrections” is a striking illustration of such understanding. It shows conclusively, that the nature and scope of the education of sightless children is not as widely understood as it ought to be. In consequence of this imperfect knowledge, they are arbitrarily separated from the deaf mutes and are unjustly and indiscriminately classed with paupers, criminals and insane.

I earnestly hope that the representatives of the various schools for the instruction of the blind will not assent tacitly to this unfortunate misunderstanding. It will be very unwise, to say the least, on their part to do so. Duty as well as the fundamental principles of their work and the vital interests of their charge alike demand that they should endeavor to rectify this error as soon as possible. For myself, I feel compelled to remonstrate against it. The school with which I am connected is founded upon the solid rock of equity and not upon the piers of pity and favor. It has therefore no official relation whatever with the state board of charities. It is placed by law where it properly belongs, namely under the supervision of the state board of education. It is classed with the state normal schools, the state art school, the state agricultural college and the schools for the deaf mutes; and I cannot allow myself to do the least thing which may have even the appearance of dragging it back among the eleemosynary and reformatory establishments. In my judgment, the discussions in which the instructors of the blind ought to participate are those of the “National Educational Association” and the “American Institute of Instruction,” and to take an active part in anything pertaining to the improvement of the methods of teaching, mental development, physical and technical training, moral education, school discipline, and the like.

For these reasons I feel constrained not only to request that my name be dropped from the list of members of the standing committee which was appointed at the last meeting of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, but to raise my feeble voice against the injustice of classifying the schools for the blind with charitable, penal or reformatory institutions.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Anagnos, M. (1883). Hindrances to the welfare and progress of state institutions. Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of Charities and Corrections, 215-218. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=10448.

Source:  Disability History Museum,

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