Settlement Work in a Great Metropolis

Anna Seaton Schmidt in Echo Magazine January 1 1908

Settlement Work in a Great Metropolis

Anna Seaton Schmidt in Echo Magazine January 1 1908

Settlement Work in a Great Metropolis

Anna Seaton Schmidt in Echo Magazine

FEW who read Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s interesting books know of her social work in London. In spite of the exactions of her literary labors she has found time to inaugurate and superintend one of the most successful of settlement houses. Her exhaustive study of sociological conditions in the preparation of “Robert Elsmere” convinced her of the necessity of such help for the working classes as can come only through the settlements, where rich and poor are brought together by mutual interests. Assisted by many friends she opened University Hall in 1890; its success was such that a larger house was soon necessary. The Duke of Bedford was appealed to, and donated a large piece of ground on Tavistock square. Mr. Passmore Edwards generously followed his example and gave $70,000 for the erection of the edifice which bears his name. It is the most nearly ideal settlement building that Í have seen, having been planned for this purpose.

Lecture and class room, gymnasium, cooking school and laundry are perfectly adapted to their respective needs. The little theatre is specially attractive. It was here that we first saw Mrs. Ward in her true role of “Mother of the Settlement.” The loving reception accorded her by members of the various clubs revealed the secret of her success—she had gained the hearts of those for whom she labored. This evening she was to reward the industry of the young people by distributing their annual prizes. Her closing address was one of praise for the past and encouragement of the future. “It is to your earnest co-operation that we owe our success. Had you not so ably seconded our efforts we could not have accomplished the enormous amount of work shown on our records. As you know, we opened the first vacation school established in England— for this we must acknowledge our indebtedness to America, as it was in Boston that we learned of these schools without books.

“The Board of Education found it of such benefit to the hundreds of idle little ones, whom during the summer we were able to rescue from tlie streets, that they are now opening vacation schools in every part of London. Ours was also the first public cripple school ; there are now fifteen, attended by eleven hundred incapacitated children, many of whom are carried in ambulances to and from their classrooms, where they receive an individual attention impossible in the ordinary public schools. Their health is carefully looked after, and they are educated in proportion to their ability. Many talented ones have been discovered among these children, who are being helped to become useful members of the community. During the summer our little cripples are sent with their nurses to the country, the rooms thus left vacant being utilized for our vacation school.”

The Duke of Bedford, whose beautiful gardens adjoin the Settlement, kindly gave their use as a playground, and whenever the weather permits you will find there hundreds of happy children, skipping rope, dancing or playing in the sand.

In all that she has undertaken Mrs. Ward has been ably seconded by her wealthy and titled friends of the West End, who give not only of their money, but of their time and talents, for the many musicales, lectures and plays arranged to entertain their poor. Their Saturday and Sunday evening concerts compare favorably with the best in London, and are always crowded by working people, who are rapidly learning to appreciate the best orchestral music. While these entertainments are free, all clubs and classes must be selfsupporting. The fee part is very small, but it is sufficient to make the members feel that they have a right to their instruction. Nothing is farther from the spirit of this Settlement than the idea that it is a charitable institution. In founding it, Mrs. Ward wished to help those whose lives were spent in factories or shops, and might be brightened by intellectual companionship. “With the same sympathies but different experiences in life, we meet to change ideas and to discuss social questions, in the hope that as we learn to know one another better, a feeling of fellowship may arise among us.”

The residents, as at Toynbee Hall, are university men, who follow their own occupations during the day and in the evening carry on the social work of the settlement. “You must come over for one of the weekly dances given by the young people’s club. We encourage these little parties because they keep them out of the street, and also because their work during the day is very confining and we believe that they need the Healthful exercise of dancing in the happy atmosphere which they find here. Watching these cheerful young men and women it is difficult to believe that they come from such poor and desolate homes.”

The evening that we selected to go over happened to be Bank Holiday. Mr. Gladstone, the enthusiastic young warden, conducted us to the large hall, where about fifty girls in simple white shirtwaists and dark skirts were wheeling gayly around with their attendant cavaliers. “We always have a dance on holidays. There is nothing that the young folks enjoy more, so they are willing to return early from their excursions in the country. Otherwise they would be late in the streets and perhaps get into bad company.”

Just then a handsome young man approached and , was introduced as Professor M., of Cambridge, who was visiting the warden. “Will you dance with the girls?” I asked. “Oh, yes, I enjoy it immensely. I’ve promised Mr. Gladstone to look after all the wallflowers!” As the next waltz began, he crossed the hall and spoke to some girls who were sitting on a bench, quietly watching the dancers. Their beaming faces told of their pleasure, as he led, first one, then another into the magic circle. The dance over, he took them to the refreshment counter for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. We were sitting near the improvised kitchen and could see the committee in charge busily heating water and making tea, coffee and chocolate on a small gas stove. Each club has its refreshment counter, the money received going toward their general expenses.

“Won’t you look into our gymnasium before leaving?” asked Mr. Gladstone. “We have a splendid teacher, and our young people are most enthusiastic over their lessons. We have three things in our settlement of which we are specially proud: our theatre, gymnasium and coal club.” “Coal club! I do not understand—” “Well, it is the most popular of all our clubs, and is open to anyone in London who wishes to join! Life membership is only sixpence. Deposits for coal as low as threepence are received by the treasurer. Eeach member can draw on our coal dealer for the amount which he has paid in, and receive his coal in small quantities at wholesale prices. We give such large orders that our dealer is willing to do this—thus we lose nothing, and the poor gain much. Durng the summer many bring us their small savings which pay for their winter’s coal. Were they obliged to buy it, at retail, as thousands do, paying exorbitant prices, they would often be forced to go without fire.

“Then there is our Poor Man’s Lawyer, another experiment which we have found most valuable. Our working people can obtain from him the best legal advice. It is remarkable how many he has been able to assist. His clients trust him implicitly and often come to him for advice that does not in the least require legal knowledge.”

Tavistock Square, near the British Museum, cannot be called “The Slums” of London, but thousands of shop and factory hands live in the small streets running off it to the east. While the inhabitants are selfsupporting, their small salaries permit of no luxuries, and after their hard day’s toil, they would find little pleasure in their overcrowded homes or dingy boarding houses. The Passmore Edwards Settlement takes the place of a refined and beautiful home. Under the noble moral influence of its inmates they are encouraged and helped to lead good lives. But there is a much lower, more degraded class in London, who must be taught, through the beautiful lessons of Christian charity, that the rich are not the enemies of the poor, and that it is possible, even for those born in the “dens and lairs of the East End, exposed to all that is obscene and indecent” to conquer environment and become self-respecting, self-supporting members of society.

It is the work undertaken by the Duchess of Newcastle in her little settlement of St. Anthony on Great Prescott street, Whitechapel.

In “The People of the Abyss,” Jack London says, “college settlements, missions, charities are failures, . . . they have worked

faithfully, but beyond relieving an infinitesimal fraction of misery and collecting a certain amount of data, which might otherwise have been more scientifically and less expensively collected, they have achieved no-, thing.” Had he lived in the little home of St. Anthony and known the people who came daily to those rooms, he would have realized how many thousands were uplifted from despair, and trained to be wage earners. Yet, were it only for the “infinitesimal fraction” which he admits are helped, I should believe in the settlements. Statistics in England, however, prove that crime and drunkenness have greatly decreased since the settlements began their work. The jails, recently torn down in London, are not to be replaced because of the decrease in the number of criminals. Social workers agree that the streets are the nurseries of crime, from which the jails have been recruited—they direct their combined efforts toward rescuing children from such pernicious influences.

Another terrible evil is the inefficiency of the “submerged tenth.” “If, as you say, there are so many starving who are anxious to work, why is it that we have such difficulty in obtaining servants?” asked a kindhearted but ignorant society woman. A single visit to Whitechapel would have convinced her of the impossibility of recruiting here the neat, well-mannered maids required in the homes of the West End. How is it possible for a child of the East End, born in a tenement, clothed in rags, accustomed to sleeping in a room half of which is subject to strangers —whose play hours are passed in the streets where she is “speedily fouled and contaminated,” whose mother, perhaps, drinks, whose father spends his leisure hours in the saloons— how is it possible, I ask, for this girl to learn the requirements of a refined household? But after two or three years spent in the evening classes at St. Anthony’s, a wonderful change takes place in-the children, who are thus brought under the personal influence of the duchess. Watching the pretty, bright young girls as they deftly cut and planned their winter dresses in her sewing school, and remembering their homes where “a father or mother live with three or four children in one room, where those children never have enough to eat and are preyed upon and made miserable and weak by swarming vermin,” it seemed one of God’s greatest miracles that anything so pure and' sweet could come out of such foulness. “We are great believers in the inheritance which each child has received from her Heavenly Father, if only we can provide the environment. Look at the children raised in our great foundling asylum, where only illegitimate babies are received. Ninety-five per cent, turn out well. Dr. Barnardo, who sent to Canada thousands of little ones rescued from the worst slums of London and Liverpool, says that nearly all make fine citizens, honest and industrious.” The Dowagêr Duchess of Newcastle is a widow—her son, the duke, lives in London, and she is often obliged to leave her humble home in Whitechapel and mingle with the great world.

The Duchess always takes the most depraved cases. If a man has stabbed his wife, if a drunken woman is beating the children, her grace is seht for—day or night she fearlessly enters the worst tenements in Whitechapel.

“When I first came to St. Anthony’s,” said a pretty little girl named Miss Violet, “I was terribly frightened in the tenement houses, with their dark, crooked stairways and drunken men and women. When I heard them quarrelling I would often turn back—then the thought of our beautiful duchess, who goes into much worse places, would make me ashamed of my cowardice. She is never afraid. Often she returns late at night from her home in the West End, and walks here from the underground station. She won’t spend a cent on cabs if she can walk. She saves every penny for her poor, sick people.”

A large part of the work consists in encouraging the poor by going to their homes, talking over their troubles and teaching them how to make beds and wash dishes ! As we passed down the narrow streets, every doorway was filled with golden heads, beautiful children that we longed to rescue from their terrible surroundings. “Where is your mother?” we asked of a tiny little girl playing on the stoop. “Oh, she’s right in there a-sleepin’—you ken see ’er through the window.” “ No, we won’t go in,” said my escort, hastily drawing me away, for on the floor lay a drunken woman.”

“Drink is their curse,” sighed Miss Violet, as we crossed the hall and entered a room where the beds were unmade and dirt piled in every corner. Potato peels, cabbage leaves and bits of bread strewed the floor. At the farther end sat a woman, a sick child in her arms.

“After all, we must not blame them too much,” said Miss Violet. “The longer I live among them, the more I wonder that any are sober. You cannot imagine what our winter means without fire or lights—especially when the fogs settle over London. The men return from their work wet and tired. What comfort is there in a room damp from fog and rain, filled with crying children, no fire and an ill-smelling kerosene lamp? Is it not natural they seek the saloons for comfort?”

“Many of these poor creatures lead beautiful lives,” said her grace, when I recounted our experiences, “I often feel that we receive here more than we give, from the noble example of those who are so patient, so cheerful, inspite of their terrible poverty.”

To persuade the members of the aristocracy to go down into Whitechapel and live among the poor, as these titled ladies do was the cherished dream of Cardinal Vaughan. “That is the true way to help the lower classes,” said his eminence, when I last saw him. “The rich and poor have been too long separated. They must be brought together. I want hundreds of such women as the duchess to make their homes in the slums, and by their example teach the poor how to live.”