Mother’s Pensions

ETHEL M. CHAPMAN April 1 1919

Mother’s Pensions

ETHEL M. CHAPMAN April 1 1919

Mother’s Pensions



WE can see a question more clearly if we make it personal. Suppose you were a widowed or deserted mother without means. As conditions are now, in all but one province of the Dominion, you could choose among: three courses. First, you could put your children in an institution; second, you could keep them at home uncalled for while you worked ten, twelve or fourteen hours a day; third, you could stay at home with them and let them starve. But suppose new legislation provided that you, as a mother, could apply to the Government for help to support your children so that you could stay at home and take care of them, would it take you long: to decide which would be the best thing: to do?

For a long: time Governments have subsidized railroads, settlements, infant industries; the country needed these things. Now the war has taught us that what the country needs more than anything: else is well-cared-for, healthy, normally brought up children. Is it so very unreasonable that the Government aid which protects infant industries, and incidentally helps men to found homes and support families, should be held back from the woman when she is left alone without means to bring up her little brood? Governments are beginning to realize this. They are beginning to see that one of the highest services to the state is rendered by the woman who has children and who is bringin >; them up to good citizenship. When she is left alone with the responsibility cf supporting them she should be treated as a civil servant—not as a subject for charity. Even as an economic proposition the system of pensioning needy mothers is found to be most reasonable. Where it has been tried the cost has been less than the cost of keeping the same number of children in institutions. Further, the people who know most about institutional care of children ai’e the most discouraged with it. They find that the child misses something which only home life can give; he comes out more or less marked. They even go so far as to claim that the most poorly managed home is better than the best managed institution, provided the home is morally correct.

MOTHERHOOD has been universally glorified in picture and song, in story and political speeches. It has been acknowledged the crowning honor and privilege and service that could come to woman. What then about asking a woman to crowd all this honor and orivilege and service into an hour at the end cf an over strenuous day at

.......wash-tub or polishing some other woman’s hardwood floor? There is something, to say the least, un-

fair in the system or lack of system that makes it necessary for a woman to rise at some unreasonably early hour in order to get her children dressed and breakfasted and delivered at a dav nursery in time for her to get to work at eight o’clock, and at the end of the day, tired out in body and spirit, to collect them, take them home, get their supper and in this weary, disheartened condition give them whatever companionship and teaching they are to get. Everyone agrees that the home is the

world’s best institution for moral training, but you can’t expect much inspirational contact between mother and children under these conditions. A few rare mothers of superior mental and physical strength have been known to make a good job of their mothering under such a handicap, but it is too much to expect of even the exceptional mother.

And the children who are left at home unsupervised all day, or at least after school hours, while the mother is away at work-—what about them? Every wide-awake mother of growing boys knows the dangers of the back-alley rendezvous with its crap-shooting and cigarettes and common type of conversation—more harmful perhaps than either. The Juvenile Court’s report of delinquent children shows the rather striking fact that in one city of Ontario, forty-nine per cent, of the children on probation had lost one of their parents. One hundred delinquent children were wards. A number of these, it goes without saying, were sent to reformatories and most reformatories, make the best you can cf them, are places where a boy learns all the wickedness he needs to know to start him on the way to higher schools of crime. In some of the states it is estimated that in reducing the cost of crime, alone, Mother Pensions have paid for themselves. “But,” someone says, “there are homes and orphanages to take care of children whose mothers have to work. Why can’t they be sent there?” Partly because a good mother will part with her children only as a last resort. And she is right. Apart from the deadening, disheartening influence of institutional life what future is ahead of the institutional child? Com-

pare his possibilities with those of a family where the mother was left a widow with two boys of eight and six years and a little girl of four, and who received a regular monthly allowance from a fraternal society of which her husband had been a member. The oldest boy is now a professor in a university, the other is a leading lawyer and the girl is a domestic science teacher—a result made possible by a mother’s allowance system. How many children from an institution have a chance to become professors or lawyers or teachers? They usually enter the unskilled labor market and in turn bring up their families in poverty.

A MOTHERS’ pension law’ should ^ start a direct upward trend in the health of the community. The district nurses are among its strong agitators, because they are constantly going into homes where the poverty is so great that whole families are undernourished and fall a prey to every contagious disease that comes along. Then there is the calamity of a mother going out to work two or three months after her baby is born, w’ith all the results in the way of ill health likely to follow’. And there is the inevitable effect on the baby. A women’s organization doing social work in Toronto found that in the crowded districts the infant mortality was noticeably less among the Jewish families. They investigated, and found that the Jews had a system of mothers’ allowances which made it possible for the women to stay at home and nurse their babies instead of having to wean them and go out to work.

When the Ontario Government sent its representative to conduct public hearing in several cities of the province on the question of mothers’ pensions, some interesting points wrere brought up. Everyone agreed that a system of allowances for needy mothers wras a want long overdue; they also agreed that there were many difficult problems to be worked out in the administration. Should the act be limited to widows alone or should it be extended to take in other mothers equally deserving—the deserted mother, the unmarried mother, the woman whose husband was insane or in prison? Someone suggested that a Government grant of pensions to deserted mothers might encourage a lazy husband to discharge his responsibilities by running away, but the majority felt that a man who didn’t care any more for his family than this would be likely to go anyway. The gathering’s attitude to the problem of the unmarried mother was evidence of a new growing humanity in society; they were beginning to realize that the unmarried woman with a child who wants to keep her child with her is more often than not a person worthy of respect and sympathy. However, the people who have done the pioneer work for this movement feel that it will be necessary at first to limit the scope of mothers’ allowances, and suggest that “at first the allowance be made with respect to children of widows, with a provision that, in exceptional circumstances, the allowance may be paid with respect to other analogous classes of children.’’

REGARDING the amount of the allowance, the committee advises that instead of a fixed schedule of payments being established, the administration should be allowed to consider the needs of the individual family and, considering other possible supplementary sources of income, to decide on an adequate allowance. The important thing is that the allowance in every case should be sufficient to enable the children to have satisfactory home care, and that, it should be conditional upon his receiving such care. The pension for a certain child would stop when the child reached working age, which the Factory Act of Ontario places at fourteen years—quite young enough it seems.

Then comes the question of how the cost is to be borne. The Social Service Committee on mothers’ allowances recommends that the cost be divided about equally between the province and the municipality, the province to pay the cost of the central administration and supervision and half the amount of all

allowances, the remaining half of the allowances to be charged against the municipalities of the province in proportion to their population. One reason for dividing the responsibility between the province and the municipality is, of course, that if the municipality were given too much responsibility it would be impossible to maintain a uniform satisfactory standard throughout the province. In backward communities the legislation would be a dead letter; in others its administration would be overdone. If too great responsibility were given the province, local interest would weaken and the expenditure would be heavier.

Whatever law is framed, the success or weakness of its working out will depend to a great extent on the people appointed to administer it. It is most important that there be strong, wise central control and direction, and it is recommended that a Commission be appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor to consist of seven public-spirited citizens interested in child welfare work, to serve without salary, at least three of whom shall be women. With this there would be local or county committees to receive and pass upon applications for allowance and to meet at least monthly and report to the Commission.

THE question was raised as to whether the system of pensioning a family would tend to pauperize them. Some one wondered whether it would be a good plan for the Government to ask the

children when there were old enough ta work to pay back a part of the money spent on them and thereby retain their self-respect, but the suggestion, raised a little storm of protest from every corner. It was the general opinion that in as much as well-cared-for, promising children are a source of far greater national wealth for the future than the country’s richest mines or fields or forests, they have already paid for their existence. They can be counted as one of the nation’s assets and developed as such.

And the system of mothers’ allowances is no untried, doubtful, new thing. I suppose Moses was the first child brought up on a mother’s pension and there is no denying that it worked well n his case. You remember how Phi.raoh’s daughter sent for the child’s own mother and said, “Take this child and care for it and I will pay thee thy wages.” Pharoh’s daughter was a wise woman ; it seems as though we have been inexcusably slow in copying her example. However, mothers’ pensions have been in operation in New Zealand for some time with most practical, good results. They have proved successful wherever they have been tried in most of the States of the Union. They have been working satisfactorily for two years in Manitoba and the legislation has been passed in Alberta.

When the subject has been considered in the Ontario legislature we can reasonably hope for a law founded upon humanity and economy.