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cable, the able-bodied from the aged and infirm, and from children, and showing also the proportion of paupers, numerically, to population.
5th. The extent to which Hospitals, Houses of Industry, or Almshouses are provided for all or any classes of the poor, and the principles which are adopted in determining whether poor persons shall be required to come into such establishments or be relieved at their own homes.
6th. The mode in which vagrants and beggars are dealt with.
7th. The principle adopted in determining the chargeability of individual paupers, namely, whether they are relieved at the cost of the locality where they become destitute, or whether their places of birth or domicile are liable to repay the charge.
8th. The manner in which paupers who are foreigners are treated, that is to say, whether they are allowed to remain in the country where they become destitute and are relieved as native paupers, or whether they are sent back to their own countries.
9th. The practical working and effect of the actual system of relief upon the comfort, character, and condition of the inhabitants.
I have the honor to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
To His HONOR THE MAYOR OF BOSTON:
The communication from the State Department at Washington, requesting information for the use of the British Government as to the extent and nature of the provision which is made at the present time for the relief of the poor in Boston, was laid before the Overseers of the Poor, at their last meeting, and the undersigned appointed a committee to respond.
We should state that the care of the poor of the city is shared by us with the directors of the public institutions, who have charge of the inmates of the almshouse, workhouse and lunatic hospital, while our own responsibility is limited, with the exception of the women and children in the temporary home, to such as receive aid or support at their own dwellings. If, in furnishing the information requested, we overstep the bounds of our legitimate province, it will be from a wish to meet the presumed object of the inquiry, so as not to mislead. Our poor-laws are of ancient date and somewhat complicated ; their application is slightly modified in different cities and towns, to conform to local waut and circumstances, but a general view of our practice here will afford a sufficiently correct idea of their operation throughout the State. Some brief reference to the course of events which have controlled or affected our legislation on the subject will serve to explain what the laws now are, as well as the system and policy which govern their administration.
The founders of our New England colonies brought from the mother country its customs and traditions ; they early provided by law for any among them who from age or infirmity fell into distress; overseers were chosen, almshouses established, settlements regulated, and many difficult points of controversy adjudicated in the courts. So long, however, as population was sparsely distributed over lands yielding plentiful harvests, the habits of life continued simple, and the destitute were few in numbers and akin to those able to protect them from the disgrace of pauper relief, the burden on the public was light. It was not till within the last fifty years that immigration, keeping pace with the rapid growth of population in Europe, and increased facilities of intercourse, poured into our seaboard cities crowds of both sexes, and all ages and conditions, often without health or strength to contend with a climate more trying than that which they had left, and with little skill in any mechanical employments, or ability to earn their bread even by manual labor.
This steady increasing tide of immigration reached its height soon after the famine in Ireland, and compelled here some change of policy. The able-bodied, and those skilled in the useful arts passed on to the West; while in the cities along shore remained a large proportion of the aged and helpless. They were too numerous to be sent back, had this been consistent with the ordinary dictates of humanity, and they could not be suffered to starve.
It will be learnt from more direct sources, how this embarrassment was met in other American States and cities. Here a generous disposition was manifested from the outset, both at large in the community and in the Legislature, to treat with tenderness these unfortunate exiles. This proved not only the liberal, but the prudent policy. Our rapid development since in wealth and numbers, if attributable in a large measure to other causes, was materially promoted by labor in greater abundance, and wages sufficiently low to admit of profitable production in many hitherto unattempted branches of industry.
Massachusetts, since Maine half a century ago was created into a separate State, is of limited dimensions, embracing an area of seven ty-eight hundred square miles. Its million and a half of inhabitants, occupied for the most part in manufacturing and maritime pursuits, are thrifty, and their valuation, falling short it is presumed of their accumulated capital, nearly reaches three hundred million pounds sterling. Boston, its capital, contains within its borders a quar ter of a million of inhabitants, taxed on half that amount, but these sums and numbers inadequately represent its actual wealth or commercial importance, inasmuch as many thousands from neighboring places flock thither daily to pursue their avocations. Other cities in the State, or in those contiguous, are populous, but Boston, as a centre of trade for several millions of people, as well as Massachusetts, has consequently been well able to meet without inconvenience these claims upon its humanity, and both have been sufficiently intelligent to follow its dictates, alike from religious and economical considerations.
Before the exodus from Ireland it had been the custom for the cities and towns to relieve both their own and the State poor, by the latter term intending such destitute persons as have neither gained nor inherited a settlement in Massachusetts. For these they were reimbursed about what was equivalent to fifty cents a week from the State treasury; and this was the limit, whether the poor were relieved or supported at their homes or in the almshouse. The number of our own poor born in America coming to want was not large, but the utterly helpless of foreign birth, that after 1850 crowded such accommodations as had previously been ample for our own needs, rendered necessary larger buildings, and
one on Deer Island, six miles down our harbor, now appropriated both for an Almshouse and House of Industry for our own Boston poor, was erected for those from abroad. The magnitude of the burden and its unequal pressure led to a change of system, and the State government, assuming charge of the unsettled poor, established three Almshouses, at Monson, Tewksbury and Bridgewater; and a Hospital at Rainsford Island, for the foreign poor. In these in one year were harbored nine thousand persons, with an average of about three thousand. The number of Lunatic Asylums was increased to three, Worcester, Taunton and Northampton, which have had at one time thirteen hundred inmates. Besides these institutions others have been established, such as the Westboro' School, for three hundred and twenty boys; the School Ships, for two hundred boys; and Lancaster School, for about one hundred and fifty girls ; the Institution for the Blind, and numberless other public and private foundations, the benefits of which are extended alike to our own poor and to strangers. Poverty and ignorance, increasing the temptation to vice and violation of law, while they weaken the motives that deter, fill our thirty penal institutions in the State with a large proportion of foreign birth and parentage, more than half of their inmates falling within this description. When to these expenses, imposed upon the State from without, is added the cost of criminal prosecutions, the aggregate would mislead if considered the needed outlay to relieve poverty or repress crime in the State. This expense is in part the equivalent for the valuable labor gained for our industries by immigration, and also the measure of our fidelity to the obligations of Christian charity, but we are the more strenuous that it should not be misunderstood, as, unexplained, what is anomalous and transitory might be held as a reproach.
During the earlier pressure upon the State almshouses, it was difficult to discriminate between the vicious and lazy and the helpless and unfortunate. Tramps went about the State, availing themselves of the shelter afforded first by one and then another. But in 1866 the plan was altered, and this abuse obviated, by appropriating the almsbouse at Tewksbury for the helpless poor, and such feeble-minded persons as required no longer the restraints of the Lunatic Asylums. The Bridgewater Institution was organized as a workhouse, and that at Monson for children as a school. Another institution, which had long been maintained for State paupers who required medical treatment, on Rainsford Island, in the Harbor of Boston, was given up. These changes reduced not only the cost to the State, but diminished considerably the number of persons who required support.
Before proceeding to respond categorically to the points of inquiry in the circular, it should be premised that this foreign-born population, coming over, as we have stated, with scanty means and little power to procure subsistence, generally ignorant, and often either indolent or intemperate, created a pressure not only on our institutions, but from the amount dispensed in fuel or food, in neighborhoods where the poor congregated, by overseers there elected who sometimes made a profit from their offices, also on the municipal treasuries. It weighed heavily on private charity, which too readily yielded without inquiry or reflection to importunity from the undeserving, and by depriving poverty of the precious incentive of immediate and urgent wants to be supplied, tended still farther to demoralize and to foster hopeless pauperism. Moreover, resources needed for our own native poor were diverted from their legitimate object, it being difficult to make in their favor the distinction their different antecedents demanded.
The mischievous consequences of this indiscriminate alms-giving became in time sufficiently obvious to attract attention and dispose the sensible to attempt a reform. The Howard Benevolent, and some other similar societies of an earlier date, being limited in their sphere and field, the Provident Association was established in 1851, in Boston, with hundreds of visitors distributed over the city to investigate and relieve cases of want. They established it as a rule, that no case should be relieved before it was visited, and citizens were requested to refer all applicants to them. The Industrial Aid Society for preventing pauperism had been formed in 1835 to find work for the unemployed. These two societies, acting in unison, long occupied hired rooms under the same roof; but the funds contributed by the public falling short of what was necessary to meet the pressure from the rapidly increasing immigration, for better economy, and that there might be more concert of action in relief, it was suggested that the city authorities should