Feature: Mental Illness and Childhood Migration: The Bright or Dark Side of Victorian Philanthropy?

Steven J. Taylor is a PhD researcher in the Centre for Medical Humanities at the University of Leicester.  He discusses the challenges of locating —and interpreting— mental illness in charity archives and of assessing the ethics of philanthropic emigration schemes.   

My current research interests sit at the intersection of three important historical topics: childhood, insanity, and philanthropy.  Recently I have attempted to weave these broad themes together in my investigation of a charity that operated from the north west of England during the late nineteenth century.  I am particularly interested in young charity emigrants who had mental illnesses. These youngsters were few in number, but their narratives shed new light on the nature of charitable endeavours for children with mental disabilities between 1870 to 1910.

At the outset it is perhaps wise to comment on medical nomenclature.  “Lunacy” and “insanity” were often catch-all terms for  —as we would refer to them today— a range of mental illnesses and learning disabilities.  Mental illness or lunacy was usually considered to be a temporary condition that an individual acquired and would typically recover from.  Nineteenth-century diagnoses of lunacy included “mania” and “melancholy”.  On the other hand, mental disability was apparent from birth or infancy and was believed to be permanent.  Mental disabilities came under the medical terms  of “idiocy” and “imbecility”, diagnoses that have altered meanings in modern vocabulary.  The majority of children that I encounter in my research were diagnosed as mentally disabled.

I first came across the records of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuge in the summer of 2012 when I was exploring alternative spaces that catered for insane children.  The charity’s archival material has been well maintained and its detail instantly piqued my interest in the philanthropic efforts of the Refuge.  I didn’t expect to find much about mental illness within the archive but the personal narratives that it revealed were compelling.  The charity, relatively overlooked by historians, spread across Manchester and included homes and shelters for vulnerable, abandoned, and orphaned children.  What really sparked my curiosity was the role that the Refuge played in the emigration of pauper children to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries.  I knew of similar emigration programmes in other cities, but had not heard of one operating in Manchester.

Child emigration met a number of middle-class philanthropic goals.  Firstly, the children were settled with stable farming families in rural Canada where they were exposed to the benefits of domesticity. Secondly, they were made productive through employment on farms and consequently taught the value of their work.  Thirdly, they were considered to be settling the empire.  Finally, they got a new start in life, away from the dirt and vice of the industrial city.

Of course, the expectations of the reformers were overly optimistic and many of the children were beaten (some even killed), worked too hard, treated as outsiders in their foster families or exhibited some of the vices that were considered so detrimental to the British city.  These experiences have been documented elsewhere but they are important in setting the scene.  I was more interested in the mentally ill child and hopefully asked a question of the archival material: were children who were mentally “inferior” ever emigrated?  Of course, the records screamed back at me, in the stern reformist voice of Victorian philanthropy, that children needed to be in good health and have obtained a medical certificate attesting to such condition before they could embark on a voyage to Canada.  Alas, it seemed as if I had reached another dead-end attempting to discover unconventional spaces where child insanity was managed.

Perhaps a little selfishly, the apparent good physical and mental health of these children had left me a little downbeat.  To me it seemed as if emigration would have been an ideal way to rid the charitable homes of problem, awkward, or medically expensive children.  Maybe I had just formed an unnecessarily negative opinion of Victorian charity?  Then I came across a range of scholarship from Canada that suggested children emigrated from England were tainted by their “heredity.”  Cautious about such eugenics language, I continued my search of the child case files in Manchester to see if I could identify “taints”.  After a huge amount of trawling through the extant records I unearthed a handful of children described as insane in the individual annual reports sent back from Canada.  These children were said to be “epileptic”, “feeble-minded”, “imbecilic” and some were eventually confined in Canadian lunatic asylums.  All were said to be congenital cases and had been emigrated despite their medical condition.

Somewhat frustratingly (to me at least), the mental inferiority of the children was only revealed when they were situated in families in Canada.  This letter sent from the distributing home in Canada demonstrates how authorities in England learned of the mental illness of one of their emigrants:

Edith A. was returned to the home because of her strange behaviour, she was becoming mentally unbalanced, had interrupted the minister in the service for one thing. She came here on Tuesday July 31st, was rational at times but gradually got worse requiring close attention all the time, for a night no one could sleep on that side of the house for her continual singing or knocking. We tried to coax her in every way as she thought herself quite a baby. At last we called in medical advice and she was examined by our own kind friend Dr Gibson and also by Dr McCall. Both gentlemen advised removing her to Rockwood Hospital for the Insane. They did their best to press the officials to take her in at once without the usual papers being signed, and they agreed yesterday. Miss Ramsey and I took her there. The superintendent thought she ought to have been sent to another hospital and so await further developments. In the meantime the doctor has to answer fifty odd questions that are asked. There is one question that may crop up, and that is who will pay for her there. She is under 18 and has been out three years.1

Of course, the Refuge would never have been able to justify the removal of the children if they had identified them as mentally disabled in Manchester.  When thinking of reasons for removing them I am left pondering two possible conclusions. Firstly, the Refuge, quite proudly at times, stated that the cost of emigrating a child was £10, but maintaining them in the city was an expense of £15 (for a healthy child) a year.  Children with mental disabilities were likely to be a burden on charity and ratepayers for a considerable amount of time, maybe even the rest of their lives. Their removal to Canada made good economic sense; it shifted a considerable expense to a faraway land for a reasonable one-off fee.

The second is more optimistic. The purpose of emigration for Victorian philanthropy, at least at a rhetorical level, was to provide a better life in a new land for those that were never going to be successful in the urban and industrial city. The open spaces of the countryside were considered therapeutic for those suffering from mental impairments and contemporary alienists thought that the agricultural classes were mostly exempt from insanity. Consequently, emigration was in the best interests of these children and Victorian charity provided them with a better life.

The binary nature of these conclusions bothers me, a lot! It is apparent that mentally disabled children were emigrated to Canada. The question is about the nature of Victorian philanthropy and whether the children were sent to improve their lives or the balance sheets of the charity? In the end I suppose the conclusions come down to personal interpretation and whether these youngsters were representative of the bright or dark side of Victorian charity.

For more information see Steven J. Taylor, “Insanity, Philanthropy and Emigration: Dealing with Insane Children in Late-Nineteenth-Century North-West England”, History of Psychiatry 25, no. 2 (2014): 224-236.

1.  Greater Manchester County Record Office, Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuge, Emigration Files, M189/7/2/5/048-54, 7 August, 1913.
Posted in Features, Steven J. Taylor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Disability History Professional Workshop

Mike Mantin is a Research Fellow for the Wellcome Trust-funded project, Disability and Industrial Society: A Comparative Cultural History of British Coalfields 1780-1948, at Swansea University.  Here he shares his impressions of a recent multidisciplinary workshop on disability history.

Disability history, by its very nature, crosses boundaries and disciplines. Writing about disability in history is writing about social and economic marginalisation, literary symbolism and changing interpretations and models of health. Most importantly, it resonates enormously with the contemporary fight for health and welfare for disabled people. It is with this in mind that the collaborative history project on which I work as a Research Fellow, Disability and Industrial Society: A Comparative Cultural History of British Coalfields 1780-1948, organised our professional workshop, Looking Back, Moving Forward. Held at Swansea’s National Waterfront Museum in early April 2014, the event brought together various healthcare professionals —ranging from student nurses to physiotherapists and archivists— to discuss the history of disability in the coalfields and the everyday dangers facing workers in one of the most dangerous of British industries.  Although South Wales’ once-sprawling coalmining industry has all but disappeared, all those working in healthcare in the area were familiar with its lasting health impact, making confronting the past even more important.

Rescue Brigage of a Coal Mine

A rescue brigade of a coal mine in Wattstown, Wales, in 1914. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

After brief talks by Anne Borsay and David Turner introducing the study of disability in the past, the workshop participants were split into four small groups for sessions themed around a particular source. The sessions brought together material for discussion from across the timespan of the project, making room both for the rulebooks of eighteenth-century friendly societies and Second World War propaganda films about rehabilitation centres. The vivid sources were at the centre of each session and helped spark the discussion. Steve Thompson and Ben Curtis’ talk explored the spread of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from the most human of perspectives, by using a Picture Post article profiling the 1929-30 Aberpergwm football squad.  The team had flourished that season but, by 1945, seven players were struck with the disease; the remaining four were either dead or seriously injured from accidents.

Elsewhere, David Turner and Dan Blackie used the rules of mutual aid associations to explore the ‘mixed economy of welfare’ for disabled miners. Whilst the dreaded workhouse loomed large in popular and historical imagination, the voluntary sector played a crucial role, adding further complexity to discussions about the historical roots of the modern concern with ‘welfare dependency’. Another session led by Kirsti Bohata and Alex Jones shifted the focus to coalfields literature, much of which recorded the proliferation of disability in the pits and the mining towns. Disability served not just as a symbol of the industry’s human devastation but as a narrative device, individualising the lived experience of disability.

Life Begins Again Session

Participants watch the wartime rehabilitation film, Life Begins Again. Photo courtesy of Mike Mantin.

My session, co-run with Anne Borsay, used as its discussion point the short wartime film Life Begins Again, which follows a disabled worker from injury to recovery in the new industrial rehabilitation centres, explained via the somewhat questionable acting skills of the doctors and physicians working in the institutions.  The viewer is taken into rehabilitation centres such as Talygarn House in South Wales, which used a model based as much on returning patients to economic productivity and masculinity as to fitness and health.  We ran the workshop with each of the four small groups during the day.  All four of the discussions we witnessed were completely different, and all centred around the work experiences and opinions of the participants. The rehabilitation programme’s embrace of holistic medicine and industry-specific programmes of returning to work struck a chord with some of the workshop participants. Many saw the ambitiousness of the programme, and its embrace of both physical and mental treatment, as something that might be a positive influence on modern-day healthcare. Others pointed out how the film was very much a product of its time, as it was a programme of state rehabilitation aimed at filling a labour shortage created by the war. (That, and the fact that everyone is chain-smoking throughout.)

The final session of the day was a plenary discussion led by Andrew Davies of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, Rhian Davies of Disability Wales, and Joy Merrell of the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University.  The plenary discussed the themes explored in all of the sessions and tied together disability issues historical and contemporary. Andrew Davies saw the treatment of disabled people in the past as a cause for reflection on modern-day issues of accessibility, which he argued should be at the heart of disability policy.  Rhian Davies discussed the individualised narratives of the sources and stressed the need for society to recognise the need for disability access and move on from the notion that disabled people have an individual duty to simply ‘get better’. Merrell saw the event as highlighting the need for the healthcare profession to look back at the past and ask what modern-day lessons it can offer. A particularly important point she brought up was the need to recognise the multiple sources of medicine and welfare in the historical coalfields, with voluntary and community care side-by-side with emerging state welfare and health programmes.

The feedback for the workshop was positive. Participants told us that they enjoyed discussing historical issues with the varied group and contrasting historical issues with current standards and practices. As well as this, the workshop allowed for an open forum to think about conceptions of disability, the historical roles of the patient and the healthcare professional and the complex legacy left by the coal industry —not just its devastating record of disease and illness, but also its strong communities. The lesson that we took away from the day is the importance for historians to work with the communities and professionals whose lives continue to be affected by the histories they study.

Posted in Conferences, Events, Mike Mantin, New Researchers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Feature: Exporting Visions and Saving Children- The Swedish Save the Children Fund

Ann Nehlin is a researcher at the University of Stockholm in Sweden.  In March 2014, she gave a VAHS seminar on the relief efforts of the Swedish Save the Children Fund in the mid-twentieth century (listen to the podcast here).  In this blog post, she reveals how the organisation navigated the difficult politics of the Second World War and its aftermath.

That children should be exempted from war and political conflicts, regardless of their nationality and religious affiliation, is considered self-evident by most countries’ governments and non-governmental organisations.  The number of nations that ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989 is a clear sign of this.  However, looking back historically, we can see that upholding this principle has been difficult.  In the aftermath of the two world wars when nationalistic currents and political conflicts in Europe were strong, politics appear to have played an important role in determining how relief activities for children were performed.

This is particularly visible in Swedish international relief activities directed towards children during and after the Second World War.  The task of preventing nationality, politics, religion, or background from influencing how, where, and to whom relief was directed was hampered by the politics of neutrality adopted by the Swedish government at this time.  However, philanthropic organisations such as the Save the Children Fund have played an important role in bringing attention to and dealing with such issues in Sweden.  The organisation has had a large impact in shaping politics and policies relating to children’s welfare.

Child Transport from Finland
Child transport from Finland. Photo courtesy of the Finnish Archives of National Defence, SA-Kuva.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the Swedish government stipulated neutrality, which in brief meant that it did not participate in armed conflicts or side with any of the warring countries.  With regard to the reception of refugees the Swedish government followed the so-called “Nordic prerogative”, meaning that it prioritized ethnic Nordic neighbours.  This was also the case for Swedish international relief work.  Swedish relief was mainly directly towards the Nordic countries and the bulk of that relief went to Finland.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund chose to work with the government’s outlined policies and thereby gained the government’s trust.  The organisation expanded rapidly, from a modest 260 members in 1937 to 47 000 members by 1947.  Apart from an enormous increase in members, it gained a position as an informal advisor to the Swedish government, recommending where and to whom Swedish relief should be provided.

The close cooperation of the Swedish Save the Children fund with the Swedish government enabled the organisation’s growth, but it did come at a cost.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund was a member of the international Save the Children Fund.  This relationship required the Swedish organisation to take part in international relief activities.  Honouring this requirement, however, was complicated by the Swedish organisation’s commitment to its government’s politics of neutrality.  The international Save the Children Fund forwarded requests to the Swedish branch for support for relief actions in Europe during the Second World War, but these were mostly declined.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund did not want to go against the Swedish government’s politics.

Even if Sweden did not directly participate in the war, it was still affected.  After the government decided to enforce a politics of neutrality, it began to juggle how this was to be upheld; this balancing act was to last throughout the war.  Towards the end of the war, concerns about the potential post-war consequences of these policies began to surface and the Swedish government tried to counteract possible international critique by increasing its international relief work.  A substantial amount of money was allocated to relief and a government committee, responsible for all Swedish international relief, was established.  The decision to increase relief efforts triggered a “turf-war” amongst Swedish NGOs and the Swedish government as each competed for control over the distribution of relief.   One of the outcomes of this struggle was that the Swedish Save the Children Fund further enhanced its position.

The Swedish government’s changing standpoint on international questions towards the end of the war resulted in the provision of relief for non-Nordic countries.  This was primarily carried out by the Swedish Save the Children Fund and the Swedish Red Cross, but was supported by the Swedish government.  Not only did the increase in Swedish international relief work provide an opportunity to redeem Sweden’s dented reputation, but it also permitted the export of a Swedish visions of industry, childcare, and politics —a Swedish model of society.

The Swedish Save the Children Fund and the Swedish Red Cross established children’s homes and apprentice homes in France and Germany and, in the early 1950s, in Israel.  Locations for these institutions were carefully chosen and relief work was concentrated in specific areas to ensure that this relief was as visible as possible.  For example, one children’s home was established in Normandy in France.  One reason to pick these particular area ―apart from the need of local children― was that Swedish industry was well established in the region.  A children’s home would “complement and give life” to this industry.  Normandy was also geographically close to Sweden, which meant that transports of supplies and different kinds of materials, such as prefabricated Swedish houses, was easy and not too costly.

The children’s homes were decorated with Swedish textiles, Swedish equipment, and were staffed by Swedish personnel who were trained in modern Swedish childcare.  The establishment of the children’s homes was met with great interest and the institutions received many prominent visitors who were interested in modern Swedish childcare.  According to the Swedish Save the Children Fund, this generated much-needed goodwill for Sweden.

Swedish relief work was also directed at Germany.  Germany offered the opportunity not only to export Swedish welfare, but also a Swedish model of society.  After the war, it was not only considered important to demilitarise the Germans, but also to denazify or reorientate them.  This was intended to turn Germans into citizens who could live and function in democratic societies.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund actively participated in this task.  It set up children’s homes and apprentice homes in Germany, the interiors of which were carefully planned.  The organisation aimed to make the homes as homely as possible, using the best that Swedish industry could offer, as in the homes in France.

Swedenheim in Oberhausen

Swedenheim in Oberhausen, Germany. Photo courtesy of the Swedish Red Cross.

The establishment of the apprentice and children’s homes was considered a success.  Pompous inaugurations were held both in France and Germany and prominent people from the UN, government ministers, and members of the press and radio were invited to celebrate the Swedish contributions.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund planned to hand the management of the different homes over to local authorities once the institutions were up and running and staff trained.  However, this did not always work out as desired.  A representative of the Swedish Save the Children Fund who toured Germany in 1954 pointed out that the management of some of the homes had been neglected, which reflected badly upon Sweden.

The Swedish Save the Children Fund only made modest contributions to Jewish children during and after the war.  As late as 1947, the organisation declined a request from the Jewish World Congress to support transports of Jewish children from east to west, arguing that this could be considered a political act.  In the early 1950s the organisation did however carry out extensive relief work in Israel in conjunction with the Swedish government.  The Swedish Village Kfar Achim was established, mainly by the Swedish Save the Children Fund.  Seventy-five prefabricated houses were transported from Sweden and constructed on site.  There was also a nursery, yet again fully equipped with the best Swedish industry had to offer.  Here, too, pompous inaugurations  were held to celebrate Swedish gifts and contributions.

At this time, Swedish politicians were proud of the emerging Swedish welfare state.  These politicians generally considered that the Swedish democratic system could serve as a model for other countries.  The Swedish Save the Children Fund eagerly assisted in exporting Sweden and Swedish visions.  However, by doing so, it on several occasions compromised its utilitarian founding principle: to help as many children in as many places as possible.  The Swedish organisation repeatedly declined to subordinate itself to its international parent organisation or participate in relief work for children in places where it was most needed.  The need to restore Sweden’s international reputation and generate goodwill for the country frequently overshadowed humanitarian goals.

Exporting Visions and Saving Children

Ann Nehlin’s book, Exporting Visions and Saving Children- the Swedish Save the Children Fund, was published in 2009.

Posted in Ann Nehlin, Features, Research, Seminars | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Time and Emotion Study at the Rowntree Cocoa Works in York

Michael Weatherburn is a PhD student at Imperial College London and a Byrne Bussey Marconi fellow at Oxford University, as well as an active New Researcher. On 12 June 2014, he will be delivering a VAHS seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London which will examine Seebohm Rowntree and the work experiments at the interwar Cocoa Works at York (see here for more information about the event). In this blog post, Michael provides a preview of his upcoming seminar. 

Seebohm Rowntree

Seebohm Rowntree (1871-1954). Photo courtesy of the Rowntree Society.

Seebohm Rowntree and his Cocoa Works at York remain iconic in the history of twentieth- century British manufacturing. In my talk about the plant, I shall firstly embed the Haxby Road Cocoa Works in Rowntree’s economic, moral, political and intellectual universe.  While much is known about Rowntree’s poverty studies of York, and some aspects of his York factory, what is not known is that his lifelong chemist’s passion for dynamic statistical data applied to his factory floor too1. For example, he extensively used payment-by-results (PbR) systems at the 8000-strong plant: the idea being that PbR encouraged harder individual work and simultaneously allowed managers to detect very precisely which workers were working best.  In turn, this data also allowed Rowntree’s staff to fix output and wage levels to transcend the minimum figures which had been determined by factory budgets and social studies.

This seminar will particularly explore Rowntree’s involvement with the public sector, in this case the Industrial Health Research Board, and their joint experiments in what methods could be used to inspire factory workers to work harder.  We’ll examine how the joint experiments functioned and what they showed.  We will highlight the contemporary comparisons made with the still-famous Hawthorne studies in the USA.  In doing so, we’ll scrutinise the frequently overlooked, but entirely human-made and moveable, frontier between paid work and voluntary work.

Rowntree Board

The Board of Rowntree’s before Seebohm’s tenure as Chairman. Seebohm is third from the right. Photo courtesy of the Rowntree Society.

The Cocoa Works was actually so research-intense that one contemporary referred to it as a kind of ‘practical university’. In fact, the Cocoa Works was the first British plant to employ an industrial psychologist to study the emotional patterns and social behaviours of workers. But there was more taking place than this. At my VAHS seminar, and also at my Byrne Bussey Marconi lecture in Oxford on 1o June, I will discuss the involvement of Rowntree and his staff with the intense study of employees’ work motions at the conveyor belt, work bench, loading bay and office desk.

From a present day perspective, what difference does my study make?  Firstly, PbR is very much on the political agenda: the government presently publishes rolling reports on PbR’s apparent effectiveness in the NHS. Yet we have few historical accounts of the origins of PbR and how it has developed to date.  Secondly, the study examines a key British liberal business intellectual, highly influential to the postwar Labour government, who has never been examined as such.  Thirdly, it helps to paint a picture of a more energetic and modernising British factory floor than our standard historical accounts evoke, or at least assume.  Finally, my study of Rowntree forms one of several hitherto unexplored and thought-provoking historical case studies in my research which aims to be of interest to those examining work practices and workplace conditions in the public, private and charity sectors.

 1. For Rowntree’s work on poverty in York, see B. Seebohm Rowntree, Poverty: A Study of Town Life (London: Macmillan, 1908).
Posted in Michael Weatherburn, New Researchers, Seminars | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Philanthropy and Voluntary Action in the First World War

Peter Grant, Senior Fellow at City University London, and former chair of the Voluntary Action History Society, has just published a new book: Philanthropy and Voluntary Action in the First World War: Mobilizing Charity (Routledge, 2014). In this post, he outlines some of the book’s key themes and arguments, and argues for a different understanding of voluntary action in the war period.

1134500386The First World War saw the greatest act of volunteering ever in Britain. Two-and-a-half million men volunteered to fight in a conflict that cost more than 700,000 of them their lives. But there was another act of volunteering between 1914 and 1918 on at least the same scale, though without the same life-and-death consequences. This was the voluntary effort at home especially to support the men at the front, in health and sickness, but also to aid numerous other causes.

There was a massive increase in charitable voluntary action during the First World War. Around 18,000 new charities were created, a 50% increase on the number in existence pre-war. The value of their fund-raising was probably at least £150 million, equivalent to the income for ‘good causes’ through today’s National Lottery, and their legacy was significant. Charitable activity in the war was, especially in many industrial towns and cities, a manifestation of working class solidarity with many more organisations run by ordinary women and men than by well-to-do matrons. It was easily the most significant charitable cause that had ever been supported in Britain and it had profound effects upon both the war effort and the relationship between voluntary organisations and the state.

There was an enormous range of charitable activity undertaken, but with a significant bias towards comforts for troops and medical supplies. However this flourishing of charities and voluntary activity also brought its problems. Not least the lack of co-ordination and whether the items collected or sent matched the needs of the troops. Quality control was a further problem as not all charities produced their goods to high standards.

Eventually in order to bring some much needed organisation to this chaos the War Office decided to appoint a ‘Director General of Voluntary Organisations’ to oversee both the demand and supply ends of the system. This might have caused even more problems as imposing order from above on what was essentially a bottom-up serge of voluntary action could have backfired. Fortunately the man appointed to the post, Sir Edward Ward, was an inspired choice. No one combined his knowledge of army supply, Whitehall politics and managerial competence. Yet he is today an almost entirely forgotten figure.

The DGVO scheme was clearly needed and it overcame many of the supply problems encountered in 1914 and 1915. At the outbreak of war a localised approach to comforts and medical supplies was all that existed but by the end of 1915 the government had started to realise that a voluntary and localised approach to the war was not enough. Such co-ordination required great skill and diplomacy if it was not to alienate the mass of charitable activity that had been generated. In this, the appointment of Sir Edward Ward was a masterstroke. He was probably the only person who combined an intimate knowledge of the armed forces, with a commitment to efficient management and a compassionate understanding of voluntary effort.

fcfaccf11e210a82390b18.L._V364977694_SY470_Though there were moves in the direction of state control of charitable activity in support of the war effort, this was not a coherently developed policy of government nor was it by any means a steady, linear process. Rather it was motivated by specific events, or crises, such as concerns as to wasted effort or lack of co-ordination in the supply of comforts for the troops that led to the establishment of the post of DGVO. However, Ward’s remit was coordination of supply, not regulation of abuses. In 1916 the government reacted to further scandals, this time of bogus and fraudulent charities, by bringing in the first regulation of non-endowed charities through the War Charities Act, almost a last resort entered into when abuses of the charitable system became a significant public issue. Where state intervention did occur, it was therefore due to a failure to integrate the dual charitable impulses of mutual aid and philanthropy with the requirements of a budding state welfare system.

My main conclusions about philanthropy and voluntary action in the war are all in complete opposition to the received opinions about wartime charity:

First, the war provided a new impetus to voluntarism based upon the principle of mutual aid. There was a profusion of small, local organisations providing support for the troops of their town, village or workplace.

Second, the First World War contributed towards an increased professionalization of the charity sector. Only after the war were social workers regularly paid and turned from amateurs into professionals and many modern fund-raising techniques were invented or expanded.

Thirdly, there was then a greater movement towards democratisation in the post-war voluntary sector as well as moves into new areas and greater use of business principles. These changes were clearly influenced by what had happened during the war, not least Edward Ward’s DGVO.

Finally, and most importantly, charitable and philanthropic activities played a major role in helping Britain win the war. It provided Britain with a distinct advantage over her main adversary, Germany, in the reservoir of social capital on which it was able to draw. Voluntary action in Britain during the war acted as an integrating mechanism between social classes that helped initiate changes in the relationship between ‘top-down’ philanthropy and ‘bottom-up’ mutual aid and this trend continued into the post-war period. Voluntary action contributed significantly both to maintaining morale at home (a visible sign of ‘pulling ones weight’) and with troops and prisoners of war. Contrary to received opinion, through war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves and writers like Paul Fussell, the vast majority of troops welcomed charitable efforts on their behalf and were kindly disposed towards benevolence on the home front. In contrast German social control of voluntary action strengthened under an increasingly militaristic government and this led to a serious weakening of social capital.

Posted in Features, Peter Grant | Tagged , , | Leave a comment