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The Need of a Training School
in Applied Philanthropy

c.July 7-14, 1897 — Twenty-fourth annual National Conference of Charities and Correction, Toronto, Canada


It is just twenty years since certain new ideas about the administration of charities came to have currency among us in the United States, and led to the founding of voluntary associations known as charity organization societies. The question now is how to get educated young men and women to make a life vocation of charity organization work. We must educate them. Through these twenty years our charity organization societies have stood for trained service in charity. We are thoroughly committed to that, in theory at least. But it is not enough to create a demand for trained service. Having created the demand (and I think we may claim that our share in its creation has been considerable), we should strive to supply it.

Moreover, we owe it to those who shall come after us that they shall be spared the groping and blundering by which we have acquired our own stock of experience. In these days of specialization, when we train our cooks, our apothecaries, our engineers, our librarians, our nurses, — when, in fact, there is a training school for almost every form of skilled service, — we have yet to establish our first training school for charity workers, or, as I prefer to call it, “Training School in Applied Philanthropy.”

It is only gradually that the need of such a school has made itself apparent; but I was not surprised, upon writing a few months ago to a  number of workers, engage din different branches of charity work in different sections of the country, to find the 4th idea had occurred to several of them. We have known for a long while that we wanted young people of high character and unusual attainments to devote themselves to a cause which has seemed to us of the first importance; but we are just beginning to understand that these young people have a right to demand something of us in return. Surely, they have a right to demand from the profession of applied philanthropy (we really have not even a name for it) that which they have a right o demand from any other profession, — further opportunities for education and development, and, incidentally, the opportunity to earn a living.

Now the opportunities for education and development must always be extremely limited in any calling which has not established a professional standard, a certain fairly definite outline of what the practitioner in that field is expected to know and to be. We are all agreed, I think, that such a standard is desirable. But the mater about which we are likely to differ is this: Some of us will think that a training school is impracticable until we have acquired a professional standard, and others will think that we can never acquire a professional standard until we have the school. This latter is my own view, though I would voice, if possible, the clamorous solicitude about it of a hen who has only one chick. It may be that we are not quite ready for the school, that such a plan is premature. If so, I urge that we should begin to move without delay in the direction, at least, of some definite system of training. 

Let me borrow, as we continually are tempted to borrow in our charity work, a few illustrations from the medical profession. I have been reminded that the analogy between the charitable and the medical professions is not a true one, that the science of medicine is a far more highly organized boy of knowledge. For that very reason we so often turn to the physicians: they are what we merely hope to be. We ourselves may be said to have advanced no further than that rudimentary stage of charitable progress where our barbers let blood and pull teeth, where the priest is still our chief medicine man, or where to our pharmaceutical apprentices is instructed the delicate task of making diagnoses. We know that even in the medical profession almost every crude form of earlier practice still survives; but these revivals are weighed and found wanting by a definite professional standard, and such a standard is sadly needed in our charity, to discredit unintelligent work. I am little versed in medical history; but it is not probably that the profession of medicine owes a large part of its inheritance of knowledge and principles to its schools, which have stablished the tradition that the members of a liberal profession should be not only practitioners, but teachers?

An experienced worker has written to me that a difficulty in the way of a school of applied philanthropy on a sufficiently broad and inclusive basis would be the fact that our charity work has become so highly specialized. This is true, but our specialization is often essentially false. It is still as erratic as the specialization of the barber who pulls teeth. In the division o modern medicine into many special departments we find few such anomalies. We find, moreover, a broad field of knowledge which is common ground. If, for instance, a neurologist has occasion to confer with a surgeon, each can take it for granted that the other has mastered the elements of anatomy and physiology. But what can we take for granted in a similar case? If an agent of a relief society has occasion to confer with the head of a founding asylum, is it not likely that the ends they have in view, that the principles underlying their work, that the very meanings which they attach to our technical terms, will prove to be quite at variance? What an incalculable gain to humanity when those who are doctoring social diseases in many departments of charitable work shall have found a common ground of agreement, and be forced to recognize certain established principles as underlying all effective service! Not immediately, of course, but slowly and steadily, such a common ground could be established, I believe, by a training school for our professional workers.

This question presents itself in different ways, according as one looks at it with reference to the needs of small or large towns, of public or private charities, of institutions or societies. Miss Anna L. Dawes who was the first one to suggest the need of a training school for our new profession, conceived the idea after unavailing efforts to find a suitable superintendent for the charitable society of a small city. What was needed was a man with a knowledge of the “alphabet of charitable science, — some knowledge of its underlying ideas, its tried and trusted methods, and some acquaintance,” to quote her own words, “with the various devices employed for the upbuilding of the needy, so that no philanthropic undertaking, from a model tenement house to a kindergarten or a sand-heap, will be altogether strange to his mind.” Taking for her model the school for Young Men’s Christian Association secretaries at Springfield, Mass., it was Miss Dawe’s idea that the course should be inexpensive and practical, — even superficial, if need be as the small cities cannot pay large salaries.

Working, as I do, in the charity organization society of a large city, the matter has presented itself to me in a somewhat different way. Like some other charity organization societies, we give our agents a preliminary training in charitable theory and practice; but this training specializes too soon, and our leaders have felt the need of a more intimate and sympathetic acquaintance on the part of our agents with child-saving work, almshouse work, reformatory work, care of defectives, and all the other branches of work represented at this Conference. We feel, of course, that every form of charity could be improved by a better knowledge of charity organization principles; but it seems to us of the first importance, also, that our agents soul have a better all-round knowledge of other forms of charity. The school that is to be most helpful to our charity organization agents, therefore, must be established on a broad basis, and be prepared to train relief agents, ccildi-saving agents, institution officials, and the charitable specialists. An important part of their training would be in that shoulder-to-shoulder contact which makes co-operation natural and inevitable.

I recognize that all this is very vague. Let me venture a step further Before anything is settled about our training school in applied philanthropy save the bare fact that such a school is needed, we should search the country over for the right man to organize it. We need a university-trained man who is now engaged in charitable work, and who has had wide, practical experience in it. There are a few such men. I have one in mind this moment, who, after successful work as the heard of a volunteer society in one State, took an official position in another State, where he has bene instrumental in securing better administration and better laws. His experience has bene varied, though he is still young; and not only is he a man of originality and force, but the spirit of his work is admirable. I have no idea, of course, whether he would be willing to drop his present work to undertake the difficult task of embodying a new idea; but, to succeed, he must believe that a training school for charity workers is necessary and practicable, and he must be guaranteed time, money, and entire freedom of action, together with the hearty support of our leading charitable specialists. 

You will observe that, having found one man, it will become immediately necessary to find another, to furnish the money for this experiment. And this, to some, is like to be the rock on which our new craft might go to pieces. But consider the things that people do spend money for. I remember to have heard of the experiments of a psychologist for which an American millionaire has been furnishing large sums of money. By some very complicated machinery the experimenter hopes to determine the colors of our emotional states. Now, if such fanciful science as that can find a patron, why should our school go a-begging if we can once heartily agree that it is practicable?

Given the money and the head master, I can imagine that the latter’s first care would be to make a detailed inquiry into the paid device demanded by our charities. His next would be to determine the school’s location and affiliations. Probably he would choose a large city, — the larger, the better; and it may be that he would seek connection with some institution of learning, though it should never be forgotten that emphasis is to be put on practical work rather than on academic requirements. Vital connection, therefore, would of necessity be made with the public and private charities of the city. Here students could observe the actual work of charity, and take part in it under the daily supervision of their instructors. Theory and practice would go hand in hand, and our best specialists would be engaged to deliver courses of lectures during the less busy months of the year. A two years’ course would probably being with general principles, and would specialize later, so that all regular students would take some of the courses together. Nor would the needs of special students, such as those who could spare only a few months, be overlooked; and probably volunteers who are interested in some particular charity would be glad to avail themselves of the school’s opportunities. 

I offer this plan in all its crudity, without attempting any elaboration, because I feel that it needs, and I trust will receive, the frankest criticism. There is often only a little difference between knowing and not knowing. I would not, therefore, exaggerate the importance of merely technical training. In the town which needed a charity superintendent, Miss Dawes tells us that “a superintendent of a New York mission, a local philanthropist, a benevolent woman, a Young Men’s Christian Association secretary all proved to be without the technical knowledge necessary for such work”; and surely this is a strong argument for training. But more important than any training in detail is the opportunity which a good school would offer for the development of higher ideals of charitable service. “Ideals are catching,” some one has said. How important, then, to send our young people, our future workers, where ideals can be “caught”! A friend of mine is in the habit of saying, in praise of a certain college, that its graduates are never ashamed to acknowledge their ignorance, that the school has given all its pupils a certain candid habit of thought. To give our professional charity workers better habits of thought and higher ideals, this should be the chief aim of our School of Applied Philanthropy. I need not say how slowly a good school grows, or how slowly it makes its influence felt. But, if these twenty years have taught anything, they have taught us that plans which are to find their full realization the year after next are not worth initiating. The chief and perhaps the only claim which this rough sketch of a plan can have to consideration its to be found in the willingness of its advocate to leave much to the future. 



Source: Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction at the Twenty-Fourth Annual Session Held in Toronto, Ontario, July 7-14, 1897, ed. Isabel C. Barrows (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis), 1898, pp. 181-186.