The Neglected Rich
March 27, 1888 — International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington DC
Society organizes its charities and corrections for its perishing and dangerous classes; builds prisons and reformatories and the gallows for one, and extends sheltering arms to the other. There is a fine sympathy among the American people to which we can readily appeal on occasions of widespread calamities; a sympathy which reached out its hands to Chicago when she sat down by the ashes of her conflagration, which has been more ready to give than even Boston may have been ready to receive; a sympathy which extended itself to the Southwest when the yellow-fever was breathing its bane upon the morning air and distilling its poison on the midnight dews; but who thinks of feeling or caring for the neglected rich — the men with plethoric purses but attenuated souls, the moral cripples who tread on velvet carpets, who suffer from the most fatal of all neglects — self-neglect — a neglect which projects itself into the lives of others?
No mother can waste her physical strength and dwarf her moral and spiritual capacities without entailing a reaction on the lives of her children. No man can make his heart a ledger and write upon it nothing but tax and loss and gain average and barter, without cheating the world through what he withholds from it.
The strength of a nation is not in the power of its armies, the strength of its plots, nor wealth of its coffers, but in the intelligence of its people, its happy homes, and well-trained and educated children. I do not stand here to make a tirade against wealth, nor to say that we have not among us men and women who hold wealth as a sacred trust and regard themselves as stewards of God to make the world gladder by their presence and better through their influence. But the class to which I refer are the people who give to life false values and fictitious estimates; the men who increase their possessions through wrong-doing, who uphold prosperous sins, and virtually say, “Let us make money, though we extract it from blood and tears.” Self-neglected men to-day sustain the liquor traffic, though it grinds out in our midst a fearful grist of misery, sin, and death. I hear the clink of the dollar and the plea of the shopkeeper, but above it all I hear the agonized cry of the drunkard’s wife and the wail of his deserted children.
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In the South men fettered the slave and cramped their own souls, denied him knowledge and darkened their own spiritual insight; if heathenism judged aright that a degraded woman could not be the mother of a hero, what breadth of philanthropy could the child of the master learn from the lips of the slave? Selfishness, luxury, and idle ease are not bracing atmospheres in which to develop the manly virtues and Christian graces. Neither are homes of ignorance and poverty good schools for the development of all that is best in human nature. If neglect, ignorance, are fruitful sources of untold misery, then is it not an important question to ask what shall be done with the neglected rich who need truth more than flattery; the men who make corners in wheat and combinations in coal; who grind the faces of the poor by the depression of labor; who throw their lives between God’s sunshine and the shivering poor?
Let the horn,” the school, and the college combine to teach the young lessons which they may bind as an amulet around their heads and throw as a bulwark around their lives. Let the young learn that all the great battles of humanity are not yet fought out; that if slavery was the enemy of one race we have another battle on hand with the enemy of every race under heaven, and that the world has need, now as then, of noble deeds and earnest men and women, tender, true, and strong to war with error, sin, and wrong. Let the press stand on the side of the home and the church of God, against the madness and folly of the rum traffic.
And in conclusion let the pulpit teach the sacredness of man, the intrinsic dignity of the soul, its high origin, its relationship to God, and that the weakest and poorest little one is linked to the throne of the Eternal by such strong but invisible ties that if you rudely jar them upon earth they will tremble around the throne; let it be impressed upon the conscience of the neglected rich that while men may boast of the aristocracy of wealth and talent, the aristocracy of the soul outranks all other.
The truest science is that which leads to a truer life; the highest of arts is the art of building a good character.
Source: Report of the International Council of Women, Assembled by the National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, D.C., U.S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888, (Washington, DC: Rufus H. Darby), 1888, pp. 119-120.