Widows with children expect to earn a living, besides giving the children such care as the standards of life de mand. Widowers with small children have more trouble, but a daughter sometimes becomes a sufficiently competent housekeeper at a tender age, and remarriage is of course, as with young widows, the rule. Desertion by the nomi nal head of the family becomes alarmingly common in the cities, but it is surprising how often the deserted wife and mother finds herself practically better off when relieved of the worthless husband's presence, and how often the real calamity is his return after more prosperous days have set in for the family which he had abandoned.
Thousands of street waifs, abandoned or runaway boys and girls, have been poured into Western and Southern country homes through the channel of charitable agencies, without apparently exhausting the capacity of those dis tant communities ; and of late it has been found that im mediately about, and even in, the cities of the seaboard there is much absorbing capacity of the same kind. This is not merely an instance of effective organized charity, but is also an illustration of the surplus means which enable so many workingmen to assume additional burdens.
It must not be supposed that the true pauper type is absent. In every part of the country there exists a certain number of families who are dependent because of mental and physical deficiencies, and America has followed the policy of Great Britain and some other countries in sup porting this class in part by a system of public relief in their own homes.
The fundamental peculiarities of American social con ditions to which reference has been made must be borne constantly in mind in the study of the prevailing system of providing care and relief for needy families. If the attention is fixed solely upon the machinery of relief, and it is assumed that the liability of falling into destitution is approximately the same as in European countries, it will appear that there has been a lamentable failure to organize the relief system upon a definite basis, a failure to bring about a clear distribution between public and private agen cies, and, among the former, between local and central ad ministrations. It will also appear that the systems of the several states differ widely, that there has been a lack of responsible public oversight, and that official statistics are incomplete and unreliable. There is much justification, as it is, for such criticism. It is reasonable, however, to temper its force by the recollection that the most impor tant feature of the whole situation in this country is not the wisdom or unwisdom of public outdoor relief, not the rival merits of organized and individual charity, not the function of the churches in relief work, not the formation of various schemes of industrial relief, but the very gen eral absence of any serious need of relief in any form, except that which relatives and neighbors give in response to personal claims, which it would be an impertinence to register, or to discuss as elements of a relief system.'
Through the whole of the past century there has pre vailed a system of public outdoor relief, usually adminis tered through local overseers of the poor from funds provided by taxation. In the Southern states neither this system nor any general provision for the destitute was found to be so necessary as in other parts of the country, for the reason that negro slaves, who occupied the lowest place in the social and industrial organization, were in all cases a charge upon their owners, when unable to support themselves, rather than upon the community. There are still several Southern cities, among which may be named Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta, 1 It is scarcely necessary to cite evidence of a fact so obvious to students of comparative social conditions during the past century. It may be in teresting, however, to quote the observations of the two most acute and competent judges from across the sea, whose remarks refer to periods nearly half a century apart : America then exhibits in her social state an extraordinary phenome non. Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune and in tellect, or, in other words, more equal in their strength than in any other country of the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance. — De Tocqueville : " Democracy in America." Little outdoor relief is given, though in most states the relieving au thority may at his or their discretion bestow it, and pauperism is not, and has never been, a serious malady, except in some five or six great cities where it is now vigorously combated by volunteer organizations largely composed of ladies.— Bryce : "The American Commonwealth." To those may be added the testimony of an earlier writer than De Tocqueville : There are no tithes, no poor rates, no excise, no heavy inter nal taxes, no commercial monopolies. . . . I never saw a beggar in any part of the United States ; nor was I ever asked for charity but once — and that was by an Irishman. — From "An Excursion through the United States and Canada, during the years 1822-3." By an English Gentleman. London, 1824, and Savannah, in which little or no outdoor relief is ex tended. There are also a few Northern cities, notably New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, in which no outdoor relief is given ; but these are regarded as distinct exceptions even within the states of which they are a part ; and the absence of outdoor relief in those cities is to be attributed to special and local causes. Buffalo, Pittsburg and Los Angeles, located in the same states respectively as the three cities just named, all have a liberal if not lavish expenditure from the public treasury for the relief of the poor in their homes.