As far as the public relief of distress is concerned we must perhaps accept the dictum of Amos G. Warner that the almshouse is the fundamental institution in American poor relief. This has not always been the case, however. Whether even now the almshouse or the alternative of a public grant at home is the residual and ultimate resource depends very much upon the personal characteristics of the responsible public officials. From one point of view the almshouse may be said to care for "all the abjectly desti tute not otherwise provided for." Often, however, local authorities have received into the almshouse but a small fraction of the public dependents—those who are abso lutely homeless and helpless — leaving to be helped in their own homes all who can maintain, even with partial or entire public support, the pretence of a home. Outdoor relief under such circumstances becomes the real residual resource rather than the almshouse, the latter being little more than a hospital ward. Historically outdoor relief antedates the almshouse in nearly all the states. This is not because the almshouse system was unknown to the founders of the more recently settled commonwealths, but because at first there is so little pauperism that an almshouse or even a " poor farm " seems unnecessary, and the almshouse has often arisen as the result of a reform movement due to ex cessive relief and its attendant evils.
There has been no period within the century when the sys tem of public outdoor relief has gone unchallenged. In the first quarter prominent landmarks in the discussion of the subject are the report to the General Court of Massachu setts in 1821 by Josiah Quincy, President of Harvard College,' and the searching report to the New York Leg islature by J. N. Yates, Secretary of State, in In the second quarter more attention was given to temperance agitation than to charitable reforms, but many private relief societies of various types were founded, and finally one of the most valiant of the temperance agitators evolved from his study of intemperance and its consequences and from his experience with collateral social problems a plan for the oldest of those associations for improving the condi tion of the poor which have since under various names grown and multiplied until they must be regarded as a most important factor in the private organized relief of the poor in their own homes.
In the third quarter of the century eleven state boards of charities were created, one of whose chief functions has been to introduce greater discrimination into the disburse ment of relief, both outdoor and institutional ; while en tirely within the period since the beginning of the final quarter has fallen the origin and growth of the one hun dred and fifty-four charity organization which have most energetically combated the abuse, and usually the practice in any form, of public outdoor relief.
The Quincy report of 1821 on the Pauper Laws of Massa chusetts is a brief and scholarly essay upon the general subject of public relief of the poor. It is based upon an
investigation of the practice and opinions of local overseers, and appendices are given showing the number of paupers from each town from which returns are received, the aggregate number for 162 towns being 4340. The total population of these towns at the time of the report was 287,437, while the whole number of inhabitants of the state at the time was 472,000. A proportionate number pau pers in towns not reporting would have made the total somewhat over 7000. The average estimate of the ex penses for the support of children and adults was $52 a year, or $364,000 per year for the 7000 paupers. The sta 1 Now very rare. Its text, however, is reprinted from a copy in the Boston Public Library in Charities for September 30, 1899.
2 Also rare. Reprinted by the New York State Board of Charities in the annual report for 1900.
8 Sometimes called bureaus of charities, or associated charities.
tistical information given with the report is meagre, and the Committee contented itself for the most part with a gen eral survey of the situation, drawing its conclusions regard ing necessary reforms as much from the discussions then current in England as from the results of their own local inquiries. It is pointed out that if the increase in the pay ments out of the state treasury be taken as evidence of a corresponding increase in the pauper burden of Massachu setts, then there had been in Massachusetts in the twenty years preceding the report an increase greater than in that for the corresponding period in Great Britain. Without pretending to assert that this is a true criterion, the com mittee considered itself justified in concluding that the pernicious consequences of the existing system are palpa ble, " that they are increasing, and that they imperiously call for the interference of the legislature in some manner, equally prompt and efficacious." The system thus condemned included not merely provi sion for the poor by supplies in money, or articles at the homes of the poor and provision by almshouses, but also in some towns provision for the poor by letting them out to the lowest bidder, in families at large, within the town ; and in other towns, by letting them to the lowest bidder, together, that is, all to one person.
The auction system as applied to single families is con demned as extravagant and as applicable only to very small towns. The overseers of one town are quoted as admit ting that the average expense, which was about $1.30 per head per week, was large, but added that " the poor being sometimes boarded with those who are in want themselves, it is not lost to the town." By printing this quotation in italics President Quincy indicated his appreciation of the more serious objection to the plan of which the overseers seem to have been unconscious.