The End of Poverty…rebooted

… “…characteristic of the new or scientific charity as opposed to purely emotional philanthropy that it regards poverty as an evil to be assailed in its causes.”5

This contemporary push to “finish out the job of eliminating poverty”, makes one wonder when the task was first started. To take at face value the early 21st century enthusiasm at the idea of marshaling science to end human social ills such as global poverty, one could easily overlook the fact that one hundred fifty years prior people were making strikingly similar claims as part of a broad movement often referred to by the catch-all title of “scientific charity” or “scientific philanthropy”.6 Just as science had provided solutions to the problems of transportation and communication, it should now be able to yield the same for the problems of poverty. In 1889, at the 16th annual National Conference of Charities and Correction (NCCC)7, a member asked: “Why are some people rich and others poor? Why is Nature so bountiful to one man and so niggardly to another? In a land running over with plenty, we find a multitude of people unable to earn their bread. Why should these things be? And have we ourselves done anything to cause them? We ask with a new ambition to conquer human suffering, as the steam-engine and the telegraph have conquered time and space.”8 Edward T. Devine, Schiff Professor of Social Economy at Columbia University, a man involved in many different dimensions of scientific philanthropy wrote in 1899: “There is no charity in which anybody of standing and a moderate degree of brains believes except scientific charity. Unscientific charity is clearly as absurd and indefensible as unscientific medicine.”9 Devine summarized the widespread outlook of his time that a “new charity” was being birthed out of “the revolt against the charity of the old view” – “the old view, founded upon wisdom and experience”, and the new view “radical in its desire to get to the root of all social problems” which conceived of “misery and crime and disease as eradicable”.10 He wrote that the “new view [of charity] is many sided, for it seeks to ‘see life steadily and see it whole.’ The home, the factory, the school, the church, and the playground are all within its range. Disease, misery, and crime are seen, but seen in their true proportions, as a dark border land into which constantly new streams of light and energy are pouring with promise of ultimately taking possession”.11

Central Argument

To date interpretations of scientific charity have not been pursued at much depth, and it is too often presented as part of a retrogressive reformist theory and practice displaced by superior university-based social science. While acknowledging the reform origins of American social science, scholars have focused their energies on the emergence of the scientific professions and have left its relationship to the origins and presentation of the scientific languages of reform aside. The goal of this dissertation is to contribute to our knowledge of the scientific charity movement, by a retrieval of how the reformist social scientists of the NCCC used morally weighted language to justify the changes they proposed for both public and private provision of poor relief, as found primarily in the Proceedings of the NCCC and related primary and secondary source materials.12 In essence, I’m claiming that our understanding of the scientific charity movement is incomplete. At times it is hard to remember that the American research university and the social sciences are the children of reformist philanthropy, not something of a different species.13

The unique contribution of this thesis is the proposal that scientific charity can be helpfully viewed as a moral language that provided a way to energize the many disparate and seemingly disconnected or even contradictory movements found during the period under study. I chose the site of the American Social Science Association (ASSA) and its most important creation, the National Conference on Charities and Correction (NCCC), since it was the main location where people from perspectives public and private, personalistic and environmental, investigating and agitating, academic and practitioner, objective and advocate, settlement and Charity Organization Society (COS) movement, professional and practitioner, etc. came together to present and discuss the new sciences of the social.14 In particular I want to trace out the moral visions of those who used scientific charity language through the images, stories, and concepts used by key figures and institutions brought together at the NCCC as they attempted to make their arguments for a science of charity plausible. I pay particular attention to the ways in which older forms of charity were discredited, and the new philanthropy and its scientific techniques were heralded through the telling of subtraction stories.15

Older forms of charity were presented as based in outdated theories of superstitious and/or metaphysical speculation, outmoded models of pauperizing practice such as indiscriminate forms of charity and relief, and results, which, despite good intentions, ended up causing the misery those older forms of charity, were supposed to alleviate. I also look into how the idea(s) of science is positioned in the presentation of the power of the sciences to find solutions to human social problems, and I argue that the conflation between the natural and budding social sciences legitimized a science of charity reform.16 The scientific “new charity” or “new philanthropy” offered a fact-based biological theory of human development, up-to-date models of statistically coordinated forms of charitable practice, and through the deployment of the new preventive and root- cause-finding charitable theory and practice, promised the end of social problems such as the problem of pauperism in America.

If successful this dissertation will extend currently available scholarship by providing a deeper and more nuanced look at scientific charity in its native context: the scientific reformist fervor of the Gilded and early Progressive Ages. By studying the growth of the idea that science could be used to solve human’s problems and thus social problems, I wanted to learn more about how various strands of reform (charity, social science, social work) became so deeply committed to the idea that science could be used to reveal the root causes of individual human’s and society’s problems and provide methods through which these problems could be eradicated. While scholars have noticed the shared history of charity/philanthropy and the social sciences in 19th century American reform, they quickly move on to identify the mechanism(s) by which to explain the separation using theories of control, resources, authority, gender, power, politics, religion, etc. While acknowledging the fine work of scholars who have contributed to our knowledge of why the social sciences separated from reform (Professionalization by authority – Wiebe, by scientific objectivity – Furner, by interdependence – Haskell, by exceptionalism – Ross, etc.) I am more interested in looking into how the claims of the power of science to yield the answers to human social problems was presented and made so much sense to so many.

…continued in my next post – March 1 2020

5 A. G. Warner, “Scientific Charity,” The Popular science monthly 35, no. 1 (1889).
6 These terms are used interchangeably in the literature. If there is a discernable difference it is that the term “scientific philanthropy” is the broader term, while the term “scientific charity” became increasingly used by and thus associated with the charity organization movement and the NCCC conferences.
7 The proceedings of this conference were issued under the earlier names of the Conference as follows: 1874, Conference of Boards of Public Charities; 1875-1879, Conference of Charities; 1880-1881, Conference of Charities and Correction; 1882-1916, National Conference of Charities and Correction; 1917-1956, National Conference of Social Work; 1957-, National Conference on Social Welfare. Since this dissertation will be dealing with the early years of the Proceedings I will refer to them as the National Conference on Charities and Correction Proceedings, the longest running name for the conference. When referring to the corpus I will use the phrase the “NCCC Proceedings” or just “the Proceedings”, and when referring to specific years I will use the scheme used by the University of Michigan which curates the digitized Proceedings collection: Author name, NCCC year XXXX : page number.
8 Glendower Mrs. Evans, “Scientific Charity,” in The National Conference of Charities and Correction, ed. Isabel C. Barrows (San Francisco, California: Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1889). P. 24.
9 John Louis Recchiuti, Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City
(Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
10 Edward T. Devine, Social Forces (New York: Survey Associates, 1914). P. 9-11.
11 Ibid.
12 I introduce two important phrases here that I describe in great detail throughout pages to follow: “reformist social scientists” and “morally weighted language”. While many interpreters have wanted to read later distinctions between “reformers” and “social scientists” back into the literature of the ASSA and NCCC, I prefer to use a designation that tries to render how the men and women of the ASSA and NCCC spoke about themselves: as social scientists pushing unabashedly reform agendas. Morally weighted language is a phrase that recognizes that scientific language is not neutral even when presented as based in science and thus better than previous morally weighted language.
13 Roy Porter et al., The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Peter Wagner, Björn Wittrock, and Richard Whitley, Discourses on Society : The Shaping of the Social Science Disciplines, Sociology of the Sciences (Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991); Peter Wagner, A History and Theory of the Social Sciences : Not All That Is Solid Melts into Air, Theory, Culture & Society (Unnumbered) (London, England ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE, 2001); Edward T. Silva and Sheila Slaughter, Serving Power : The Making of the Academic Social Science Expert, Contributions to the Study of Education, (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984); Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science, Ideas in Context (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Peter T. Manicas, A History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Oxford Oxfordshire ; New York, USA: Basil Blackwell, 1987); Henrika Kuklick, “The Organization of Social Science in the United States – the Sociologists of the Chair: A Radical Analysis of the Formative Years of North American Sociology (1883-1922) by Herman Schwendinger and Julia R. Schwendinger: The Legacy of Albion Small by Vernon L Dibble: Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905 by Mary O. Furner: The Emergence of Professional Social Science: The American Social Science Association and the Nineteenth Century Crisis of Authority by Thomas Haskell. ,” American Quarterly 28, no. 1 (1976); Henrika Kuklick, “Restructuring the Past: Toward an Appreciation of the Social Context of Social Science,” The Sociological Quarterly 21, no. 1 (1980); K. M. Baker, “The Early History of the Term ‘Social Science’,” Annals of Science 20, no. 3 (1964).
14 In 1865 The American Association for the Promotion of Social Science was founded in Boston, Massachusetts, by several high-profile academics, including William B. Rogers, Thomas Hill, George S. Boutwell, Francis Lieber, Erastus O. Haven, Mary Eliot Parkman, David A. Wells, Emory Washburn, Caroline Healey Dall, Samuel Eliot, F. B. Sanborn, Joseph White, George Walker, Theodore W. Dwight, and James J. Higginson. The founding constitution shows that the association had the desire to play a convening role right from the start. American Social Science Association., “Constitution, Address, and List of Members of the American Association for the Promotion of Social Science, with the Questions Proposed for Discussion: To Which Are Added Minutes of the Transactions of the Association,” ed. American Social Science Association. (Boston: Wright & Potter, Printers, 1866).
15 I borrow the term from Charles Taylor and his work in the philosophy of science. A subtraction story is any theory which attempts to explain modernity by human beings having lost, or sloughed off, or liberated themselves from certain earlier, confining horizons, or illusions, or limitations of knowledge. What emerges from this process–the rise of university-based social science–is to be understood in terms of underlying features of human nature which were there all along, but had been impeded by what is now set aside. Against this kind of story, Taylor has steadily argued that Western modernity, including its social science, is the fruit of new inventions, newly constructed self-understandings and related practices, and can’t be explained in terms of perennial features of human life. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), P. 22.
16 The social sciences relied on the success of the natural sciences both in the academy and in popular culture for their influence, a part from any sort of empirical proofs of their validity. This thesis is contested by historians of science, but is generally considered to hold merit. “Many late Victorians hoped that social as well as technological problems could be solved by using the methods of the prestigious physical sciences. It has been said that ‘faith in science’ and a concern for morality were the two defining characteristics of Victorian philanthropic enterprises.” (Quoting Gertrude Himmelfarb in The Age of Philanthropy) Kathleen Callanan Martin, Hard and Unreal Advice: Mothers, Social Science, and the Victorian Poverty Experts (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), P. 6. “What is so marked about American social science is the degree to which it is modeled on the natural rather than the historical sciences…” Ross, P. 3. For more on approaches that modeled social mechanisms on analogies to physics, meteorology, and biology see: Siegwart Lindenberg, “Homo Socio-Oeconomicus: The Emergence of a General Model of Man in the Social Sciences,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 146, (1990).