Woman and wages as a social and economic question is one of burning interest, but over against this stands the great work of woman without wages, the vast amount of service rendered without pay or even any thought of it — work in the world’s great philanthropies. It is gratifying to know that women of wealth and culture as well as those of limited means — a great many and ever increasing army of them — are bending their energies to the betterment of mankind.

Women are the mainspring of the humanitarian movements of the nineteenth century. Whether the work is distinctly religious or distinctly secular makes no difference, it is, at bottom, women’s work. They may not always be recognized heads. Men as recognized heads are often little more than figure heads. Women are the brains and hands that plan and perform the work.

The true philanthropist must be not merely charitable, but a student of social problems. Women are meeting these requirements and are sowing remarkable genius for organization and administration. We have always known that woman has a sympathetic and responsive heart. We now know that she has a clear head to wisely direct the expressions of sympathy. How often it has been necessary for women to take the initiative in philanthropic, charitable, or reform movements. Men scarcely saw the needs, or, if they saw them, said: “You can’t do anything about it.” Women have said, “Here is a need, something ought to be done.” After a little the “ought” has become so emphatic, that they have said, “Something shall be done.”

Women take to philanthropy kindly — oftentimes vehemently, with the consequence that they frequently miscall the object of their endeavors and mistake the true for the false, thus producing as an offset to every one philanthropist, nine hundred and ninety-nine philanderers. This effect of woman’s exertions is the cause of philanthropy may be ascribed to the centripetal forces of her nature and habits — a force acquired by centuries of cultivation, or the lack of it, and only reactionary in this age when women have been in a position to retrieve their own destinies and to put into practice concentration of mind and centralization of methods.

It is especially fitting that the new republic of of the West, whose national shield is held by a woman, should the scene of the greatest development and progress of women in the field of philanthropy. Here came the Sisters of Mercy from Newfoundland, where, at the beginning of this century, they suffered painful hardships in their work — both charitable and educational — among many tribes of Indians, of whom Cherokees were most numerous, and whose tribal feuds furnished not the least part of their perils and called into action an ability to cope with the affairs requiring the tact of a diplomat and a power of control equivalent to that of an armed force.

Philanthropy and charity in the Christian sense mean the same thing — love of fellow men; but in time the terms have became differentiated until today philanthropist conveys to the average mind one who serves his neighbor in the way of helping him to help himself, and so reach a high standard of manhood; and charity means the giving away of one’s substance to relieve a person in need. An act of philanthropy is progressive; it sets in motion machinery which goes on and on turning out wiser, or better, or healthier men and women. An act of charity ends with the good deed.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: women in Philanthropy in the 19th century - Mrs. Helen Miller Gould

Mrs. Helen Miller Gould

It may or may not bring forth the fruit of gratitude and higher endeavor, and is only progressive in its results when its magnitude merges it into the domain which the world terms philanthropy. As an illustration: The thousands of dollars contributed by Miss Helen Gould to the hospitals might be termed a charity; her check of $100,000 to the government was an act of philanthropy — it went to help free a people and immediately better their physical and moral conditions. This country contains millions of notably charitable women, because women by reason of their nature and occupation can best swell the roll of charity.

With very few exceptions the work of women in New York has been the inspiration of those in other cities, and its results models for others to imitate. The first sustained effort made in New York by a woman to enable other women to help themselves was the establishment, by the late Mrs.Marshall O. Roberts, of the Ladies’ Christian Union Home, on Washington Square, in 1858. This house lodged girls who were strangers in the city, and helped them to find employment. As the work grew, instruction of various sorts was added until, in its ripe age, the Young Women’s Christian Association spread butterfly wings from the chrysalis of the old house in Washington Square, and took the industrial and educational work into a new sphere of activity. Thousands of women, who had no means to secure instruction elsewhere, nor ability to obtain the employment for which an education fits them, have reaped its benefits.

No philanthropic enterprise has had a nobler purpose than the Woman’s National Indian Association. The country was moved from time to time by some unusual atrocity, such as that of the slaughter of 173 Piegarties in Montana. The killing was done by our soldiers under their orders. Of the slain there were ninety women and fifty children under twelve years of age. Nine hundred treaties have been made with Indians by our government, and it has often been said, and not yet denied, that not one of the treaties has been kept by us, nor first broken by the Indians.

There were women who felt deeply the Indian’s need and the nation’s shame. In 1879, two ladies sent out 7,000 petitions, securing 13,000 signatures. When these were joined together it made a roll of 300 feet in length. This was sent to President Hayes.

This work by women soon became national in its extent, and took on the name of the Woman’s National Indian Association. The public press was enlisted and champions of the cause were found here and there throughout the country, among them, Helen Hunt Jackson, whose burning words aroused the people to behold the scandals and atrocities in the treatment of Indians.

Woman’s sympathetic thought and organized effort is seen in tens of thousands of churches, in Circles of King’s Daughters, in Woman’s Christian Temperance Unions, in Young Women’s Christian Associations, and a score of other forms of charitable, missionary, and philanthropic work. The colored people of the South, the foreigners of every name, the slum population of our great cities, are all objects of woman’s work. She seeks to education, Christianize, and improve the environment of all these. She rescues her fallen sisters and seeks to protect them from falling. The cause of God and humanity is marching on, and woman is a divinely chosen leader.

In considering the various departments of woman’s philanthropic labor, it is eminently proper that a fitting recognition of the organized work of Catholic women be made at this point.

In the early stages of the Church, there were no public or state institutions of charity, such as almshouses, hospitals, orphan asylums; all these were the wok of the Church and of religious houses. Throughout all of the centuries until or own, almost all the work of women in organizations was carried on in cloisters. These places of seclusion and protection were made necessary by the turbulent and warlike spirit of the ages in which most of these associations of women were founded. Hundreds of Catholic sisterhoods having various benevolent works for their object grew up and flourished in the early centuries after Christ. Many of these organizations, such as the female Templars, and other orders of women who followed the Crusaders, to nurse the sick and wounded, have ceased to exist with the need for their work; but hundreds of these societies continue today among us, though comparatively unknown. Such is their spirit of humility and self-abnegation, that these noble women are reluctant to have the world know of their devotion to the service of others. There is no kind of love service among the poor, the sick, the aged, the homeless, which is not the lifework of many organizations of Catholic women.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

Quote by History's Women: Misc. Articles: Women in Philanthropy in the 19th century - Helen Hunt Jackson