The Review of Politics

Research Article

The Catholic Factor in Urban Welfare: The Early Period, 1850–1880

Aaron I. Abell

For more than a century* private philanthropy has loomed large on the social horizon of American cities. Their governments, as inept and clumsy as they were politically corrupt, were not readily entrusted with delicate social service functions. Happily for urban welfare, Americans not only extolled the great virtue of charity but conspicuously practiced it. As no other people, they have made relief of human misery a part of their life purpose, devoting time, thought and money to the task regardless of its source: in some calamity of nature or in social maladjustment such as urban poverty, industrial conflict or world misunderstanding. Besides giving for giving's sake as befits religious folk—they have characteristically expected handsome dividends on their investment either in the way of improved character development or in more reasonable and just social arrangements. Many wage-earners and social reformers feared, it is true, that the benevolent enterprise might dull the people's desire for a better economic order. By and large, however, charity in America has been an aid and auxiliary of justice rather than its substitute.