Friday, August 13, 2010

News from August 13, 1910: Charity Began at Home

Someone at the Archives the other day asked me if I knew what the onetime Ypsilanti Ladies' Home Association was. This group comprising society ladies was a charity. There were no welfare or federal programs to assist the poor. The LHA took it upon themselves to raise funds to distribute to families they deemed objects of charity. The group's members were "prominent" (trans.: rich husbands) society ladies. The amounts of money they raised and distributed, while better than nothing, have struck me as on the meagre side.

The group threw a fit (by the standards of the day) when cistern-digger and day laborer Oscar Lawrence had his destitute family's home burn down on Railroad Street around 1909. Ypsilantians contributed money directly to the Lawrence family. The LHA had an article published in the paper to the effect that they were (decorously) indignant that citizens had done so and that they were the proper arbiters of charity money for the local poor.

One hundred years ago this date, the Cherry Hill version of the LHA had its meeting. Attendees listened to a song, a recitation, a memoir of Yellowstone Park, and played a guessing game about flowers. They resolved to meet to "tie" (?) a comforter to give to "a certain family in need of this help."

If through the agency of these groups an Ypsi child received nourishing food when it otherwise would have had none, well and good. But DD is too far over on the cynic side of the spectrum to believe that there is much true altruism. Stories like these remind DD of Gwendolyn Brook's poem "The Lovers of the Poor." Fun fact: the poem is autobiographical. After Brooks won the Pulitzer, two ladies dropped by her home, without invitation, to examine her and peek in her house.


Dusty D said...

Of course, that's a portrayal of the LHA heavily seasoned by my own prejudices needless to say; may not be accurate. I for one, not rich, would not want to be deemed a pitiable object deserving of charity.

jml said...

Tying uses knotted string to hold together the multiple layers of a comforter (front, back and batting). In contrast, a quilt is held together by sewing thread, often in patterns, through the layers. Tying is quicker and easier than quilting.

(Info thanks to watching my wife and my mother, both quilters)

Dusty D said...

Ohhhh, that makes perfect sense; thank you jml! Another mystery solved.