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Self-Reliance Before the Welfare State: Evidence from the Charity Organization Movement in the United States


If replacing welfare with private charity has increased the self-reliance of the poor, the benefits would be observed in the charity organization movement of the late nineteenth century. Inebriation would subside, the heart would be cheered, earnings would rise, the “broken” would be “complete,” dependence would wither, and the classes would converge. If the benefits were large, they would have been large in Indianapolis—the beacon of charity in a Coasean landscape. The hypotheses are tested in hazard models using a sample from 25 years of household-level caseworker manuscripts. The evidence is not suggestive in the direction of hope.

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Manuscript Collections

1. The Holliday Collection, Indiana Room, Indiana State Library: Butler Amos W. 1916A Century of Progress: A Study of Public Charities and Correction, 1790–1915”
2. Family Service Association of Central Indiana, Inc., M102, the Indiana Historical Society Library (FSA M102): Gurteen S. Humphreys. 1881 What is Charity Organization? Buffalo: Bigelow Brothers,
Indiana Board of State Charities, “Annual Report of the Board of State Charities to the Legislature of Indiana.” In Documentary Journal (Indianapolis, Wm. B. Burford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding), 1897–1900, Indiana State Archives.
Indianapolis Benevolent Society: Minutes (includes notes, news clippings, memos, fund-raising pamphlets, the financial and administrative records of the Friendly Inn and Wood Yard, and ephemera), BV1178, 1879–1918; Application book (the caseworker records on applications for relief, prior to the assumption of that task in 1880 by the Charity Organization Society), 1878–1880; Annual Reports (Boxes 1, 4 and 5, in the form of pamphlets and in the Yearbook of Charities), 1884–1903 (incomplete set).
Indianapolis Charity Organization Society: Minutes (includes notes, news clippings, memos, fund-raising pamphlets, the financial and administrative records of the Friendly Inn and Wood Yard, and ephemera), BV1700, 1879–1916; Caseworker records of applications for relief, BV1200–1209, 1880–1907; Annual Reports (mainly found in Boxes 1, 4 and 5, in the form of pamphlets and in the Yearbook of Charities), 1884–1903 (incomplete set).
Indianapolis Charity Organization Society. 1901 Facts. Indianapolis: Charity Organization Society,
McCulloch Oscar C.The Tribe of Ishmael: A Study in Social Degradation.” (Indianapolis, Carlon and Hollenbeck, 1888). Read at the National Conference on Charities and Correction, 5–11 July 1888, and re-printed in the annual Proceedings, pp. 154 59.
McCulloch Oscar C. Handbill [“On the Spirit of Charity Organization”], 18 May 1891, Minutes of the ICOS, BV1700.
Noble Harriet. 1903 The Indianapolis Friendly Visitor. Indianapolis: Charity Organization Society,
Society for Friendly Visitors [a sub-committee of the Charity Organization Society]: Minutes, BV1182, 1896-1901; Secretary's book, BV1183, 1882-1916;
Society for Friendly Visitors. Caseworker's Day Book [a diary of a friendly visitor], BV1174, 1893–1896.

Published Materials

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