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Practical altruism in Judge's group

Jul 11, 2007 03:29 PM
by proto37

Practical altruistic work in Judge's group (1891)


		Down into the hustling, crowded streets.  Narrow sidewalks, garbage,
battered houses;  out-at-elbows, slouching, noisy humanity.  Windows
gaping widely for air;  heels, or tinzled heads, or bawling, pendent
children at every one of them;  Hebrew signs over half the shops and
the heated July sky over all; - this is what I saw in Suffolk St. one
afternoon when in company with Mr. H. T. Patterson, the energetic
President of League No. 1.  I descended into the east-side slums.  It
may not be known to all readers that the committee appointed at the
last Theosophical Convention, in the interests of Practical Work, has
since adopted a Constitution and has organized as follows:  viz. The
Central League of Theosophical Workers is merely a centre of
organization, registration, and propaganda, having a President,
Vice-President (Miss Katharine Hillard), a Secretary (Mr. H. T.
Patterson), and a Treasurer (Mr. E. A. Neresheimer).  It has no office
but the place where its President may be;  its address is P. O. Box
2659;  its expenses are only those of printing and correspondence.  By
the generosity of Mr. E. A. Rambo, Chairman of Convention of '91, and
Dr. A. Keightley, this League was enabled to start with an exchequer
of $154, and to send its circulars and Constitution throughout the T.
S.  It will also have for sale a neat badge, costing 75 cents, by
purchase of which persons will be constituted members and registered
as such.  It is hoped that Leagues for Practical Work will be formed
all over the country.  Such Leagues will be registered by number at
the office of the Central League;  they will be autonomous and choose
their own line of work.  Individual members-at-large of the T. S. can
help either by establishing Leagues with the help of non-theosophists;
 by selecting some one person or family to assist in any manner
desired, such persons in turn helping those less fortunate than
themselves;  also by subscriptions, monthly or otherwise;  no matter
how small the sum, it will be gladly received.  The Central League
will assist the working Leagues if its finances shall permit, and all
individual work will have mention in the Annual Report.  The President
will gladly correspond with inquirers.  It is desired to keep in touch
with other Leagues and with individual members, and to spread a great
network of altruistic endeavor, in the name of Theosophy, all over the

League No. 1, New York, under the direction of Mr. Patterson, has only
been established five weeks, and already there is great activity to
report, although, owing to the season and the slowness of response
among the New York Theosophists, it has but the merest handful of
working members.  On the day spoken of, some of its results were
ascertained and are herein set forth.

As we approached the tall brick building at 178 Suffolk St. a large
knot of children were seen, gathered about the door.  Saturday is
children's day.

	1. The Editor of the PATH has courteously conceded this department to
the writer for this month, in the interests of the League of
Theosophical Workers.

	In an instant we were seen, and Mr. Patterson was mobbed.  The
children rushed at him, swarmed on him, struggled for a touch of his
coat, his hand;  his name rang in welcome from all the little throats;
 pale faces brightened;  some of the smaller mites jumped up and down
for joy, and all thrust towards us their member's tickets, hearing
their number and that of the League.  My friend slid through the crowd
with the ease and address of an habitue;  he posted one childish
sentinel at the door, another at the head of the steps to inspect
tickets, and we hurried up stairs with the eager crowd at our heels. 
We found ourselves then in a large high-ceiled loft, 90 feet in length
by 25 ft. in width;  there were three large windows, facing north, in
the rear, and the same number facing southward, in the front, so that
good ventilation was secured.  A rope soon divided this room into two
parts.  At the intersection stood a piano.  Behind a railing were
games, hooks, dumb-bells of all sizes in quantity, Indian clubs,
skipping ropes, and the like.  A boy was chosen as keeper of the
entrance bar, and also to give out books, games, and so forth, and a
happy and courteous little attendant he made, the children of the
League being taught, from the start, altruism from the theosophic
standpoint, and that our first privilege is to help those weaker than
ourselves.  Already they show its results.  No doctrines are put
forward in the work unless to individuals by specific request, and no
questions on religion are asked.  Soon the ladies specially in charge
for that afternoon arrived, and under their auspices the girls were
playing the instructive games of the Industrial Schools, and tile
walls rang with the song:

"We're quite a band of merry little girls 	
Who've lately come to school: 	
We're going to sing a kitchen song 	
And learn the kitchen rule.	
As we go round and around and around, 	
As we go round once more:	
And this is a girl, a merry little girl 	
Who is going to wait on the door."

	Then the child in the ring enacted the part of waitress, and a child
outside the ring, with a bell, the part of caller and visitor, until
the lesson of courteous call, reception, invitation to the parlor, and
information of the mistress (another child of the ring) whose message
was carried below, was learned pleasurably by every child.  Other
children played games at a table, learning counting and other facts
incidentally, and wound up with a pretty march to music with evident
delight.  It was only necessary to see them greet the teachers, whom
they often meet some distance from the house and always escort to the
street trains, to understand what these afternoons are to the children
of the poor, who have no space to play in except the thronged streets,
who do not know how to amuse themselves off those streets, and from
whom bean-bags and the lengthy League skipping-rope - with room to
sway it in - elicit shrieks of joy.

Meanwhile the boys, under the care of the President (who takes off his
coat to it, an example which those who own coats eagerly follow), are
soon engrossed in dumb-bell exercise, followed by military drill in
line and in squads, with interludes of trappeze swinging and other
aerial delights.  Leaving the deafening din, we find upstairs the
League Home for orphaned and homeless working girls, under the care of
a bright, staid young Matron, whose heart is in the work.  Here such
girls may obtain healthy food, a comfortable home, League care, and
League amusements of an evening, for $3 weekly.  The floor of the Home
is also 90 x 25. The front is used as a sitting room, bright with
chintz curtains, cherry stained woodwork, painted furniture, and an
enviable corner nook with ample cushions to rest in.  Everything is
plain but bright and neat.  The pictures on the wall, the few
knick-nacks, and most of the furniture are donations;  for the League,
despite rent guaranteed by four or five generous F. T. S, and the work
already done by it, is young and poor.  There is a long passage-way
down the middle of the great floor, on one side of which are cubicles
10 feet by eight;  on the other side, at the back;  are a kitchen and
dining-room, closet, and a place where it is hoped, in the lucky
future, to build in a bath, but where now a wash tub is to stand for
such use.  There is, in all, accommodation for eleven young women
besides the housekeeper.  The rooms are formed of wooden partitions
between 4 and 5 feet high;  these curtains can be drawn back so as to
give ample ventilation both summer and winter.  This home was to open
July 13th, (two days after our visit), and two girls had already
engaged their cubicles.

The League Work has been divided as follows.  Monday Eve:  Meeting of
the Longfellow Literary Club for light gymnastics and games.  This is
a society of some forty young men, between the ages of 18 and 28. 
They run it themselves, the officers being elected from their own
number, and they have already begun to understand that our object is
to teach others to seek out those who need help more than they do. 
Hence they will soon give an entertainment of a literary character,
with tickets at ten cents a head, and devote the proceeds to further
League work:  lessons in elocution, to help this entertainment, form
part of Monday's amusements.  The League has associate members who are
not F. T. S., and one of these, as well as the President, is enrolled
as member of the Longfellow, on the same terms as other members.  The
club has elected to be a Brotherhood, and when Mr. --- rose to speak,
addressing a member as "Mr. Chairman", calls of "Order! order!" were
heard, and he was admonished by the Chair that, the club being a
Brotherhood, the Chair must be adriressed as "Brother Chairman", much
to the amusement of the theosophical members.

Tuesday Eve:  Longfellow Literary Club.  This evening the club has its
debates on political, labor, and other questions, affording the League
men who are members an opportunity of instructing them in the
differences of municipal, State, and general government, the rights
and duties of citizenship, legal and economico-political points, and
other useful information.  A critic is elected for each debate, the
office naturally devolving upon those whose advantages fit them for
the office, and thus the club is instructed and also kept off the
streets at night.  It is also the custom of club members to "drop in"
at the League at other times, to assist in preserving order, to help
or to look on at what takes place, to patrol the block on stirring
evenings when lady visitors are expected;  in fine, the Longfellow is
the main dependence of the League and looks upon the League as more or
less of a home.  These young men, when asked what they most desired,
replied;  "EngIish grammar class."  Is there no collegian, no teacher,
no competent man among our New York theosophists, or in the public at
large, who will come forward and teach grammar one night in the week?
 When forty young men have a chief want, and that want is so wholesome
as grammar, it should be supplied.  The present working staff of
League No. 1 is very small and taxed to the utmost.  Who speaks first?
 The spokesman for the Longfellow said to us:  "We want to learn
anything.  I say that for the Longfellow;  they learn anything you
teach them;  they jump at the chance.  Cooking, bricklaying, anything;
 they take any teachin' you give."

Wednesday evening is devoted to the girls.  They are not yet organized
into a club.  The ladies teach them music, solo and chorus singing,
recitations.  They read a tale about some given country, point it out
on the map, tell about its main points and specialties, question the
girls for their ideas of it, and so history and geography are woven
in.  One girl said of India;  "The people there are more religious
than we are, and they knew everything before we did.  I knew a woman
of India.  She was awful good."

Thursday evening is also for girls;  a younger class.  These are being
taught to do fancy work, make aprons, children's garments, and so on,
for a fair, the proceeds of which will go to some of the very poor of
the neighborhood.  All around are the sweaters and their slaves,
working all day and late into the night every day in the week;  they
are in front of our windows, over our heads, everywhere in fact.

Friday evening the Longfellow has its debates, which are governed by
parliamentary rule, of which Mr. Stabler, an associate member and a
Friend, gives them the points.  As a lawyer, he is able to teach the
boys a great many things of value to them.

Saturday afternoon is for the children, as we have seen.  In the
evening another club of younger boys will meet for lectures and

Sundays from 10 - 12 A.M. and 8 to 10 P.M. are so far devoted to talks
on all subjects in simple language with the elders of the neighborhood
who come in.  These talks are often theosophical, by request.  Several
persons say that they have always believed Reincarnation or Karma. 
They wish to form a Branch of the T. S.. and this will probably be
done later.

In connection with the League are four of the Domestic Libraries
already so popular and useful in Boston.  These were founded at an
expense of $25 each, by a member of the Governing Board.  A case of
carefully-selected books, containing nothing unfavorable to any
religion, is placed in the family of some respectable mechanic where
there are bright children.  Two visitors are appointed for each
library, and ten children of the neighborhood are enrolled as members,
the visitors keeping the keys of the case.  Once a week a visitor
calls, exchanges the books, questions the children on what they have
read, and incidentally teaches them, by games or otherwise.  Families
become proud of the care of these libraries;  the home, cleaned for
"library day," soon wears a brighter guise, to which the visitor is
able to contribute with tactful suggestion.  The elders become
interested and join;  other families want a library;  when all the
books are read, one library exchanges with another;  the visitors get
in touch with the whole neighborhood, and other fields of work reveal
themselves.  One of the libraries donated to League No. 1 has been
transferred to League No. 2 in Brooklyn, and the Central League will
found another there.  League No. 2 has just formed, and, being as yet
without an exchequer, has done some visiting among the poor and will
start its libraries about July 15th.

A benevolent lady-physician of New York has offered to League No. 1 a
two weeks' trip to the seashore for six girls, all expenses paid. 
Another lady offers to lecture on good plain cookery, with
demonstrations, in the Home kitchen, beginning with bread making,
which is much needed.  These ladies are not F. T. S.  Another member
has started a flower mission, which distributes twice weekly at League
No. 1.
No other Leagues have as yet enrolled, the word having just been
passed through the country.  The progress made by League No. 1 with
not more than ten workers - almost every woman of whom (the men go
without saying) has her own living to earn and through the heated term
at that - before the painter has had time to put up over the door the
sign LEAGUE OF THEOSOPHICAL WORKERS No. 1, is an earnest of what will,
inspired by fraternity, can accomplish, and theosophic principles,
silently but effectively working in all deeds, can instil.  This
League will gladly receive books, games, crockery, bedding, sheets,
anything, old or new, in short, at 178 Suffolk St., New York, where
visitors will be welcomed.  Two newspapers have sent reporters there.
 The League wants helpers.  It wants lectures on hygiene, travels,
chemistry;  it wants that grammar class;  it wants anything anyone has
to teach or to give.  Above all, it wants you, theosophists;  wants
your presence your example, your fraternal aid;  it wants you to give
yourselves.  Will you bestow some of your experience, knowledge, or
taste, whatever it may be, upon hungry minds?  Some of you are in
summer homes.  Will you make room there for a few days for some girl
or boy or tired woman?  A poor neighbor, living near, "hasn't got no
religion'', but has hemmed the cubicle bed-sheets for love's sake, "to
help them girls as is poorer yet;  see?"  Give, then, whatever you
can, where nothing comes amiss in the holy names of Theosophy and our
Elder Brothers, The Masters.

 - (Mrs.) J. Campbell Ver Planck, F. T. S.,
President central League Theosophical Workers

 (Tea Table Talk, The Path, Aug., 1891)


A steady increase is seen in the field of Practical Work.  The
principal New York journals published Mrs. Ver Planck's letter
describing League Work, and various newspapers through the country had
editorial or other notices of it.  Five Leagues have now registered,
and two more are about to apply.  At League No. 1, one member is about
to give a picnic to 40 boys at his country residence.  Six working
girls have been sent to the country for two weeks each:  a letter from
one naively and touchingly describes the marvels of country sights and
sounds.  One of the Doctors who visit the slums takes a mid-day meal
at the League restaurant, and with this help the matron and her
helpers are able to get drug-store orders, to have repairs made in
buildings, and to give other sanitary aid.  In one case, the mother of
a dying infant was given a daily meal that she might have life to
impart to her child.  In others, the Doctor pronounced the sufferers
to be "not sick, but only starving."  Poor invalids, covered with
vermin, are bathed, fresh clothing put upon them, and the place
thoroughly cleaned up;  the other inhabitants are taught to keep it
clean, the necessary articles being given to them, and they are
encouraged to "work out" the assistance thus afforded them by helping
the League.  The N. Y. World sent one of its reporters to visit
Suffolk St., and through her some clothing, grocery and drug-store
orders, cases to visit, and the Doctor's assistance were procured. 
Kind friends placed a small fund in the hands of the President of the
Central League for the use of the Suffolk Street Matron in her visits
among the starving poor.  Beef was also bought with a portion of the
money, and beef-tea was made for those destitute and starving ones
unable to take anything else.  A helper writes:  "We took them
beef-tea and flowers;  you should have seen their eyes."  Her
description of the filth encountered is too revolting for publication.
 And here was a girl child working among the Sweaters with but a
single tattered article of clothing in her possession.  These and
other sad tales, told to the children taught at the League, have made
their impression.  The little girls who are learning to sew are going
to give a fair, selling the articles made by them to pay the rent of
an aged and destitute couple in the neighborhood.  These little girls
have chosen for their club the name of "Friendly Helpers".  A friend
sent them two "cutting-out outfits", with two large dolls.  These
outfits teach how to cut and fit dolls' garments, and an accompanying
scale serves to enlarge the patterns for the child's own use.  Another
friend sent a large barrel of pears for the children and the
restaurant.  Several small subscriptions have served to give meals
where they were most sorely needed;  cast-off clothing serves first to
teach mending, and then is given to the bed-ridden, after purification
and a bath.  At the League, every mite helps.  A Professor of one of
our noted colleges has a choral singing class at this League;  the
girls will later give an entertainment for benefit of poorer
neighbors.  In Brooklyn League No 2 has established two Domestic
Libraries, and visits the poor for the Board of Charities.  Still
other activities are reported.  The President of a Brooklyn Orphan
Asylum, pleased with the practical altruism taught during her visit to
the League, requested that a theosophist should give a Sunday talk on
Karma and Altruism to over 300 children and their teachers.  Who next
will help this work?

    - J. C. V. P.

                 (Path, Sept., 1891)


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