The Young, the Aged, and the Poor: The King's Daughters and the Growth of Social Benevolence in Durham, North Carolina, 1881-1915

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Title: The Young, the Aged, and the Poor: The King's Daughters and the Growth of Social Benevolence in Durham, North Carolina, 1881-1915
Author: Sherman, Rebecca Thaler
Advisors: Katherine Mellen Charron, Committee Member
David R. Ambaras, Committee Member
Blair LM Kelley, Committee Chair
Abstract: This thesis explores the role of gender and race in the creation of the public and private social welfare systems in Durham, North Carolina, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Local officials chose to make the poorhouse the centerpiece of the newly-founded county’s public welfare system in the early 1880s. However, as Durham expanded in the following decades from a small town to a booming industrial city, the number of economically vulnerable residents—African Americans, as well as white women and children—correspondingly grew. Patterns of both poverty and relief in Durham were gendered in nature and impacted by the system of white supremacy. By the turn of the century, many middle- and upper-class Durhamites came to view the poorhouse model as flawed and inadequate. They responded by attempting to reform the public system, often influenced by national movements, and by offering alternative private services to those groups they deemed worthy of assistance. In 1903 a group of middle- and upper-class white women formed the Sheltering Home Circle of the King’s Daughters, a local chapter of an international women’s voluntary association. The group undertook various types of charitable projects directed towards Durham’s needy residents, ranging from giving monetary donations to providing social services; the Sheltering Home Circle’s largest endeavor was the building and maintenance of a home for “worthy†old ladies. This study focuses on the public and private provisions made for needy women and children in Durham. During the nineteenth century, dependent children in Durham and other southern counties typically had been boarded in the poorhouse or apprenticed to local masters. The King’s Daughters, responding to a national child-saving movement and to the inadequacies of the local child welfare system in Durham, performed rescue work among the city’s orphaned and neglected white children. They utilized the legal system and their connections to the North Carolina Children’s Home Society to remove these children from the county and place them in new homes across the state. The organization also worked to rescue unmarried mothers by sending them to privately-run, evangelical maternity homes. The intervention of benevolent societies helped to revolutionize some aspects of Durham’s welfare system. The King’s Daughters criticized the poorhouse model and, despite the county government’s resistance to change, the women successfully provided alternative services for subsets of the city’s needy population. In all of their projects the King’s Daughters aimed to assist those people with whom they most easily identified and empathized, white women and children. However, the women’s biases blinded them to the plight of other groups—blacks, those deemed unworthy of charity, and other “undesirables†—who consequently remained dependent on the poorhouse and the limited social services provided by the county. Despite reform movements and the rise of local charitable organizations advocating “modern†methods of social work, the transformation of Durham County’s welfare system remained incomplete until the late 1910s, when the state implemented new legislation.
Date: 2008-11-24
Degree: MA
Discipline: History

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