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“Back to Their Friends” The Reluctant Response of Male-Led Relief, 1880 to the Eve of the World War 85 Chapter Three Doubtless your noble generosity has been returned to you in many fold. Surely your hearts have been made glad in having the means and contributing the same to the relief of the suffering. . . . [S]end all those begging at your door to the Provident rooms. By doing so, you will be protected against impostors and annoyances and protect your neighbors as well. —­ Provident Association Annual Report, 1886 H. F. DeVol, the president of the city’s male-­ led relief organization, the Provident Association, captured the ambivalence of the middle and upper classes toward the poor in his remarks in the association’s 1886 annual report .1 The desire to assist the poor at least to the point of reducing the presence of annoyance to the public and, thereby, to relieve suffering mixed uneasily with a clear disdain for people in poverty. The poor were annoyances at best and impostors at worst. While not recognized by DeVol, the conditions of poverty and the poor in Kansas City were, in large part, a consequence of several interrelated factors: the explosive growth in Kansas City’s population, the city’s role as a railroad hub for the nation, and the new economic structure that arose after the Civil War. Kansas City would struggle to address this confluence of forces over the following decades. Kansas City’s history in this period of rapid industrial expansion was marked by social and economic displacement of large numbers of people who passed through and lived within the city’s borders. This displacement occurred as a result of larger economic and social forces that engulfed the nation. As the city continued its dramatic trajectory in population growth during the years from the end of the Civil War through the end of World 86 Chapter Three War I, its population was buffeted by the rise of corporate capitalism, the cyclical nature of the economy, and the resulting periods of mass unemployment that created persistent and often severe economic and social dislocation . Recurrent natural disasters in the region such as floods, tornadoes, and droughts further increased the suffering of the poor and heightened the effects of social and economic dislocation and the need for relief in the new city. Business leaders in their role as providers of relief and the politicians who supported them in imposing their vision of race, class, and gender in the city, labor, and the political machines all contested to provide relief in a city that was home to large numbers of poor, rootless surplus workers who sought to find their way in the urban environment. The Women’s Christian Association contracted from providing general relief to serving only women and children. The subsequent formation of the male-­ led Provident Association provided the community with a larger and better-­ funded relief structure to serve the needs of an expanding population. The Provident Association took as its inspiration the processes of the Charity Organization Society movement that many other cities adopted in this period. Other organizations such as the Affiliated Charities arose to coordinate relief efforts in the name of efficiency and the Board of Public Welfare to expand the scope of services provided to the community beyond relief to include pardon and parole functions, charity certification, and the regulation of amusements, among many other Progressive initiatives. Women continued to play a role in the process. One prominent female leader served as a member of the newly established Board of Public Welfare for the city, and others practiced in the emerging field of social work. With men assuming primacy in relief, as represented by the largely Protestant business community, the actions of women’s organizations receive careful examination in subsequent chapters. These largely Protestant business-­ led undertakings did not go unanswered by the developing political machines that served immigrant Catholic populations and sought to extend their political influence by providing the staples of life such as food, clothing, and coal. As the machines gained political power, they became increasingly effective in pressing their claims against the largely and increasingly Protestant business elite. Unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World took great exception to the implicit narrative of the Provident Association that the poor must be assisted but that the structure that gave rise to pervasive poverty must not be questioned.2 “Back to Their Friends” 87 Scholars have shaped the understanding of the...


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