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| 155 8 “Effective Men” and Early Voluntary Associations in Philadelphia, 1725–1775 Jessica Choppin Roney Moore Trotter found herself in dire straits by 1768. An impoverished and desperate immigrant in Philadelphia, she beseeched the help of two of the wealthiest women in the city, Miss Elizabeth Graeme and Mrs. Mary McCall Plumstead. It is unclear what (if any) actions Graeme and Plumstead took immediately to help her, but they did recommend her case to the St. Andrew’s Society, a voluntary association set up for two major purposes: to celebrate Scottish heritage and to provide economic assistance to struggling Scottish immigrants. Moore Trotter qualified for their charity, and, thanks in part to the recommendations of Graeme and Plumstead, she was granted thirty shillings.1 Trotter’s case sheds light on the distinctive ways men and women might contribute to charitable causes in the eighteenth century. Presumably Trotter approached Graeme and Plumstead because she hoped that as women they would be sympathetic to her plight. Graeme and Plumstead, however, were limited in what they could do to help her. They might give her some food, clothing, or money, but though they were wealthy their charity was limited by the will of their male relatives—in Elizabeth Graeme’s case, her father, and for Mary Plumstead, her husband. Whatever they did privately, these women evidently concluded that the best help for Moore Trotter would come from an institution larger than their own resources. They turned to the St. Andrew’s Society, where Graeme’s father and Plumstead’s brothers were influential founding members. Neither woman was herself a member.2 The St. Andrew’s Society, named for the patron saint of Scotland, had been founded in Philadelphia in 1749 by a number of Scottish immigrants. The Scotsmen had found themselves “frequently” approached by their “Country people here in distress.” Rather than continue to try to aid them individually, the Scotsmen decided “to form ourselves into a Society in order 156 | Jessica Choppin Roney to provide for these Indigents whereby they may be more easily more regularly and more bountifully Supply’d than cou’d well be done in the common troublesome way of making Occasional collections for such purposes.” In other words, rather than rely on ad hoc or individual measures, these men would pool their resources and their efforts. No longer would they give charity to applicants individually, but instead refer them to the St. Andrew’s Society officers, who would decide who should get assistance.3 Charity in the eighteenth century was a laudable characteristic—indeed the St. Andrew’s Society thought it was “one of the first-rate moral Virtues” an individual, male or female, might possess. But the plight of Moore Trotter demonstrated a divergence in the ways that men and women in Philadelphia might enact that virtue. Women like Graeme and Plumstead might give individual charity, but they were limited by their own economic circumstances and, unless they were widows, by the will of their male head of household. Men had greater leeway than women in their ability to give charity, but over the course of the eighteenth century they began to approach it differently— moving away from individual giving and more toward institutional forms. They began to favor public, corporate, and codified endeavors.4 This move coincided with a trend over the course of the eighteenth century in Philadelphia: the growth of voluntary associations. In the fifty years before the American Revolution, Philadelphians founded more than sixty organizations. They ranged considerably: the first subscription libraries of North America, the first volunteer fire companies, the first hospital, the first nonsectarian college, several scientific and medical societies, a dancing society, and a host of sociable and ethnic clubs. Through these organizations Philadelphia men began to engage differently with their community, introducing and indeed inventing a new collective form in American society and politics. This form did not spring anew into the world; in Philadelphia, it drew on the models of British voluntary associations, Protestant and Quaker religious structures, English political traditions, and the needs and opportunities presented by a heterogeneous colonial population. The formal voluntary associations that Philadelphians developed were further shaped deeply by their status on the edge of the British Empire, where greater latitude existed for them to act than in England, which had much more comprehensive governmental and church structures to provide necessary services. Men monopolized voluntary organizations. Women like Elizabeth Graeme and Mary Plumstead could and did operate on the margins of men’s...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814728222
Related ISBN
9780814727805
MARC Record
OCLC
695991321
Pages
304
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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