previous next

An Old-time Society.

Arthur Gilman.
The Cambridge Humane Society is one of the most venerable institutions that our city can boast. It held its eighty-first annual meeting in November, 1895, having been founded in 1814, apparently by Dr. Abiel Holmes, whose name leads the list of subscribers in the book of records which has served all the secretaries from that day to the present. In the middle of the ‘heated term,’ as the degenerate sons of the present time speak of the season, the fathers began their beneficent labors with an ‘address’ to their fellow-townsmen, dated August 11. This address was the consummation of efforts begun in February, when a meeting had been held at Porter's Tavern. ‘Caleb Gannett, Esq., being chosen chairman, it was voted that the subscribers do form a society to be known hereafter as The Cambridge Humane Society.’ The next meeting was held at the same hospitable place, July 18, Dr. Abiel Holmes being chairman, and a committee, composed of ‘Samuel Bartlett, Esq., & Doct. Tho's Foster,’ which had been appointed in February, ‘reported the following list of articles that they had procured, which were then exhibited to the Society, viz.:—3 Bathing Tubs, 2 Block tin bed-pans, 2 Block tin pint syringes, 1 Block tin half-pint syringe, 3 urinals, and 1 bed-chair.’ It was determined that these articles should be deposited in the hands of a suitable person resident near the centre of the town,1 who should engage to keep them safely, and to deliver them to applicants under such conditions as the society might adopt. Inhabitants of other towns were not to use the articles, ‘unless they were too remotely situated to avail themselves of similar advantages in their own towns,’ from which we are to infer that bath-tubs, etc., were known [268] elsewhere in the vicinity. Every borrower was under bonds to return the articles ‘clean and dry,’ and in case of competition among applicants, it was ruled that the preference should be given to indigent persons; but whoever should be the successful competitor, he was to be fined ten cents for every day that he retained the articles beyond the time allowed, which, in the case of ‘the tubs,’ was one week.

The first election of officers was held at Porter's Tavern on the 24th of August, 1814, when the following were chosen: president, Rev. Abiel Holmes, D. D.; vice-president, Rev. Henry Ware, D. D.; secretary, Levi Farwell; treasurer, Levi Hedge, Esq.; trustees, Samuel Bartlett, Esq., A. Bigelow, Esq., Dr. T. Foster, William Hilliard, and Israel Porter. It was when the society had been thus fully equipped with a board of officers that the address was issued to the inhabitants. It has a somewhat modern air, in spite of its more than modern dignity of expression. Let us read:—

‘All are ready to acknowledge,’ they say,

the great obligations we are under as men, and especially as Christians, to supply the wants and relieve the sufferings of our brethren; and so numerous are the evils incident to humanity, and so frequent the causes by which their number is increased and their pressure aggravated, that the most liberal and diffusive benevolence can never want objects to engage its attention. It must be allowed that active philanthropy forms a prominent trait in the character of the present day. At no former period has there been such extensive and effectual provision, both public and private, for the relief of the poor and infirm. Institutions for the prevention and relief of suffering in all its various forms are continually springing up around us, the beneficial effect of which on society and great advantages over the occasional exertions of individuals are very evident. These advantages, however, must be limited in great measure to the particular town in which such institution is founded, hence it becomes important that there should be formed in every town an institution for extending the blessings of charity to the necessitous. Although the liberality of individuals in this place has often been extended in no small degree to persons of this description, still it has been regretted that there does not exist here an establishment calculated to ensure to the necessitous that assistance for which no public provision is made, and which the exertions of individuals cannot always supply. Should it be objected that the multiplication of charitable institutions serves to increase human calamity, by encouraging idleness and vice, the objection will be obviated if due care be taken [269] in selecting objects and concerting plans of charity. With whatever force this objection may be applied to other institutions, it is believed to be inapplicable to one intended for the relief of such persons as cannot possibly relieve themselves. Of this class of sufferers are the indigent sick, whose claims to charity are of all the most urgent, and yet least of all admit either deception or abuse. With these views and impressions, a number of persons have associated themselves for the relief of the indigent sick by the name of The Cambridge Humane Society. As the first step towards an object so desirable, they have raised by subscription a sufficient sum to procure a few of the most requisite articles; and have presented an address to the Ladies in Cambridge, requesting their assistance in procuring for the sick such additional articles and such further accommodations as come within their peculiar province.2 In that address they have expressed more particularly what they apprehend to be the advantages of an association for charitable purposes which it were superfluous here to repeat, but to which they respectfully solicit the attention of the inhabitants in general. They indulge the hope that by the cooperation and liberality of their fellow townsmen the institution may be so matured as to embrace such further improvements as experience may suggest.

Besides the names already mentioned, we find among the early members, as we run down the list for the first thirty years: J. Mellen, Esq., A. Craigie, Esq., James Munroe, Sidney Willard, William Hilliard, Esq., Thomas Lee, Esq., Samuel Child, Jr., Charles Folsom, Esq., Hon. Joseph Story, Stephen Higginson, Esq., Dr. F. J. Higginson, Rev. Thomas W. Coit, Jonas Wyeth, Jr., John G. Palfrey, William Newell, Nehemiah Adams, R. H. Dana, Ebenezer Francis, Jr., Andrews Norton, Alexander H. Ramsay, Richard M. Hodges, William Saunders, J. B. Dana, C. C. Little, Simon Greenleaf, J. E. Worcester, John A. Albro, C. C. Felton, Charles Beck, Morrill Wyman, James Walker, E. S. Dixwell, Converse Francis, William T. Richardson, H. W. Longfellow, Edward Everett, Asa Gray, Francis Bowen, Joseph Lovering, John Ware, John Holmes, Estes Howe, William Greenough, Robert Carter, E. N. Horsford, Charles E. Norton.

Dr. Holmes remained president until his death in 1837, when Joseph Story was put in his place, Dr. Ware still remaining vice-president. Levi Hedge (Ll. D.) was treasurer [270] until 1831, when, on account of ill-health and expected absence from town, he asked to be relieved from the cares of office, and a special meeting was called to choose his successor. Dea. William Brown was the choice of the society, and he held the post for five years, when, in September, 1836, Dr. A. H. Ramsay was chosen. He held the office with great acceptance for five years. He was again chosen treasurer in 1858, and held the office until 1885, when a special meeting was again necessary to elect his successor, on account of his death. William Taggard Piper was then chosen, and he is the present occupant of the office. Thus there have been but few treasurers during the life of the society. The thirty-two years of service of Mr. Ramsay is a record that it would be difficult to match in Cambridge.

The present officers are: president, Francis J. Child; secretary, Arthur Gilman; treasurer, William Taggard Piper. Mr. Gilman has been secretary for the past sixteen years. Dr. Morrill Wyman has been a member of the society for fifty-five years; Dr. Ramsay had been a member for fifty years at the time of his death; Dr. Palfrey was president for ten years, and there have been many other long terms.

The society continues its career of usefulness in a manner but slightly different from that laid down by the founders. It collects annually a certain sum, which is distributed by its almoner to the destitute with great carefulness, and the original principles of charitableness and thorough investigation of every case are followed. Among societies of its kind, it is doubtless the most venerable in our city.

It is entertaining, as showing the expression of the feelings of beneficence on the part of the fathers, in the village days of Cambridge, to look over the records of the society to mark on what subjects the thoughts of the members were brought to bear. For example, in 1816 they began to see the necessity for more apparatus for the performance of its work, and it was voted that an inquiry should be made by the trustees ‘concerning a patent bedstead and the machinery pertaining to it, for the purpose of raising a sick person from a bed,’ and they were prudently authorized to ‘procure such a one as in their discretion may comport with the pecuniary means of the Society.’ In the same year steps were taken to provide, ‘at the expense of the town,’ a ‘suitable boat or boats, and apparatus belonging [271] thereto, to be kept and used for finding, as soon as may be, persons drowned.’ The boat continued to demand a portion of the attention of the society at its meetings until 1830, after which date—fourteen years from its first appearance—it disappears from the records. It had been found in 1817 that the town was not willing to pay the entire cost of the boat, and it was voted that ‘William Hilliard, Esq., and Cap'n Samuel Child be a committee to procure a suitable boat and appendages to the same,’ with authority to ‘draw upon the Treasurer for such sum as may be necessary, in addition to the sum provided by the Selectmen.’ In August, 1818, this committee reported that the object had been accomplished by means of contributions of twenty-five dollars each from the town and Harvard College, and certain additional sums from those benevolent personages, ‘individuals of the town.’ Thus, after two years of negotiation, the boat had been prepared for its work of ‘finding, as soon as may be, persons drowned.’ By 1825, however, after seven years of usefulness, as we must suppose, it was discovered that ‘the boat’ needed repairs, and the trustees were requested to put it in order ‘as soon as may be, and to keep it in order, and place it in such situation as shall be safe and convenient of access when there may be occasion to use it in the service of the Society.’ A year later the trustees made a report on the expediency of repairing the boat, and we can only guess that they had discovered that its condition had placed it beyond the desirability of repairs, for the society, after adjourning for a month, perhaps in order that the members might make personal examination of the boat, voted to appropriate fifty dollars for an entirely new one. It was not so easy, however, to provide suitable care for the boat, and in August, 1829, a committee of three prominent citizens was appointed to provide the quarters, which seem still to be unsecured. This committee reported that the best method would be to contract with Mr. Emery Willard to care for the boat. The advice of the committee was adopted, and the boat seems thereafter to have been kept by Mr. Willard. It passes from the records at least, and was no longer a cause for solicitude.

The society seems to have been the original Cambridge board of health, and in 1817 it commissioned William Hilliard, Esq., ‘to enquire concerning, and to apply to the Selectmen to cause to be removed, any nuisances which endanger the health of the town.’ [272]

The society had been formed to aid the ‘indigent sick,’ and after about nine years of experience, in 1823, a feeling arose that perhaps the sphere of action might be widened, and accordingly a committee was appointed to ‘enquire whether any portion of the Society's funds may be appropriated to the use of other persons besides the indigent sick.’ This committee made a formal report on this, which seemed to be a constitutional question, in the course of which it said:—

That upon the organization of the Society, it was considered a primary object to obtain such articles, by way of permanent apparatus, as are wanted in cases of sickness, and which with difficulty are procured from other sources. To the accomplishment of this object, liberal subscriptions were then made. In addition to this, the annual assessment of one dollar upon each member of the Society has enabled it, from year to year, to make appropriations for the partial relief of such cases of poverty, accompanied with sickness, as have come within the knowledge of the Trustees. Your Committee would further report, that although it was considered a prudent measure in the infant state of the Society, to limit its appropriations for relief exclusively to the objects contemplated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the Society, to wit, “the indigent sick;” yet they consider that there are many strong cases, which have and will occur, where the restriction operates as a bar against the relief of suffering poverty, although not attended with the still greater calamity of sickness. In such cases your Committee are of the opinion that the prudent extension of our charities might be made to comport with the benevolent intentions of the Society. From these considerations your Committee would recommend, that the Constitution be so far altered, that the appropriations hereafter made by the Society be applied to such persons as the Society, or the Trustees thereof, may consider as in a state of suffering poverty, although it may not be accompanied with actual sickness.

Upon these suggestions the society then agreed to act, and upon them it still acts, after the lapse of threescore years and twelve.

There is but one more matter that it is necessary to mention in the history of this foundation of the fathers. In 1830, at a time when the beautiful river Charles was still flowing with pure water, a committee was formed to ‘consider and report on the expediency of erecting a bathing-house, in part, or wholly, at the expense of the Society, as may be thought desirable.’ The society was not in a hurry, even as late as 1830, and it was [273] a year before the committee made its report, and then, on the strength of it, a vote was passed authorizing the treasurer to pay to George King one hundred dollars, ‘whenever said King has erected a convenient bathing-house adjoining to or near the old Brighton Bridge, so-called.’ To this was added the following proviso: ‘Provided the said King shall make and deliver to the Treasurer a written engagement that each of the present members of the Society shall be entitled to a season ticket for the use of himself and family for the first season after the same shall be completed, and that thereafter each present member shall be entitled to a season ticket in each succeeding year on the following terms, viz.: heads of families on the payment of two dollars annually and other members on the payment annually of one dollar.’ This vote made it desirable that an authentic list of the members should be on record, and accordingly such a list was placed on the books. It is as follows: Abiel Holmes, Henry Ware, Levi Farwell, Levi Hedge, Israel Porter, E. W. Metcalf, James Munroe, A. Biglow, Sidney Willard, William Hilliard, William Brown, T. L. Jennison, Asahel Stearns, W. J. Whipple,* Abel Willard,* James Brown, Charles Folsom, Joseph Story, Josiah Quincy, William Wells, Stephen Higginson, James Hayward, N. J. Wyeth, William Watriss,* F. J. Higginson, Joseph Foster, Thomas W. Coit, Otis Danforth, John Farrar. Those marked with a star are single men.

It may have seemed to the members that this legislation was rather more for the advantage of the members than for that of the ‘sick,’ indigent, or otherwise, and this may be the reason why in the following year it was voted that an appropriation for the purchase of tickets for the bath be made, so that five dollars' worth might be put in the hands of each of the three physicians, ‘Drs. Timo. L. Jennison, Sylvanus Plympton, and Francis J. Higginson,’ ‘to be by them from time to time given to such individuals as, in the opinion of said physicians, may be benefited by their use, and whose circumstances may render such an appropriation conformable to the objects of this Society.’

During the eighty-one years of the life of the society it has had eleven presidents. Dr. Holmes served for the longest term,—twenty-three years. He was followed by Professor Joseph Story, the distinguished jurist; Professor Simon Greenleaf, [274] whose widow, sister of the poet Longfellow, still lives in Cambridge; Hon. John G. Palfrey, the historian; William M. Vaughan, the late revered founder of the Social Union; and later, by Dr. Francis Greenwood Peabody, Plummer Professor in Harvard College; Dr. Joseph H. Allen, the late Samuel Batchelder; and the present head of the society, Professor Francis J. Child.

1 The town at that time was but a small portion of the present Ward One. Probably there were seven hundred inhabitants.

2 Frequent references to the ‘Female Humane Society’ prove that the ladies, still most active in this work, were of the same disposition in the early days.—editor.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Abiel Holmes (5)
William Hilliard (5)
Francis J. Higginson (3)
Levi Hedge (3)
Arthur Gilman (3)
Morrill Wyman (2)
Sidney Willard (2)
Emery Willard (2)
John Ware (2)
Henry Ware (2)
Joseph Story (2)
Alexander H. Ramsay (2)
A. H. Ramsay (2)
Israel Porter (2)
William Taggard Piper (2)
John Gorham Palfrey (2)
James Munroe (2)
John Holmes (2)
Stephen Higginson (2)
Simon Greenleaf (2)
Charles Folsom (2)
Levi Farwell (2)
Thomas W. Coit (2)
Samuel Child (2)
Francis J. Child (2)
William Brown (2)
Samuel Bartlett (2)
N. J. Wyeth (1)
Jonas Wyeth (1)
Joseph E. Worcester (1)
Abel Willard (1)
William J. Whipple (1)
William Wells (1)
William Watriss (1)
Artemas Ward (1)
James Walker (1)
William M. Vaughan (1)
Timo (1)
Asahel Stearns (1)
William Saunders (1)
William T. Richardson (1)
Josiah Quincy (1)
Plummer Professor (1)
Sylvanus Plympton (1)
Francis Greenwood Peabody (1)
John G. Palfrey (1)
Charles Eliot Norton (1)
Andrews Norton (1)
William Newell (1)
Eliab W. Metcalf (1)
James Mellen (1)
Joseph Lovering (1)
Henry W. Longfellow (1)
Charles C. Little (1)
Thomas Lee (1)
George King (1)
T. L. Jennison (1)
L. Jennison (1)
Estes Howe (1)
E. N. Horsford (1)
Richard M. Hodges (1)
James Hayward (1)
William Greenough (1)
Asa Gray (1)
Caleb Gannett (1)
Ebenezer Francis (1)
Converse Francis (1)
Thomas Foster (1)
Joseph Foster (1)
C. C. Felton (1)
John Farrar (1)
Edward Everett (1)
Drs (1)
Doct (1)
E. S. Dixwell (1)
Dea (1)
Otis Danforth (1)
Richard Henry Dana (1)
John B. Dana (1)
A. Craigie (1)
Robert Carter (1)
James Brown (1)
Francis Bowen (1)
A. Biglow (1)
Alanson Bigelow (1)
Charles Beck (1)
Joseph Henry Allen (1)
John A. Albro (1)
Nehemiah Adams (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1830 AD (3)
1817 AD (2)
February (2)
November, 1895 AD (1)
1885 AD (1)
1858 AD (1)
1837 AD (1)
September, 1836 AD (1)
1831 AD (1)
August, 1829 AD (1)
1825 AD (1)
1823 AD (1)
August, 1818 AD (1)
1816 AD (1)
August 24th, 1814 AD (1)
1814 AD (1)
August 11th (1)
July 18th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: