Almost Worthy

Almost Worthy

The Poor, Paupers, and the Science of Charity in America, 1877-1917
Brent Ruswick
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/26/2012
ISBN: 978-0-253-00638-7
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In the 1880s, social reform leaders warned that the “unworthy” poor were taking charitable relief intended for the truly deserving. Armed with statistics and confused notions of evolution, these “scientific charity” reformers founded organizations intent on limiting access to relief by the most morally, biologically, and economically unfit. Brent Ruswick examines a prominent national organization for scientific social reform and poor relief in Indianapolis in order to understand how these new theories of poverty gave birth to new programs to assist the poor.

Author Bio

Brent Ruswick is Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University. He is currently researching a book on the “mutual aid” theory of evolution in American reform.


"Ruswick's well-researched monograph traces the history of the charity organization society in the US from its origins in the Gilded Age to its merging with social work in the Progressive Era. . . . Recommended." —Choice

"Almost Worthy offers a lot of interesting detail pulled from COS case files, professional conference proceedings, journals of the field, and more; some possibly fruitful hypotheses about what to make of changes in COS approaches over time; thoughtful new propositions about the relationship between scientific charity and eugenics (including some charity reformers’ apparent remorse); and a fresh, new mini-biography of Oscar McCulloch interspersed throughout." —H-SHGAPE

"" —Enterprise and Society

"Brent Ruswick wants to put the science back into scientific charity. He argues that the essence of organized charity was not its class prejudices and censorious attitude toward the poor, but rather its belief that systematic evidence-gathering could serve to improve the quality of charity work and public policy." —American Historical Review

"[This] study provides a welcome insight into the inner workings of charity organization societies and their drive to eliminate poverty." —NONPROFIT & VOLUNTARY SEC QTLY , 43.4 2014

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Big Moll and the Science of Scientific Charity
2. “Armies of Vice”: Evolution, Heredity, and the Pauper Menace
3. Friendly Visitors or Scientific Investigators? Befriending and Measuring the Poor
4. Opposition, Depression, and the Rejection of Pauperism
5. “I See No Terrible Army”: Environmental Reform and Radicalism in the Scientific Charity Movement
6 The Potentially Normal Poor: Professional Social Work, Psychology, and the End of Scientific Charity