Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Censer, Jane Turner
Pub Date: 03/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 3
Topic: NamedWork: Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Lockley, Timothy James
Accession Number: 223732191
Full Text: Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South. By Timothy James Lockley (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007. xiv plus 276 pp.).

Timothy James Lockley has given us a valuable new overview of charity, benevolence, and welfare in the antebellum South that complements and builds on existing work. Carefully defining these terms as "assistance freely offered to those without the means to help themselves" (p. 2), he searches for the colonial origins of such ventures--both private and governmental--and follows them through to the Civil War.

Building on the work of historians who have chronicled the efforts of specific southern cities or rural localities, Lockley puts southern efforts in a national perspective. Indeed, he asserts that nineteenth-century benevolence in the South did not necessarily take a backseat to northern activities, even though historians accustomed to the reform and volunteerist orientation of the urban North have tended to see it as far in the vanguard. Estimating that 90 per cent of southern charitable organizations left no record, the author suggests that it is more the paucity of these records rather than a lack of benevolent organizations that has given rise to this view. Thus he extrapolates from the existence of such organizations to suggest a very charitable South

Indeed, Lockley argues that the nineteenth century benevolent activity in the South built on a stronger foundation of generosity toward the poor than in the North where impoverished folks might be warned out of a town in which they did not meet the official requirements for residence. Southern cities and counties cobbled together a combination of "outdoor relief"--contributions to supplement the income of the working poor, widows with families, or adults incapacitated by age or disabilities--and institutions such as poorhouses and orphanages, even though the latter could be quite expensive to operate and some localities actually shut them down. The result was that "White paupers in rural counties always had the safety net of public relief beneath them, even if that safety net sometimes had holes in it" (p. 39).

In regard to orphans, the practice of apprenticeship continued for girls and boys, though Lockley suggests that over time poor lads had greater educational opportunities than their sisters. Charleston stood alone in its publicly funded orphanage though cities such as Norfolk and Mobile had privately endowed ones. Moreover, over time the states took on the burden of institutions for those with such major disabilities as mental illness, blindness and deafness.

Moreover, southern women, like their counterparts in the North, from the early nineteenth century undertook many charitable activities. The southern ladies focused on children and young women but undertook a wide range of activities. According to Lockley, "The sheer scale and variety of organized female benevolence in the South is remarkable" (p. 69). Yet he also argues that toward the end of the antebellum period, the benevolent community that women had been creating splintered because of competition among women from different religious affiliations.

While arguing that the South both undertook both publicly and privately financed benevolent activities, Lockley does believe that these southern actions were distinctive in some ways. Although some agencies in the Upper South such as poorhouses served free people of color, the recipients of aid in the antebellum century South overwhelmingly were white. The author sees this as an early wedge toward a solid South--a way for the white elites to reinforce among poorer folk the legitimacy of their rule. This argument helps to explain one of the more peculiar aspects of the book, its inclusion of public education among social welfare activities. For Lockley, the increased popularity of public education in the 1850s, even as the sectional crisis was deepening, shows that elite Southerners focused on building white solidarity and support for the current regimes. Yet the rhetoric that he cites from the promoters of public education may say more about their attempts to make it popular in a time of sharpened sectionalism than any actual intent to create a more coherent white community.

In sum, Lockley provides an interesting survey of benevolent undertakings with a strong chronology. He is at his most convincing about the wide ranging private and public benevolent projects in south eastern cities such as Savannah, Charleston, and Richmond but also details the kinds of activities undertaken in rural areas and the Old Southwest.

George Mason University

Jane Turner Censer
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.