Charity/Friendly Societies

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, ordinary Americans erected formidable networks of individual and collective self-help for protection. These social welfare systems fell into two broad categories: hierarchical relief and reciprocal relief. Hierarchical relief was characterized by large, bureaucratic, and formalized institutions supported by donors who usually came from significantly different geographical, ethnic, and income backgrounds than did the recipients. Reciprocal relief tended to be decentralized, spontaneous, and informal. The donors and recipients were likely to be from the same, or closely related, walks of life, and today's recipient could well be tomorrow's donor.

Hierarchical relief appeared in such guises as tax-funded almshouses, usually at the county level, and organized private charities. Because Americans of all classes and ethnic groups attached great stigma to dependence ...

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