Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/112

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
104
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

try offers such an excellent field for the study of charitable institutions. The Dutch are eminently practical; they made an early beginning in the work of alleviating distress, and this relief, from the nature of things, as pointed out, is not spasmodic as in other countries where nothing short of famine, earthquakes, or floods can awaken the people to a realization of the duty they owe to mankind. Here the call for aid may come at any time, so that those charitably inclined must be ever ready to respond, and the organizations for relief can never become lax or inefficient.

Then, too, the population of the Netherlands is very homogeneous, and the leaders in all good works are not only administering to their own people, but are unbiased by prior experiences under other auspices. Consequently, this country furnishes institutions organized under normal conditions, with an entire absence of external influences, and where the helped and the helpers are of the same race.

England, France, and Germany have sent commissions to Holland to study its organized charity, its school system, workingmen's societies, and like institutions. These countries have but little in common, even though their forms of government are, or have been, outwardly similar, while on the other hand we have always found in the Dutchman "a friend and a brother," and an example well worthy of following. And since it is only after examining remedies for evils found without complications, that we can prescribe for abnormal conditions, the study of Dutch institutions is the best possible preparation for arriving at the means for meeting the necessities in our own country.

In Holland the general awakening to the demands of the people came in the eighteenth century, when the social life was lacking in strength, when the rich were largely given over to extravagance, while the poor were neglected, uneducated, and exposed to want. Everything seemed to separate the two classes—nothing emphasized their interdependence. The citizen class was restive under these oppressive conditions, and needed only the successful example of some neighboring people to start the revolution within their own country.

There was in the Netherlands at this time at least one thoughtful man who foresaw the approaching social revolution and realized the danger which threatened his native land if unaccustomed rights and powers should become the possession of those who heretofore had felt the power of others. This man was Jan Nieuwenhuizen, the founder of the Society of General Welfare. It is impossible to estimate the good which has been accomplished by this organization. It instituted free schools, and gave to the state the scheme on which the present public-school system rests; it established savings banks, and the Postal Savings Bank—now the model of the world—was