Inter-ethnic co-operation in New York

Screen-Shot-2015-10-11-at-17.39.12Some of the most enduring fruit of co-operation, and borne across ethnic groups, can be found, however, in New York. It was there that the local St Andrew’s and St George’s societies worked together closely—so closely, in fact, that they shared the same lodgings at 3 Broadway, as well as the same almoner, for a period in the 1870s. This type of inter-ethnic associational networking also provides further evidence of the degree to which ethnic associations operated at a wider social and civic level. In New York this is best exemplified through the work of the Board of United Charities, which was formed in the 1870s on the initiative of ethnic associations.

The history behind the establishment of that organization is set out in the preface to its 1876 directory. In 1874, a Bureau of Charities was launched in New York, later leading to ‘the confederation of a large number of the [charitable] Societies under the title of the Board of United Charities of New York’. Under the leadership of the Board, a directory of New York charities was compiled, the purpose of which it was to provide a ‘regular means’ of ‘ascertaining year after year the financial and general condition of the principal Benevolent Institutions of New York’. An added bonus was that the directory allowed New York residents to determine whether a charitable society was genuine and doing good work. The Board included organizations with diverse aims, ranging from those providing relief for women and girls to hospitals; specifically excluded were societies connected to churches. Ethnic (national) societies, however, were clearly identified as a discrete part of New York’s relief system for the poor. These societies were, in fact, fundamental in the Board’s operations. In 1876 the Board’s Executive Committee had eight members, five of whom were the presidents of ethnic societies and included Robert Gordon, the President of the St Andrew’s Society, and Henry E. Pellew, the President of the St George’s Society. The directory the Board produced provides fascinating insights into the remit of ethnic associations in New York, as well as the aid they dispensed, and helps put the work of the New York St Andrew’s Society into context.

The work of the Board, even if not formalized to the same extent in other centres, still resonated throughout North America: co-operation around the provision of charity for emigrants was a key objective and many ethnic societies, therefore, also worked together with emigration agents and local officials to facilitate the provision of aid. Through this civic-oriented role, as a member of the Montreal St Andrew’s Society aptly observed, organizations were working towards both ‘the good of our adopted country, and loyalty to the motherland’. Importantly, this was also a function recognized by the wider public. The Hamilton Times reported:

A few months ago, a poor Scotch family arrived in this city in an almostdestitute condition, and applied to several members of St Andrew’sSociety for relief. They received aid—which was very timely and liberal—and immediately endeavored to get something to do. Their efforts weresuccessful; day after day they prospered, and it was pleasing to hear Mr.John Osborne mention at the meeting of the St. Andrew’s Society, onThursday evening last, that not only had this family prospered and beenenabled to make themselves comfortable, but had also since befriendedmany emigrants from Scotland, and extended to them the right hand offellowship. Such cases as this tend to show how truly beneficial a societysuch as that of St. Andrew’s can be.

Recognition of the benefits the Scottish ethnic societies brought was by no means restricted to local newspapers. In a despatch to London, George Matthews, Overseer of Poor, St John, New Brunswick, detailed activities of benevolent associations noting that ‘[t]he committee of the St. Andrew’s Society for attendance of cases of real need and distress will have fundsat their disposal during the winter to extent of over 300l.’ St Andrew’s societies were firmly embedded in the fabric of charity provision in settlements all around North America. The New York Times put it well when noting that Scottish ethnic associations, whether helping indigent new arrivals from Scotland or engaging in inter-associational co-operation, were ‘in every way thoroughly equipped for carrying on … work of “relieving the distressed”’, and they did so from their first emergence in the seventeenth century until well into the twentieth century (and the legacy still lives on).

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