Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Fire, No Food

Those of us born after the New Deal need to be reminded occasionally how devastating the loss of a breadwinner could be. Turn of the century Jamaica Plain was a place of dances and amateur theatricals, but it was a place of poverty as well.

Boston Daily Globe December 13, 1902

No Fire, No Food. Mother and Family of Seven in Want. Deserving Woman in Jamaica Plain Pleaded for a Hod of Coal. Happiness Brought to a Home Filled With Dispair.

A citizen occupying a responsible postition under the government visited the Globe office yesterday and told a story of destitution and suffering that came under his notice. The relation of the hardships undured, he hoped, might come to the nobice of some one who would be able to render assistance to a deserving family.

About 9 on one of the recent bitterly cold nights, he said, his doorbell rang. The ring was answered by a member of the family, who, after an absence of a couple of minutes returned, and asked him if he could not spare a hod of coal for a family that was without fire. Seeking the reason for such a request from a stranger, he brought the latter into the sitting room.

She was a woman, poorly clad, and shivering with cold. She told her tale, and again begged for a little coal to make a fire for her seven children, and offered to work to pay for it. The story of the condition of the family was more than the listener could stand without being moved, and taking a bag he filled it from his coal bin and shouldered it himself.

The woman, who was Mrs Gately, led him to the rear of 6 School st, Jamaica Plain, where on the second floor she lived with her family. There he found only cold and want. The seven children, four boys - the oldest 14 years, and the youngest 2 years - and three girls, one a baby and the others 5 and 10 years, were waiting for the mother's return. The condition of the house confirmed the mother's story of the family destitution.

There was a stove, but no fire; dishes, but no food to put on them. The fire was soon lighted, and the children crowded around the stove to get warm. The benefactor slipped out, and again returned with food, and there was a new happiness for the little ones, which they did not fail to express loudly. Leaving the family in the midst of their rejoicing, the good samaritan returned to his own cheerful home.

Since then he has interested several persons in the family. Their condition he has learned is not due to any neglect on the part of the mother. Some months ago the father became insane, and was removed to an asylum. The mother has since kept her family together by going out washing, and bringing in home work such as she could secure. The family got along fairly well until the cold came. Then the children whose clothes had been warn since the head of the family had been lost to them, began to suffer from want of the warm garments he had used to provide, but which the mother could not now procure from her small earnings.

Even food became scarse, and the little ones had not even the warmth that a full meal gives. They did not complain, however, until the intense cold drove the mother to ask coal from the house where she had seen a load delivered. To the sympathetic the citizen says that clothing for the children and work for the mother are what is most needed. With work she can provide for her children and keep them together until, as she and they hope, one day the father will return sound in mind to again keep his family beyond the reach of want.

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