The Congress of Women: How Can We Aid?

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

How Can We Aid?[1]

Mrs. Agnes L. Harrington d'Arcambal is a native of Burlington, Vt. She was born March 8, 1832. Her parents were William and Eliza Harrington. Has traveled throughout the United States. She married Charles L. d'Arcambal, a native of France. Her special work has been in the interest of suffering humanity. She has been for twenty-five years a voluntary worker in several lines of charity. In religious faith she is a Christian. Her postoffice address is Detroit, Mich.

All along the seacoast of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, out on rivers and down into the lakes, our government has built the lighthouse for the safety and relief of the storm-tossed ships. Within every lighthouse there are lifeboats and life preservers, and lights and lifelines to throw out to the drowning crew and traveler.

So upon the shores of the stormy ocean of vice, which surges in and through the great city of Chicago and all other cities, we find life-saving stations for the help and restoration of poor, perishing souls. Here, too, are lights and life lines thrown out by loving, strong arms to draw in to rescue the weak and erring girls.

When a vessel, its crew and passengers, are wrecked, thousands and thousands of people hear and repeat over and over the tale of dreadful disaster. "That fearful shipwreck, the loss of life and property." The daily press reports and the people tell with exactness just the number of souls on board, and mourn that freight and vessel have gone down-lost. Alas! who knows of the hundreds of thousands of weak and erring girls that are going down, down, lost, perishing in this sea of vice that rolls in and about us on every side. The press may tell a part-doubtless would be willing to tell more-but the people draw the veil, saying, "It is too horrible to read of such things in our daily papers." Many good people condemn the papers and the reporters for giving to the public "these horrible details." Even those who deem themselves the Christian people of the city may read; but they rush by the wrecks with upturned faces, but few lips daring to speak and few arms outreached to rescue, even a girl, though she be but a child. Yet it is characteristic of this age in which we live to employ all forms and offices of Christian charity and sympathy, indeed to the most elaborate and far-reaching organizations and societies. We have homes for the foundling, homes for the aged, the blind, the deaf and the dumb, homes for sailors and soldiers, homes for the inebriate, homes for the incurable, asylums and hospitals everywhere.

And so broad and wide and strong are the arms of this great spirit of loving kindness to all the human family, it still has place and thought for the dumb animals and the fowls of the air, their rights are made incorporate among the laws of our land. Generously are all these homes and asylums supported by a generous people. All are proudly mentioned from the pulpit and by the press. Only one stands out in the loneliness of its unpopularity-the refuge for erring girls-the home for fallen women. This one true Christian charity, as it were, stands alone, unpopular, almost an orphan, for few venture to adopt this child of sin and sorrow. I assure you, kind friends, that it is with gravest feelings of a deep responsibility that I stand before this congress to speak on this important subject: "How can we help the weak and erring girls ?

I wish I could tell of this work; how it was made the loving, consecrated work of a man over two thousand years ago; "a man who went about doing good," and whose loving service to humanity stands out so plainly the work of his heart-the pardon and purification of lost women. It is through the divine history of this man that hearts have been inspired to enter the vineyard, and with loving hands and kind words reclaim many a weak, sinful girl, and draw her away from sin and hell up into a purer and better atmosphere of light and life.

The reformation of women, "How to help the weak and erring," is a work and subject that has many sides, and is fraught with the deepest interest to the entire human family. We all acknowledge that "prevention is better than cure," yet we all realize that humanity is and has ever been prone to err. So we must find some way to reach these unfortunate creatures. With many years of experience behind me in this kind of work, I realize that to be successful and to bring about good results there must be intelligent organization and co-operation. I find where homes or houses of refuge have been founded they gradually grow into favor and usefulness. I know there come many struggles, often sad disappointments, sighs and tears to the women who are brave enough to associate themselves with this reform work for their own sex. No worker can be half-hearted or faint-hearted who enters the places where they find these poor abandoned girls. Eyes they must have to see and realize the depth of sin and degradation of their living hell. Ears to hear, not the scoff and jeers, but the sad confession of some sin-sick soul. Hearts of pity and grace from God and the divine love and patience of the loving Saviour, the gentle Jesus who dried the sinful woman's tears and bade her sin no more. When this Son of God began His ministry in His native town, He took this text: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted and preach deliverance to the captive and the restoring of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are bruised." He is the preacher, and His preaching has inaugurated all the sympathy, all the love, all the humane movements of our modern world. All the leading spirits of this reform have avowed again and again that the reformation of these unfortunate women is a religious question, and that unless the worker in this uninviting, unpopular field is sustained by the religious sentiment of the community, and upheld by the faith and prayers and sympathy and co-operation of both Christian men and women, they may as well lay down their arms. I hold that we as workers have a right to expect from every Christian community intelligent sympathy with the work, and the moral support of an educated public sentiment, and the creation of an atmosphere of hopeful feeling in which the rescued and the reformed may breathe and live again. This work demands tenderness, humanity and self-sacrifice. You and I as Christian people carry in our hands and hearts the power to give life and bring it unto these abandoned creatures. God's command is: "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

This is the true inspiration of all work for the outcast. There is no soul so far steeped in sin that it cannot be saved by Jesus. Some who hear my voice and know of my work may find fault with me for stooping to aid these poor outcasts of society. But listen. There arises the story of Christ and the abandoned woman, and His words, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Herein is the inspiration of this work.

I must tell you, for I am sure it will interest you, the story of a poor, innocent girl. Twenty-five years ago-twenty-five years tell many hopeful results, for even at that time I was as zealous a worker as I am this day; our poormaster often called to ask my assistance, some child was sick, or some poor family might be tided over and kept from the poor house if a little help were given them, therefore I was not surprised to receive a call from him at any hour. This time he came in haste, and asked me whether I would go down to a saloon on Water street, where a young woman lay dying. Poor thing, dying of consumption, and in such a place. He said to me: "Can you go soon? You will know better than I how to say a word to the poor girl. She evidently does not belong to the class that frequents saloons." I readily promised to go, provided myself with a few lemons and a glass of jelly, and got all the Christ-love possible into my heart, for I well knew what it must be and what it meant to go into "a saloon on Water street." As I neared the building I saw a coarse looking man standing in the door. The blinds had not been removed, and evidently he was expecting me, for the poormaster had promised to send me. I asked, "Is there a sick woman here?" He replied, "Yes, good woman, hurry up those stairs. Poor thing, she don't belong here. No such sort as the other girls. But my wife is awful tender hearted; she found this girl at one of the hotels, where she was trying to wash dishes to pay for her board. Poor thing; dying by inches. My wife brought her over here, and we gave her the best little room we had upstairs, and my wife has been a mother to her. But, poor bird, it is all up with her. I wasn't going to open up this place or take down these blinds. Can't do it. She was a good girl, only everybody deserted her because she was sick and couldn't work. I reckon she is true, and would keep her virtue even if she starved. Please, good lady, hurry up to her. I hear that dreadful cough." I hastened upstairs, and in a little room several gaudily dressed girls stood around the bed-girls with the marks of dissipation on their faces so plainly that there was no mistaking the kind of life they were leading. Over the sufferer bent a plain but motherly woman, whose strong arms were pillowing the head of a beautiful girl, for she could scarcely be called a woman. Her jet black hair fell in long curls in one rich mass over the pillow. For an instant all was silent. The coughing ceased, but only for an instant. The girls who were watching the woman wipe the blood-stained lips of the beautiful sufferer cried, "She is dying." The woman looked up and said, "Silence; she breathes." As she held a cup to her lips she said, "Darling child, take a drop of this, it will soothe you; drink, dear." Oh, what a scene. I shall never forget it to my dying hour. I stepped forward, for I had not been noticed by the girls or the woman, they were weeping and wringing their hands. One of the girls had just remarked, "That woman (meaning me) will never come. Oh, Daisy is dying, do hold her up! Open wide the windows, bring a fan, call somebody-get help!" I moved toward the bed, untied my bonnet and handed it to one of the girls. I then and there realized where I was-in one of the low dens, a house of prostitution-realized through the creatures before me. A dying girl, whom the poormaster and the man of the house told me was innocent and a helpless creature. The woman who was partner in the house had, from the goodness of her heart, brought the girl to her home, that "the child," as she called her, might die in a comfortable bed. Another fit of coughing, and the sufferer turned her eyes toward me and motioned to me, reaching out her cold, cold hand. She cried, "I am dying! Oh must, must I go to hell?" She sank exhausted on the pillow and the arm of the woman, whose rough cheeks were being washed with the flowing tears. She, too, had seen me, and said, "Daisy wanted you, and the poormaster said you would come." I offered to relieve the woman who was .so tenderly caring for this poor stranger under such strange circumstances. The poor child looked up at me for a moment. Oh, those big, brown eyes. Can I ever forget them. And her words, "I am dying, and must I go to hell?" Holding that tired head close to my own I whispered, "No, no, dear child; I hear the Saviour calling you. Jesus and the angels are waiting your coming. There, don't move and fret about that. It makes you cough, and I want you to listen. Hark! Listen! Keep very quiet. Hark! don't you hear that voice whispering, 'Come home, poor wanderer, come home.' Please, Daisy, drink a drop of this lemon water. Don't move. We'll help you. There, hush dear girl, the Saviour calls." The poor girl believed. A faint "Yes" came from her lips; one slight struggle for breath, and her hand, holding fast to mine, she whispered so low and faint, yet clearly audible, "I do hear the sweetest music"-and she was dead. Dare you, my hearers, or I say that Daisy did not hear the sweet music of Jesus' voice. Dare you pass judgment and tell me I committed a sin or gave a false impression when I told the poor dying girl-dying in an atmosphere of prostitution, and in the presence of those abandoned creatures-dare any one say that Jesus was not there, with a band of waiting angels, to wing the spirit of Daisy to the heavenly home? The woman and the girls stood weeping and crying, "What shall we do; what shall we do?" A moment's silent thought and I answered, "Seek pardon here and now. While Jesus is waiting to hear you, ask him to wash your sins away. He is calling to you now to give up this fearful life." Two of the girls promised over the dead body of Daisy to seek another home.

A Christian burial was given poor Daisy, and through her great sorrow and suffering two souls were led to seek pardon and entered into a new life.

To save the souls of the sinful, to lift the fallen and say to the outcast, "There is hope for you in the love of Jesus," this is something that all can do, and, moved by this Christ-love, will do.

I believe that those who have gone on before and are now in Heaven are gathered from all lands and all nations and classes, from the sinful and from the moral, for, for such the blessed Jesus died.


The original title of the address as read was: "How Can We Help the Weak and Erring Girls and Women?"

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