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A Member of the Ladies' Home Missionary Society Visits a Five Points Family

The Five Points Mission grew out of several Protestant missionary organizations that aimed to improve conditions in the Five Points. At first they attempted to convert residents from Catholicism; later the Mission obtained pledges from Five Pointers to abstain from alcohol and other vices. Among the organizations vying for the souls of Five Pointers was the New York-Ladies' Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, whose goals and methodology are summarized below. The Society consisted of married middle- and upper-class women, like the author of the passage below, who visited residents in their homes, reading passages from the Bible and handing out religious tracts. Sometimes Society members offered to adopt poverty-stricken children like the little girl in the story.

The work of this Society is... to renovate the Five Points. Their design is to visit the sick, to relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to educate the children, to warn sinners to flee the wrath to come, to lead the penitent to an atoning Saviour, and never to consider their work complete until renewing grace has transformed these degraded outcasts into obedient children of the living God. 

Passing up Cross-street [name later changed to Park Street] one bleak winter’s morning, I observed a little girl, whose appearance was so forlorn and sad, that I felt anxious to know where she lived, and what caused her intense expression of sorrow. I therefore asked her name and where she lived, and desired her to take me to see her mother. “I have no mother,” she replied, “but my father lives in the attic of No. — Cross-street, and you may go up and see him.” I followed her to the third floor, up a narrow, dirty stair-case. Knocking at the door, we were met by a man who seemed both surprised and pleased to see me in his wretched, miserable home—for home it was, although destitute of chair or table. In the middle of the room, which was about nine feet square, stood a small cylinder-stove, the pipe passing through a pane of the window. Beside the stove was a basket, containing a small supply of shavings. Upon a few dirty rags, which covered some shavings, lay a sick boy, about five years old. Upon the stove some miserable food was cooking, the fumes of which, mingling with the smoke of pine shavings, filled the room, causing the little sufferer to cough constantly. 

The father appearing to be perfectly sober, I asked him what had brought upon him this extreme destitution. He replied, “Want of work and poverty,” adding that he had always got on well until his good wife died, about four years before, and then misfortune took hold of him. He had nearly lost the sight of one eye, and during the stages of its inflammation and subsequent loss, had been obliged to spend all he had earned or saved. The loss of his eye preventing him from carrying his hod [tool to carry masonry], he had no other means left for his support than visiting the markets and carrying baskets for the purchasers at the stalls, his little girl going out daily to beg the food she would prepare (young as she was) for his return. Sometimes he made but 25 cents a day. I asked him if he had signed the pledge: “Yes, indeed madam,” was the reply, “more than twelve years ago, when I married my wife, I took the pledge, and have never broken it. I asked him if it would not be well to let us get good places for the children, and then he could support himself more comfortably, for I had learned in the course of conversation, that he paid a dollar a week for his wretched room, and that was often left without a cent when the rent was paid. But he said nothing in the world could induce him to part with his children for he had promised his dying wife not to part with them, under any circumstances.

Source | Five Points Mission, The Old Brewery and the New Mission House at the Five Points (New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1854) 147, 303.
Creator | Five Points Mission
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | Five Points Mission, “A Member of the Ladies' Home Missionary Society Visits a Five Points Family,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2017, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/603.

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