History of Barbados Charitable Organizations

History of Charitable Organizations In Barbados


Moreover, one can agree that the role of voluntary and charity organization in bridging the gap between poor relief programmes and the effort of people providing social security was both positive and negative. Whilst the voluntary and charitable organization replaced the person donors as the main providers of poor relief, it created a new problem for remedying the poverty problem in Barbados. The alms-houses in the parishes provided a refugee for the indigent but at a cost. The unsanitary conditions and the stigma attached created more emotional problems for the occupant. Furthermore, the work of the voluntary and charitable organization alerted attention of the British parliament and the Barbados Legislature to the state of poverty. It was then that Poor Law Acts attempted to remedy the situation. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, the voluntary organizations made it their aim to foster community spirit by committing themselves to the old, homeless and the young. In the end, volunteerism became a permanent part of the Barbadian culture and the government used it as a tool to engender social welfare.

Voluntary or charitable organization and donations from philanthropic people have been a part of the Barbadian culture for decades. This paper will focus on the period immediately after emancipation to the end of the 20th century. Why do people give? According to social psychologist people give mainly because they are altruistic or egoist.  Immediately after emancipation, mainly people [especially women] in the Caribbean carried out the donations to the programmes for poor relief and social security. However, later on many of these people came together. According to Rhoda Reddock, some of the earliest charity organizations were held by women who did philanthropic work, uniting to form groups.[1] The movement started mainly with white middle class women, who saw it as a way to give to the Barbados society along with their husbands who served in official capacity. For example, Lady O’Brien wife of Governor O’Brien started the Girl Guides Movement in Barbados in November, 1968.[2] Furthermore, one can argue that the voluntary and charitable organizations played a pivotal role in changing the nature of programmes for Poor Relief and Social Security started by people in Barbados. Upon careful examination of the poor relief programme one sees that although many Barbadians receive aid, there remained a gap needing urgent patching because these programmes were not adequate.

Voluntary and charitable organizations made the programmes for poor relief more recognizable to the public, creating a new characteristic for the poor relief in Barbados.  In the period 1875-1877, the local legislature made an effort to look into better ways of poor relief, in the form of a Poor Relief Commission [Mitchinson Commission]. The Commission’s main aim was to urge the development of institutions which promoted self-help and reliance- institutions that would be led by the people in the form of benefit, thrift and friendly societies. In the beginning most Friendly Societies came under the auspices of “ecclesiastical sponsorship”, however a concern about the nature of the societies led to the Friendly Society Act of 1880.[3] Compulsory registration for Friendly Societies came in 1891 and the records show that the number of societies increase from 19 in 1874 to 96 in 1903.[4]  According to Leonard Fletcher, in revising the Friendly Society Act in 1905, the Registrar received greater autonomy over the organization of the societies. It is important to note here that with the formation of a legislated body for the Friendly Societies, the number of philanthropists would automatically be lowered. What the Act did was to bring all philanthropists together and the charity movement became a recognized and almost like a family society. Thus, one can agree that, the Friendly Societies portray that the average Barbadian thought about the future and made plans, although they were meagre to cater for these plans.  With an increasing number of Barbadians in Friendly societies by 1950, the number of contributions rose significantly. For example, The Civic Welfare had a membership of thirty thousand by 1948 and the Unique Progressive 15, 500 by the same year, whilst all Friendly Societies, received the contribution of about $625,000 by 1946.[5]

In the beginning the parishes [under the care of the Vestries] had the responsibility for implementing Poor Relief Programmes, in partnership with the central government. The Vestries were involved in both outdoor relief such as help given to Barbadians as cash relief, medical relief, burial of paupers and simply relief in being kind and indoor poor relief as the alms-houses. One can suggest that the Vestries were a religious charitable organization because they provided services to the poor, not anticipating a return. According to the Proceedings of the West Indies Royal Commission in Barbados, feeding and scholarship programme became one of the hopeful solutions to reduce poverty in Barbados. In the parishes there were Vestries [under the care of poor relief officers], appointed yearly, had the trustful task of distributing money to the poor. Additionally, the Bishop commented that annually the Church donates one thousand to one thousand two hundred pounds to the cause.[6] There were also claims for illegitimate children but Rev. E.S.M. Pilgrim laments that people are “obviously shameful to come forward to take advantage of such claims”[7] because of the disgrace attached to children born outside of wedlock- this is a clear influence of the church in the lives of the people. It might be proper to consider here that the efforts by individuals to donate to the poor differ here than the Vestries. Whilst all of the parishes had Vestries, not all received individual donors. For example, the Baby Welfare League serviced only St. Michael and Christ Church for the nurses and Mr. John Beckles and Madame Ifill offered breakfast for school children only in Christ Church.[8] One can postulate that the Vestries were able to donate more to the poor because they physically present in each parish and because they had more funds available to them. However, if the individual donor lives in one parish, it would most likely be the place where the donation would take place, whether it is monetary contributions or -in the case of Mr. John Beckles and Madame Ifill- providing breakfast.

Alms-houses were another initiative the Vestries used to remedy the poverty crisis in Barbados. The alms-houses were open to the indigent and poor who had nowhere to go, most of the people falling into that category were the old aged. In this writer’s view to understand the workings of alms-houses, it is imperative to assess the history of the working conditions of the people to comprehend the need for alms-houses. Barbados was and still is a densely populated island, the strain of a growing population and the return of emigrants, was more than the limited resources of the population could bear.  In addition, the monoculture of sugar did not help the country financially because after the Free Trade Act of 1846, sugar became more unprofitable for the planters. Due to the insecurity and in surety of the sugar industry, planters lowered wages of workers, in an attempt to lessen the burden on them [the planters] felt on the European market. In addition, labour in the sugar industry was mostly seasonal; therefore the labourers could not afford day to day expenses in off seasons nor had little savings to depend on. The country was in a bleak socio-economic situation as most of the populace lived on a subsistence mode of life. When one missed work for a week or maybe two there was a high probability that he or she became a pauper.[9] Therefore, legislation instituted construction of alms-houses to remedy the situation. However, this was not solution to the end of poverty in the Barbados.

The plight of women heightened during this period of upheaval in Barbados and it is very interesting what the British parliament and the Barbados Legislature did for the protection of women. One must remember that the men in this period in Barbados history at the realm of legislate power were Victorian men. Their attitude towards women was one that most feminist frowns on today. Their action toward the growing trade of prostitution was dubious to them because of their belief but they were more concern with the money trickling into the country because of the white troops. Therefore, to regulate the trade- the legislature were adamant that for Bridgetown, [a port and garrison town] prostitution became inevitable. They tried regulating the trade by registration and medical examination. In this writer’s opinion because of the hardship that all Barbadians faced, women and young girls, [who were not trained in skilled work], were forced to partake in the trade at an early age. Thus, one can argue that the move by the Vestries to encourage all into the alms-houses did not remove all the negatives associated with being poor.

One can argue that the alms-houses brought out the gravity of the distress of the social and economic problem of the average Barbadian. There was a stigma attached to the alms-houses, people saw it as a place where one goes when he or she does not work, thus the proud one, according to Rev. Beckles would go home and suffer and not stay in the alms-houses. In this writer’s opinion, the nature of the proceeding allowing a Barbadian to stay at one of the alms-houses created a stigma for the houses. According to Jeremy Seekings, because the alms-houses accommodated people who were dying from “tuberculosis, lepers, the blind and the destitute”, the place became known as the “human degradation.”[10] It was not a place that a healthy though unemployed Barbadian would like to stay. Furthermore, when the Poor Law Inspector visited the village of the Barbadian seeking admission at one of the alms-houses, it became very embarrassing to the individual because everyone knew the identity of the Poor Law Inspector. What was even more terrifying was the painstaking procedure where the Poor Law would question the neighbours of the applicant. The scenario would usually end with the neighbour giving evidence contrary to the applicant’s financial statement. Furthermore, Jeremy Seekings explains that the extent of poverty on the island was crucial because increasingly more persons were receiving reliefs. The total spent on poor relief in 1930 was 40,000 pounds of which 21,000 pounds went towards alms-houses and 7,000 pounds on outdoor relief. In addition, in 1937-8, 1,000 people receive relief in alms-houses and 22,000 people received some form of outdoor relief.[11] Thus, one can reason that with more Barbadians receiving aid from the Vestries, the economic conditions of the majority of the population was not improving. Therefore the social condition could not improve.

According to Rev. Beckles, in response to such stigma the government set up “An Old Age Pension Scheme” for people over the age of 70[12].  The scheme for the old Age pension fund is marked in Barbadian history as the beginning of the government’s direct involvement in poor relief in the island. According to Jeremy Seekings, in 1936, Rev. Francis Godson, a retired Methodist minister advocated for old age pensions. When Rev. Francis Godson spoke about the development of the scheme, Governor Young reported to the office in London “the aged and infirm poor are well provided for…by the parochial Alms-house and it is unlikely that there will be any support for approval.”[13]  It is noteworthy here to point out the cold tone of the Governor towards the old age of Barbados. Additionally, it is important to note that Rev. Francis Godson came from the North of Barbados which was more impoverished than the rest of Barbados. Though the bill was fiercely debated in the House of Assembly, the scheme became operational from May 1st, 1938- the scheme was anticipated to cost no more than $200, 000 per annum.[14] However, by 1939, there were complaints about the inefficiency of the system. Mr.Worrell an ex-service pensioner lamented to the Royal Commission that there were 32 of them receiving pensions but now only 13 received. The first cries from the legislative Council of the expense of the service caught up to the system, they cried that funds were insufficient.[15]

Voluntary or charitable organizations provided the impetus for mass collection as oppose to individual foundations, thereby creating more aid to some Poor Relief Programme. When individuals donate to the poor, the persons receiving the charity usually accept what is given, however when individuals pay a subscribe fee to an organization a certain return is expected. It is the exact description of the interaction between Friendly Societies and the members of that society. For example, the purpose of most Friendly Societies is to provide protection or security in the event of sickness and death. For this reason many Barbadians joined a Friendly Society in the mid-1900, knowing that if death or sickness occurs there was a place one can go for financial help.  According to A.F Wells, by 1948 one out three Barbadians belonged to a Friendly Society.[16] However, later on it was observed that the Friendly Societies did not play an adequate role in providing social security. Thus, an initiation for a scheme for social security for Barbados formed under the directions of a board that would be controlled by the government.[17] One can reason here that the direct involvement of the government in the Social Security Scheme would disintegrate Friendly Societies. The Social Scheme would cover all the main features of the Friendly Society which is sickness and death and also include new areas such as: maternity benefit, employment injury benefit, survivor’s grant and invalidity benefit. Additionally, the competitiveness of the Friendly Societies and the raise of the Credit Union added a change in the role of friendly societies.

Furthermore, one can argue that after further assessment of the Friendly Societies, it did not solve the problem of poverty in Barbados. According to the Report of the Commission on Poor Relief in Barbados (Bridgetown 1875-1877), the riots of 1875 created a “general paralysis of all the philanthropic effort and of public life that ensued from that lamentable disturbance.”[18] Indeed, one rightly would say here that most of the Friendly Societies developed after the period 1875-1877 however many did not learn from a strategic lesson this disturbance because another ensued in the 1930’s. Thus, this writer agrees with the Great Britain’s Colonial Office view that until the basic needs of the populace is taken care of, it makes little sense to extend towards the more advance forms of social welfare such as employment insurance.[19] If most of the population could not get a meal because they were mostly unemployed, due to the seasonal jobs offered by sugar industry then what is the use of speaking about the need for a unified insurance scheme. Furthermore, according to Great Britain’s Colonial Office until a few decades before 1945, most of what was deemed as social welfare was left to voluntary endeavours and private charities. In Barbados specifically, the central government believed in the Vestries ability to ascertain the smooth running of poor relief with little interference, in spite of the presence of a General Board of Health. However, according to the International Labour Office, a 1954 survey reported that the rates of cash assistance for each parish for destitute persons are way below the need for adequate subsistence.[20]

As previously stated the poor relief in Barbados did not reach to all the parishes at a reasonable and fair rate. According to the Report of Poor Relief in Barbados 1875 to 1877, 30 out of a thousand Barbadians were paupers and the people of St. Philip and St. John lacked significant help from poor relief programmes. Furthermore, according to the Report of Poor Relief in Barbados, “the larger sums lavished in St. Michael on poor relief, the more numerous sources of private or clerically administered charity,” the more annual the parish attracts a crowd. Immediately one would find contention with such statements because of the word choice of the direct quotations. In this writer’s view, judging from the limited funding that the Vestries acquired there is no way that such sum could be substantial to the extent that “lavish” would be used. In addition, from the statement made by the commissioner of the report, one can pick up the deficiency of the poor relief. One can posit the view that the reason for the influx of people to the relief house is from other Barbadians parishes, because of the limited or lack of both outdoor and indoor relief in their parish. St. Michael received the largest contribution of relief according to the Report on Poor Relief in Barbados. Indeed, the population was larger but if the funds are continually given there, then people from across Barbados will gravitate towards St. Michael. Apart from the charity organizations in the period, there were also individual donors. For example, the Report on Poor Relief in Barbados, spoke of the merchants who gave coins to the poor on Saturday, without asking questions as the Poor Law Inspector.[21] Thus, one can say that the donations by individuals made it easier on the receiver. In addition, the individual clergy gave donations to the old age whose pensions were not enough to live by.[22]

However, the charitable donations did not cater to every impoverish soul. By 1942, the situation was remedied to a certain extent but there were still signs of extensive damage done to the island by poverty. The apparent disadvantages of the poor relief programmes clearly show when F. A Stockdale said “social welfare can no longer be regarded in terms of philanthropic or charitable relief services, which make but little effective contribution to the economic wellbeing of a community.”[23] Stockdale continues to lament that the need for a structured approach to the social conditions of Barbados was crucial, especially with its growing population juxtaposed with limited natural resources. Furthermore, one can argue that even the benefit societies did not cater for all Barbadian. For example, some of the benefit societies were open up to people of a certain religious qualification. The Sunflower Lodge Friendly Society only catered to persons who believe in God and was of a good character; Scottish Pearl Lodge Friendly Society expected the same criteria from its members.[24] Additionally, there were the benefit societies with a subscription fee as high as $200 with an additionally fee  paid every year- example The Star of David Lodge, the society had a further subscription of $24 per annum.[25] It is important to note here that with membership at a high cost there is an immediate elimination of Barbadians who do not earn a certain salary. There were many benefits societies available to Barbados but not all were open up to all members of the public.

On the other hand, the benefit societies as mentioned before created a network that sprung various communities as the Report of Social Welfare in Barbados said “It is essential in developing the local community associations to place strong emphasis on self-help through co-operative organizations.”[26] According to A.F Wells, “the Friendly Societies stood for independence in the face of society as a whole, they signalised a man’s efforts to avoid becoming a burden on his neighbours and on the parish.”[27] The Friendly societies, whilst not able to eradicate poverty in Barbados, they were able to bring various groups of Barbadians into different benefit societies. Volunteerism was preached in the late 1900’s by the government as a tool to encourage more voluntary work in social development in Barbados.[28] Furthermore, organizing communities encouraged pride in Barbados as various voluntary organizations aimed to create a better Barbados. For example, during World War Two, according to the Annual Reports of the Voluntary War Workers’ Association, the women of Barbados came together to find ways to aid Barbadian soldiers in the war. There were sewing committees for knitting garments for the soldiers. Additionally, accounts were set up in Barclays Bank and Royal bank of Canada and during Christmas of 1941, scenic stamps were sold to generate funds for the British Red Cross.[29] Furthermore, many of the voluntary organizations in the late 20th century used service to foster unity as a basis of their activity such as the Rotary Club and the Girls Guides of Barbados.[30] Whilst the various reports compiled in the 20th century complained about the extent of networking that most voluntary organization did, the Girls Guides were commended for their excellence service. Both the Rotary Club and the Girls Guide made it their duty to assist senior citizens and children’s home. Voluntary associations such as the Rotary Club and Girls Guides foster unity between people that was not possible through an individual’s donor. For example, the Rotary Club biggest project up to date was the human chain link in November, 1979.[31] The purpose of the link was to show the world that Barbadian cared for children, since it was the International Year of the Child. The records show that 93, 111 Barbadians participated in the human chain, clearly demonstrating that the Rotary Club was able to urge Barbadians to support their children.

Works Cited

Advocate, Barbados. Proceedings of the West Indies Royal Commission in Barbados. Bridgetown: Barbados Advocate, 1939.

Association, Voluntary War Workers. Voluntary War Workers Association, Barbados, British West Indies 1st to 6th Annual Report. Pamphlet. Bridgetown: Voluntary War Workers Association, 1940-1946.

Barbados, Rotary Club. Three Decades of Rotary in Barbados 1961-1999: Service Above Self. Pamphlet. Bridgetown: Rotary Club, n.d.

Blondel, Eaulin. Credit Union, Co-operatives, Trade Union, and Friendly Societies in Barbados. Trinidad and Tobago: University of the West Indies, St.Augustine Campus, 1986.

Braithwaithe, Farley. Social Protection Policy in the Caribbean. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009.

Commission, The Royal. Report of West India Commission (The Moyne Commission Report). London: His Majesty Stationery Office, 1945.

Guides, Barbados Girl. Barbados Girl Guides Association 75 Years of Guiding. Bridgetown: Girls Guide Association of Barbados, 1993.

Office, International Labour. Report to the Government of Barbados on A Proposed Social Security Scheme: Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance. Pamphlet. Bridgetown: International Labour Office, 1962.

Officer, Great Britain Colonial. Social Welfare in the Colonies. Pamphlet. London: Colonial Office, 1945.

Reddock, Rhoda. “Women’s Organizations and Movements in the Commonwealth Caribbean: The Response to Global Economic Crisis in the 1980’s.” Mohammed, Patricia. Feminist Review. London: Journals Advertsing, Routledge, 1998. 57-73.

Richardson, Henry. A Plan for the Implementation and Administration of the Proposal Social Security Scheme for Barbados. Pamphlet. Bridgetown, 1964.

Seekings, Jeremy. “‘Pa’s Pension: The Origins of Noncontributary Old-age Pensions in Late Colonial Barbados.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (2007): 529-547.

Stockdale, F. A. Great Britain Development and Welfare Organization in the West Indies, Barbados No.9. Pamphlet. Bridgetown: Office of Comptroller, 1941.

Stockdale, F.A. Social Welfare in Barbados. Pamphlet. Bridgetown: Despatch from the Comptroller for the Development and Welfare in the West Indies, 1942.

Wells, A.F. The Friendly Society Movement: Development and Welfare in the West Indies. Bridgetown: Advocate Co.Ltd, 1948.

[1] Rhoda Reddock, “Women’s Organization and Movement in the Commonwealth Caribbean: The Response to Global Economic Crisis in the 1980’s” Rethinking Caribbean Difference, ed. Feminist Review, No. 59, Summer 1998, pg 57

[2] Girl Guides Association of Barbados, Leadership Today for Tomorrow 75th Anniversary 1918-1993 (Bridgetown: Girl Guides Association, 1993) 20

[3] Leonard Fletcher, The Decline of Friendly Societies in Barbados, Caribbean Studies, Vol. 15, No.2 1975,pp 73

[4] Fletcher,73

[5] Fletcher, 75

[6] Advocate Barbados, Proceedings of the West Indies Royal Commission in Barbados. Bridgetown: Barbados Advocate, 1939.

[7] Advocate Barbados, 1939

[8] Advocate Barbados, 1939.

[9] F.A. Stockdale, Great Britain Development and Welfare Organization in the West Indies, Barbados No.9, 1941

[10] Jeremy Seekings, ‘Pa’s Pension’: The Origins of Noncontributory Old-age Pensions in Late Colonial Barbados, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 35, No.4 2007 pp 534

[11] Seekings, 534

[12] Advocate Barbados, 1939.

[13] Jeremy Seekings, 534

[14] Seekings, 537

[15] Advocate Barbados, 1939.

[16] A. F Wells, The English Friendly Society Movement: Development and Welfare in the West Indies (Barbados: Advocate Co. Ltd, 1948) 4

[17] Henry Richardson, A plan for the Implementation and Administration of the Proposed Social Security Scheme for Barbados, Stockman Report, Dec.14, 1964

[18] Barbados: Report of Commission on Poor Relief , Bridgetown 1875-1877

[19] Great Britain Colonial Office, Social Welfare in the Colonies (Colonial Office April: 1945) 3

[20] International Labour Office, Report to the Government of Barbados on a Proposed Social Security Scheme (Barbados: Government Printing Office, 1962) 11

[21] Barbados: Report of Commission on Poor Relief , Bridgetown 1875-1877

[22]   Report of Commission on Poor Relief ,1875-1877

[23] F.A. Stockdale, Comptroller, 1942

[24] Eaulin Blondel, Credit Unions, Co-operatives, Trade Unions, and Friendly Societies in Barbados, (Trinidad and Tobago: The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, April 1986) 19, 23

[25] Blondel, 22

[26] Social Welfare in Barbados, 1942

[27] Wells, 5

[28] Farley Braithwaite, Social Protection in the Caribbean: From Social Assistance to Social Development (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009) 37

[29] Voluntary War Workers Association, Voluntary War Workers’ Association 1st to 6th  Annual Report (Barbados, West Indies) 1-5

[30] Girl Guides Association of Barbados, Leadership Today for Tomorrow 75th Anniversary 1918-1993 (Bridgetown: Girl Guides Association, 1993)

[31] Three Decades of Rotary in Barbados 1961-1991, Service Above Service, pp 10

2 responses »

  1. Hello Noirfifre,

    Thank you for this. I am doing some research on the influence philanthropy has had on the development of Barbados. I would like to reference your article here. Is it possible to speak with you? My email address is noted in the detail column below.

    Thank you. Barbara


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