To relief workers and managers, the aid they offered seemed obvious: houses were destroyed and uninhabitable, and the army, people and institutions of Halifax stood ready to help. So they were confused and disappointed that so few people availed themselves of their generosity. The people they tried to help often preferred to stay in their ruined houses, in the overcrowded homes of their friends and relatives or even in hastily jerry-rigged shacks. The Hook family experience is suggestive. They initially went to an official shelter—indeed, Gertrude’s father helped to set it up—but, as soon as they could, they escaped the crowds of people “that they gathered up” and went to a friend’s house. That the objects of charity preferred other aid and support does not negate the original altruism. It does suggest, however, an uncomfortable aspect of charity: that even when offered in a spirit of genuine care, nonmutual charity carries with it a heavy burden of hierarchy that often makes it less desirable than mutual aid offered in a spirit of solidarity.
The following pages embody the result of an observational study of the social phenomena attendant upon one of the greatest catastrophies in history—the Halifax Disaster. The idea of the work was suggested while carrying out a civic community study of the disaster city under the direction of Professor F. H. Giddings of Columbia University.
The account deals first with the shock and disintegration as the writer observed it. Individual and group reactions are next examined in the light of sociological theory. The chapters on Social Organization are an effort to picture that process as it actually occurred.
The writer has also tried faithfully to record any important contribution which Social Economy was able to make in the direction of systematic rehabilitation. Special reference is made to private initiative and governmental control in emergency relief. This monograph is in no sense, however, a relief survey. Its chief value to the literature of relief will lie in its bearing upon predictable social movements in great emergencies.
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