The Political Returns of Philanthropy: The Case of Tammany Hall

By Robin S. Kigel
2012, Vol. 4 No. 05 | pg. 2/2 |

A second marginalized group who received a distinct measure of upward mobility from the WCTU were the participant women themselves. WCTU members in Michigan, for example, forged one such opportunity when they successfully lobbied for a state bill to build a girl’s reformatory. The bill, passed in 1879, specifically stipulated that women should comprise a majority on the institutions board of directors. As such, members of the WCTU created for themselves an in-road to become the first women to hold public office in that state. Prior to this type of movement, women had been confined to a traditional sphere comprised of the home and care of children. While it was the responsibility for protection of home and family that initially catalyzed the women of the WCTU to move outside of their traditional roles, expansion of women’s influence eventually led them to the workplace and into political discourse, thereby constituting upward social mobility as consequence of charitable actions. Using creative philanthropy, they had, according to Ann Frior Scott “[closed the] loophole in the common-law doctrine of civil death for married woman.”13

Despite the general inability of the WCTU to provide upward financial mobility, there were exceptions. For instance, some union chapters included resources like vocational schools for industrial workers.14 However, due to prohibitive cost, programs like this were few and far between. In this sense, Mckitrick’s conception of upward mobility is less applicable since employment assistance had less of an overall effect on the WCTU than the other avenues for upward mobility that the organization engendered. However, upward social mobility, enjoyed by both WCTU participants and the populations that they served, emerged as a central component of the organization’s lasting successes.

Within the realm of justice, Women in the nineteenth century were, relative to men, relegated to second-class status and, therefore, were unable to exercise influence over government and law enforcement to the same extent as Tammany had. Despite this incongruence, women capitalized on their unique purview over moral issues, in order to foster a different type of justice. Historian Keith Melder noted that, through the expansion of the doctrine of separate spheres, to include moral reform in the public realm, women had secured moral authority over men.15 Using this authority, the WCTU promoted social justice.

Unlike the political machines whose aid was token and intended to keep the poor on the dole, women sought to ameliorate the lives of those with whom they worked with in a significant and meaningful way. Moreover, while early women’s reform movement were notorious for differentiating between the worthy and unworthy poor, the WCTU, early in its history, identified Alcoholism as a disease and therefore a cause and result of social problems.16 In light of this progressive conception, the WCTU was invested in preemptively stamping out alcoholism to prevent future social unrest, rather than abandoning its victims as unworthy. Therefore, within the consciousness of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, social justice was inherent because it kept the idea of equality alive for poor immigrants who had suffered extreme marginalization.

The existence of such parity between two groups that were so dissimilar at first seems counterintuitive. But, it can be understood when examined through the lens of the like conditions that gave rise to each. In light of identical conditions such as, burgeoning immigration, an unprecedented number of poor who could not support their families, and the absence of any significant governmental attempt to address these problems, Tammany Hall and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union both appear to be have been highly responsive institutions. They developed in similar directions as consequence of social issues in era they lived. Their rhetoric and intentions, to gain political eminence and stamp out alcoholism, respectively, seem to be secondary developmental factors that would have lacked efficacy without the added component of rapid response to social need. Also, the end result of the common set of conditions shared by these two groups was their ability to create for themselves access to upward mobility, in social and political realms, because of their philanthropic activities. When related to Tammany politicians, this was clearly the intended effect of welfare programs and work with immigrants. For the WCTU, the intention to reap profit may not have been present. But by positioning themselves to fulfill essential societal roles, they inadvertently gained some measure of both professional and political credibility. It is worth noting that these two groups were not the only organizations that successfully capitalized on charity to further some type of political goal. Other nineteenth century organizations, notable for the use of charity to curry favor and gain popular or political support are labor unions and social bandits, like the Jesse James gang.17 Yet this tactic transcends century and nation, and therefore can be seen in insurgent movements throughout time. Even in the study of contemporary political science, scholars have continued examining how systematic relief efforts can undercut the efficacy of insurgent movements, further highlighting the significance that situation and context plays in the emergence of insurgent movements like those in the Middle East or, quasi-insurgent movements, like Tammany and the WCTU.19

1.) Oliver E. Allen, The Tiger. (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993), 36.

2.) Anne F. Scott, Natural Allies. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 25. Anne Firor Scott notes the government’s inability to care for the emerging poor as a primary factor behind the emergence of benevolent societies. Tammany, along with the other groups noted in this study, all benefited from the government’s ineptitude.

3.) Erik L. McKitrick, "Study of Corruption." Political Science Quarterly 72, no. 4 (1957), 505

4.) Ibid. 23-4

5.) Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, (Port Washington, Ira J. Friedman Inc.), 163

6.) Tyler Anbinder, Five Points (New York, Penguin Putnam Inc., 2001) 228

7.) Erik L. Mckitrick, "Study of Corruption.", 506

8.) Ibid.

9.) Richard E. Welch King of the Bowery. (New York: State University of New York Press, 2008.), 48

10.) Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1990), 98

11.) The Union Signal, January 25, 1883.

13.) Ann Frior Scott, Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History (Urbana, University of Illinois Press,1991) 96, 19

14.) Bordin, Women and Temperance, 98

15.) Keith E Melder, Beginnings of Sisterhood (New York, Schocken Books) 55

16.) Bordin, Women and Temperance, 13, 99

17.) Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (New York, The New Press, 2000).

19.) Kevin Sequeira and Todd Sandler “Terrorists Versus the Government: Strategic Interaction, Support and Sponsorship.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 50, No 6 (2006) 878-798;

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Social and economic wellbeing are not simply determined by the choices one makes. Social class and poverty display consistent patterns across groups and generations making social mobility and economic success difficult in individual lives. But there are some who seem to defy the limitations of social class and become successful... MORE»
In 1972, The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress to protect an individual’s irrefutable equality of rights under the law regardless of sex. Although it passed both houses and failed to secure the... MORE»
This paper seeks to determine the impact the Zapatista Movement had on women's rights in Chiapas, Mexico. I hypothesized that the movement positively, but indirectly, impacted women's rights in Chiapas by causing increased awareness of the issues in the region and influencing various aid and development organizations to begin women... MORE»
The United Nations states that at its broadest, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be defined as the overall contribution of business to sustaina­ble development (UNDESA, 2007). That being said, unmonitored corporate social responsibility threatens not only individual security but the world’s security at large. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that not only would our faith be misplaced in entrusting corporations... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Political Science

2022, Vol. 14 No. 09
This interdisciplinary paper investigates the shortfalls and obstacles to success currently facing the climate movement, examining issues represented by the disconnect between policy and electoral politics, the hypocrisy and blatant indifference... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 06
Two of the most prevalent protest movements in recent history were the Black Lives Matter and the #StopTheSteal movements. While there are many differences between the two, one of the most prevalent is their use of violence. Whereas the BLM movement... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 05
Strong linkages between autocrats and the military are often seen as a necessary condition for authoritarian regime survival in the face of uprising. The Arab Spring of 2011 supports this contention: the armed forces in Libya and Syria suppressed... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
During the summer of 2020, two fatal shootings occurred following Black Lives Matter protests. The first event involved Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the second Michael Reinoehl in Portland, Oregon. Two shootings, each committed by... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
In popular international relations (IR) theory, knowledge production is often dismissed as an objective process between the researcher and the empirical world. This article rejects this notion and contends that the process of knowledge production... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
This article explores the political relationship between nation-building, ethnicity, and democracy in the context of Ethiopia. It traces Ethiopia's poltical history, explores the consequential role ethnicity has played in the formation of the modern... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
The study examines the degree to which Xi Jinping has brought about a strategic shift to the Chinese outward investment pattern and how this may present significant political leverage and military advantages for China in the Indian Ocean Region (... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


How to Read for Grad School
How to Manage a Group Project (Video)
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement