Sarah Flew looks at nineteenth century philanthropy from the alternative perspective of religion. We all know that religious institutions were highly involved in philanthropic and charitable causes especially in this period, in Britain; however what is probably less well known is that much philanthropy became concerned with spiritual destitution rather than focusing on physical destitution. Flew looks at this issue partly from the evidence in general, but also by looking at the biographical details of the funders behind these philanthropic organisations.
The case study here is the Bishop of London’s fund which is undoubtedly linked to religious causes and purposes. After a brief expose on the origins of the Bishop’s Fund and other funds to have sprung up through the efforts of Bishop Tate, Flew shows how the rise of the Bishop’s Fund derived out of the 1851 religious census in London that showed that a large percentage of the population choose not to attend service on census Sunday. To make matters worse for the church the secularisation of government and governmental policy meant a cessation of funding schemes for ecclesiastical purposes.
This conclusion about the state of religious interest in London was unexpected. At this very time there was an explosion of attempts to improve and expand the church fabric, presence and preaching in the belief that there was inadequate provision and that there was a waiting audience for it. The need to re-establish the church presence and to reduce spiritual destitution revealed that the opposite was true.
The brief expansion of charity organisations declined again in the 1880s as finances ceased, however the Bishop of London’s fund continued to grow and be successful. In its early days the fund was largely subscribed by men only but increasingly women’s subscriptions increased and by 1912 made up over 60% of subscribers. However, it should be noted that women generally gave small amounts whilst male subscribes gave large amounts (due to their larger wealth).
So in the early twentieth century women increased their importance in church life and church rising of money in London whilst male contributions declined. On the latter, Sarah Flew has not yet found an answer as to why but for the former, women’s roles seems to have increased largely through organisations such as the Women’s Diocese Association which promoted church attendance, fund raising and involvement.