State Charitable Institutions.
(Address to the Trustees and Superintendents of the Charitable Institutions of Illinois, at Springfield, November 28, 1893.)
Gentlemen: I have invited you to meet here to-day in order to have a general conference relating to the management of the great public institutions of this State, and to enable me to make a few suggestions which I could not so well make by correspondence.
While public sentiment in America has been progressive and liberal, and while almost countless sums have been appropriated in the most generous manner, for the building and maintaining of great public institutions for almost every purpose, these institutions have not yet all reached the highest degree of excellence. Another fact to be deplored is that the officials in charge of these institutions are not held in that high regard by the public to which the great responsibilities and importance of their duties should entitle them. In some European countries to serve as a superintendent or as a trustee of a great hospital or a great asylum is to hold a position of honor and distinction in the eye of the public, and to consequently enjoy the confidence and good opinion of the public, while in this country these places have, in some cases, come to be regarded as political spoils, and the men who hold them have come to be looked upon merely as politicians who have been lucky enough to get a few plums for themselves and their friends, and instead of being honored and regarded with a still higher degree of confidence, it often happens that men who
355appointed to these places are looked upon with jealousy and even now I want to say, that all of these great charitable institutions are founded for the most noble purpose that man can conceive, and in this State they have become so large that they require a high order of business capacity and integrity to manage them, and there is no field in which a man can do more good for the unfortunate, or in which he can render his country more valuable service, than he can right here and there is no work that should give a man more honor or the confidence and esteem of the public in a higher degree than the work you have in hand.
Gentlemen, those of you who are trustees are serving without compensation. You have agreed to give your time, as far as it may be necessary, to these institutions free of charge, and let me impress upon you strongly right here, that there is only one way in which you can get anything out of it in the way of satisfactory compensation, and that is to manage these institutions better than they have ever been managed; to place them upon a higher plane than they have ever been placed, and to make them do better work than they have ever done. It is not necessary to say a word in disparagement of the past. No matter how good it may have been, almost infinite improvement is yet possible.
Those of you who have passed middle life have long since discovered that the things which give us most pleasure are those which we have done extraordinarily well. If we have done one thing in all our lives better than other people could do it, that one thing will give us pleasure as long as we live, while the ten thousand other things which we have done only tolerably well are forgotten. If you will take hold of these institutions in the right spirit you can, in a few years, make more reputation, win more honor for yourselves and your families, than you can in thirty years of the ordinary management.
The people of Illinois have been exceptionally liberal. They have aimed to make provision for almost every class of unfortunates, and they want these to have the best of care. There is no reason in the world why the institutions of this State should not be made the very best upon earth. Everything is furnished by the people that they could be asked to furnish. But I notice that a great source of weakness in some American institutions is the fact that the management has no high conception of duty or principle, and instead of looking only to the highest interests of the institution, spends its energy in seeing how it can take care of friends or how it can make money out of the public, and the result is poor discipline, inefficient service, extravagant
356management and a general lowering of the tone of the institution. In this State I have adopted the policy of requiring that all those who fill important places must be in personal sympathy with the administration, and personally interested in carrying out its policies; but this rule has not been applied to minor places, and my instructions have been not to employ anybody, no matter by whom recommended or urged, unless it was reasonably apparent that he, or she, was honest and competent and would do efficient work; and further, that nobody must be retained for one hour after it became apparent that he, or she, was not the right person for the place, and that political pressure must be absolutely disregarded in passing upon a case of this kind that only the best interests of the institution must be considered. But notwithstanding these instructions, we have had trouble in certain localities. That was one reason why I wished to have you meet here to-day, and I wish now to repeat and to emphasize these instructions that the whole energy of the superintendents and of the trustees, and of everybody connected with the management, shall be sent to place these institutions upon the very highest plane of excellence and superiority possible, and that no personal considerations, no considerations of friendship or political patronage must be permitted to stand in the way one minute.
The public is reasonable. It asks only what is fair. This being a Democratic administration, when you employ men for important positions the public will not find any fault with you if you employ Democrats, but it will find fault and it should condemn you for employing men who are either incompetent or dishonest, or who are not thorough-going. Let me say here, one trouble constantly met with in the employment of men who are urged by local politicians is that they are simply what is called "good fellows." Now, no business can be run on good-fellowship alone. We need energy and thorough-going purpose; and let me say to you, gentlemen, that if you were to attempt to make places for the friends of local politicians in these public institutions, and were to shut your eyes to laxity of management and extravagance, you would never get any satisfaction out of having held this office; for when you step out of the office there will be nothing to give you any comfort, and the very men whom you have helped to place in positions will not respect you after you have ceased to give them a job. In this connection let me suggest, further, that you cannot manage an institution with a high degree of independence and thoroughness, if you fill the places with men whom, for any reason, it may be embarrassing to remove. You should not have an employe in an institution whom you can not remove, without a
357moment's hesitation, whenever it becomes apparent that the best interests of the institution require it. There has been some embarrassment on account of the great expectations of the localities or towns in the immediate vicinity of certain institutions. The people of these towns to regard the institutions as belonging to them, and they expect run them — to furnish the help and supplies — and they usually want to do it in their own way, and they do not want to have too thorough a scrutiny of the management. They don't want too much competition in furnishing supplies, and they don't want such thorough-going methods employed as interferes with their friends. The position of the local trustee is most embarrassing. No matter how able or honest a man is, his position is embarrassing. His town expects everything of him. To serve his townsmen and neighbors he must go in one direction, while his duty toward the State may require him to go in another. In a few cases we have no local trustees, and our experience is the most satisfactory there.
On the subject of inspection by trustees and by the State Board of Public Charities, I will say that, to my mind, little is accomplished by going to an institution in a body, getting a good dinner and taking a walk around it, or even through it, and those trustees who simply go to the board meetings, and do not give the institution much attention in any other way, do not do their full duty. Each institution is so large that it is almost impossible for one man, acting as superintendent, to keep a wide-awake, energetic spirit prevailing all over it, and the trustees can help very much in this regard if they will go singly, and go often and go at unexpected hours, to an institution, and go all over it; look into every room, nook and corner of it; go into the kitchen; go into the dining-room when the patients are eating; look after everything. In this way they will greatly assist in keeping up the tone, and will make it very much easier for the superintendent to keep the entire force of employes in that spirit in which nothing will be neglected. I want to impress upon you that every person who is guilty of brutal conduct toward patients should be promptly discharged, not simply for some particular act, but because of a disposition unsuited for the place. Let me here also suggest the advisability of having a competent female physician in each of our large asylums, where women are confined.
The vital importance ot having a thoroughly competent person to supervise the making of the daily bill of fare, and the cooking and
358service, must not be overlooked. The success of your management will depend largely on this. There is such a great variety of substantial articles of food, costing about the same price, that with a little ingenuity the table can be greatly improved without increasing the expense. This has been too generally neglected in the past. Not only the superintendent, but the trustees, should give the table all the attention possible.
But the principal reason for calling you together here to-day was to consider the subject of purchasing supplies, and in doing this I do not wish to be understood as reflecting upon any person who has bought supplies for any of the institutions in the past, and certainly not upon the able men now filling these places, but I want to speak of the system. The system which has been retained thus far is the old system of having a man who is connected with the institution go out into the market and look around and buy where, in his judgment, he can buy the best. At least that is the theory of it; but in practice the system generally works this way: If the man who does the purchasing is dishonest he makes an arrangement with some business house, or rather with the salesman of whom he buys, to be paid a commission in cash upon all that he buys. If he is honest at the beginning, then the usual experience is about this: He gets acquainted with the different salesmen in large establishments. He is invited to take a ride. He is invited to go to the theater. He is invited to do the town. He is treated to wine. He has a good time. He is treated right royally. He gets a kindly impression of his host, and when on the following day the host assures him that certain goods are the best and cheapest in the market, he is inclined to believe it, and he buys them. Later on, as purchases increase, the host very kindly presents him with a watch, as a Christmas gift. Occasionally he throws in a suit of clothes, and ere long a point is reached where valuable presents are made very frequently. These presents are not given by the head of the business house which makes the sales; they are given by the salesman who makes them, and then they go onto the books of the concern under the head of expense account. Now, the large corporations of this State and other States, the railroad companies and other concerns that do heavy buying, long ago abandoned this system, abandoned it absolutely. They said they did not want to send a dishonest man into the market to buy for them; that it was wrong to send an honest man into the market under existing conditions; and third, what is still more important, that the most honest
359man living could not, on the whole, buy as cheaply in that way as they could buy under what is called the competitive system; that is, by giving everybody who has the goods to sell a chance to bid. Hence, all of the corporations have adopted the plan of never permitting a purchasing agent to go into the market; but they make out a requisition of what they need, or of what they will need for a few weeks or a month ahead. They make fifteen or twenty copies of this, send it out to that many different houses carrying the line of goods that are wanted, and receive bids from all these houses, and the lowest bidder is given the contract, the right being always reserved to reject any goods that are not satisfactory. Their experience is, that even in the purchase of the most staple articles, the bids will vary from ten per cent. to twenty per cent. By purchasing in this way the supplies are obtained, not only at the lowest figure that some one reliable house may be willing to sell for on that particular day, but at the lowest figure that any reliable house is willing to sell for on that day, and among so many business houses there will always be one or more that will have special reasons for bidding low on one day that may not have on others, especially when it is remembered that the orders from these institutions are usually large and that the institutions pay cash. Almost everything that is needed in these institutions can be described in a requisition, and when it comes to the purchase of an article like cloth, the bid may be accompanied by sample. Several of the institutions of the State have already adopted this system, and their experience is that they get their supplies from ten per cent. to twenty-five per cent. cheaper than they were able to get them before. But even if, in the long run, supplies could not be obtained cheaper in this way than under the old system, this plan should be adopted because it is correct in principle, and because it gives everybody an equal chance and is a preventative to scandal. I want this system adopted in every institution in this State and rigidly adhered to. It is not necessary to discuss the feasibility or practicability of it, because it has been tried too long to be open to question. Requisitions should be made out in copies of at least; twelve or more, and copies sent to every business house that is at all within reach or that competes in that country, and then when the bids come in they should all be attached to a copy of the requisition. The lowest should be accepted, and they, together with each requisition, should be laid away, so that they can be examined at any time in the future. With rare exceptions all supplies should be purchased at the office of the institution, and the purchaser should not go into the market.
Now, in conclusion, gentlemen, let me say, that if you can get this