The Role of the Cheltenham Charity Organisation Society, 1905-1929

Gough, Sarah Jane (2020). The Role of the Cheltenham Charity Organisation Society, 1905-1929. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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The Cheltenham Charity Organisation Society (COS) was established in 1879 to investigate all cases relating to the poor, encourage cooperation between charitable organisations and repress mendicity. This study will examine the effectiveness of the leadership of Society and analyse its response to changing attitudes towards poverty and its causes. It will also examine the efforts of the Cheltenham COS to coordinate other charitable provisions within the town and analyse its response to the rise of state welfare. Current scholarship of the COS is largely critical of its methods for dealing with poverty. It is argued that the Society was relatively ineffective outside of London due to its outdated approach, persistent financial issues, opposition to the intervention of the state and difficulties in encouraging charitable coordination. These arguments will be tested using evidence from the minutes and case records of the Cheltenham COS Executive Committee, and reports from local newspapers. The study concludes that the Society largely failed to adapt its structure as ideas regarding the causes and prevention of poverty began to shift. The Society faced persistent financial difficulties and its leadership often lacked the required resourcefulness to explore alternative avenues for generating new funds. External factors such as war and changing economic circumstances did not alter the discriminatory approach of the Society, nor dilute its determination to assist only those who were willing to help themselves. The Cheltenham COS did experience some success in coordinating charity, particularly after the First World War, although its progress remained uneven and failed to create a cohesive system. Although opposed to state welfare, the Cheltenham COS was unable to provide an alternative solution to mass assistance, or an answer to the question of how those deemed ‘undeserving’ could be helped.

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