By J. P. Coughland.
Every great event in the life of a nation is counted upon to bring forth a fresh gallery of heroes to relieve the pent up enthusiasms of the people. The war in Cuba and its melancholy aftermath in camp and hospital brought, among others, Miss Helen Gould, entirely against her own seeking, into the lime light of publicity. As soon as the chronicle of her good deeds became known, preparations for her apotheosis were begun. The American may pride himself on his reserve, but he has almost a virginal sensitiveness to gentleness, charity, and kindness. When once, through any cause, his outward armor of repression is removed, it is not difficult to touch his heart, and to touch it deeply.
Helen Gould endeared herself to the American - and perhaps all the more quickly because he had been accustomed to look for only negative virtues, at best, from the Gould name - by the splendid promptness of her giving. Doubtless there were others who gave as freely as she, and many who, proportionately to their means, gave as much; but their benefactions did not seem the same. We have a way of distinguishing between that which is given with the hand and that which is given with the heart. The giving is more likely to be appreciated than the given.
In the moil and labor of Wall Street, Jay Gould battled for millions. He raided and crushed those weaker than he, and fought doggedly with those stronger. He employed every artifice of the cruel code of finance. He received many hard knocks, more than his share, perhaps, and he took them like a man, and won; but he gave blows as hard as any that he received to many who did not win. Naturally, he left many sore heads. His methods were denounced, his name bore a burden of contumely, and honor was not attributed to him.
There are those who say that his daughter is now buying with his millions the good name of the world that was denied to him. On the contrary, she has said that her charities were directly inspired by his teachings, that every worthy action that she has done can be traced directly to his inspiration. She loved her father, and is devoted to his memory. She is far too loyal to harbor the thought that there exists any offense for the world to forgive. She is not an apologist for him; she has no patience with his detractors.
Once a society woman, presuming on an intimate acquaintance, made a remark about the millions accumulated from the "savings of the widow and the orphan."
" Nonsense!" exclaimed the daughter of the financier. "Such talk is absurd. My father made his money in Wall Street, and widows and orphans have no business there."
The first heralding broadcast of the name of Helen Gould - she signs herself, and, I believe, prefers to be called, Helen Miller Gould, in memory of her mother - was at the outbreak of the war with Spain. An announcement was made that a generous and patriotic woman had given a hundred thousand dollars to the national government as a contribution to the cost of a righteous war. There was much surprise when it was learned that the donor was the daughter of Jay Gould, who was, perhaps, the best hated man in America. Shortly afterwards the same generous hand gave twenty five thousand dollars to the Woman's National Relief Association. Such promptness and public spirit caused an opening of the eyes, and it was asked what manner of woman was this who set an example to the nation.
Then began a prying into the doings of Helen Gould. A heedless world, which, very unjustly, had tarred the entire Gould name with the same brush, was amazed at the unostentatious charity of her life. Her unobtrusive benefactions were bared, or at least a few of them, for the full extent of Miss Gould's charities will, I firmly believe, never be known to anyone but herself. Such is the cynicism of the age, that frank surprise, by those who did not know her, greeted this revelation of the daughter of him who has been called a great money pirate. A young woman - she was not yet thirty - born into millions, with a natural place in the most ornate society, she has devoted herself to the serious business of life, and the philanthropic and religious responsibilities of her position.
This remarkable young woman realized very early the great responsibilities attaching to the ownership of millions. That she should be capable of bearing them, she entered herself as a student in the woman's law class of the University of New York, where she took the regular course, but did not graduate, because of her desire to avoid publicity. As a result of this training, she has always been competent to administer her business affairs with a minimum of outside advice. After a schooling at Dr. Gardener's, on Fifth Avenue, and this course at the University of New York, she entered life impressed with its seriousness. The misery of less fortunate humanity called out to her for assistance, and she took her own way of answering the appeal.
One of her first charities was the establishment, at Woodycrest, a charming old colonial place near her own country home at Irvington on the Hudson, of a haven for crippled children picked up in the slums. Summer and winter, a number of blanched little folk with deformed bodies are nursed there to health and happiness. It is no stinted charity that mothers these lucky waifs. A mansion is their home, and sloping lawns; overrun with wild flowers, and fanned by the breezes of the Hudson, are their playground. The kindness with which they are treated makes them forever the slaves and worshipers of the gentle, sympathetic woman so frequently among them.
In this, as in all Helen Gould's charities, there is not an atom of selfishness. She even denies herself the pleasure of being charitable to the interesting. The more unprepossessing, and therefore the more in need, the object of her charity is, the more freely she gives. Before she established Woodycrest, she supported and still supports, I believe, two cots in the Babies' Shelter connected with the Church of the Holy Communion. With her annual check she never failed to urge the instruction: "Please reserve the cots for the two most uninteresting babies."
My first glimpse of Helen Gould was at a time when she was the idolized of the American army. The duties of a correspondent took me to Montauk Point when the bungled and mismanaged Camp Wikoff was established. The confusion of those first weeks was appalling. Soldiers were dumped down there in thousands, sick, wounded, and well huddled together without order and without provision. The situation would have taxed the best system in the world; it played havoc when there had been no time for system.
One day one of the ramshackle, makeshift conveyances of the place came driving up the rude new roadway, where negro teamsters were volubly and vigorously urging forward their mules knee deep in the soft earth. In the primitive vehicle sat three young women, sedately and plainly dressed, and apparently unconscious of the ejaculatory negroes. At the collection of tents called by courtesy the General Hospital, they dismounted and inquired for Colonel Forwood and Major Brown. The visitors were Helen Gould and two young ladies said to be her cousins.
The smallest of the three, dressed in plain black; was the center of the group. Led by Colonel Forwood, they made a complete inspection of the tented wards where the stricken soldiers were lying. The name of Helen Gould was not mentioned, else there would have been a demonstration, for her generosity had already reached our boys in Cuba. The men lying on their narrow cots did not know this soft voiced, sympathetic little woman whose hand had the gentle touch of a mother, and whose presence had the sweet atmosphere of a sister of mercy; but many guessed, or rather penetrated, her identity.
Rarely have I seen so much practical knowledge and common sense combined with so much sympathy and largeness of heart as Helen Gould displayed that day in her walk through the hospitals of Camp Wikoff. A recommendation here, a quick, incisive suggestion, almost a command, there, all for the welfare of the suffering soldiers-such was her visit. At its close, when she had seen for herself the needs of the camp, she turned to Colonel Forwood and told him to draw on her bank for any amount at his discretion for the benefit of the sick and wounded. Colonel Forwood paid her the compliment of taking her at her word in a liberal manner.
Scarcely a man who suffered in the war in Cuba, Porto Rico, or the Philippines, has not been, directly or indirectly, benefited by her generosity. Her house at 579 Fifth Avenue, New York, and her country home near Tarrytown, were turned into hospitals when the transports began crawling northwards with their freight of suffering. She cared for hundreds under her own eyes, and lavishly contributed when help was needed elsewhere. To hospitals and homes, wherever a sick soldier had found refuge, she sent flowers and fruit, blankets, food, and money. Nor did her efforts stop at easing the hardships of the fighting men. Her sympathy extended to those who are often the most grievously hurt by war, the mothers and wives at home, who suffer and are wounded without the excitement of battle.
A burning patriotism animated her, and she felt that no sacrifice was too great. to make for the men who had answered the call of country. She is, above all things, patriotic, and takes a great and intelligent interest in the affairs of the republic. Her action in the agitation against the seating of Congressman Roberts of Utah was a clear index of her character. With all the ardor and passion of her nature, she threw herself into that fight. Money, time, and influence she spent in defeating what she considered an outrageous assault upon the morality and the womanhood of the nation. To her action, indeed, Mr. Roberts' exclusion from Congress may be largely attributed.
She is not a politician, though she takes a deep and abiding interest in all current events that are likely to engage the attention of a woman of high intelligence. Her greatest activity is in doing good, and so much time does she devote to that pursuit that she has little for any other.
Not satisfied with what she had done for the soldier, she exerted herself on behalf of the sailor, and Jack, ashore or afloat, has no better friend than the founder of the Sailors' Club near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The story of the foundation of that institution shows how readily Helen Gould's sympathies can be interested in any project of a generous and practical nature. Frank Smith, of the Young Men's Christian Association, was struck with the idea of doing something for the great number of sailors who are continually ashore without friends or decent amusement around the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He began by forming a small club, and he had not progressed further than to show an earnest of good and practical intention, which the late Admiral Philip warmly approved, when Helen Gould heard of the project.
She immediately went over to Brooklyn on a visit of inspection. That same day she wrote out a check, from which grew a handsome building that is home and club to thousands of sailors. Altogether, she has given to that institution, founded in the inspiration of an afternoon, more than four hundred thousand dollars. The jackies have there a hotel with nearly a hundred beds, a restaurant, a library, a smoking room, and rooms where they can get all reasonable amusements, without having to make their perilous cruises up the Bowery. Incidentally, there is a savings bank, which is working wonders with the hitherto undeveloped thrift instincts of the sailor.
These things explain why she is regarded as a saint by soldiers and sailors of the United States. And this is her chief reward. She has had the tangible evidences of the nation's gratitude in the resolutions passed by the Legislatures of the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois; but deeply as she must appreciate these, her nearest friends know that she feels more keenly the unspoken thanks of the common soldier and sailor.
I had a vague notion of giving a detailed statement of Miss Gould's charities, but I gave up the project. They are almost innumerable, and most of them are known only to herself and the recipient. It would seem that nothing deserving of help is capable of escaping her. Hers is a nature always ready to respond to the call of misfortune. When the Windsor Hotel fire appalled New York, she made her house, directly opposite the scene of the catastrophe, into a temporary hospital. A score of doctors and nurses worked there, the dead and the dying were laid on the beds and the lounges of the house, with never a thought by its mistress for the thousands of dollars worth of costly carpets, furniture, and tapestries ruined by such usage. It was all very unfeminine, I suppose, but if she had any grief for the desolation of her cherished belongings she concealed it in her greater feeling for the misery and suffering of the victims of that awful horror.
The firemen of New York showed their appreciation of such unselfish heroism by presenting Miss Gould with a fire line badge, the token that secures admission beyond the police cordon at fires. She may never use it, but the donors could have paid her no more sincere compliment.
When the floods at Galveston shocked and horrified the nation, she was again in the forefront of those who came forth to proffer help. Her instinct is to give.
At her home at Irvington, Helen Gould sits during much of the day at an old fashioned desk, attending to the business of her estate, and still finding time for arranging and planning good. She is an exceedingly busy woman; the old cork handled pen is diligent in her fingers; and besides working a full eight hours every day herself, she keeps ten or eleven secretaries employed with her charitable schemes. She is always scheming - fresh charities, and never seems to drop the old ones. She has a long list of pensioners that is constantly gaining fresh additions.
Of course the repute of her open handedness makes her the mark of every begging letter writer in the country, and many plausible scoundrels try all sorts of expedients to acquire a little of her wealth; but her legal training and her natural common sense stand her in good stead, and she is rarely taken in. Many an instinctively charitable person would be soured to cynicism by this constant assault of cringing, lying, undeserving beggars, but Miss Gould does not allow it to influence her free hand in giving to worthy causes. She once allowed one of her secretaries to make an estimate of the amount asked from her in a single week. From Monday to Saturday in the chosen week her mail contained petitions which, if answered, would have demanded an expenditure of fifteen hundred thousand dollars.
Her income is approximately a million dollars a year, or nearly three thousand dollars a day; but of this scarcely more than a tithe is expended on its owner. The rest she regards as a sort of trust for the less fortunate. When she entertains, it is modestly, and her fashionable visits are few in the course of a season. Indeed, she is far happier when she is entertaining at one of her houses a group of self supporting working girls - a class in whom she is greatly interested. She takes an intellectual delight in aiding the efforts of those who are striving to aid themselves.
In all her charities, and in all her work, there has been a practical and sensible spirit. She is not a sentimental giver, nor one who gives for the mere. gratification of impulse, or for the appearance of munificence. On the contrary, she exerts herself to give where it will do good, and looks to it that her benefactions will genuinely benefit those for whom they are intended. She has a very clear and rigid perception of what her duties and responsibilities are. Here, in her own words, is what she told the Woman's Club of Cincinnati on the duty of a woman of wealth:
I shall never cease to preach the gospel that women of means should do more than rush through life for nothing but their own pleasure. It is the duty of women who have wealth to help others, and especially other women, and to make life for them worth the living. So much happiness may be scattered continually that the more one tries to help others, the more one loves to do it.
These were not vain words. They contain the precept and practice of Miss Gould's own life. She, indeed, finds her greatest happiness in helping others.
Helen Gould's munificence is felt in other directions than that of charity. She is an ardent partisan of education, and in addition to contributing handsomely to Columbia University, has endowed many educational establishments besides privately aiding many young people in their studies. Not long ago she again showed her public spirit by guaranteeing the sum of a hundred thousand dollars for a Hall of Fame on the campus of the New York University, overlooking the Harlem River.
Next to doing good, Miss Gould's hobby is gardening, and, with a fine disregard for the sun and breeze, she spends many hours in the beautiful grounds of her Hudson River home, among her plants and flowers. She has few visitors, but to those she receives she is grace and sweetness personified. Her entire lack of affectation, and the tender, sympathetic smile that illuminates her dark features, win her guest at once, and then it is that one begins to realize how it has come about that this young woman has taken such a hold upon the hearts of the people of America.
Originally published in Munsey's Magazine. June 1901.