JANUARY 27, 1940
WASHINGTON, DC—I have just returned from a little jaunt out into the snowy wilds of the District of Columbia. Because of a letter which I received, I decided to pay a visit to the home for the aged and indigent people run by the District of Columbia in Blue Plains. I took some flowers and cigarettes with me. Mrs. Morgenthau, another friend and I started off with no idea that we were going to find ourselves stuck in the snow, but that is what happened to us! We got out and walked, leaving the car in a position from which we could return to the streets of Washington.
Following a partially cleared road, we reached a door in a brick building which opened directly into a long corridor where many old colored women were congregated. We went in, and after some wandering around, gazed on one side into what I suppose would be called the diet kitchen, if one could consider anything in this institution exactly in that category. Across the corridor in a closet where various utensils were stored, we finally found a woman who seemed to be an employee and asked her how to find the office of the institution. She directed us and we sallied forth on the opposite side of the building, glad to breathe fresh air again and remarking that at least the old people were warm, and I think we could add, clean.
The superintendent greeted us very kindly and took us through the institution. More than 60 percent of the inmates are colored people. What he kept emphasizing was that, of course, they received only people who had no one to care for them and who were either completely destitute and old, or being fairly young, were rendered through some kind of illness incapable of taking care of themselves, either temporarily or permanently.
The institution has a farm, so that one would expect on 63 cents a day per person the food might be fairly good, but it looked unappetizing and was set out and getting cold long before the people entered the dining room. The plant is so old and so utterly inadequate, and the personnel so overburdened with work because of the overcrowding of the institution, that I think anyone visiting it must leave with an aching heart. It is true that many of the people may have lived under more painful circumstances in the past, but in comparison with what smaller nations, such as Denmark, Belgium and Sweden, do for their indigent old people, you cringe with shame for the standards which are accepted in our country.
It seems to me that the subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in Congress might well visit this institution. In addition, the women's clubs of Washington could make a tremendous difference in the lives of both the attendants and the inmates of the institution if they took an active interest.
I think the thing which made the deepest impression on me was the lack of segregation where the senile old were concerned. It was most striking to find an old woman, said to be nearly a hundred years old and considered an example of happiness, sitting on the edge of her bed, laughing in a somewhat eerie fashion when addressed by the doctor, while on the bed next to her sat a young woman, sent from Gallinger Hospital to convalesce. Friendless and penniless, where will she go when she is pronounced well?
No, it was not a cheerful morning.