Tag Archives: Poverty

The Crawlers of St. Giles’s

from Street Life of London, 1877This photograph by John Thomson appeared in a monthly magazine Street Life in London in 1877. Journalist Adolphe Smith added this caption: “Huddled together on the workhouse steps in Short’s Gardens, those wrecks of humanity, the Crawlers of St. Giles’s, may be seen both day and night seeking mutual warmth and mutual consolation in their extreme misery.”

Crawler was the rather pragmatic description of street people whose subsistence provided them not enough energy to walk. They crawled about city sidewalks “lacking even the energy to beg.” They were not unique to England during the industrial revolution. Historians record the same term applied to prone indigents in Boston and New York.

I had quite a time finding references to Crawlers online. The once pervasive term is now to be found only in specialized history texts about poverty. Do you think this disregard for fellow human beings cannot happen again?

In many undeveloped countries there is such untreated poverty. But the Crawler phenomenon describes less the abject poverty than the indifference shown by those who had health and food and stepped over them. Today we count on social welfare programs to prevent such misery, but are we not steadily dismantling the safety net? Every time I see a report of someone being rejected from a hospital for not having health insurance coverage, when I see people being left to get by on the street, when I see the indifference of philanthropists to the hardship of the have-nots, I think about the Crawlers.


I sometimes read what I’ve written the night before and wonder why I have any friends at all. What a bloviator I am. I think that I have Multiple Personality Disorder (which is nothing to be ashamed of, Sybil). I feel like I’m writing from the heart and the next day I wake up, full of hope and good cheer, and I think “Who is this weird, arrogant, angry person who’s taken possession of my body and mind?”

The truth is that I have small boobs and a big butt; I’m way too old to be a MILF; I barely make ends meet every month; my hair looks terrible every other day; I love my kids’ cute little school and all the lovely and caring teachers that adore my children and tell me as much every chance they get. I’m not overly fond of government control and I don’t like the war but, if the truth be known, I don’t even hate Dubya nearly as much as I should. I think he’s sort of sweet and boyish and he’s married to a very nice woman which elevates him in my eyes. He loves his cute daughters and gets along with mom and dad and cares about his siblings….all the things that I strive to engender in my children.

The truth of the matter is that my life is a daily grind, just as yours is. My lofty goal each day is to stay on track, to keep a whole lot of people sane and healthy, to counsel them and love them and instruct them and pray for them. To cook and clean and do laundry and pay bills–to try to work in a little exercise, a little charity work, an occasional shower. My nights are filled with homework and sporting events and bathing, toothbrushing, Halloween costumes…it never ends. Nor do I want it to.

I am my best self when I am giving to my family, my community, loving my people and my God. It’s hard for me to care that much about the war, about poverty, about abortion. I don’t have a lot of spare time to think, less even to act. So, late at night, I let my alter ego come out and say whatever she’d like. I get up early to make breakfast and send the kids off to school and when I read what she’s written I think to myself, “Please shut up now and make me some coffee.”