Faith, Hope & Charity:

Social Reform and Photography, 1885–1910

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, our country’s expanding wealth and influence moved progressive thinkers to evaluate the role of public institutions in providing for the welfare of a growing population. A burgeoning interest in issues as diverse as criminality among the poor, the health of immigrants, overcrowding in slums, and the education of the disabled spurred the development of new means to investigate, document, and analyze their living conditions with an eye toward improving their lives.

Among the figures who became preoccupied with issues of social welfare was Francis Greenwood Peabody, a Harvard educator who brought the reform agenda to students via the college’s Department of Social Ethics. A chief tool in Peabody’s didactic arsenal was the Social Ethics Collection, a wide-ranging assemblage of photographs, maps, and charts that documented living conditions, educational institutions, charitable organizations, and hospitals across the US and Europe.

Capitalizing on rapid improvements in cameras and film, photographers (many of them all but forgotten) provided Pea­body with his materials, taking what we would now call a documentary approach. While less overtly ideological than the work of journalists like Jacob Riis, the 7,000 images that Peabody amassed recorded not only slums, sickness, and sweatshops, but also the factories of forward-thinking companies like NCR and Heinz and the progressive educational institutions like the Tuskegee and Hampton institutes.

Long considered outdated, the Social Ethics Collection had been consigned to cabinets when Barbara Norfleet and Suzanne Greenberg took a renewed interest in the images as part of our larger historical record and as works of art. Faith, Hope & Charity explores the role of Peabody’s collection in compelling people of wealth and influence – in the church, in business, in universities – to become interested and invested in the welfare of the less fortunate, restoring to view an unknown but vivid part of our ongoing national debate on issues of social welfare and social justice.

Since the 1960s, Barbara Norfleet has taught at Harvard University in the Social Sciences Department and as a Senior Lecturer in Visual and Environmental Studies at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Norfleet’s works have been widely shown in the United States and Europe, with exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; International Center of Photography, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Aaron Siskind Award.

Suzanne Greenberg’s collection of short stories, Speed-Walk and Other Stories, won the 2003 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, chosen by Rick Moody, and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award in 2004. Her fiction, creative essays and poetry have appeared in a number of publications, including The Washington Post Magazine, Mississippi Review, West Branchand The Sun, among others.

Her novel, Lesson Plans, was published by Prospect Park Books in May 2014. Named “One of Seven Great Books from Small Presses Worth Your Time” by Reader’s Digest, Lesson Plans was also a Library Journal Editor’s Spring Pick.

She is the co-author, with Lisa Glatt, of two novels for children, Abigail Iris: The One and Only and Abigail Iris: The Pet Project, both published by Walker Books, a division of Bloomsbury USA.

Her work on teaching creative writing has appeared in numerous publications, including, most recently, in Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom: The Authority Project, edited by Anna Leahy, Multilingual Matters, Ltd. She is the co-author, with her husband Michael C. Smith, of a book on creative writing, Everyday Creative Writing: Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink, distributed by McGraw Hill, now in its second edition.

She received her BA from Hampshire College and her MFA from the University of Maryland. She teaches creative writing at California State University, Long Beach, where she is a professor of English. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and children.