Source Book for Social Psychology


84 Sociology; Social Psychology

20. The Halifax Disaster: An Intensive Crisis1

This chapter deals with group controls: how they arise out of crises or new, untested situations, how they become organized through the "definition of the situation" into folkways and mores. It treats of the place of ritual and formalism, the place of authority in reference to custom, the relation of law to custom, and finally the nature of our culture ethos.

The first paper, by Thomas, discusses the importance of studying crises in social situations. The formation of habits, more or less common to a group, leads to custom. This is shown to rest upon some standardized method of solving a critical social situation. Such situations are those of birth, puberty, marriage, war, famine, and old age. Then, too, there is the relationship between crises and the rise of division of labor and function. This is evidenced by the special social functions of priest, warrior, medicine-man, trader, and so on. Williams’ paper indicates that during crises the individual motives come to awareness. This phase of reaction is, perhaps, relatively recent. Many of the alleged motives turn out, on examination, to be rationalizations for deeper incentives lost to the individual and to the group. The paper by Prince on the Halifax disaster shows the social disorganization arising from a violent social catastrophe. Here, since the crisis is obviously one of unusual severity, it reveals in a more extreme manner social behavior under great strain. Both the profound physiological and psychological alterations are noted. The disintegration of morale and the enhancement of social attitudes is well shown, indicating the factor of individual differences in meeting unusual situations. A more careful study should be made of other disasters: floods, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes. Naturally, the basic problem of relief has overshadowed the more theoretical but scientifically valuable need for investigation of social changes under crises. Yet, social workers are becoming ever more aware of the social-psychological effects of these crises upon personality traits and upon the morale of communities.

A crisis leads to some method of delimiting, or defining, or finding the boundaries of the situation. That is to say, in solving any problem one attempts to circumscribe it in such a way that he can react to it successfully. Thomas’ paper of the "Definition of the Situation" is a very valuable statement of the place of the group: family, neighborhood, gang, trade union, etc., in defining the situation for the individual. Moreover, the definition is carried largely in verbal form. Throughout this book we shall observe the ever-present place which language plays in social intercourse. In defining the situation for the individual it is of primary significance. As one of my students puts it, "speech is an essential to social control."

Sumner’s volume The Folkways and Sumner and Keller’s The Science of Society are classics in social science. The selections included here may well be supplemented by further reading in these works. The folkways and the mores furnish the basis for the definitions of all types of situations with which the individual comes into contact. Failure to conform to the folkways marks one as eccentric and queer; failure to conform to the mores marks one as anti-social and leads to various sorts of social pressure—ridicule, ostracism, punishment by pain, imprisonment, banishment, even death. The folkways and mores are the backbone of our cultural heritage. Taboo is a term employed to describe the forms of acts prohibited by the mores.

Associated with the folkways—a part of them in fact—one finds social rituals. Ritual, which is more or less unconscious, plays an important rô1e in developing and establishing the mores. It is, in short, the most highly standardized form of definition of a situation. It is nicely seen in the ritualism of the Hebrew peoples described by the Tharauds in that interesting book The Shadow of the Cross. The selection from Dewey and Tufts reveals the place of authority behind the customs (mores and folkways) of a group. The luck interest in the formation of custom is also stressed. One may consult Sumner’s writings for material on this matter. Luck has played a large part in establishing and rationalizing custom. Events fall out contrary to the best laid plans of individuals. This is attributed to luck. (We say chance.) Or the chance configuration of events leads to an association of these events in the minds of persons (magical thinking). Out of this grows a definition which controls one’s attitude and action in regard to some event. Finally, Dewey and Tufts summarize the means of enforcing custom and discuss briefly taboo and ritual.

Cooley in his paper on formalism in society describes a phase of this whole ritualistic tendency. He shows the ill effects of undue formalism in the group and in its effect on the personality. There is some question, however, as to whether Cooley is quite correct in doubting the ill effects of ritualism in present Western society. In the twenty years since Cooley’s book was written there has been considerable drift toward the standardization of morals, life interests, and behavior which may bode ill for democratic culture. Machine culture may produce many comforts and increase the general average of wealth, but through its standardization it may "starve" the higher life of the personality quite as much as a thoroughly formalised, ritualistic religion may do.

Two papers, one by Hobhouse and one by Sumner, indicate in brief statements the relationship between custom and law. The latter is more formal, more conciously arrived at. And yet laws not resting upon mores have little efficacy, as we see everywhere about us today.

Particular cultures in time come to take on features which set them off rather sharply from other cultures. Thus we easily separate Occidental from Oriental culture in terms of certain traditional conceptions of difference: differences in philosophy, in life organization, in modes of thinking as well as in action. Sumner has applied the Greek word "ethos" to this totality of characteristics. His paper and the one following it by Sombart, furnish a key to an understanding of the present ethos of the Western World. What Sombart calls "modern ’values’ " are the very things which mark our culture and give it its distinctive ethos. Size, quantity, hurry, belief in progress, etc., all these are part and parcel of our ethos. Since we are participants in it we find it difficult to realize any other form of cultural organization as quite "right" or "natural."

The first of these phenomena was the "stun" of the catastrophe itself. The shock reaction at Halifax has been variously described. It has been graphically likened "to being suddenly stricken with blindness and paralysis." It was a sensation of utter helplessness and disability. "We died a thousand horrible deaths" ran one description, "the nervous shock and terror were as hard to bear as were the wounds." "The people are dazed," wrote another observer, "they have almost ceased to exercise the sensation of pain." This physiological reaction animals and men shared alike. The appearance of the terror-stricken horses was as of beasts which had suddenly gone mad.

A physiological accompaniment of shock and distraction is the abnormal action of the glands. The disturbance of the sympathetic nervous system produced by the emotional stress and strain of a great excitement or a great disappointment is reflected in the stimulation or inhibition of glandular action. Much physical as well as nervous illness was precipitated by the grief, excitement and exposure of the disaster. Among cases observed were those of diabetes, tuberculosis and hyper-thyroidism, as well as the nervous instability to which reference is subsequently made. Such an epidemic of hyper-thyroidism—exaggerated action of the thyroid gland—is said to have followed the Kishineff massacres, the San Francisco earthquake and the air-raids on London.

Turning now to other psychological aspects, we have to note the presence of hallucination in disaster.


Hallucination may be roughly defined as false sense impression. For example, the patient sees an object which has no real existence, or hears an imaginary voice. Hallucinations are termed visual, auditory, tactile, etc. according to the sense to which the false impression appears to belong.

Hallucination is induced by the unusual suggesting the expected. It is sense-perception colored by association. It is the power of a dominant idea that, unbidden, enters the field of consciousness and takes possession of even the senses themselves. In Halifax one idea seemed to dominate most minds and clothe itself in the semblance of reality—the expected Germans. For a long time there had been under public discussion the question as to whether or not the city would be shelled by Zeppelin raiders, or possibly by a fleet at sea. All street-lights had been darkened by military orders. The failure to draw window shades had been subject to heavy penalty. It is no wonder eyes looked upward when there came the crash, and when seeing the strange unusual cloud beheld the Zeppelin of fancy. A man residing on the outskirts of the town of Dartmouth "heard" a German shell pass shrieking above him. Dartmouth Heights looks out over Halifax harbor, and here perhaps the vista is most expansive, and the eye sees furthest. The instant after the explosion a citizen standing here "saw" clearly a German fleet manœuvering in the distance. That shells had actually come few on the instant doubted. The head of one firm advised his employees not to run elsewhere, as "two shots never fall in the same place."

This—a German assault—was the great mental explanation that came into the majority of minds. There was one other—that of the end of the world. Many fell to their knees in prayer. One woman was found in the open yard by her broken home repeating the general confession of the church. Few would have been surprised if out of the smoky, cloud-ridden skies there should have appeared the arch-angels announcing the consummation of mundane affairs. Indeed there were instances, not a few, of those who "saw" in the death-cloud "the clear outlines of a face." Thus both auditory and visual hallucination were manifested to a degree.

Hallucination has been described as "seeing" something which has no basis in reality. Thus it differs from delusion, which is rather a misinterpretation of what is seen. "Delusions are closely allied to hallucinations and generally accompany the latter. The distinction lies in the fact that delusions are not false sensations but false beliefs." Anxiety, distraction by grief and loss, as well as nervous shock play freely with the mind and fancy and often swerve the judgment of perception. This was especially noticeable at Halifax in the hospital identification, particularly 86 of children. A distracted father looked into a little girl’s face four different times but did not recognize her as his own which, in fact, she was. The precisely opposite occurrence was also noted. A fond parent time and time again "discovered" his lost child, "seeing" to complete satisfaction special marks and features on its little body. But often there were present those who knew better, and the better judgment prevailed. Again this phenomenon was repeated in numberless instances at the morgue. Wearied and white after frantic and fruitless search wherever refugees were gathered together, the overwrought searchers would walk through the long lines of dead, and suddenly "recognize" a missing relative or friend. Regretfully the attendant fulfilled the same thankless task from day to day. There had been no recognition at all. The observer had seen "not the object itself but the image evoked in the mind."

In catastrophe primitive instincts1 are seen most plainly and less subject to the reconditioning influences of ordinary life. This was especially noticeable at Halifax. The instinct of flight for self-preservation was reflected in the reaction of thousands.

The instinct of pugnacity was to be seen in many a fine example of difficulty overcome in the work of rescue.

The parental instinct was everywhere in evidence, and was reflected not only in the sacrifices made and the privations endured by parents for their young, but in every act of relief, which arose in involuntary response to the cry of the distressed.

The gregarious instinct—the instinct to herd—showed itself in the spontaneous groupings which came about and which seemed somehow to be associated with feelings of security from further harm. The refugees found comfort in the group. They rarely remained alone.

These and other instinctive responses in a greater or less degree of complication were to be remarked of the actions not only of individuals but of groups as well. In the latter the typical phenomena of crowd psychology were manifested upon every hand. The crowd was seen to be what it is—"the like response of many to a socially inciting event or suggestion such as sudden danger." Out of a mere agglomeration of individuals and under the stress of emotional excitement there arose that mental unity, which Le Bon emphasizes. There was noticeable the feeling of safety associated with togetherness which Trotter suggests. There was the suggestibility, with its preceding conditions which Sidis 87 has clarified, namely, expectancy, inhibition, and limitation of the field of consciousness. There were the triple characteristics which Giddings notes: "Crowds are subject to swift contagion of feeling, they are sensitive to suggestion . . . and always manifest a tendency to carry suggested ideas immediately into action."

At first all was confusion. Some ran to the cellars. Some ran to the streets. Some ran to their shops. Those in the shops ran home. This was in the area of wounds and bruises. Farther north was the area of death. Thither the rescuers turned. Automobiles sped over broken glass and splintered boards toward the unknown. Then came the orders of the soldiers, whose barracks were situated in the very heart of the danger district, for the people to fly southward, Common-ward, to the open spaces—anywhere. Another explosion was imminent. Then came further outbreaks of the flight impulse. Runs a graphic account:

The crowd needed no second warning. They turned and fled. Hammers, shovels and bandages were thrown aside. Stores were left wide open with piles of currency on their counters. Homes were vacated in a twinkling. Little tots couldn’t understand why they were being dragged along so fast. Some folks never looked back. Others did, either to catch a last glimpse of the home they never expected to see again or to tell if they could from the sky how far behind them the Dreaded Thing was. . . . They fled as they were. . . . Some carried children or bundles of such things as they had scrambled together. . . . Many were but scantily clad. Women fled in their night dresses. A few were stark naked, their bodies blackened with soot and grime. These had come from the destroyed section of the North End. What a storm-tossed motley throng, and as varied in its aspect and as poignant in its sufferings as any band of Belgian or Serbian refugees. . . . A few rode in autos, but the great majority were on foot. With blanched faces, bleeding bodies and broken hearts, they fled from the Spectral Death they thought was coming hard after, fled to the open spaces where possibly its shadow might not fall. Soon Citadel Hill and the Common were black with terrified thousands. Thousands more trudged along St. Margaret’s Bay Road, seeking escape among its trees and winding curves. . . . Many cut down boughs and made themselves a fire—for they were bitterly cold. Here they were—poorly clad, badly wounded, and with not one loaf Of bread in all their number, so hastily did they leave, when galloping horsemen announced the danger was over and it was safe to return.

The ever-shifting responsiveness to rumor which distinguishes a crowd was noted.

The entrance to the Park was black with human beings, some massed 88 in groups, some running anxiously back and forth like ants when their hill has been crushed. There were blanched faces and trembling hands. The wildest rumors were in circulation and every bearer of tidings was immediately surrounded.

Not only here but when the crowd trekked back, and in the subsequent scenes which were witnessed in supply stations and shelters, the association which Sidis draws between calamity and hyper-suggestibility in the body politic was abundantly endorsed.

We must now endeavor to understand the phenomena of emotion which accompany a great catastrophe.

It will be accurate enough for our purpose to think of the emotions as complicated states of feeling more or less allied to one another and to the human will. Among them are jealousy and envy—"discomfort at seeing others approved and at being out-done by them." This appeared repeatedly in the administration of relief and should be included in disaster psychology. Again greed—more strictly a social instinct than an emotion—was common.

Fear has already been referred to. Anger, shame, resentment while evident, were of less significance. Gratitude was early shown and there were many formal expressions of it. Later on, it seemed to be replaced by a feeling that as sufferers they, the victims, were only receiving their due in whatever aid was obtained.

Of special interest is the rôle of the tender emotions, kindliness, sympathy and sorrow, as well as the reactions which may be expected when these occur in unusual exaltation through the repetition of stimuli or otherwise. Whatever may be the nature of the process whereby the feelings of his fellows affect a man, that which chiefly concerns us here, is how these reactions differ when the stimulation is multiplex. Of this multiplex stimulation in collective psychology Graham Wallas has written:

The nervous exaltation so produced may be the effect of the rapid repetition of stimuli acting as repetition acts, for instance, when it produces seasickness or tickling. . . . If the exaltation is extreme conscious control of feeling and action is diminished. Reaction is narrowed and men may behave, as they behave in dreams, less rationally and morally than they do if the whole of their nature is brought into play.

What Wallas has said of the additional stimulation which the presence of a crowd induces may be given wider application, and is indeed a most illuminating thought, describing exactly the psycho-emotional 89 reactions produced by the stimulation of terrifying scenes, such as were witnessed at Halifax.

A case in point was that of the nervous exaltation produced upon a young doctor who operated continuously for many hours in the removal of injured eyes. The emotional tension he went through is expressed in his words to a witness, "If relief doesn’t come to me soon, I shall murder somebody."

Another instance where conscious control of feeling and action was diminished was that of a soldier. He was so affected by what he passed through during the explosion and his two days’ participation in relief work, that he quite unwittingly took a seat in a train departing for Montreal. Later in a hospital of that city after many mental wanderings he recovered his memory. Over and over again he had been picturing the dreadful scenes which he had experienced.

The nature of sympathy may not be clearly comprehended but of its effects there is no doubt. It may lead to the relief of pain or induce the exactly opposite effect; or it may bring about so lively a distress as to quite incapacitate a man from giving help. Again it may lead to the avoidance of disaster scenes altogether. Thus some could on no account be prevailed upon to go into the hospitals or to enter the devastated area. Others by a process understood in the psychology of insanity secured the desired avoidance by suicide.

Joy and sorrow are pleasure-pain conditions of emotional states. Sorrow is painful because "the impulse is baffled and cannot attain more than the most scanty and imperfect satisfaction in little acts, such as the leaving of flowers on the grave"; although the intensity is increased by other considerations. Here again the unusual degree of stimulation which catastrophe induces brings about a behavior other than that which commonly attends the experience of grief. A phenomenon associated with wholesale bereavement is the almost entire absence of tears. At Halifax, there was little crying. There seemed to be indeed a miserable but strong consolation in the fact that all were alike involved in the same calamity.

There was also to be added the phenomena of emotional parturition. As was to be expected the shock meant the immediate provision of a maternity hospital. Babies were born in cellars and among ruins. Premature births were common. Nor were all the ills for which the shock was responsible immediately discernible. There were many post-catastrophic phenomena. Three months after the explosion many found themselves suffering an inexplicable breakdown, which the doctors attributed unquestionably to the catastrophe. It was a condition closely 90 allied to "war-neurasthenia." Another disaster after-effect also may be here recorded. This was the not unnatural way in which people "lived on edge," for a long period after the disaster. There was a readiness and suggestibility to respond to rumor or to the least excitant. Twice, at least, the schools were emptied precipitately, and citizens went forth into pell-mell flight from their homes upon the circulation of reports of possible danger. No better illustration is afforded of the sociological fact that "the more expectant, or overwrought the public mind, the easier it is to set up a great perturbation. After a series of public calamities . . . minds are blown about by every gust of passion or sentiment."

There are also to be included a few miscellaneous observations of behavior associated with the psychology of disaster relief. (1) The preference upon the part of the refugee for plural leadership and decision. (2) The aggravation of helplessness through the open distribution of relief. (3) The resentment which succeeds the intrusion of strangers in relief leadership. (4) The reaction of lassitude and depression after a period of strain. (5) The desire for privacy during interviews. (6) The vital importance of prompt decision in preventing an epidemic of complaint.

Analytic psychology is becoming increasingly interested in the phenomena of repression, inhibition and taboo. The real motives of action are often very different from the apparent motives which overlie them. Instinctive tendencies are buried beneath barriers of civilization, but they are buried alive. They are covered not crushed. These resistances are either within our minds or in society. The latter are summed up in conventionality, custom and law, all so relatively recent in time as to supply a very thin veneer over the primitive fendencies which have held sway for ages. Few realize the place which conventionality, custom and law possess in a community until in some extraordinary catastrophe their power is broken, or what is the same thing the ability to enforce them is paralyzed. This fact is especially true of repressive enactments, and most laws fall within this category. Catastrophe shatters the unsubstantial veneer.

With the possibility of apprehension reduced to a minimum in the confusion at Halifax, with the deterrent forces of respectability and law practically unknown, men appeared for what they were as the following statement only too well discloses:

Few folks thought that Halifax harbored any would-be ghouls or vultures. The disaster showed how many. Men clambered over the bodies of 91 the dead to get beer in the shattered breweries. Men taking advantage of the flight from the city because of the possibility of another explosion went into houses and shops, and took whatever their thieving fingers could lay hold of. Then there were the nightly prowlers among the ruins, who rifled the pockets of the dead and dying, and snatched rings from icy fingers. A woman lying unconscious on the street had her fur coat snatched from her back. . . . One of the workers, hearing some one groaning rescued a shop-keeper from underneath the debris. Unearthing at the same time a cash box containing one hundred and fifty dollars, he gave it to a young man standing by to hold while he took the victim to a place of refuge. When he returned the box was there, but the young man and the money had disappeared.

Then there was the profiteering phase. Landlords raised their rents upon people in no position to bear it. The Halifax Trades and Labor Council adopted a resolution urging that the Mayor be authorized to request all persons to report landlords who "have taken advantage of conditions created by the explosion." . . . Plumbers refused to hold their union rules in abeyance and to work one minute beyond the regular eight hours unless they received their extra rates for overtime; and the bricklayers assumed a dog-in-the-manger attitude and refused to allow the plasterers to help in the repair of the chimneys. And this during days of dire stress . . . when many men and women were working twelve and fourteen hours a day without a cent or thought of remuneration. Truckmen charged exorbitant prices for the transferring of goods and baggage. Merchants boosted prices. A small shopkeeper asked a little starving child thirty cents for a loaf of bread.

On Tuesday, December the twelfth, the Deputy Mayor issued a proclamation warning persons so acting that they would be dealt with under the provisions of the law.

Slowly the arm of repression grew vigorous once more. The military placed troops on patrol. Sentries were posted preventing entrance to the ruins to those who were not supplied with a special pass. Orders were issued to shoot any looter trying to escape. The Mayor’s proclamation, the warning of the relief committee, the storm of popular indignation gradually became effectual.

The stimulus of the same catastrophe, it thus appears, may result in two different types of responses—that of greed on the one hand or altruistic emotion on the other. One individual is spurred to increased activity by the opportunity of business profit, another by the sense of social needs. Why this is so—indeed the whole field of profiteering—would be a subject of interesting inquiry. Whether it is due to 92 the varying degrees of socialization represented in the different individuals or whether it is not also partly due to the fact that philanthropy functions best in a sphere out of line with a man’s own particular occupation, the truth remains that some display an altogether unusual type of reaction in an emergency to the actions of others; and perhaps exhibit behavior quite different from that which appears normal in a realm of conduct where associations based on habit are so strongly ingrained.

The energizing influence of an emotional excitant was shown at Halifax in the remarkable way in which sick soldiers abandoned their beds and turned them over to the victims rushed to the military hospitals. It was seen again in the sudden accession of strength displayed by the invalids and the infirm during the hurried evacuation of the houses. The resistance to fatigue and suffering received more abundant illustration at Halifax in the work of rescue and relief. Often men themselves were surprised at their own power for prolonged effort and prodigious strain under the excitement of catastrophe. It was only on Monday (the fifth day) that collapses from work began to appear. Among the more generally known instances of unusual endurance was that of a private, who with one of his eyes knocked out, continued working the entire day of the disaster. Another was that of a chauffeur who with a broken rib conveyed the wounded trip after trip to the hospital, only relinquishing the work when he collapsed. An unknown man was discovered at work in the midst of the ruins although his own face was half blown off. Those who escaped with lesser injuries worked day and night while the crisis lasted. Many did not go home for days, so manifold and heavy were the tasks. There was no pause for comment. Conversation was a matter of nods and silent signs, the direction of an index finger. Weeks later the workers were surprised to find themselves aged and thin. The excitement, the stimulus of an overwhelming need had banished all symptoms of fatigue. During the congestion which followed the arrival of the relief trains there were men who spent seventy-two hours with scarcely any rest or sleep. One of the telephone terminal-room staff stuck to his post for ninety-two hours, probably the record case of the disaster for endurance under pressure.

Magnificent effort, conspicuous enough for special notice was the work of the search parties who, facing bitterest cold and in the midst of blinding storms, continued their work of rescue; and the instance of the business girls who in the same weather worked for many hours 93 with bottles of hot water hung about their waists. An effect which could not escape observation was the strange insensibility to suffering on the part of many of the victims themselves. Men, women and little children endured the crudest operations without experiencing the common effects of pain. They seemed to have been anesthetized by the general shock. Sidewalk operations, the use of common thread for sutures, the cold-blooded extracting of eyes were carried on often without a tremor. This resistance to suffering was due not only to the increase of energy already described but also to the fact that the prostrating effect of pain is largely relative to the diversion of attention,—as "headaches disappear promptly upon the alarm of fire" and "toothaches vanish at the moment of a burglar’s scare." Much pain is due to the supersensitivity of an area through hyperaemia, or increased blood supply, following concentrated attention. Thus it is actually possible by volition to control the spread of pain, and the therapeutic virtues of an electric shock or a slap in the face are equally demonstrable. This reasoning is also applicable to the absence of sympathetic reactions among many disaster workers. They were found often to be "curiously detached and not greatly moved by the distressing scenes in morgue, in hospital, in the ruins and at the inquiry stations."

Catastrophe and the sudden termination of the normal which ensues become the stimuli of heroism and bring into play the great social virtues of generosity and of kindliness—which, in one of its forms, is mutual aid. The new conditions, perhaps it would be more correct to say, afford the occasion for their release. It is said that battle does to the individual what the developing solution does to the photographic plate,—brings out what is in the man. This may also be said of catastrophe. Every community has its socialized individuals, the dependable, the helpful, the considerate, as well as the "non-socialized survivors of savagery," who are distributed about the zero point of the social scale. Calamity is the occasion for the discovery of the "presence of extraordinary individuals in a group." The relation of them to a crisis is one of the most important points in the problem of progress.

At Halifax there were encountered many such individuals as well as families who refused assistance that others might be relieved. Individual acts of finest model were written ineffaceably upon the social memory of the inhabitants. There was the case of a child who released with her teeth the clothes which held her mother beneath a pile of debris. A wounded girl saved a large family of children, getting them all out of a broken and burning home. A telegraph operator at the cost of his life 94 stuck to his key, sent a warning message over the line and stopped an incoming train in the nick of time.

Group heroism was no less remarkable. For the flooding of the powder magazine in the naval yard an entire battery volunteered. This was why the second explosion did not actually occur. Freight handlers too, as well as soldiers, revealed themselves possessors of the great spirit. A conspicuous case was that of the longshoremen working on board of a ship laden with explosives. Fully realizing the impending danger, because of the nearness of the burning munitioner, they used what precious minutes of life remained them to protect their own ship’s explosives from ignition. A fire did afterwards start upon the ship but a brave captain loosed her from the pier, and himself extinguished the blaze which might soon have repeated in part the devastations already wrought.

No disaster psychology should omit a discussion of the psychology of helpfulness—that self-help to which the best relief workers always appeal, as well as of the mutual aid upon which emergency relief must largely depend. Mutual aid while not a primary social fact is inherent in the association of members of society. As it insured survival in the earlier stages of evolution, so it reveals itself when survival is again threatened by catastrophe.

The illustrations of mutual aid at Halifax would fill a volume. Not only was it evidenced in the instances of families and friends but also in the realm of business. Cafes served lunches without charge. Drug stores gave out freely of their supplies. Firms released their clerks to swell the army of relief. A noteworthy case of community service was that of the Grocers’s Guild announcing that its members would

fill no orders for outside points during the crisis, that they would cooperate with the relief committee in delivering food-stuffs free of charge to any point in the city, and that their stocks were at the disposal of the committee at the actual cost to them.

By incidents such as these, Halifax gained the appellation of the City of Comrades.

Catastrophe becomes also the excitant for an unparalleled opening of the springs of generosity. Communication has transformed mutual aid into a term of worldwide significance. As at San Francisco, when from all directions spontaneous gifts were hurried to the stricken city, when in a period of three months seventeen hundred carloads and five steamer-loads of relief goods arrived, in addition to millions of cash contributions, so was it at Halifax.

1 Reprinted by permission from S. H. Prince, "Catastrophe and Social Change—Based upon a Sociological Study of the Halifax Disaster" pp. 36–39; 40; 41–42; 42–46; 47; 48–52; 53–57. Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, vol. XCIV: 1920.

1 The reader should understand that the word instinct is here used in a very general sense in this paper. It covers both innate tendencies and much that is the result of experience.


Related Resources

San Francisco Earthquake

Download Options

Title: Source Book for Social Psychology

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Source Book for Social Psychology

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "Source Book for Social Psychology," Source Book for Social Psychology in Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. Young, Kimball, 1893-1972 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: . "Source Book for Social Psychology." Source Book for Social Psychology, in Source Book for Social Psychology, edited by Young, Kimball, 1893-1972, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1927, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: , 'Source Book for Social Psychology' in Source Book for Social Psychology. cited in 1927, Source Book for Social Psychology, ed. , Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from