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From the Ground Up: 1936

An informal description of demonstration projects of the Resettlement Administration on the West Coast during the Great Depression.Continue Reading »

Pea-Pickers’ Child (1935)

Written by Lucretia Penny, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1935. “The death notice in the county paper was not more than two inches in depth but it had, nevertheless, its modest headline: PEA-PICKERS CHILD DIES. Already there had been three deaths in the pea-pickers’ camp: a Mexican had been murdered, stabbed; a child had died of burns; a baby had died of what his young mother referred to as “a awful fever in his little stomach.” And now the shallow headlines spoke of Zetilla Kane, the seventh child and only daughter of Joe and Jennie Bell Kane.”Continue Reading »

Disease of Mendicancy (1877)

Leprosy is not more incurable than mendicancy. When the disease has once fastened itself upon a man, — when, through long months or years, he has willingly and gladly lived on the industry of others, and roamed around without a home, — he becomes a hopeless case, and nothing but the strong arm of the law can make him a self-supporting man.Continue Reading »

One Means Of Preventing Pauperism (1879)

In 1876, Josephine Shaw Lowell (Mrs. C.R. Lowell) was appointed by Governor Tilden of New York State to be the first woman commissioner of the New York State Board of Charities. She served in this position until 1889, using her post to speak out, lobby, legislate, and advocate for people who were unable to do so themselves. Her investigations led to the establishment of the first custodial asylum for feeble minded women in the United States in 1885 and to the House of Refuge for Women (later the State Training School for Girls) in 1886. Continue Reading »

Management Of Almshouses In New England

Presentation by Frank B. Sanborn at the Eleventh Annual Session, National Conference Of Charities And Correction, 1884. In this paper for the NCCC, Sanborn reviews the basic structure of poorhouse care in Massachusetts and demonstrates reformers’ intense interest in controlling costs and removing able-bodied children from poorhouses.Continue Reading »

Massachusetts Report On Public Charities: 1876

As Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn held the most powerful position on the board. This report to the National Conference of Charities illustrates Sanborn’s deep faith in the power of statistical research to illuminate the nature of social problems.Continue Reading »

Social Darwinism and the Poor

Extrapolations from Darwinism, with its emphasis on evolutionary progress, offered reason for hope that a new and better social order could emerge from the turbulence. At the same time, by highlighting competition and the survival of the fittest as the drivers of evolution, it seemed to explain both the emergence of the fittest — fabulously wealthy elites and giant corporations, as well as the unfit — the masses of poor in the teeming city slums.Continue Reading »

Tewksbury Almshouse Investigation

As can be seen in this excerpt from the Lowell Weekly Sun’s coverage of the Tewksbury investigation, people with disabilities made up a significant proportion of the population of poorhouses. By the 1860s, many states had established institutions to educate deaf, blind, and cognitively disabled children and people deemed temporarily insane. People with other impairments—and especially disabled adults—whose families could not support them had no recourse other than the poorhouse. Moreover, conditions within almshouses often proved disabling or even deadly.Continue Reading »

Poor Relief and the Almshouse

Written by Dr. David Wagner, University of Southern Maine. “Poorhouses (almshouses were simply the same thing with the old English word “alms” for charity used) started out rather small, sometimes in private homes, and at first were scattered in America. But in the 1820s, when America ceased being a completely agricultural society and began to receive more immigration, reformers such as Josiah Quincy in Massachusetts and John Yates in New York led a drive to build almshouses or poorhouses in every town and city. Their purposes were deeply steeped in a desire to not only save money but also to deter the ‘undeserving poor.””Continue Reading »

Over The Hill To The Poor-House (1872)

Poem written by Will Carleton in 1897. Continue Reading »

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