Friday, November 14, 2014

Creepy Haunts - "Poorhouses"

Where Does The Expression, "put me in the poorhouse" come from? Poorhouses Were a Real Place. Everyone in my city where I grew up played football at the "poor farm". It was an old age home and I could never understand why it was called the old "poor farm" so I looked it up one day.  How does this relate to horrible history?  As you can imagine, I am sure lots of sick and crazed people died at these locations, the undesirables of society, poor moms, kids without fathers...
I will post Youtube haunting videos at the end of this informational post, ladies and gents!
this lens' photo
Poorhouses were tax-supported residential institutions where indigent and/or jobless people were sent before welfare (public assistance) was available, not that there weren't forms of public assistance available to the public, but the programs were different and set up in a way they are not set up now as we have housing, unemployment, social security and other programs available for various issues happening in the lives of American Citizens.. There houses were created to provide cheap alternatives to "Outdoor Relief", the primitive public assistance then, welfare in its infancy. People asked for assistance from the community Overseer of the Poor, otherwise known as the Poor Master. This was a Health and Human Services Official (one person) who oversaw government poverty programs in your town sort of like City Welfare. If the need was permanent or very long term, or the need was more than the town could spare, individuals and families were sent to the Poorhouse in lieu of receiving these "Outdoor Relief" funds. "Outdoor Relief" could be given to families living in their own living quarters or on the streets. Sometimes if you were a public nuisance and were begging in the streets, you might be placed in the Poor House without your express wishes. We have to remember there was no government housing or Section 8 Housing programs that may have helped folks live independently. There was also no Social Security for older folks or the disabled.

Before there were Poorhouses, the financial, medical, and social responsibility of indigent folks or those who fell on hard times was put on the extended family, friends, or others in the community to take care of members of the community in situations such as disability, mental illness, old age, or any other issue that would keep people from sustaining and finding gainful employment (undesirables). There were some programs such as Outdoor Relief where people would apply to get help with food, fuel, clothing, or medical treatment to be paid out of tax funds. This was the predecessor to welfare benefits.

Before Poor Houses, citizens of town who had no support from families or their own families or selves could actually be put up for auction. They would live as indentured servants for a specific period of time. The person and/or their families would work for this particular person or family in return for their needs being met. It was pretty much a kind slavery, except you were entered into a contract for a certain period of time. If the winner of the auction was a good person, you were golden. If not, you were bumming. There wasn't too much that could be legally done if you were treated badly either.

Before the state funded poorhouses, there were some private poorhouses where you would be contracted to work and the house could make money to run itself and sell the goods produced on a farm as well as feed its inhabitants. Many of these houses were put together by charitable organizations, churches, rich folks who wanted to do good with their overabundance of money, or other means. The idea was that work would cure these people of their problems that were making them unemployable. Some situations were pretty uncurable, like if you had a dead hustband and had to take care of your kids. There was no Temporary Aid for Needy Families or Aid for Families and Dependent Children. Remember, some of the undesirables were rapists, pedophiles, mentally ill, handicapped, weirdos, creeps, flashers, stalkers, and petty criminals, or others who weren't supervised in a way they should have been. These people were mixed with children, the elderly, disabled, mentally retarded, kids, and other people who it would in this day and age be inappropriate to place together in this type of a blended community. Eventually, Poorhouses were investigated, they turned out to cost more than they were worth to the poor or the community. In addition, needless to say, there were social problems in the institutions, and it was just a bad blend of people for this type of environment. You can only imagine the possibilities.

Definition of Asylum

Asylum is literally defined as a shelter or protection from danger or those too ill to care for themselves; an institution offering shelter and support to the mentally ill. Its further defied as a refuge, sanctuary, or safe haven.

Unfortunately, these institutions placed in the United States in Victorian times were hardly that. They provided scant and inappropriate accommodations mixing people who were not appropriate to be placed in the same institution.

Social Changes

Finally, the State Board of Charities, who oversaw these Poorhouse conditions, passed laws that made kids, mentally handicapped, and mentally ill people not able to live at Poorhouses. As a matter of fact, kids couldn't live there at all, even in families. Appropriate institutions and orphanages were utilized to properly categorically place these folks who were unable to work due to their age, disabilities, and general conditions that they couldn't help in the small view of that day. At least, they could see that. The idea was humane, not to say that these institutions were in any way better or worse.

Social welfare laws, in the 1930′s, after the depression, which put all Americans in “The Poorhouse” for the most part, such as workman’s compensation, unemployment, and social security started to help some of these paupers who were in their situation through no fault of their own. I use this term loosely. When everyone was weeded out, what was left was mostly old folks. It evolved into a nursing homes for the elderly who couldn’t take care of themselves financially. You have to remember in these times, poverty was just starting to not be a terribly dirty word. It was seen as a place people put themselves. You were seen as the scum of the Earth for being lazy and unproductive, for having no work ethic, which we know is most of the time quite untrue. Those who were really unable to get employment, and didn’t fit into the other categories were sent to homeless shelters, which of course, we still have. Poorhouses were pretty much totally phased out by the 1950′s.

Attitudes changed after the depression, because people saw what it was like to starve, not have clean clothes, a place to live, or medical care. They wanted to make America a better place. History repeats itself and we learn. Its funny how quickly a nation can forget, isn't it?

Information Sources on Poorhouses

Ghost Adventurers Visit Rolling Hills Asylum, a home for the indigent Poor Houses

Dickens sums it up for us - The Victorian Poorhouse! The Will Carleton Poor House

Will Carleton Poor House Pictures and History More Poorhouse Information

Other Uses for Occupation Ulster County Poor House

New York Poorhouse Almshouse & Poorhouse Records

Almhouses (Charitable Organization Poorhouses) - Historical Records -County Poor-House Article

Facts. by Susan Fenimore Cooper Harper's Bazar, July 20, 1872, pp. 478-480 Fallbrook/Poor House

Sophie S. Welling, who had shared recollections from earlier in this century with Valley News readers about Oswego State Teachers College and its Campus School, died Feb. 27 at the age of 83. A few days after her death, members of her family submitted the following article, which she had been preparing for publication.

Further Education

Poor Farm History