I will post Youtube haunting videos at the end of this informational post, ladies and gents!
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.
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.
Poor Farm History