Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Poor House or the Poor Farm

Frederick County Poor Farm, Frederick County, Virginia

2008 has proven to be a year of hard economic times. Record housing foreclosures, skyrocketing gas prices and plummeting drops in the Stock Market, have caused some to compare this era to that of the Great Depression.

There are many who have fallen on hard times. Families who have lost their dreams of home ownership, former millionaires who have seen their interest melt into nothing and everyday people living day to day just trying to make ends meet sometimes having to skip meals or other needs just to put gas in their cars in order to get to work are commonplace.

Homeless shelters and government programs are inundated with people in need of help.

But thank God for blessings. Unlike the times of the Great Depression, the Government is stepping in to help in the form of Corporate and Housing Market Bailouts, Special Loans, Stimulus Packages, and other programs all in the effort to keep the country afloat and from falling into the an economic abyss that resembles that of the past.

Hence, comes the topic of this blog. A fellow researcher ran across a census report that contained the names of individuals that was housed in a "Poor Farm." She was astonished as I to find the names of several families listed. We recalled how as children, how our parents used to say things like, "You better turn off those lights or be more financially aware or you are going to land us in the "Poor House or the Poor Farm." Neither of us actually realized that it was an actual place. I thought my mother was just being "melodramatic."

I researched it and found that a poorhouse or workhouse was a government-run facility for the support and housing of dependent or needy persons, typically run by a local government entity such as a county or municipality.

During the Victorian era, poverty was viewed as a dishonourable state caused by a lack of the moral virtue of industriousness or laziness.

A Poorhouse often resembled a reformatory and house children, either with families or alone, or a penal labour regime to give the poor work at manual labour and subject them to physical punishment.

The term is commonly applied to such a facility that houses the destitute elderly; institutions of this nature were widespread in the United States prior to the adoption of the Social Security program in the 1930s. Facilities housing indigents who are not elderly are typically referred to as homeless shelters, or simply "shelters," in current usage.

Often the poorhouse was situated on the grounds of a poor farm on which able-bodied residents were required to work; such farms were common in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries; it could even be part of the same economic complex as a prison farm and other penal or charitable public institutions.

Poor farms were county or town-run residences where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. They were common in the United States beginning in the middle of the 19th century and declined in use after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935 with most disappearing completely by about 1950.

Most were working farms that produced at least some of the produce, grain, and livestock they consumed. Residents were expected to provide labor to the extent that their health would allow, both in the fields and in providing housekeeping and care for other residents. Rules were strict and accommodations minimal.

I guess they would be today's equivalent of a homeless shelter.

Below is an extract from a 1900 Census that show residents of a "Poor Farm" in Falls County, Texas.

Household Members: Age/Race/Marital status
Nettles Head
Nettles Wife
Baze Chism 49 / Black /Widow
Rachel Edwards 75/Black /Widow
Mary Hayword 30/ Black /Widow
Sarrah Jones 28/Black/Widow
Mathew Williams 50/Black/Single
Norah May 46/Black/Single
Lizzie Duglas 35/ Black/Widow
West Duglas 6 months/Black/Single
Mary Phone 35/White/Single
Lizzie Lee 52/White/Single
Lu Williams 25/White/Widow
Orlee Williams 11months/white/Single
John Popeb 67 White/widow

This farm appears to have been run by a gentleman with the surname Nettles and his wife. No other vital information was given about them. The residents were comprised of both whites and blacks many of whom were widowed with children.

This really puts things in prospective for me. Even in the hard ecomonic times of 2008, we should still be grateful for government programs such as social security widow's and children survival benefits, general welfare, health programs, food programs and the like.

I am still both astonished and saddened to know that the "Poor House" or "Poor Farm," was not just a figure of speech that our parents used to make us exercise more financial consciousness in order to save them money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ll over,in my state of New York I have found two so far,buildings still stand to this date.
Yes they were there,it is kind of sad that they do not exist today,homeless shelters are a (if you will forgive) a poor secound to them. They grew at least some of what they needed,not as it is today. Thank GOD for S S and related tool's but,there is alwasy the threat of it failing,then what?
White,black,made no difference,when your broke your broke. Funny,we have all this money for other countrys,pork barrel projects,but not much for the poor Americans.