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That was usually done when they were found guilty of begging in public, etc. Within a budget of tax money, he might provide them with food, fuel, clothing, or even permission to get medical treatment to be paid out of tax funds. Auctioning off the Poor: People who could not support themselves and their families were put up for bid at public auction. In an unusual type of auction, the pauper was sold to the lowest bidder the person who would agree to provide room and board for the lowest price -- usually this was for a specific period of a. This was actually a form of indentured servitude.


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It sounds a lot like slavery -- except that it was technically not for the pauper's entire lifetime. And it had many of the perils of slavery. The welfare of the paupers depended almost entirely upon the kindness and fairness of the bidder.

The History of the Poorhouse

If he was motivated only by a desire to make the maximum profit off the "use" of the pauper, then concern for "the bottom line" might result in the pauper being denied adequate food, or safe and comfortable shelter, or even necessary medical treatment. And there often was very little recourse for protection against abuse.

See scan of an authentic record of an auction in in Sandown NH. Contracting with someone in the community to care for Paupers: In this situation the care of a group of paupers was delegated to the person s who would contract to provide care at, again, the lowest price. There were still often the same opportunities for abuse that were noted above.

What Were Poor Houses and Poor Farms?

Am I blind or lame? Carleton, Shortly after the Civil War, because of the 14th Amendment to the U. You could not be forced physically to remain there. Some people who were convicted of drinking or loitering could still be forced into an institution, but by the late nineteenth century, these were usually workhouses or houses of correction.

The ambiguity of an institution once coercive but later voluntary led to interesting stories.


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A famous story by Sarah Orne Jewett describes a small Maine almshouse where elderly people came by choice each winter to avoid paying their heating bills and to have comradeship Jewett, My own research found that well into the mid-twentieth century, officials in many towns and cities complained that men and women came in and out at will and gave not the least respect to their betters.

I interviewed people who also went seasonally into these homes for companionship Wagner, In some ways, the story of the Tewksbury Almshouse differs from local almshouses due to its size and state sponsorship. Rhode Island was the only other state to erect state almshouses.

The Poorhouse: America’s Forgotten Institution

Carlton, W. New York: Harper and Brothers, Far away," continued the statue in a low musical voice, "far away in a little street there is a poor house. Sir," says Cluny, "in this poor house of mine I would have you to ken that any gentleman may follow his pleasure. A stranger entering his own poor house at about ten o'clock P. Clare; Mas'r's been too good; but, Mas'r, I'd rather have poor clothes, poor house , poor everything, and have 'em mine, than have the best, and have 'em any man's else,--I had so, Mas'r; I think it's natur, Mas'r.

New England Historical Society

It's on'y the poor houses now as a packman calls on, if it isn't for the sake o' the sarvant-maids. A despicable emotional state this, against which solitude fortifies a superior character; and with severe exultation the Professor thought of the refuge of his room, with its padlocked cupboard, lost in a wilderness of poor houses , the hermitage of the perfect anarchist.


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