Previously published in Examiner
Conclusion of the From workhouses to almshouses the plight of the poor during Victorian Times women’s series
Almshouses were part of the 19th century institutionalized care. They were similar in form and function to workhouses with a different name, while others were separate but connected with workhouses and prisons. By 1903, there were over 81,000 inmates in almshouses across America.
The poor were considered an aberration of society
The almshouses’ mandate was to separate,
“the poor from their families and keep them out of temptation’s way.”
The government bodies of the day felt that if the poor were institutionalized they could be rehabilitated. Incarcerating the poor in these almshouses would teach them the discipline they needed to be productive individuals.
These almshouses, or poorhouses as they were also called often housed the poor, the ill, the healthy, the insane, and the aged, together in filthy, unheated and overcrowded quarters. Though some almshouses were properly cared for, an investigation of New York Almshouses found people were cramped up and,
“wrapped in wretched blankets more like beasts than human beings”
Children were often taken away from the poor because they were seen as unfit parents, they were adopted out, sent to orphanages or put in juvenile institutions. This happened even more in immigrant families especially the Irish, or Negro families who were not able to live up to the middle class Victorian idea of family life.
The public health care of these institutions often deteriorated into widespread abuse. Later, the trend would be to place children in foster care rather than institutions but this was not the case during the Victorian era of 19th century America.
The disruption of family life is a women’s issue. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about two centuries ago or modern day, family life will always be a women’s issue.
The following article will deal with American sweatshops and their treatment of woman before the advent of labor unions.
Montreal’s McGill University is an ivy league University and Concordia University specializes in Women’s Issues.