Previously published in Examiner
Part 4 of the From workhouses to almshouses the plight of the poor during Victorian Times women’s issues series
Poverty in America during Victorian Times
The Victorian era was one of the harshest times in America for victims of poverty. There was very little sympathy for the poor.
Women who were poor and had to work, or were single parents, or immigrants unable to comply with the Victorian’s society view of the stay at home mother and housewife were harshly judged as being unfit parents. Poverty was said to be the contributing factor behind a deteriorated family life. This feeling was perpetuated when religious groups saw the children of working parents playing or frolicking on the streets.
Giving financial support to needy families was considered as a deterrent. Enabling the poor would not give these lazy bums the incentive to go out and work for themselves. The Manual of Political Economy of 1834 stated, “The more paupers you support, the more you will have to support.”
Though there were some sympathizers, it was much easier to blame the victim then to facilitate change within the socioeconomic and political times. The lack of outside relief gave way to American workhouses, and that reduced the women not only to poverty, working at the lowest levels of the labor force, but to institutionalization without any rights whatsoever.
It comes as no surprise that the Negroes in the labor force after the civil war were also exploited and promises of land in the south was rescinded as well.
Alienation of Poor Women
These workhouses prevented mothers from taking care of their children at home when the society valued the homemaker and her role as the matron of the household, mother and wife. The double standard enforced served only to widen the gap between the middle class and the poor. Women who could not find work on their own and avoided the workhouses did so at price, they would most probably become prostitutes.
To be continued
Montreal’s McGill University is an ivy league University and Concordia University specializes in Women’s Issues.