A poorhouse or workhouse is 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.

In Victorian times (for Britain see Poor Law and workhouse), poverty was seen as a dishonourable state caused by a lack of the moral virtue of industriousness (or "industry" as it was called). As was depicted by Charles Dickens, a poorhouse could resemble 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 farm

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.

Poor farms were the origin of the U.S. tradition of county governments (rather than cities, townships, or state or federal governments) providing social services for the needy within their borders. This tradition has continued and is in most cases codified in state law, although the financial costs of such care have been shifted in part to state and federal governments. Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher was raised in such a facilityduring the 19th century before leaving it at age 20 to become Helen Keller's teacherand later lifelong companion. The novel The Miracle Worker and its 1957 TV play, 1959 Broadway play, and its 1962 film adaptation included harsh descriptions of the conditions therein.

ee also



* [http://www.elderweb.com/home/node/2806 Illustrated History of Long Term Care]

Further reading

* Rothman, David J., (editor). "The Almshouse Experience", in series "Poverty U.S.A.: The Historical Record", 1971. ISBN 0405030924

External links

* [http://london.sonoma.edu/Writings/PeopleOfTheAbyss/ Jack London's firsthand account of life and poorhouses in the 1902 East End of London]
* [http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?Scotland/Scotland.shtml The Workhouse in Scotland]
* [http://www.bures-online.co.uk Worhouses in and around Bures, Suffolk by Alan Beales]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Poorhouse — Poor house , n. A dwelling for a number of paupers maintained at public expense; an almshouse; a workhouse. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • poorhouse — (n.) 1781, from POOR (Cf. poor) + HOUSE (Cf. house) (n.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • poorhouse — [poor′hous΄] n. Historical a house or institution for paupers, supported from public funds …   English World dictionary

  • poorhouse — UK [ˈpɔː(r)ˌhaʊs] / UK [ˈpʊə(r)ˌhaʊs] / US [ˈpʊrˌhaʊs] noun Word forms poorhouse : singular poorhouse plural poorhouses 1) [countable] in the past, a place provided for very poor people who had no homes and were unable to feed themselves 2) the… …   English dictionary

  • poorhouse — poor|house [ pur,haus ] noun 1. ) count in the past, a place provided for very poor people who had no homes and were unable to feed themselves 2. ) the poorhouse the state of not having any money: If we keep spending money like this, we ll end up …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • poorhouse — [[t]pʊ͟ə(r)haʊs, pɔ͟ː(r) [/t]] poorhouses also poor house N COUNT: usu the N In former times in Britain, a poorhouse was an institution in which poor people could live. It was paid for by the public. I was certain I was on the brink of poverty,… …   English dictionary

  • poorhouse — poor|house [ˈpo:haus US ˈpur ] n 1.) the state of not having any money ▪ If Jimmy keeps spending like this, he s going to end up in the poorhouse . 2.) a building where very poor people in the past could live and be fed, which was paid for with… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • poorhouse — noun Date: 1792 a place maintained at public expense to house needy or dependent persons …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • poorhouse — /poor hows /, n., pl. poorhouses / how ziz/. (formerly) an institution in which paupers were maintained at public expense. [1735 45; POOR + HOUSE] * * * …   Universalium

  • poorhouse — noun a) A charitable institution where poor or homeless people are lodged b) A workhouse …   Wiktionary

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