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Conditions of poorhouses in Massachusetts
From The American Poorfarm and Its Inmates, by Harry C. Evans
July 29, 2002

"Running amuck in extravagance in supporting her paupers - and is supporting them very badly," the report says.

Fourteen counties, 144 poorfarms, 6,059 paupers. Sturdy, economical Massachusetts, a state that has given us more teachers on human government than any other, and more lectures on economy, is running amuck in extravagance in supporting her paupers and is supporting them very badly.

She has invested $1,430,867 in 77 - one half of her poorfarms - where she confines but 440 paupers, less than six to a farm. That is an investment of $3,251.97 for each pauper. She taxes her citizens of these 77 towns $368,594 a year to maintain these paupers. This is $837.71 for each pauper. In these 77 farms there are 3.9 acres per inmate under cultivation and 11.1 acres per inmate not under cultivation. It costs the taxpayers of these towns more to support a pauper a year than the average unskilled laboring man earns in a year.

ALLEGANY COUNTY-Poorfarm and insane asylum 50 feet apart; no musical instruments, entertainments, or trained nurse; vermin; no examinations.

FAIRHAVEN TOWN-Floors bad, walls cracked; rooms cluttered. bath rooms unclean; vermin; clothing poor and insufficient; men and women sleep on same floors; old men and two blind women care for beds; repairs being made; no examination of inmates.

HINGHAN TOWN-Dismal, very old building; vermin; disorderly and somewhat hectic conditions in an impossible old barrack; no examinations.

NEW BEDFORD CITY-Very old building which has been patched up and added to for 75 years; it is an intricate maze of passageways, twists and turns, very badly arranged, very inconvenient; dining rooms dismal basement affairs, very crowded, dirty and disorderly; parts of floors are set aside for hospital cases; no examinations on admission; infected inmates associate freely with others, their clothes going into common wash.

NORTH ADAMS-A wretched old place that is falling to pieces; three stories; not fireproof, no fire escapes, inmates sleeping on third floor; bedding unclean; vermin in beds and broken wa1ls; no examinations; infected inmates mingle with others; clothes go into same wash; inmates take care of own rooms and do laundry work; the results are calamitous; all rooms littered with junk; matron not on good terms with inmates; co-habitation between inmates; drunkenness frequent; no discipline; place indecent; , matron states not a dollar spent on place in six years except to repair a leaky roof; it is easy to believe that not much has been spent in 60 years.

MARBLEHEAD TOWN -An old frame building, dilapidated, neglected and utterly dreary; three-story building, not fire-proof, no fire escapes, inmates sleeping on third story; sitting room dirty and dismal; broken-down furniture; dirty little windows. Dining room dismal; table covered with cracked, dirty oil cloth; cracked old dishes; splintery floor; a tumble-down house inadequately equipped; aged superintendent and matron; indifferent officials with little appropriation; no hired help, no recreation; no examinations.

SALEM CITY-Five-story building, not fireproof; no fire escapes; 30 or 40 inmates sleeping on fifth floor.

STONEHAM TOWN-Inmates have been permitted to bring their own furniture--result a collection of junk-beds of all kinds; broken chairs; bed clothes filled with vermin, etc. Institution became so bad the old management ousted; efforts being made to clean up.

WORCESTER CITY-This place is a combination of poorfarm, garbage plant and piggery. It is the scavenger department and garbage system of the city. Men and horses hauling garbage are kept at the poorfarm, and the garbage is consumed by the enormous herds of hogs raised there for the market. The piggery affords garbage disposal and nets the city front $50,000 to $60,000 a year. One gets an idea of the estimate in which dependents are held in hundreds of communities by this admixture of paupers, pigs and garbage.

Reports of scores of other poorfarms would be repetition. The rule is no recreation, no musical instruments, no trained nurses, no religious services, great fire hazard, bad sanitation, no examination of inmates until disease develops