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

A special concern for the treatment of children in poorhouses.

North Dakota affords another example of wasted money. She has but 158 institutional paupers, but keeps 11 poorfarms in operation. These eleven counties have spent $457,561 on their poorfarms, which is $2,896 per pauper. Many a farmer has not spent as much for the house on his farm. Three of the farms have but 20 inmates. There is $6,390 invested in these three farms for every inmate, and it costs the taxpayers $795 a year to support each inmate in his costly poorhouse. If we estimate 5 percent on this investment, the annual cost per pauper is over $1,100.

The report of the Children's Code Commission for 1922 showed a woeful neglect of children. There were no adequate means to make investigations of delinquent and dependent children. Court records were meager. All welfare work was done by private agencies supported by private subscriptions, dealing only with cases called to their attention. There were no state agencies for the placing out of children. There were no means for the scientific investigation or treatment of needy children.

Delinquents, dependents and sub normals were all in one class. Individual history did not accompany a child. The state was without means to investigate foster homes. There was no supervision of a child after placed. There was no supervision or regulation of institutions engaged in caring for or placing dependent or neglected children. Some of them run without a license. These agencies did not report to anyone. Guardianships were transferred without the sanction of court.

One of the most startling disclosures was the large number of children found in poorhouses. In ten poorfarms children were found. These children were sent to the public schools. Imagine their humiliation. The brand of infamy is as indelibly stamped upon them as was the brand of the scarlet letter on Hawthorne's heroine.

The public sentiment in North Dakota, and other states, that tolerates such treatment of innocent children is as infamous as the public sentiment that tolerated the punishment of an erring new England girl by compelling her to wear a scarlet mark on her breast that all might see.

There are still agencies in the east that pick up the street gamins and ship them west. This practice is not so prevalent as it was some years ago. The writer once saw a train load of eastern pauper children at Ames, Iowa - one hundred of them. They were dumped on the prairies of Iowa and Minnesota.

There were no legal provisions in North Dakota for supervision of the placing of these imported paupers. There was no record or history accompanying them. The Children's Code Commission denounced the methods used by some of these societies as "almost brutal". On October 1, 1921, 539 children in North Dakota were being cared for by agencies. Thirty-nine percent were illegitimate, and no one cared enough to ascertain how many of them were feeble-minded.

A family of 9 children was sent to a poorfarm with their mother. They stayed two years, when she took the children away and tried to provide for them. She failed, and they all returned to the farm except one girl. In all counties but one the inmates were all housed in one building, the children eating, and associating constantly, with other inmates. In 1923 a law was enacted creating a Board of Administration charged with the general supervision of child welfare. The new law, however, does not prevent the placing of children in poorfarms or prisons. It is as follows:

No person or organization shall place any child in any almshouse or in any other institution, charitable, penal or reformatory, in which children charged with delinquency are kept without consent of the Board. Children may be sent to any sort of an institution, with the consent of the State Board. Social conditions at poorfarms are above the average.

BARNES COUNTY-Infected inmates not segregated; three-story, non- fireproof building.

CASS COUNTY-Cancerous and tubercular inmates infected inmates not segregated; four-story, non-fireproof building, of inflammable material, 15 inmates sleeping in top stories,

STUTSMAN COUNTY-No recreation, no musical instruments, no trained nurse, no examinations for mental capacity or tuberculosis; stoves, non- fireproof building; well water; cesspool.