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

"Wanton extravagance" in the poorfarm system, but residents don't benefit.

South Dakota has the distinction of having invested more money per pauper in poorfarms than any other state in the Union. She has set aside a little farm of 34.9 acres for every pauper. The Labor Department's tabulation, showing the amount invested for each pauper, in round numbers, is as follows:

Value of land 34.9 acres $3,139

Value of farm equipment $ 534

Value of buildings $1,769

Value of furnishings $ 158

Total invested for each pauper $5,600

Only 7 of the 29 farms have more than 10 inmates. Analyzing the 22 farms that have a total of but 96 inmates, less than 5 to the farm, we find the investment per pauper is $8,228, a total of $789,901, at which there if expended annually $78,272, or $815 per pauper. These farms have one employee for every two inmates. The payroll per inmate is $321. Estimating 5 per cent on the investment, each of these paupers cost the taxpayers $1,226 a year, a sum equal to a pension of over $100 a month.

At these 22 farms, there are 52.9 acres for each pauper, 22.3 of them uncultivated. These figures justify the charge of wanton extravagance against the poorfarm system. More than $8,000 taxed from the people to provide a home for a pauper, and more than $800 a year spent to support him in that extravagant home. Consolidation of all of these farms into one would reduce taxes materially.

Not withstanding the lavish expenditure of money, the paupers of South Dakota do not live in luxury. Detailed information at a poorfarm or two is herewith given:

LAKE COUNTY-Made-over farm building, not fireproof, poor lighting in all rooms; same unsanitary outdoor privy used by both sexes; scant well water, no sewerage; no recreation, musical instruments or religious services; no nurse, no regular visits by doctor; vermin; no examinations of any kind on admittance; inmates with transmissible diseases use common toilets; their c1othes and bedding go into common wash; no running water, no bathroom; men and women mingle freely, use same toilets, sleep in adjoining rooms; sleeping rooms dirty; nothing modern. A mother with her five children at the farm; her husband in the penitentiary. The superintendent and his wife paid $85 a month. No modern conveniences.

PENNINGTON COUNTY-Made-over farm house, very unsanitary; dirty bedrooms; filthy toi1ets; inmates' clothing poor and dirty; stoves, spring water, no sewerage; no sitting room; no diversion; no music, no religious services, no trained nurse, no regular visits by doctor; men and women use same dirty toilets and bath; contract for running the place let to lowest bidder. Conditions generally very bad. Half the inmates of unsound mind. The caretaker says inmates are so mean they cannot always be treated kindly. Half the inmates are feeble-minded; two are criminals, one a bank robber, the other having killed a man. The place is in constant turmoil.