From Workhouses to Almshouses in America

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 31st Mar 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

In the struggle for women's rights which stems well over a century, some women made great strides in changing the social mores of the day. We have a lot to learn from the Victorian era and how the woman’s role was contained to the house and household activities, yet the men still controlled the purse strings. However, the plight of the poor was dismal before and during Victorian Times in England.


Some poverty relief

There were early private charities that helped out women in distress such as the Ladies Society for Poor Widows and the Female Assistance Society in New York. These charities were local programs and not available to women nationwide.

Women were victimized by poverty and earned much less than their male counterparts
, while not much had changed as the years rolled by. The New York's Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor stated that in 1958, they helped 27 percent more females than they did men.

Women were further discriminated against by their marital and ethnic status

Even the above mentioned organizations victimized women choosing only to help the ones who were married, or widows. Single women, separated and abandoned women, or sexually active women did not fit the Victorian concept of family life and were precluded from help.

Negro organizations

Very few of these white charities helped the Negro community. Middle class Negro organizations were formed to help their own, but few of them existed in the south for fear of recrimination from the southern whites. Many Negroes had to care for their own through extended families, the community, through the secret societies they formed to help pay for insurance and death benefits, and or charity.

They had a few orphanages, and many Negro children were adopted out into middle class Negro family homes. Negro daycare centers were also created to help the working poor.


Almshouses were part of the 19th century institutionalized care. They were similar in form and function to workhouses with a different name, while others were separate but connected with workhouses and prisons. By 1903, there were over 81,000 inmates in almshouses across America.

Almshouses in America

The almshouses' mandate was to separate, “the poor from their families and keep them out of temptation's way.”

The government bodies of the day felt that if the poor were institutionalized they could be rehabilitated. Incarcerating the poor in these almshouses would teach them the discipline they needed to be productive individuals.

These almshouses, or poorhouses as they were also called often housed the poor, the ill, the healthy, the insane, and the aged, together in filthy, unheated and overcrowded quarters.

Though some almshouses were properly cared for, an investigation of New York Almshouses found people were cramped up in.
"wrapped in wretched blankets more like beasts than human beings"

Children were often taken away from the poor because they were seen as unfit parents, they were adopted out, sent to orphanages or put in juvenile institutions. This happened even more in immigrant families especially the Irish, or Negro families who were not able to live up to the middle class Victorian idea of family life.

The public health care of these institutions often deteriorated into widespread abuse. Later, the trend would be to place children in foster care rather than institutions but this was not the case during the Victorian era of 19th century America.

The disruption of family life is a women's issue. It doesn't matter if we are talking about two centuries ago or modern day, family life will always be a women's issue.

Previous links:

Workhouses in old England

Victorian Era Workhouses

Workhouses were run like Prisons

Poverty in America during Victorian Times

All photos taken from the public domain

Do you have a passion to write? Do you want to share your words with the world while getting royalties on your work for years to come? Follow me here on Wikinut


Almshouse, Almshouses, American Almshouses, Poor, Poor House, Poor In America, Poverty, Poverty In America, Social Injustice, Social Injustice In America, Social Justice, Workhouses, Workhouses In America

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar GV Rama Rao
31st Mar 2015 (#)

I agree women had a raw deal in most parts of the world for long. The pity is the conditions have not changed much in some countries even today.
Men do not realize they owe their existence to women who gave birth to them. Such is the irony of life. My heart goes out for women all over the world.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Retired
31st Mar 2015 (#)

Excellent share!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?