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Save your child from autocracy and poverty.
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3g03171




Articles concerning the issue of poverty and changing concepts about its root causes: notions of the “worthy” or “unworthy” poor; the idea of an “underclass” or “culture of poverty;” discussions of the role of the wealthy and powerful in perpetuating poverty; issues of individual responsibility and systemic disempowerment of low-income people.   








  • Brief History of Government Charity in New York (1603 - 1900)This entry describes the history of legislative actions taken by the New York State Government for the poor in New York State from 1603 to 1900. Derived from the research of Linda S. Stuhler.
  • Caring for Paupers (1881)The class which suffers at all our almshouses is the class for whom almshouses are presumed to be maintained, the unfortunate and self-respecting poor. A more horrible existence than a modest woman must endure at very many of our almshouses it is impossible to imagine. She lives amid unclean disorder and constant bickering; she is always hearing oaths and vile talk, the ravings of madmen and the uncouth gibberings of idiots; she is always seeing scarred and blotched faces and distorted limbs, hideous shapes such as one encounters in the narrow streets of Italian towns, but which, here, we hide in our almshouses. She is exposed to a hundred petty wrongs; Mrs. Jens's case, already described, may give the reader an inkling of their nature. Often she is treated with absolute cruelty; in some almshouses she cannot protect herself from the grossest insults.
  • Carrots from California (1939)"How much is stoop labor paid in a day?" "Almost everything is piece rate here. A Mex, working ten hours, can make $2 at pulling and tying carrots, but he has to go like hell. In the pea fields it's a penny a pound. A white man is good if he can pick more than two hundred pounds a day. Other wages are about the same.
  • Children Who Labor - film (1912)"Children Who Labor" was a collaboration between the Edison Company and the National Child Labor Committee, the nonprofit organization founded in 1904 and chartered by Congress to promote the rights of “children and youth as they relate to work and working.”
  • Disease of Mendicancy (1877)Leprosy is not more incurable than mendicancy. When the disease has once fastened itself upon a man, -- when, through long months or years, he has willingly and gladly lived on the industry of others, and roamed around without a home, -- he becomes a hopeless case, and nothing but the strong arm of the law can make him a self-supporting man.
  • Duty Of The States Toward Their Insane Poor: 1874Presentation by Dr. J. B. Chapin of the Willard Asylum for the insane on "The Duty of the States toward their Insane Poor."
  • Economic Inequality: An IntroductionBy Steve Greenlaw, Ph. D., 2020. Brought up on the Declaration of Independence and the idea that all people are created equal, Americans have traditionally described themselves as living in a classless society. This classless society meant that individual effort and talent contributed to one's place in society. The vast majority of Americans, it has been believed, are middle class. Looking at the data, however, it's clear that economic inequality exists. But what is it? Economic inequality is the unequal distribution of income (earnings) or wealth (net worth or savings) in a society.
  • Edelman, Marian WrightBy SWHP staff, 2022. Marian Wright Edelman has been recognized and celebrated for her talents and tireless advocacy on behalf of children and families. Edelman was founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).
  • Family Life Of The Negro In The Small Town-- 1926Even the briefest account of the family life of the Negro must include a consideration of the history back of the present Negro family. This history naturally divides itself into three periods: Africa, slavery, and freedom. While the African period, it must be remembered, does not claim our attention because an unbroken social tradition still affects the present formation of the Negro family -although traces of the African tradition were detected in marriage ceremonies near the opening of the present century —it is necessary to call attention to this period because of subsequent events. In Africa the Negro lived under regulated sex relations which were adapted to his social and physical environment. It was through the destruction in America of these institutionalized sex relations that slavery was able to bring about complete subordination.
  • Food Assistance in the United StatesBy Laura Crouch, 2020. In the United States, millions of people face hunger and food insecurity each day. Unable to provide for themselves and their families, they turn to food assistance programs for both short and long term needs. The USDA defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” (USDA, 2019). About 40 million Americans struggle with food insecurity each year.
  • From the Ground Up (1936)An informal description of demonstration projects of the Resettlement Administration on the West Coast during the Great Depression.
  • Hamilton-Madison House: Reaching the Hard Core of Poverty This entry was copied from the original document. It is both a history of settlement work on the Lower East Side of New York City and an excellent example of community organization in a racially diverse neighborhood. This proposal was written in the first year that Community Action grants were being awarded as part of the War on Poverty.
  • Home Missionary Society of PhiladelphiaWhile some children required long-term placement, assistance was often temporary. One worker describes a case below which particularly displays the “uplift” mentality of the Society: "After a meeting, I called on a widow with four children. She is sick. To secure daily bread, her boy, twelve years of age, sells papers. He called to see me, asking for a situation in the city, whereby he might help his mother. I knew a man of business who wanted a boy, took him with me and secured the place. He has been with him three weeks, and gives such good satisfaction that his wages have been raised, and he is promised permanent employment with a knowledge of the trade. When the mother had sufficiently recovered she came to thank me for the interest I had taken in her son. In this case it was not the money given which called forth her gratitude, but the fact that I had helped the family to help themselves."
  • Indoor And Outdoor Relief (1890)A Report of the Committee by F. B. Sanborn, Chairman, at the Seventeenth Annual Session of the National Conference of Charities And Correction, 1890. "Both indoor relief...and family aid, or outdoor relief, as properly practiced, are both indispensable in any comprehensive plan of public charity. Wherever and whenever one of these methods has been wholly given up, accidentally or purposely, evils have followed which only the introduction of the omitted method could wholly remove."
  • Long, HueyAs the Great Depression worsened, Long made impassioned speeches in the Senate charging a few powerful families with hoarding the nation’s wealth. He urged Congress to address the inequality that he believed to be the source of the mass suffering. How was a recovery possible when twelve men owned more wealth than 120 million people?....In 1934 Long unveiled a program of reforms he labeled “Share Our Wealth” designed to redistribute the nation’s wealth more fairly by capping personal fortunes at $50 million (later lowered to $5 - $8 million) and distributing the rest through government programs aimed at providing opportunity and a decent standard of living to all Americans. Long believed the programs he initiated in Louisiana were effective in lifting people out of poverty, and he wanted to implement this philosophy nationally.
  • Management Of Almshouses In New England (1884)Presentation by Frank B. Sanborn at the Eleventh Annual Session, National Conference Of Charities And Correction, 1884. In this paper for the NCCC, Sanborn reviews the basic structure of poorhouse care in Massachusetts and demonstrates reformers’ intense interest in controlling costs and removing able-bodied children from poorhouses.
  • Massachusetts Report On Public Charities: 1876 As Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn held the most powerful position on the board. This report to the National Conference of Charities illustrates Sanborn’s deep faith in the power of statistical research to illuminate the nature of social problems.
  • One Means Of Preventing Pauperism (1879)In 1876, Josephine Shaw Lowell (Mrs. C.R. Lowell) was appointed by Governor Tilden of New York State to be the first woman commissioner of the New York State Board of Charities. She served in this position until 1889, using her post to speak out, lobby, legislate, and advocate for people who were unable to do so themselves. Her investigations led to the establishment of the first custodial asylum for feeble minded women in the United States in 1885 and to the House of Refuge for Women (later the State Training School for Girls) in 1886.
  • Over The Hill To The Poor-House (1872)Poem written by Will Carleton in 1897.
  • Pea-Pickers' Child (1935)Written by Lucretia Penny, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1935. "The death notice in the county paper was not more than two inches in depth but it had, nevertheless, its modest headline: PEA-PICKERS CHILD DIES. Already there had been three deaths in the pea-pickers' camp: a Mexican had been murdered, stabbed; a child had died of burns; a baby had died of what his young mother referred to as "a awful fever in his little stomach." And now the shallow headlines spoke of Zetilla Kane, the seventh child and only daughter of Joe and Jennie Bell Kane."
  • Poor House Conditions: Albany County, New York - 1864In 1824 the New York State legislature enacted the "County Poorhouse Act," a measure that called for one or more poorhouses to be built or established in each county. Thenceforth, all recipients of public assistance were to be sent to that institution. All expenses for building and maintaining the poorhouse(s) and supporting its inmates were to be defrayed by the county out of tax funds. The Act also created a new body of relief officials: County Superintendents of the Poor.
  • Poor Relief and the AlmshouseWritten by Dr. David Wagner, University of Southern Maine. "Poorhouses (almshouses were simply the same thing with the old English word “alms” for charity used) started out rather small, sometimes in private homes, and at first were scattered in America. But in the 1820s, when America ceased being a completely agricultural society and began to receive more immigration, reformers such as Josiah Quincy in Massachusetts and John Yates in New York led a drive to build almshouses or poorhouses in every town and city. Their purposes were deeply steeped in a desire to not only save money but also to deter the 'undeserving poor.”"
  • Poverty: An Anthropologist's View - 1961This means that we must give money in amounts generous enough to be really constructive, to people who have done nothing to earn or deserve it. This brings us back to the barrier of the relative values prevailing in our society. The necessary generosity will be forthcoming only when our society really accepts the premise that people are deserving simply because they are people; that is, because they are fellow human beings. To be realistic, this acceptance will not develop magically or through appeals to conscience. Power rests in the middle class. And we in the middle class are notoriously anxious and defensive in the presence of people whose way of life is more primitive and violent than our own. We are threatened, and hence our response is rejection, not acceptance.
  • Segregation. Color Pattern from the Past--Our Struggle to Wipe it Out. Survey Graphic, January 1947
  • Seventeenth Street Mission, Richmond VAIn 1911, Murray Grey and other students from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (later, Union Presbyterian Seminary) started The Seventeenth Street Mission, a settlement house and urban ministry outreach program in Shockoe Bottom, the most impoverished neighborhood of Richmond, Va.
  • Social Darwinism and the PoorExtrapolations from Darwinism, with its emphasis on evolutionary progress, offered reason for hope that a new and better social order could emerge from the turbulence. At the same time, by highlighting competition and the survival of the fittest as the drivers of evolution, it seemed to explain both the emergence of the fittest -- fabulously wealthy elites and giant corporations, as well as the unfit -- the masses of poor in the teeming city slums.
  • State Board of Charities of New York: Reports 1878-1884n the early years of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, representatives of the states in attendance were invited to share reports on their experiences, problem areas and achievement in connection with the charities and institutions in their respective states. Below are reports from the New York representative at the conferences held from 1978 to 1884.
  • Tenement House ReformPrimary sources related to tenement house reforms in the State of New York and the passage of the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901.
  • Tewksbury Almshouse InvestigationAs can be seen in this excerpt from the Lowell Weekly Sun’s coverage of the Tewksbury investigation, people with disabilities made up a significant proportion of the population of poorhouses. By the 1860s, many states had established institutions to educate deaf, blind, and cognitively disabled children and people deemed temporarily insane. People with other impairments—and especially disabled adults—whose families could not support them had no recourse other than the poorhouse. Moreover, conditions within almshouses often proved disabling or even deadly.
  • The Plan to End Poverty in California (EPIC)The nomination of an avowed socialist to head the Democratic party ticket was more than the California establishment could tolerate. Sinclair's radical candidacy was opposed by just about every establishment force in California. The media virtually demonized Sinclair through a concerted propaganda campaign based largely on smears and falsehoods. Sinclair's candidacy also set off a bitter political battle both within the Democratic party and with many groups who were opposed to various aspects of the EPIC plan. Sinclair was denounced as a "Red" and "crackpot" and the Democratic establishment sought to derail his candidacy. Despite all of this, Upton Sinclair was very nearly elected Governor of California in 1934.
  • TuberculosisBy Alice W. Campbell and Catherine A. Paul, 2017. Tuberculosis has been known by many names throughout history, among them “consumption,” “the white death,” and “the great white plague.” Tuberculosis remains one of the world's most deadly diseases.
  • Women, Settlements and PovertyWritten by Jerry D. Marx, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of New Hampshire, Department of Social Work. This article uses primary source documents from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s to discuss women’s roles in the reconceptualization of poverty in America. It studies the belief drawn from colonial religion that poverty was a result of personal immorality and traces the changing public perception through the turn of the 20th century.