Life in a Poorhouse - University of Maine

Life in a Poorhouse
Joseph Bonneau
FAS 120
28 April 2011
About David Wagner
• Holds degrees from Columbia
University and the University
of Massachusetts
• Started out as social worker
in New York and
• Professor of Social work and
sociology at the University of
Southern Maine
• Author of 5 other published
What is a Poorhouse?
Government run facility that
supported the needs of the poor,
homeless, and jobless
Started out in big cities such as New
York and Philadelphia, but eventually
came into smaller communities such
as Haverhill, MA and Lewiston, ME
Form of Welfare
Residents worked on the farm to
make ends meat
Worked as housekeepers as well
Farms produced many goods and
Not the best living conditions; lots of
sickness and mental health issues
Image: Derry, NH poorhouse
Poorhouse: Lewiston, ME
• Former Location: Lisbon St. in Lewiston
• Operated from the early 1900s until the mid
• Longest running poorhouse in Maine
• Ran by my Great Grandfather Antoine Landry
• Majority of residents were French Candiens
• Hit the heaviest during the Great Depression
• Many outsiders did not want a poorhouse
• Gave the community a bad “image”
Daily Life in the Lewiston Poorhouse
• Residents worked long hours or for as long as
their health could allow them
• Residents looked down upon by outsiders
• Residents only interacted with others on the
• Never really had contact with society outside
of the farm
• More residents piled in during cold winters
Daily life (continued)
Mostly farm labor and housework
Children living in the poorhouse were also put to work
No one could survive without working
No residents were lazy
“code of conduct”: had to follow rules and regulations
of poorhouse in order to stay
• Faith and praying
• Some incoming residents were turned away because of
such a large number of residents, especially during the
My Grandmother
• Gertrude Mynahan
• French Canadian
• Spent entire childhood living with
her parents on the poor farm
• Her and her family experienced
lots of discrimination because of
• “dumb frenchman” “stupid
• Had a very difficult time finding
work because of being French
• “it could happen to anyone”
Constructing Identity
Working and living
Influence of others living on the farm
Oral Tradition and stories
Imaginary Place
Poor farm no longer exists but through
memories and stories we can picture it
• Poor farm shaped the lives of many residents
• Huge status gap between residents living on
the farm and members of the outside
• Residents struggled to make ends meat
• Thoughts of suicide amongst some residents
• Residents felt very fortunate to have the