December 4, 2022

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Remember When: A reverence for God, the hope of heaven, and a fear of the poorhouse | Weekend Magazine

When Mrs. K. Lottie and her 14-year-outdated granddaughter moved out of their cellar abode on Berlin Road, Montpelier, in February 1922, they did not go willingly. Metropolis officials, on the other hand, considered the two females would be improved cared for on the town-managed weak farm on Elm Avenue.

As Mrs. Lottie and her granddaughter were being transferring into their new “home” 40 miles away, William Seeley was setting himself free of charge from his. The “straight as an arrow” 72-calendar year-outdated was completed with sleeping on a straw mattress in a developing on Goodrich Highway that employed to dwelling smallpox individuals. Obtaining “every inclination to operate,” he went in search of a improved everyday living than the 1 he was residing on Burlington’s inadequate farm. But soon Mr. Seeley identified himself in jail — where “tramps and vagabonds” were typically sent at the time — arrested for the crime of vagrancy. Suddenly, the inadequate farm may possibly not have appeared so bad.

And by 1922, relatively speaking, it could not have been very as lousy as it had for the duration of the previous century. Considering the fact that their first physical appearance on the landscape in 1816, the conditions on the state’s poor farms were notoriously awful plenty of to give increase to a colloquialism: Vermonters were being claimed to be “raised with a reverence for God, the hope of heaven and a worry of the poorhouse.”

As Andrew E. Nuquist wrote in a 1964 publication, Vermont’s inadequate homes and farms were “the previous word in shame and for the aged, the weak, the diseased, the crazy and the crippled to be sent there was pretty much like obtaining a loss of life sentence.”

Developing out of Elizabethan England’s Poor Laws which replaced the previous “solution” of jailing, hanging or indenturing the destitute and insane, Vermont’s rules requested “the inhabitants of any city in this condition may possibly construct or buy a house of corrections or workhouse in which to confine and established their lousy to do the job. And these kinds of a household may well and shall be employed for keeping, correcting and setting to get the job done vagrants, common beggars, lewd, idle and disorderly individuals.”

Burlington opened its very first very poor property in 1816, Middlebury’s opened in 1822, Rutland set up theirs in 1831, and the Sheldon inadequate farm commenced running in 1834. Progressively, cities in the course of Vermont were “caring” for — i.e., inadequately housing and often bodily disciplining — their most needy residents.

Many “inmates,” as they have been termed, of Vermont’s bad houses and farms were being lasting citizens, some breathing their 1st and last breath in just its partitions. However, most were briefly down on their luck. This kind of as Mr. and Mrs. Dodge who, in 1883, have been pressured to move to Montpelier’s farm while they waited for Mr. Dodge’s pension to be renewed. The quantity of short-expression people, this sort of as unemployed younger guys and their families, tended to increase in the winter season months right after heating gasoline ran out.

Solid-bodied residents had been place to work on the land (this kind of as in Castleton’s town potato discipline, now Crystal Seaside on Lake Bomoseen) or protecting the farmhouse, even though those not able to function were being furnished food items, apparel and a roof above their heads.

While the overseers of some poor farms dealt with their rates superior than other individuals, the actual physical ailments had been hardly ever exceptional. Inadequate sanitation and bedding have been typical, and in 1916 by yourself, situations of tuberculosis have been described in Bennington, Colchester, Barre City and Hartland, syphilis was raging by Rutland, Woodbury and Pomfret, and Plainfield was dealing with venereal disease as very well.

K.R.B. Flint, a political scientist from Norwich College, was notably worried about the most vulnerable people. As he documented in 1917:

“The disorders, which exist in the poorhouses of Vermont, have to be characterized as incredibly poor. … (W)hen 1 sees the ill, the aged, the feeble-minded and little ones of tender years residing alongside one another in confusion, it displays that our method of public charity is fundamentally completely wrong. … The sexes are not divided, the diseased are not segregated, and kids are permitted by law to invest the yrs when atmosphere is all essential in an atmosphere, which is very little brief of demoralizing.”

In response to Flint’s subsequent recommendations, Vermont handed a legislation in 1918 that prohibited small children younger than 16 to be admitted to weak houses or farms. Youngsters who could not be fostered out were instead despatched to the Brandon Faculty for the Feebleminded or the Vermont Industrial University in Vergennes. This was the very first in a collection of federal regulations, including charity businesses, these as the Crimson Cross, which allowed additional people to fend for themselves and made way for establishments these as Rutland’s Old Ladies’ Home and Waterbury’s State Asylum. By the 1920s, the state’s weak properties principally served those who did not qualify for these other establishments.

Starting off with Hartland in 1938, one-by-just one all through the 1940s and 1950s, Vermont’s poor farms closed. Bookended by Rutland and Sheldon Springs’ comparatively late closings in 1966 and 1968, respectively, the 1967 Welfare Act formally signaled the conclusion for Vermont’s lousy farms. Responsibility for the inadequate, aged and infirm was taken out from personal towns and taken around by the condition.

Right now, the only trace at this chapter in our background is the occasional grown-around cemetery and these signposts scattered through the point out pointing down Very poor Farm Road.

Joanna Tebbs Young is an writer, freelance author, historian and training artist dwelling in Rutland. She can be emailed at [email protected] on the web.