Judging poverty : institutional poverty relief in Gallatin County during the late nineteenth century
Jenks, James William
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County or locally administrated poor farms were one of the principle means of poverty relief in the United States during the nineteenth century. How financially prepared were localities to effectively carry out poverty relief? Questions regarding the gender, class and ethnicity of local poor farm inmates also remain unanswered. Further, how did citizens respond to the influx of the wandering, able-bodied poor, created by nineteenth century economic dislocation. Gallatin County citizens encountered the two general classes of poor which existed nationwide--the able-bodied poor and the aged and infirm. Various social histories provided the national context for nineteenth century poor relief, while identifying the local poor, the attitudes toward the able-bodied poor, and growth of the poor farm was pursued by studying local newspapers, county directories, census data, county commissioner journals, probate court documents, cemetery information, and local correspondence. What emerged from these documents was a picture of county citizens cognizant of their responsibility to care for the local aged and infirm, yet engaged in coordinated efforts to drive the able-bodied poor out of Bozeman. The poor farm became the final destination for the county’s elderly and infirm, who were overwhelmingly composed of single, laboring class immigrant males. That the poor farm was only able to aid the elderly and infirm indicates the inablity of localities to deal effectively with the immense costs of poor relief. Only with the New Deal were policies initiated at the federal level to finance poor relief created by unemployment and age.