Who were the residents?

Who were those that lived at the infirmary? What constituted the deserving and worthy poor? Those living at the Wood County Infirmary were a diverse group of individuals. Poverty according to the World Bank, as cited by Spencer-Wood and Matthews, is hunger, lack of health care and shelter, also the lack of schooling, job, and representation. 24 Historically a lack of schooling, representation, or health care was not poverty. Poverty was a lack of job, food, house, or means for survival. The meaning of poverty and “being poor” has changed throughout history. It is influenced by cultural ideology as well as class power dynamics. However, one thing that remains the same is poverty is stigmatized and has been since the Middle Ages. 24

Who were the deserving poor? The deserving poor were those that were not lazy or idle. They were the sick and the needy. Those with mental disabilities, physical handicaps, blind, deaf, orphaned, or elderly were the deserving poor. Those considered not deserving were able-bodied men and women with no children. It was thought that they should be able to care for themselves. 13,14,18,19,24 Iceland quotes Reverend Charles Burroughs on how he explains the difference between pauperism and poverty. Poverty “is the result, not of our faults, but of misfortunes. Pauperism is the consequence of willful error, shameful indolence, or vicious habit.”16 The deserving poor were those who could not support themselves because of circumstances outside of their control rather than those who were deemed lazy. 21 Finally, the deserving poor were those that had a residence in the county they were applying to for aid. People did not want to support non-residents and only wanted to care for “their own” residents. 18

Spencer-Wood and Matthews state, females, due to discrimination, had the economic result of greater levels of poverty. 24 However, if this were the case in all circumstances one would expect for there to be more women at the infirmary than men. Instead, at the Wood County Infirmary in the 1870 and 1880 census there were more males in most cases and more total males overall. It is not until 1900 that the numbers of females surpasses the number of males. 6,7,8 However, for all three decades there are high representations of both sexes at the infirmary.

Garman and Russo discuss the trend for older residents in infirmaries as time went on, which predicted the change from a home for all that needed relief to more of a place for the elderly.15 This also occurred at the Wood County Infirmary. The number of 70+ individuals drastically jumps from 1870 to 1900. 6,7,8 However, despite this, there is still a wide range of ages that are represented at the infirmary, not just the elderly.

Cottrell adds that infirmary residents usually numbered 10 to 12 until the 1930’s in Texas’ infirmaries. 13 The Wood County Infirmary far out numbers that for each of the three decades represented above. For example, in 1900 the Wood County Infirmary had 61 residents, which is 6 times the amount the Texas infirmaries had. 6,7,8

One aspect not addressed by the other studies is marital status. The Garman and Russo work explained, families were allowed at the infirmary, but that was as far as it elaborated. 15 Based on the 1880 and 1900 census data for males and females, single individuals were represented at a much higher rate than married individuals. In most cases there were also more widowed individuals represented than married. From this, it can be seen that marriage was a factor that helped keep people from living at the infirmary. This could be due to receiving outside relief or the joint effort of two individuals to be self-sufficient.7,8



Education of residents by census: Blue=1870 Red=1880 Yellow=1900

One of the stereotypes of poverty is a lack of education. In all years, besides 1880, over half of the Wood County Infirmary residents could read and write. The 1880 census shows that the number of residents that could read and write was approaching half of the residents. 6,7,8 Thus the infirmary had a mix of educational levels living within its walls.

Occupations listed on the 1900 Census for infirmary residents 8

Occupations listed on infirmary applications for relief10

Finally, the Wood County Infirmary had a representation of many different professions living there. There were professionals, white collar labor, and unskilled laborers. The infirmary also housed tramps (vagabonds) when they had no one else to help them. This was also the case in the 1930’s study that was done in California. 12 The California infirmary also had professionals, white collar laborers, and unskilled laborers. It is also similar to the Wood County Infirmary because both had a large proportion of the residents that were unskilled laborers. In the case of the Wood County Infirmary, the unskilled laborers were comprised of general laborers and domestics. 6,7,8 The diversity, however, was still there in that the unskilled laborers were in the institution with skilled laborers such as engineers, weavers, and merchants.

After you take into consideration the above information, it can be seen the infirmary residents did not fit into one standard mold. There were weavers, carpenters, gardeners, blacksmiths, and day laborers all there. Males, females, elderly, children, married, and widowed all of these characteristics and many more were represented at the infirmary. It was a melting pot of the people in Wood County, Ohio. What brought them all together was their need for assistance, whether permanently or temporarily.