1864 Chemung County Poor House

“The poor house in the county of Chemung contains forty-eight paupers, eight of whom are insane; just one-sixth of the whole number. Four are males and four are females; all are native born. Two males and one female are capable of doing some out of door labor. Those who cannot work are furnished with neither employment or amusement. They are all represented as being destructive and tear off their clothing; but they require no restraint other than confinement to their rooms. The building is supplied with water from springs at the distance of ten rods off. It has no bath tub or other convenience for bathing, and no special attention is paid to either cleanliness, ventilation, or the uniformity of heat in winter. The building is of wood, two stories high; the height of ceiling being eight feet, and the rooms 8×10. The food for the insane is the same as that for the other inmates of the institution, and served to them by the sane paupers. The lunatics are all confined in one ward, without other than pauper attendants, and without any accommodation for the various grades of their disease. No attention is paid to their ultimate recovery, and a physician only visits them when he is sent for. None of them have shoes, because it is “impossible to keep them on.” As to cleanliness and ventilation, the rooms are bad. Dr. Morse, who made the investigation, adds: “The condition of the insane paupers in Chemung county is deplorable in the extreme; and there is no adequate provision made to remedy the evil.”

SOURCE: Documents of the Assembly Of The State Of New York, Eighty-Eighth Session, 1865, Volume 6, Nos. 199 to 112 Inclusive, Albany: C. Wendell, Legislative Printer, 1865, Page 186.

New York State County Poor Houses
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One thought on “1864 Chemung County Poor House

  1. 1865 in with a 10,000 population, Elmira of Chemung County in the center of New York State, on the Pennsylvania border was horrible, but could be seen in New York State late into the 1980’s in New York State, where persons were clients in places for Mentally Retarded, patients in Hospitals for the Insane, or as incarcerated residents in “Correctional” facilities.
    It takes very hard, very long, persistent reform efforts to change the system. On the other hand, well-focused suits, and efforts through court action, and political action can speed the process.
    Sure, there is concrete resistance, but concretized effort can break through. “God bless the grass which grows through the cracks, they pour the concrete over it and try to keep it back, but concrete gets tired of what it’s called to do, it breaks and it buckles, and the grass comes through”.(Malvina Reynolds)

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