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Wasteful Public Charities

Creator: n/a
Date: September 28, 1877
Publication: Springfield Republican
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Wasteful Public Charity
The Springfield Alms House, Hospital and Lock-up
Intelligently Criticised in a Report to the Union Relief Association


The Alms House.


On the second day of July last the alms-house in this city was visited and thoroughly examined by the undersigned, a committee appointed by the Union Relief association to ascertain the conditions and needs of that institution. Through the courteous assistance and from information clearly and fully stated in writing by Mr. Pease, the master, we are enabled to furnish the accompanying tables, giving the ages, sexes, physical conditions, nationality of and other facts in regard to the inmates at that date. The clothing, bedding and premises generally we found in reasonable order, -- better in fact than we could have expected, where so few officers have so many helpless inmates in charge and such varied duties to perform. The food appeared to be good and sufficient. No complaint was made to us by the inmates of their treatment, though we conversed freely and alone with them.


We find, however, some grave defects in the system. First, it is impossible with the small number of officers employed, that the children and the sick and infirm persons should have proper care, and that all these, particularly the children, should not suffer from neglect. A matron and assistant matron, with the help of an inmate of the alms-house as nurse, have the entire charge of the persons of 13 infirm, disabled or insane women, of 20 men of the same class, and of 32 children, five of whom are under two and all but two under 10 years of age. The cook and the laundress are both paupers, with children in the alms-house, receive small wages, and cook, bake and wash for 12 persons besides officers, with only such help as they get from able-bodied pauper women, of whom there are three at date in the home. The heavy and out-door work is done by able-bodied male paupers, of whom we found three present. Some light in-door work is done by partially disabled men. Of course the inmates should be made useful so far as possible, but more supervision is indispensable to proper cure. We found seven sick persons in the house, three of whom were hospital cases, amputation, some abscess and acute erysipelas. Such should not go to the alms-house, but to the city hospital. We shall speak of this more fully in our report on the latter institution. It is a deep disgrace to our city authorities that they do not provide better care for such paupers, but send them to the alms-house where there are no proper facilities or room for nursing acute or surgical cases.


The bad construction of the alms-house building adds much to the labor of caring for the inmates both sick and well. The central portion contains the private rooms of the master and his family. It completely intersects the wings, which have no other communication, except in the third story. Of course the family of the master cannot permit their house to be made a thoroughfare by the inmates of the alms-house for obvious reasons. Therefore, many of the latter, in going from one part of the house to the other, to the dining and sleeping rooms, are obliged to ascent to the third story and descend again to the second; 13 inmates go up 21 stairs to sleep, 63 go up 9 stairs, among them 10 old men while 13 children go up 39 stairs and down one flight again to go to bed. The plan of the building is a masterpiece of inconvenience and want of forethought. There are no elevators or modern improvements for carrying food to the sick and bedridden, some of whom are by necessary lodged in the third story. The only common day room appropriated to 32 children is but 10 by 12 1/2 feet in dimensions. They must fit in it like sardines in a box, if they are all there at once. Having no proper place to stay, they roam over and about the building at pleasure. The overworked matron, assistant and nurse, with 41 adults infirm and disabled to feed and attend, and some 70 sick persons to nurse, can have little time to care for the moral well-being, the daily wants and habits of these little ones, most of whom are very young. They lounge in the corridors and the rooms occupied by insane men and those of both sexes who are broken down by dissipation and vice, in company with women of abandoned character. We must remember that, although some excellent and worthy men and women are reduced by age or ill health to a dependence on public charity, most of our paupers arrive at their destitute condition through vice and intemperance. An alms-house is no place for children, and it would be a wise act for the Legislature to prohibit their stay there being prolonged beyond a month, excepting only infants with their mothers. No conscientious and thoughtful person can witness the condition of our alms-house children without seeing that we are training them to crime and pauperism. That the quarters assigned to them for company during the day, narrow, bare and unfinished, are less cheerful and spacious by far than the hall of our county prison for men, is bad enough, but the companionship afforded them is a greater evil. Every citizen of this town should feel guilty, in permitting these alms-house children to exist in such a condition of neglect, but no blame attaches to the master of the institution of his assistants. They see the evil, but have neither time nor proper accommodation to give them.

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