Masters Thesis About Massachusetts Poorhouses


by Timothy T. Orwig

Tim shared the following information with us on our Message Board on 5/6/2001 :
For those of you researching Massachusetts topics, my MA thesis is being bound and will soon be available in the library of Boston University (and therefore through interlibrary loan).


I examined in detail the urban almshouses of Haverhill (razed in 2000) and Cambridge (a model cruciform structure designed by a leading penal reformer and a noted Boston architect, now a school building). The third example is the Milton Town Farm, which still retains its buildings and fields bounded by thick stone walls.

This fall, I will continue to study in the American Studies Ph.D. program at BU

                                                                                             Timothy T. Orwig      

When I followed up requesting more information, he provided the information below. PHL

Haverhill is in ESSEX County.
Cambridge is in MIDDLESEX County.
Milton is in NORFOLK County.



The Massachusetts poorhouse developed from colonial models reaching back to the first almshouse, built in Boston in 1662.  English forerunners include  the medieval hospital and its descendants: the almshouse, bridewell, and workhouse.  Americans built more almshouses in the decades after the Revolutionary War, when economic downturns and the Embargo of 1807 increased pauperism, and other forms of relief (home support, auctioning or contracting out paupers) became too costly and inefficient.  The Quincy Report (1821) in Massachusetts sparked nationwide acceptance of the poorhouse.  The establishment and improvement of the poorhouse occupied politicians, architects, and reformers for nearly a century.  

Massachusetts consistently had more almshouses than any other state, and three nineteenth century
examples illustrate the development of the poorhouse.  The Milton Town Farm, a site that dates to 1805 and still retains its fields and outbuildings, reveals both the domestic scale of the early almshouse and the reform principles of the town farm.  The Cambridge Alms House, an urban almshouse built 1850-51, demonstrates how a leading expert in institutional design and an experienced architect collaborated to produce an innovative building.  The Haverhill poorhouse, begun in 1883 as an urban almshouse, gradually--by both program and actual building extension--became an infirmary, a hospital, and
finally a city-owned nursing home, the ultimate end of the almshouse.


1 The Ghost of the Almshouse    
25 The Role of the Almshouse in Massachusetts Poor Relief:
English Models and American Practices through 1820  
46 Between Hospital and Prison: The Origins of Almshouse Design
68 The Quincy Report and the Nineteenth-Century Almshouse
94 The Milton Town Farm and the Massachusetts Poor Farm
112 The Model Massachusetts Almshouse: Cambridge           
145 The Haverhill Almshouse: The End of the Urban Almshouse
177 Reforming the Almshouse                   
191 Appendix: Haverhill City Almshouse Records


Selected Bibliography                 
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