California Poorhouse
the Poorhouse Story

 San Francisco Almshouse (Laguna Honda)                    from America Hurrah


Orange County

Fresno County 

Los Angeles  County  



NOTE: California represents a special challenge to researchers looking for "poorhouse" records.  By the time such institutions were established in the state, it was already  "politically incorrect" (and rightly so) to refer to such facilities with names which seemed derogatory. So, unlike in the northeastern states, they were usually referred to by various terms which make it difficult to determine which actually were poorhouse-like residential facilities. It often requires careful examination of specific records and special laws to determine which would fall in this category. We will do our best to make that determination. But we welcome feed-back from readers with further information. Caution: The fact that the role of an institution later evolved into one which could not be considered a poorhouse, does not preclude the validity of classification of it as a poorhouse in an earlier period of time. (See HISTORY page.) 

One other generalization can be made about the more western states. The progression of phases outlined on the HISTORY page was often repeated at a later period of time. In other words, practices in "poor relief" which had already been phased-out in the East were often tried in a similar sequence in the West.                             PHL

the Poorhouse Story

The following is an excerpt from a U.S. Government REPORT summarizing various state poor laws in 1904. .
Click on the link above for more information.



During the 1930's and 1940's the Work Projects Administration (WPA) began the process of inventorying County Archives of  several states. Those which were inventoried for California poorhouse records have been abstracted and links are here posted on a table

These have been prepared by Carolyn Feroben and were first posted on the
CA-RECORDS e-mail list. 
Note: A section in this Fresno WPA Inventory contains a good condensed history of poor relief in the early days of California.          PHL


the Poorhouse Story

Historical essay --
 "Over Eucalyptus Hill to Poorhouse" about the Santa Barbara County Poorhouse.

Letter with historical notes about the Bridgeport Poor Farm (from "Mono Diggings" by Frank Wedertz (1978)  

" The Poor Farm was located five miles south of Bridgeport [Mono County] on Highway #395. The site is noted on an historical monument presented by E Clampus Vitas, a humbug and historical society."  
Carolyn Feroben   [

Here is a wonderful website with a drawing of the The Almshouse (Laguna Honda, San Francisco County) and a presentation of a series of excerpts from bound volumes of the Municipal Reports of the City and County of San Francisco. (Those were issued annually by each department; the almshouse reports are by its superintendent.) The excerpts provide an excellent historical perspective for this poorhouse which evolved into a still operational hospital. There are wonderful details provided here -- Ever wonder what the daily menu might have looked like in 1878?!! 

Letter with historical note about the Stanislaus County Hospital and Almshouse in Modesto   
(from "A Memorial and Biographical History of The Counties of Merced, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa", Lewis Publishing, 1892)

Here is a great story about a real "character" who wound up in a poorhouse in Los Angeles County!

the Poorhouse Story

the Poorhouse Story

For more historical information about California you may wish to check out the state 
American Local History Network site.

the Poorhouse Story

See story about the Santa Barbara Poorhouse cemetery in the essay, "Over Eucalyptus Hill to Poorhouse."   [This is a rather astonishing story!  PHL ]  Thanks to the work of the Santa Barbara Historical Society, and in particular, to three of its members, Mr. And Mrs. A. A. Bonilla and Mrs. R. S. Tenny,  names have been given to the nameless who are buried there. They can be found on the GenWeb site linked above.

the Poorhouse Story

We are hoping to build this base of information about poorhouses in CALIFORNIA through the helpful participation of  readers. All are requested to submit items of interest by sending e-mail to The Poorhouse Lady.

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