Posted 5 years ago on May 30, 2012, 12:26 p.m. EST by XenuLives
from Charlotte, NC
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
"In the Gilded Age one of the most common community responses to dealing with beggars – or paupers as those who seemed chronically, perhaps willfully dependent on charity were derisively called – was to make the beggar another community's problem. A town's trustee would issue the mendicant a one-way railroad ticket out of town, then hope the receiving town’s trustee didn’t do the same and send her right back. In October 1874, Greencastle did just that, and made Anna and her children Indianapolis's problem.
Anna’s life bottomed out in Indianapolis. She went barefoot in winters, and the report of the Indianapolis trustee noted that in the winter of 1876 the family was “burned about the feet,” presumably a case of severe frostbite. “They sleep on a pile of rags on the floor. Not enough clothing to cover themselves. … She also claims to have heart disease.”
Such conditions might suggest to you that Anna and her family needed immediate public welfare, private charity, or both. But as Americans encountered their first modern, industrial depression in the 1870s, many persons took as an article of faith the belief that relief created a disincentive to seek work, that it “demoralized” the poor. Chronic unemployment, poverty, and dependence were not necessarily viewed as proof of structural economic failings. More often they were seen as proof that poor persons suffered from moral defects that, in an age of enthusiasm for science, were also commonly believed to be inheritable. A popular interpretation of evolution and genetics suggested that a poor person inherited a predisposition to laziness, similar to the way we think of alcoholism as an inheritable risk, today. Easily-won relief might cause a biologically frail person to slide down a path of degeneration, forever living a squalid life of dependence on charity and welfare and then passing on that condition through her blood to her children. As Indianapolis’s trustee noted of Anna, “She is destitute, but continued help from the county has made her chronic. This old Irish fraud depends on public charity for a living … Is a professional liar and beggar. No help can make them live any other way than like hogs. They are stable bred and cannot rise above their breeding.” "