After the Amendment Act was in place, someone elderly and infirm who applied for parish relief, like '"Poor old John'" Abdy in Emma (383), would have to leave his family and home to live in the poorhouse or get nothing.
The agency believed that this restriction on outdoor aid would stimulate people to make a "renewed effort to secure their own living" because no one would choose to live in the poorhouse if they had other alternatives.
It begins with a description of poor relief in Providence before the Dexter Asylum, before turning to an assessment of the historiography of the poorhouse, which attempts to answer the question: Why did new institutions supplant the system of outdoor relief, and how did these new almshouses impact social relations?
Rather than grim Bastilles, as the English working class referred to nineteenth-century workhouses, Wagner finds that poorhouses were humane institutions that adapted to their residents even as residents themselves shaped aspects of institutional life and exerted influence on poorhouse managers.
Though the frame of the story seems a little young, the "messages from the past" are more mature, ranging from highway robbery to a young, pregnant widow from Nowhere, being refused admittance to one poorhouse after another.
The distinction was absolutely fundamental to the poorhouse project, (20) entailing detailed quantifications of both bodies and regimes, for providing an uncomfortable life for the able-bodied would, it was anticipated, prompt them to seek work.