Improving the Almshouse

  • Prosperity
  • 1731

In 1766, a group of Quaker merchants formed the Committee to Alleviate the Miseries of the Poor and won a charter to take over operation of Philadelphia’s miserable almshouse from the city government. They combined private donations, public poor-relief funds, and income earned by the inmates to make improvements. The operation was moved into better facilities, and its name was changed to the more hopeful Philadelphia Bettering House. To teach skills and self-improvement, the new operators set up residents in useful work picking oakum, cobbling shoes, and producing cloth and nails. This pioneering effort made the House (though never a cheery place) a more humane effort to care for the unfortunate at a time when, as one historian of social relief puts it, “most public action…depended upon private energy and private funds.”

  • Charles Lawrence, History of the Philadelphia Almshouses and Hospitals (Charles Lawrence, 1905)
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