What were poor farms?

Poor farms were residential institutions that provided basic social care on working farms. They were sustained in part by the unpaid labor of “inmates” and support fees from the townships who sent them. Before the US federal government introduced anti-poverty programs, these local institutions were the primary means for managing extreme poverty and vulnerability.

In the US, the term poor farm has been used interchangeably with terms like poorhouse, almshouse, county home and even poor asylum. This array of terms reflects the broad mandates of local care institutions before such work became more specialized and professionalized. Poorhouses existed in many other countries as well, such as Mexico, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland and Australia.