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Poor Farms in Kansas, 1855-1974: a bibliography

Image of portion of 1913 plat map of Shawnee County, Soldier Township, showing location of poor farmThroughout its history various terms have been used to describe the "house for the poor", oftentimes the term was unique to the part of the country where the house was located. For example In New England, they were called "almshouses", in Maryland, "county home", in Indiana, "county asylum" and throughout most of the middle Midwest, they were known as "poor farms" or "county farms".

Jackson, Jim. “Time Elements Erase Cemetery History.” Arkansas City Traveler. Feb. 7 1977. (Microfilm reel: A 808).

Well-written story by Traveler City Editor. Discusses gravesites for 70 Cowley County poor farm residents (1895-1940)

Browning, Grace Alta. The Development of Poor Relief Legislation in Kansas. Chicago Ill: The University of Chicago Press, Social Services Monograph No. 25, 1935. (K/361/-B819/1935).

Includes history of Kansas state poor laws. Introductory note by Edith Abbott, including appendices with court decisions edited by Sophonisba P. Breckinridge.

Describes Territorial History (1803-61); General Principles of the State Poor Law; Administration of the Poor Law; Special Classes Under the Poor Law; State Legislation during economic emergencies. Includes summaries and conclusions, a list of Laws of Kansas relating to the Poor; selected judicial decisions concerning the Poor Laws of Kansas. Provides analysis and traces the development of poor laws in Kansas from territorial times to 1935; provides Kansas definition of “poor”, gives responsibility for administering the poor laws to counties; provides authority for counties to purchase and erect county poor houses at the discretion of the county tribunal on land not to exceed 320 acres; identifies and discusses landmark decisions relating to the poor.

Cominsky, Perryn. “Poor Farm wasn’t just a cliché.” Western Spirit, April 23, 1979. (Microfilm reel: P 1165)

Interesting account of the Miami County Poor Farm in Paola, purchased in 1870 and operated as a poor farm until 1950, located one mile west, one mile north of Paola, described by a nurse who used to visit the farm as “the place people went when there was no place else for them to go.” In addition to land and the dormitory the farm supported it’s own cemetery. Photo of “paupers grave”, a former resident who died at age 90 in 1925.

Kansas State Historical Society. County Farms and Alms-houses Clippings. Topeka, KS: KSHS, n.d. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/1914-1973).

Includes various news articles and photos, letters to the editor, and reports related to political climate, funding, need, community support, condition of, openings and closure of poor farms in the community. Indexed by county, articles included are:

Sept 20, 1914 – Topeka Journal – Geary Co. – “Women of Geary County vote for county home.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 1)

Dec. 8, 1914 – Topeka Journal – Chautauqua, Harvey, Linn, Mitchell, Pawnee and Phillips Counties – “Six Kansas counties have poor farms that pay their own way.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 2)

Dec. 9, 1914 – “Seven counties report 14 children inmates in almshouse. Eight hundred and ninety three persons live in homes in 73 counties. Article related to a Report filed with the state board of control. 1914 (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 3)

May 27, 1916 – Topeka Journal – “Report on Jail conditions and county poor farms. “ Article related to report of the Department of civil service of the Kansas Federation of Women’s Clubs.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 4)

Nov. 18, 1916 – Topeka Journal – No Poor Farms in 23 Kansas counties. Article on report on county poor farms in the state to the state board of control. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 5)

June 6, 1919- Topeka Capital - Shawnee County. “Board lets contract for new county home”. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 9)

July 5, 1919 – Topeka Journal – Shawnee County- Kansas supreme court ruling disallows building of new county home and hospital on site of Shawnee County poor farm.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 10-11)

July 7, 1919 – Topeka Journal – Shawnee County – Editorial “The County Home” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 12)

July 7, 1919 – Topeka Journal – Shawnee County- Dissent among justices related to decision disallowing building county home. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 13)

July 7, 1919 – Topeka Journal – Shawnee County- “Commissioners call for rotary club and Shawnee County medical society to assist in decisions related to new county home.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 14-15)

June [July?] 17, 1919 - Topeka Capital – Shawnee County – “Work to be resumed on county farm building.” (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 16-17)

October 27, 1919 – Topeka Journal – Shawnee County given 30 days to remedy conditions at the Shawnee County Topeka Orphans Home. Article on Report of the State Board of Health. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 6)

November 6, 1927 – Topeka Capital – “30 counties have had no paupers in the past year.” Report from county officials to the State Board of Administration. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 18)

Aug. 14, 1928 – Topeka Capital- Article related to the Annual report of Shawnee county poor county commissioner. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 20).

Feb. 6, 1931 – Topeka Capital – Osage County- Letter to the editor from A.A. Avery. Account of visit to Osage County, county home in Burlingame praises conditions of home. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 22)

May 11, 1936 – Topeka Capital - Seneca Nemaha County. “A county home is not always a poor farm.” discusses condition of the Nemaha County home, describes daily work that includes taking children to school, farming, canning, butchering, and caring for sick. Includes a picture of modern brick home. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 24-25)

May 25, 1938- Kansas City Times- “Poor farms are passing.” 31 of 105 counties do not have poor farms. Records compiled by state board of administration. Lists counties without poor farms. (K/362.5/Clipp. v. 1/p. 26)

Sept 23, 1938 - Topeka State Journal – Shawnee – “Shawnee County poor will be asked to leave farm, 70 inmates, despite protest forced to go.”

Nov. 28, 1935 – Topeka Journal – “Thanksgiving at Shawnee County Farm.” Photo and article.

Aug. 24, 1941 – Topeka Capital – Shawnee – “County farm will close Sept 1.” Discusses transfer of 70 inmates, only one remains. Photo of last resident and of home.

Aug. 27, 1941 – Topeka Capital - Shawnee “Suggest County turn over County Home to Hillcrest Sanitorium”.

Sept 3, 1941 – Topeka Capital - Shawnee “Shawnee County Home is Closed Permanently”.

Dec. 1, 1944- KC Times – Lyon county – “To retain a poor farm, Lyon County improving it’s county home.”

March 20, 1942 – Topeka Capital – Shawnee – “County farm in Shawnee County converted to big canning project by WPA, Food for school lunch program and Shawnee County poor.”

April 13, 1944 – Lawrence Journal-World – Douglas County- “Eight die when county home burns.” Includes names of inmates who died and survivors. (Photos of charred remains of county home)

Jan. 13, 1945 – Topeka Journal- Shawnee – “County home worth is proved with 21 patients.”

April 30, 1946- Lawrence Journal-World – Douglas “New County convalescent hospital opened for use October 1 1944.”

Dec. 19, 1953- Topeka Journal – “Poor Farms is tough name to live down.” Article about Shawnee County Hospital operated by the Shawnee County Welfare Department under the medical society’s indigent medical care program of prepaid insurance. Photo of hospital located 3 miles north of Topeka.

October 16, 1954 – Topeka Capital - Shawnee- “County Farm to be sold at auction.”

Aug. 25, 1956 – Topeka Journal- “Neglected children and those arrested go there temporarily.” Article by Clayton Loyd, describing life inside the county parental home. (Picture of home on 4th and Van Buren)

May 19, 1957 – Leavenworth Times – Leavenworth – “Will dedicate county home in ceremony” (Photo of home)

July 19, 1962 – Kansas City Kansan – Wyandotte County – “Wyandotte Home said to be fine.”

July 22, 1962 – Kansas City Kansan- Editors Note “County Home visit reassuring.”

May 15, 1963 – Kansas City Times – Stanton County - “Home given county for rest home”

Jan. 28, 1964 – Topeka Capital – “County Home change told.” Change in administrators of Shawnee county convalescent home.

Feb. 7, 1964 – Topeka Capital – Shawnee – “County will hike nursing home fees”.

Aug. 30, 1965 – Wellington Daily News – “Old Nursing home raised” previously classified as a poor farm erected in 1914.

July 11, 1966- Wichita Eagle – Chautauqua County – “Chautauqua Poor Farm is Passing into History.” Opened in 1887 in Peru KS.

July 14, 1966- Hutchinson News – Scott County- “Scott County rest home open for residents soon.”

July 28, 1966 – Hutchinson News – Reno County “Built in 1950, Broadacres Upkeep $5000 Year.”

July 31, 1966 – Hutchinson News – Reno County – “ County Home Broadacres managers submit resignation.”

Sept. 13, 1966 – Hutchinson News – Reno county – “Few Empty Nests in rest Home here.” Report of the subcommittee of the Reno County Welfare Advisory Committee who found home (Broadacres) of inferior standards.

Sept 13, 1966 – Hutchinson News- Photo and article related to new administer of Broadacres selected by Reno county commissioners.

March 27, 1967- Fort Scott Tribune- “End of Century operation, Poor Farm brings $1,700 at sale today” Poor farm built July 7, 1885.

Jan. 3, 1968 - Kansas City Star- Wilson County - "Close County Home: Last resident leaves Wilson facility for New Building"

Nov. 2, 1968 – Hutchinson News- Barton County- “Residents of Barton County protest closing of Home.”

June 17, 1969 – Hutchinson News- Reno County – “County to Build Nursing Home.”

July 26, 1969- Hutchinson News- Reno County- New Administrators appointed to Broadacres County Home.”

Dec. 4, 1969 – Iola Register- Allen County- “County Home patients moved.”

Sept. 18, 1973 – Topeka Journal – “Infirmary Closing is delayed.” Located at 43rd and N. Topeka Ave.

Dec 16, 1973 – Hutchinson News – Barton county- “Nursing Home Closing stirs complaints.” Includes photos of Home.

March 1, 1974 – Topeka Journal- Shawnee County. “County Infirmary Closing, Fifty year old county infirmary closed it’s doors for the last time.” Located 300 NE 43rd, originally known as county poor farm. Photo of Fanny Lawrence, administrator, in front of the Infirmary included.

Kansas State Division of Post Audit. “A report to the legislators post audit committee on funerals and burials for public assistance recipients.” (SP 353.3/K13/lpp/no. 14/1990). 

Reviews policies and costs associated with burials and funerals for public assistance recipients. Compares policies and practices in Colorado, Iowa. Mo, Neb. Data comparison for Kansas for years 1986-1990.

Doniphan County, Kansas. Records of Doniphan County Poor Commissioner Margaret Gillen. (55-09-03-15/1937). 

Includes Files; 1: Affidavit for application of surplus commodities. Commodities listed, canned beef, dry skim milk, grapefruit, peas, clothing, apples, pillows, butter, prunes. 2: Affidavit of reemployment managers, 1934, correspondence related to hiring KS unemployed.; 3: Allotment notices of 1934, commodity plus estimated value; 4: Amended wages notes, 1935.

Douglas County, Kansas. Records of Douglas County Commissioner of the Poor, Al Selig, Consecutive Orders1909-1914. (25-07-07-01/1909-1914).

Includes name of person to funds were issued and amounts. Journals are written in months of issue and total amount issued each month. Amounts include salaries of the Commissioner of Poor, Medical personal, county administrator, County Physician, medical service expenses, hospital expenses and individual payments for other products or merchandise.

Fischer, Violet M. Kansas County Homes after the Social Security Act. (360/SO13/V17 No. 4/p.442/1943).

Includes development of state Board of Social Welfare, review of changes made by the legislature to cooperate with the federal government in the administration of the Social Security Act. Discusses name change from poor farm to county home. Changes supervision of county farm to county welfare director, establishes standards for county home, establishes definition from private/public county homes and transition from county home to combined county home/boarding home. Reviews status of County Homes in Greeley, Haskell, Hodgeman, Meade, Rawlins, Thomas, Sedgwick, Ford, Kingman Morris, Ottawa, Republic, Barber, Phillips, and Comanche county. Discusses county home operation (Dec. 1942), Systems of operation, age of resident, physical and mental condition of residents, medical care, supervision and inspection and conclusion.

Foster, Daniel. Appeal for Kansas Sufferers! (Port Vault/K/361/F812ap/1860).

Appeal by a general Agent of the N.E. Kansas Relief Committee for food, clothing, and seed for starving Kansans.

Foster, Daniel. Destitution in Kansas. (Port Vault/K/361/F812ap/1860).

Description of Kansas settlers and call for help by a general agent of the NE Kansas Relief Committee.

Kansas Governor’s Office Correspondence, 1937. Correspondence of Walter A. Huxman. (KSHS 27-11-05-01 through 27-11-05-05/1937).

Includes 5 boxes. Boxes 1 and 2 include appointment files for various state positions and offices, Box 3 includes correspondence related to KS emergency relief, including appropriations for years 1935-1937. Contains correspondence from poverty-stricken areas in the state and resulting county turmoil requesting governor intervention. Correspondence related to inadequacy of state old age pension, action and admissions to the soldiers home, vocational training, resettlement and unemployment. Box 4 authorizes emergency poor fund 1936, Box 5, Describes WPA school lunch program grants.

Hager, Charles M. “Home for Aged.” The Voice. August, 1929. (384/Un3/v. 12/1929).

Discusses dedication at the Brown Memorial Home for the Aged in Abilene, Ks.  Picture included

Kansas Board of Administration. Management and Duties of State Institutions. (SP/ 345.1/K13/1917).

This legislation changes the management of state institutions from the Board of Control to the Board of Administration. Establishes the County Commissioner of the Poor allows state to make some appropriations to private institutions of a charitable nature and establishes visitation, inspection and supervision of those institutions under certain conditions. Prior to this poor farm supervision was only under the supervision of the superintendent of the home.

Kansas Board of Control. Classification and Reports of Private Associations and Institutions. Topeka, KS: State Printing Office, 1906. (SP/361/K13a/1906).

Includes sections of Kansas state constitution that give authority for development of public and private charitable institutions, who receive public aid; gives responsibility for overseeing the care of the poor to local and county government. (Section 1, article 7; Section 4, article 4 and Section 1 Chapter 79); Provides history and location of Kansas poor farms, gives detailed report of status of poor farms, orphanages, hospitals and other homes for the poor for years 1906- 1916. Describes eligibility, i.e. orphans, all ages, women, “colored” or white only.

Private Homes included are:

Hygiene Home for Friendless Persons – 1889 – Hillsboro (aged white)

Kansas State Protective Home – 1887- Leavenworth (all ages, destitute “colored” persons)

Goodlander Home – 1899 – Fort Scott

Old Folks and Orphans Home – Hutchinson

William Small Memorial Home for Aged Women – Leavenworth 1892 (white women only)

Ingleside Home – Topeka

Rose Tillotson Home for the Aged – Fort Scott- 1910

Hutchinson Refuge Home

Kansas Association for Friendless Women – 1870 (white girls only)

Ladies Benevolent Society 1892 – Cottonwood Falls (Direct relief only)

Sedgwick Home – Wichita – 1901 (Temporary relief for homeless – white only)

Sunflower Home Lawrence – 1907

Southern Kansas Home for the Friendless Person –1896- Parsons ("colored" only)

Kansas City Journal Post. “Poet, University Graduate, and Bank Director Among Inmates of Poor Farm.” (978.1/c83/Clipp 2/v2/p 81/August 22, 1922).

Account of three financially successful residents who died in the Cowley County Poor farm, banker Jacob Harmon, city attorney, O.M. Seward and poet, Harry Ferguson.

Kansas Emergency Relief Committee. A Study of Kansas Poor Farms: Third in study of social problems and economic costs. 1935. (SP/361/K13ea/Bulletin no.307/1931).

A valuable reference. Includes History of poor farms in Kansas, state map of poor farms by county, distribution of poor house population in Kansas 1934, operation systems, poor house property, expenditures, cost of care, physical and social conditions, a study of poor house management, a psychological study of the inmates of selected poorhouses, admission and discharge policies, boarding home care, summary and the future of the poor house in Kansas.

Kansas Emergency Relief Commission. A Study of public relief cases in Kansas covered by the Federal Social Security Act Bulletin KERC No 288 October 1 1935. (SP/361/K13ebn/1935).

A study of public relief cases in Kansas, includes accounts of elderly currently living in poor farms, provides breakdown of poor farm residents and other individuals receiving relief, by age, type of assistance, direct relief given, dependent persons, those over age 65, aid to dependent children, mothers aid pension, work relief programs, direct relief to families and individuals involved in the civilian conservation camps.

Kansas State of Administration. Governor H.H. Woodring Under the State house Dome 1931-1933. (SP/353.03/K13w/1931-1933).

Daily radio speeches of Kansas Governor H. Woodring at Topeka during July and September 1932, prior to enactment of the Social Security Act. Discusses poverty in Kansas and need for relief. “Our nation cannot exist half gorged and half starved” (p. 8). Demonstrates confusion and expectations on federal intention of how the emergency relief fund is to be used, (p 51, July 23, 1932). “None of the fund can go for charity or to supplement county poor funds. Discusses mandate of Board of Administration (p. 115) to manage the state charitable and penal institutions.

Kansas State Board of Administration. Laws of Kansas, Reorganization Bill. (SP 345.1/K13/Chapter 199/1939).

Amends and repeals General Statutes of 1935, Sections 39-101 through Section 39-109. Establishes state legal residence requirements for admission to certain state institutions, excludes time spent in public or private hospital or charitable institutions, including almshouses if legal residency not established prior to time spent in the institution. Gives authority to return individual to some other state or country where legal residence has been established.

Kansas Relief Committee. 1861. (Port./K/361/1861).

Form Letter giving instructions for the distribution of aid among the destitute.

Kansas Territorial Legislature. Statutes of the Territory of Kansas Sessions Laws 1855. (SP 345.2/K13/Chapter 126/p. 549/1855).

Defines the poor, establishes eligibility requirements, gives local authority to care for poor, gives discretionary rather than specific authority or instructions on care or treatment of the poor, establishes local authority to develop poor houses or almshouses, gives county authority to pay for a superintendent to oversee care of the poor, describes duties related to work of resident of poor farm, determines manner of levying county poor tax, mandates county treasurer to keep separate books for care of poor, gives local discretionary authority to remove superintendent of poor if necessary.

The Linn County Heritage. “In Memoriam of the Linn County Farm.” Special Edition of the Linn Co. News. Feb. 25, 1982. (K/978.1/-L64/L64e/4th issue/p. 15/1982).

An account of the Linn County Farm, instituted in December 1871 with $2,100. allotted by the Linn Co. Commission to purchase 166 acres of land that comprised ½ of the 320 acre Linn County Farm. Includes photos of farm and residents, 1918

Mack, George. Historic Homes of Topeka and Shawnee County: Vol. 3. “Rich Farm Poor Farm.” Photos pp. 64-66. (K/978.1/-Sh1/M19/1980-81)

Maryville Advocate. “Marion County Record Imposing Landmark at Auction.” (K/978.1 –M34/Clipp v.4/p.8/April 9, 1992).

Discusses the county poor farm established in or around 1888. 640 acres, 2 miles east and 6 miles north of Marysville. County paid $912.00 rent/year, received $3.00/person/wk. Residents referred to as inmates. Discusses history of home, conditions, cost to rebuild home in 1895 and 1953. Auctioned off in 1992.

McIntire, Mary Jane, ed. “Dickinson County Poor Farm Records 1885-1917.” Tree Climber, Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library, Inc. Salina, KS. (K/929/sm75 /v 20/no. 1/p. 17; v20/no.2/p.30; v 20/no. 3/p.50; v21/no.3/p.46; v21/no.1/p. 9; v.21/no.2/p.31; v 21/no.3/p.46; v 22/no.1/p5; v.22/no.2/p. 25/1999-2004).

Records transcribed by the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society 1885-1917 of individuals admitted to the Dickinson County Poor Farm. Includes Surname, sex, age, nationality, date received, date discharged including notation on how received, who ordered the admission, client condition and disposition on discharge.

Mercer, Craig W. Poor Laws, Poor Homes and Poor Farms, Colorado 1860- 1900. (362.5 /Pam. v. 1/no. 1/1993).

Important because it compares the development of the Colorado Territory poor laws and development of poor farms in relation to Kansas Territorial laws. Colorado became a territory in 1861. Kansas territory adapted general laws in 1855, which defined the “worthy poor” as aged, infirmed, blind, lame or sick unable to support themselves. Both these laws assumed, as did other states that “destitution was the individuals fault and since most of the needy were recipients of help from the public treasury, it followed that public need was a cause of pauperism and inherently bad.”

National Kansas Committee. To the Friends of Humanity 1860. (Port Vault K 361/M213t/1860).

Circular from FN Blake, Chairman of the Territorial General relief committee discussing need for relief in Kansas. “Give us bread or we starve”. Circular gives directions for other states (Iowa, Illinois, Southern Wisconsin and Michigan) related to shipping, payment and distributions of cash, pork, beef, groceries, dried fruit, beans, dry goods, clothing, shoes, garden seeds, corn, wheat and flour for needy Kansans.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. “A Kansas Almshouse”. Agora Quarterly. 1895. Crane and Co. Publishers. (050/Ag7 /V.4/P.33/1895).

Critical account of inhumane care given to “paupers” in a Bourbon County Poor house in Fort Scott. Includes practices of bidding almshouses to the lowest bidder ($1.50/person/week). Compares upkeep of prisons and care of prisoners who are allocated $5.00/person/week. Describes physical layout of the Bourbon County almshouse where 20 individuals were housed at the time of the account and calls on the state to improve care.

Public Welfare Temporary Commission. Report of the Public Welfare Temporary Commission. (SP/360/K13/ p. 175-197 January 15, 1933).

Report of findings recommendations and proposed legislation concerning the charitable correction and penal problems and institutions. Recommends state and county department of Public Welfare, discusses poor farm system and recommends changes within the system, describes the poor farm system as “antiquated, unscientific dumping grounds and generally an expensive plan, p ix

Riney-Kehrberg, Pamela. Rooted in Dust, Surviving Drought and Depression in Southwestern Kansas. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press. (K 330/R472/1994).

A Study of the families who remained in 16 drought stricken counties in SW Kansas during the 1920-1930, discusses drought conditions, loss of farms, outward migration of families, federal and county attempts to provide relief, need for poor farms.

Shawnee County Clippings. “Ramshackle Poor Farm yields to Modern Building” Topeka Capital. Jan. 14, 1923 (K/978.1/-Sh1/Clipp./v. 25/p 253).

Photos and description of poor house including dormitory rooms on 119 acres on Indian creek 5.6 miles north of Topeka.

State of Kansas. Sessions Laws. House Bill No 517. 1917. (SP 361/K13a/p.v.1/Chapter 297/1917).

An act providing for the administration of state institutions, including charitable institutions, and repealing all acts and parts of acts in conflict with.

State Department of Social Welfare. A Difficult Task Arose when the Jackson County Farm Home Closed: Taproots. (SP 360/K13T/Vol.7/no.6/p. 14-15/May-June 1971).

Discusses transfer of last 17 patients, ages 24-82, from Jackson county, county home. Home has been in existence for 91 years. County notified in 1970 that state funds would be withheld if home not closed.

Stockmyer, G. Starving Kansas. 1860. (Port Vault K 361/St 62s/1860).

An agent for Kansas Relief appeals for assistance for Kansas starving families, including family testimony.

Wabaunsee County, Kansas. Records of the Wabaunsee County Poor Commissioner, Orders and Occupational Classification Cards. (31-06-06-03/1934-35).

Includes four files: File 1: Orders drawn on merchants. Includes order number, name of merchant. File 2,3,4: Name of family on relief, length of time unemployed, marital status, age, sex, status of health, past employment record, ranking for employment.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Anderson County Commissioners Journal (59-05-03-09/Vol A-M/ 1855-1937)

Part A includes order to approve tax tavy to purchase land for an asylum for the poor, Aug 2, 1880. Other transactions include approval for a contract for the poor farm superintendent and other activities related to poor farm expenses.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Barber County, County History 59-05-03-10/Part A/1891)

Authorized county funds to build poor house, 1881

WPA Historical Records Survey. Barton County Commissioner Journal Transcriptions and County History (59-05-03-10/59-05-03-12/Part A/1887-1894)

Various activities related to care of poor including on April 1, 1888 an ordinance that states “all poor people” are to sent to the poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Bourbon County, County History and “The Inventory of the County Archives” (59-05-03-13/1866)

Numerous activities, including a history of the county poor commissioner responsibility in care of the poor, the history of social welfare, poor relief laws and on Jan 17, 1866 an ordinance that ordered that a poor farm be rented and all poor people moved into it.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Chase County Commissioners Journal ((59-05-03-17/Vol 2-3/1861-1870).

Orders relating to overseer of the poor expenses and boarding of “paupers”.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Cherokee County County History and Journals (59-05-03-19/Journal D/ Folder 1 History Part A/1877-1881)

Order to purchase NE quarter of section n26, township33, Range 23 for county poor farm, March 6, 1879, also includes purchase cost, order for sealed bids to erect poor farm, expansion of poor farm from 160 to 320 acres.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Crawford County Commissioner Journal Transcriptions (59-05-04-06/Vol C/April-Oct. 1881/59-05-04-07/1868-1879/59-05-04-08/Vol 4/p382-414/1890)

Orders and transactions related to poor farm activities and expenses in care of residents.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Decatur County Commissioner Journal Transcription. (59-05-04-09/59-05-04-10/1879-1906)

Includes historical information related to activities of the Overseer of the poor and payments for services rendered to “paupers”, including boarding of paupers.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Dickinson County History Part A (59-05-04-11 1884-1891)

Wonderful detailed history of County Commissioners transaction, including dates of transactions, to purchase land, materials, equipment and supplies related to the building of the Dickinson county poor house.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Douglas County Briefing (59-05-04-13/Vol D/1877-81/ 59-05-04-14/Vol B/1864-1871).

Multiple entries related to poor farm and county asylum activities and expenses beginning as early as January 1866.

WPA Historical Records Survey Elk County Commissioner Journal Transcription (59-05-04-15 /Vol A/June 1878-April 1879/pp 223-303/ 59-05-04-16/Vol A/April 1879-Nov 1879/ pp 303-371/59-05-04-17/Part A/Oct 4, 1875).

Bid approved for care of poor in county, $1.60/person/week. Seventy-five cents/person for physician care plus mileage to but not for return mileage. 1875, taxes levied for poor.

WPA Historical Records Survey Ellsworth County Commissioners Journal (59-05-04-18/Vol B/p127/Jan 1888-Jan 1891/59-05-04-19 Part A newsclipping)

Bids for Asylum and Poor Farm. $565.00 approved to build poor farm, identifies location of potters grave.

WPA Historical Records Survey Finney County Commissioner Journal (59-05-04-19/Vol A July 1887-June 1888/pp355-468)

Multiple entries expenses for poor

WPA Historical Records Survey Ford County Commissioner’s Journal Briefing (59-05-05-01/Vol C/191895-1904/p.51/Vol D/1904/09/pp17-18)

Order to purchase Lot 13 in Section 30 Township, Range 24, containing 39 28/100 acres for a county poor farm for $1200.00. Approves contract for drilling well on the poor farm. Orders sealed bids for a “pest house” on the county poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Franklin County Commissioner Journal (59-05-05-01/Vol A/1872-74/ Vol D October 1874-June 1885)

Multiple entries related to poor farm, Sept 12, 1872 question to county voters about a poor farm in Franklin County. November 5 – approved by citizens 1050 to 409.

WPA Historical Records Survey Geary County (Davis County County Commissioner Journal) (59-05-05-02/Vol C/July 1870- April 1871/pp.178-225)

Multiple entries starting on May 9, 1870 county clerk directed to advertise bided to be received until 2:00 May 9, 1870 to accept proposals for suitable land for the county poor farm of not less than 80 or more than 160 acres. May 11, bids opened, property viewed by county commissioners for the proposed poor farm related to work on poor farm including repair of a fence, planting of fruit trees, contract for care of “paupers”. July 16, 1870 Poor fund account opened.

WPA Historical Records Survey Greenwood County Commissioner’s Journal Transcription (59-05-05-05/ /Vol D 1880-1884/pp1-615/Folder 2/ Vol E/1884-1886/pp1-477/Folder 2)

Multiple entries related to poor farm activities and approval of superintendent of poor report.

WPA Historical Records Survey Harper County Commissioner Journal (59-05-05-05/Jan 26, 1893, p239)

Order for purchase of poor farm

WPA Historical Records Survey Harvey County Commissioner’s Journal Transcriptions (59-05-05-07/1881-1887)

Motion for county poor farm accepted, January 29, 1881.

WPA Historical Records Survey Jackson County Commissioner Journal (59-05-05-09/Vol D/1855-66/pp37-38)

Entries for payments, hay, supplies, building materials, work completed on the poor farm. Site of land identified AN1/4 sec. 26, Range 15 to be used for county poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Jefferson County Clerk Survey Form (59-05-05-09/1923/Item 28)

Copy of transmittal sheet, Poor Farm Inventory

WPA Historical Records Survey Labette County Commissioner Journal Transcribed (59-06-01-02/Vol C/1871-1873, 1873-1875 ]

Feb 14, 1873, Commissioner orders for county election for $10,000 bond for purchase of poor farm, 1st Tuesday of April 1873. April 8, 1873, election results, 505 for, 438 against. May 1, 1873, transactions of county farm, including rental for 1 year, description of how funds are to be expended.

WPA Historical Records Survey Leavenworth County Historical Information, County Commissioner Journal (59-06-01-03/65Part A Historical Information/1874 p3/Record K.T. 1855-1860/May 8, 1860 p.350)

Various entries including county commissioner consideration for building a county poor farm, May 8, 1860 p 350 and appropriations for Leavenworth Protestant Orphan Asylum and Home for Friendless Children, 1874, p.3.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Lyon County Historical Information Part A and Historical Sketch of Lyon County (59-06-01-04/1873)

Bids for breaking grounds on prairie to build a county poor farm, June 12, 1873, April 10, 1873

WPA Historical Records Survey. Marshall County Historical Information Part A (59-06-01-06/Folder 1/March 9, 1880)

Good history of county poor farm from 1980 when citizens voted against a motion to sell the county home 1205 for-1310 against, to 1919.

WPA Historical Records Survey Morris County Commissioners Journal Transcripts (59-06-01-10/Vol E/Part 2/1887-1889/pp642-643/Vol F/1890-1895/p7 )

Dec 2, 1889 County commissioners requested a call for a special session of the Board for the purpose of receiving proposals for a poor farm. Jan 11, 1890 appropriations approved to build county farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Neosho County History Part A (59-06-01-11/1888)

Brief note in the County history mentions a $3,200.00 purchase of 140 acres in 1888 for the purpose of building a county poor farm. County commissioner records for this period (1885-1889), however are missing.

WPA Historical Records Survey Norton County Historical Information Part A and Briefings Commissioners Report (59-06-01-13/1888-1898)

April 9, 1888 Bids for erection of poor house opened. County overseer of the poor appointed.

WPA Historical Records Survey Osage County Commissioner Journal Transcripts (59-06-01-14/Minute Book B/1873-1877)

Nov. 17, 1875 Board instructed to go to Topeka to procure “Poor Bonds” for Osage County for the amount of $7000.00. The Board ordered the county clerk be authorized to prepare a proposal for a poor farm that included “bottom land of 160 acres, good agricultural land with plenty of water and enough timber for practical use.”

WPA Historical Records Survey Ottawa County Extracts from Commissioners Journal (59-06-01-17/Vol A/1872-1880/Vol B/1880-1888)

Petition for a special election to issue relief bonds voted down, 3/10/1875. Request for bids and maintenance of the poor, including medical care and medicine. Commissioner order to purchase NW ¼ section TH South of R4W to be used for a poor farm. Bids examined to build house on poor farm June 6 1882. Authorization for well dug on poor farm, contract with specifications of poor farm costs.

WPA Historical Records Survey Pawnee County Extracts from Commissioner Journals and Commissioner Journal Transcripts (59-06-01-17/Extracts/1872-1905/ Vol. A 1872-1888/ pp660-661)

Extracts include history of various orders limiting various items for the poor, including supplies, articles of food, medical expenses, sugar and coffee. For example only cornmeal, flour, beans or rice, bacon, coal oil and soap could be provided. Vol. A include dates of approved contracts for care including medical care for the poor; order to proceed with motion to examine and view the purchase of a poor farm, July 7, 1887, costs of itemized supplies, lumber, work, meat, coal, services, etc.

WPA Historical Records Survey Phillips County Inventory of County Archives and Commissioners Journal (59-06-01-18/1880/pp25-26/Vol A/1872-1881/p289/Vol B Part 2/1887-1889/pp447-448 ]

County Archives include history of poor farm, first acquired October 7, 1880, May 27, 1887 sold for $4,999, second poor farm purchased July 11, 1887 for $2,900 and house erected July 19, 1887. Commissioner Journal includes transcripts of orders and account of purchase.

WPA Historical Records Survey Pottowatomie County Historical Information and Commissioner Journal Transcripts (59-06-01-19/Part A/Folder 1/1882-83/59-06-01-20/Vol E./1884-1888)

Part A Folder 1, November 1882 Citizens voted 1996 to 499 “that the Board set a levy for the purchase and equipment of a poor farm”, deed filed Aug. 14, 1883. Poor farm used until 1939. Journal Vol. E, Jan. 10, 1884 meeting of the county commissioner to complete work for building the county poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Republic County Commissioner Journal Transcript (59-06-03-20/Vol D/Folder 3/1887-1890/p308)

October 2, 1888 – entry to pay medical care at the poor farm. No records noted that established the date of the poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Riley County Commissioner Journal Transcripts (59-06-02-04/Vol I/Folder 2/1857-1876)

April 1, 1872 Citizens voted against poor farm in county 720 against, 440 for, p. 284. Feb 6, 1875, County clerk ordered to advertise for sealed proposals to keep and maintain the poor farm. Special meeting called to authorize county commissioners to furnish “necessaries for destitute…to put in crops, to report what purchases were made for the poor, April 14, 1875 contract with John Lollan of Ogden to keep the county poor for $3.00/per week for one year.

WPA Historical Records Survey Saline County Briefing of Commissioner Journal Handwritten 1st Draft (59-06-02-07/1887-1889/p1-365)

October 27, 1887 Board visits poor farm. July 23, 1889Board leased 31 acres of land for $77.50 in Section 25, Twp 14, R4W and 40 acres for $96.00 for poor farm

WPA Historical Records Survey Sedgwick County Historical Information and Commissioner Journal (59-06-02-08/Part A/1874-1917/59-06-02-09/Vol. A/1870-1874)

Part A, Investigation of mothers pension, Listing of overseer of the poor and poor house from 1874-1915, Listing of Commissioners of the poor from 1915-1917. Vol. A March 11, 1872 Overseer of the Poor instructed to procure the house of Mrs. McAdams to be used as a poor house.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Shawnee County Commissioner Journal. (59-06-02-12/Vol B-C/p. 286-368/1868-1871).

Includes historical information related to Shawnee County poor farm, including actual notes from meetings and notations related to poor farm development activities; Sept. 1870 File 2, Commissioner approval to establish a levy for poor farm. “It is further ordered that for the purposes of paying for a tract of land on which an asylum for the poor, there is hereby levied a tax of two mills on the dollar …” p. 298; acceptance of lowest bidder for construction of poor farm, p. 299; Sept. 15, 1870 contract signed for mason and carpenter work for poor farm p. 301; Jan 6, 1871 approval of merchandise for poor farm p. 332; $1000 appropriated for work on poor house p. 335; Jan 16, 1871 payment authorized p338; March 3, 1871, Rental agreement for poor farm with Daniel Dawson giving direction on how work shall be completed relating to boarding and keeping “paupers” in the poor farm. p 359-60; April 4, 1871 transfer of paupers to poor house p. 362; 363; July 14, 1871 payment to Daniel Dawson for Supt of Overseer of Asylum for the Poor.

WPA Historical Records Survey. Sheridan County Commissioner Journals Part A. (59-06-02-12/1881-1932).

Includes historical information related to the Sheridan County poor farm, Applications for relief to destitute families of Western KS, March 19, 1881, includes name of family and family size; description of land purchased for construction of poor asylum. “N.E ¼ of Section 30, township 9, south of range 30, west of 6th , April 1903.

WPA Historical Records Survey Sherman County Historical Sketch (59-06-02-12/Part A/Jan. 1, 1906/p.4)

A bid was filed for the building and construction of the County Poor House. The lowest bidder was awarded the contract for $986.00.

WPA Historical Records Survey Smith County Historical Information (59-06-02-13/Part A/1882)

Jan.4, 1882 Question put to voters to purchase land, erect building and establish an asylum for the poor. Citizens voted 636 yes, 585 no Feb 14, 1882. July 1882 sealed bids requested to construct poor farm, Aug 1882 contract awarded for building, specifications included a stone foundation in marble head lime. Dec. 15, 1882 Farm visited by county commissioners.

WPA Historical Records Survey Thomas County Historical Information (59-06-02-16/Part A/ Poor Farm/1889)

April 11, 1889 County Commissioners met at 9:00AM. All members present to view certain lands for the purpose of building a poor farm. April 20, 1889 County Commissioners reported to the county that a poor farm was ready for occupancy and to not give aid to the poor unless they came to the poor house to live.

WPA Historical Records Survey Trego County Historical Information (59-06-02-17/Part A/November 2, 1887)

Entry stating the State of Kansas established a forestry station on NW 322, T12, R22. This was abandoned in 1913 and in June 1931 the land was turned into a poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Woodson County Commissioner Journal (59-06-02-20/Vol C/Folder 2/1875-1880)

October 8, 1875 Question posed at the general election that land be purchased for a poor farm.

WPA Historical Records Survey Wyandotte County Historical Information (59-06-02-20/Part A/Social Welfare Office Report/July 11, 1870)

150 acres land purchased for a county poor farm. Listing of poor commissioners from the first county poor commissioner in Jan. 28, 1889 to 1931.


The poor house is an ancient social institution that dates back to the first English workhouse in Bristol England in 1697. This resulted from the English Poor Law of 1601 that provided shelter for the old and infirmed. Passed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the law set parameters for future laws for the poor. It called for an “overseer of the poor”, the collection of a compulsory tax and the creation of almshouses for the aged, infirmed, mothers of illegitimate children and children incapable of work. It was important legislation because it established state responsibility for the poor and a standard, though perhaps austere in interpretation, by which care should be delivered.

The English law followed the early colonists into the Americas and served as a framework in this country. The first public almshouse in America was instituted in Philadelphia in 1731. Here all recipients were housed together, the lame, the sick, the vagrant, the aged, children, unmarried mothers, the blind and able bodied poor who worked for their keep.

It would appear that care of the poor was foremost in the minds of the early writers of the state’s constitution. Early settlers had already faced extreme poverty. This is documented in several bulletins, Appeal for Kansas Sufferers and Destitution in Kansas (Foster, 1860). Probably as a result it was included in the Kansas territorial constitution adopted in 1855, “incorporated almost literally the section of the Indiana constitution that pertained to the poor” (KERC Bulletin No.307, October 1, 1935. p. 1). The law provided for the erection of a poorhouse, in which inmates were to be employed. The superintendent of the poor house was given the authority to use “reasonable and humane” coercion if necessary (The Statutes of the Territory of Kansas, 1855. Ch 126). It differed from the English law and the Indiana law in two ways, the establishment of a poor farm in a county was discretionary, in Indiana it had been mandatory and it did not stress family responsibility as the English or Indiana law.

All permanent charges were to be cared for in the poorhouse if one was established. If there was no poor house, the county commissioners were responsible for contracting for services that were needed, including supplies, room and board and medical care and treatment.

A steady growth of poor farms followed in the developing counties in Kansas. This started in 1866 in Leavenworth and Douglas counties, in Doniphan in 1867, in Jefferson in 1868 and in Nemaha County in 1869. Sixteen more poor farms were established between 1869 and 1879 and another 33 between 1879 and 1889 until by 1899, eighty of the 105 counties had poor farms and by 1912 all but 11 counties had poor farms (Browning, The Development of Poor Relief Legislation in Kansas).

Refinements to the law followed. Other means were created to care for children, the blind and mentally ill. Though well intended, these laws did not completely change the characteristics of the poorhouse inmates and the Browning study of poor farms, clearly one of the best works included in this bibliography, violation of the law were very evident, 300 insane and feeble minded were still housed together with the poor as late as 1935. Farming out of the poor to the lowest bidder also continued to be used even though it had been condemned in many states; poor boys were bound out at age 18 with a new bible, 2 suits of clothing and $10. Many poor homes in Kansas, she states “were miserable homes for the poor”.

This was repetitive of a previous account by Albert Bigelow Paine who wrote in the Agora Kansas Magazine in 1895 of the inhumane care given to paupers in Kansas’s almshouses. Paine described care at the poor house in Fort Scott but generalized it to care given in other parts of the state. He condemned the practice of bidding almshouses to the lowest bidder and raised the question of why the life of the poor individual, $1.50/person/week was valued less than that of a prisoner valued by the state at $5.00/person/week.

It would appear that private citizens did place some value on their poor farms. This is evidenced most clearly in the various clippings describing poor house activity, the work that was accomplished by the residents, the care that was provided and in some instances the mystery of the dead, perhaps still displayed on tombstones throughout the state where poor farms might once have been a vital part of the county.

Struggles over care of the poor and the search to find a solution is documented in transcripts of county commissioner journals and other historical information collected by the WPA in 1941. Here side by side with other problems facing growth of a county, developing land, creating townships and building courthouses, jails and bridges was care of the poor. Exact dates of orders to initiate land purchase, garner support from citizens, approve contracts with local residents to care for the poor or supervise the farm can easily be located in many of files by anyone interested in pursuing the topic further.

Though poor farms continued in Kansas into the 20th century, the numbers throughout the state began to decline and by 1934 there were only 77 counties operating poor farms. Partly this was due to economic conditions, the great depression that left so many people destitute, high unemployment and a political change in how relief was provided. In 1934, Browning talks of “outdoor relief”. This was relief provided by the state to persons outside the “poor house”. At the time of her study 8,587 Kansans received this relief where only 1,164 individuals resided in the county home. “Outdoor relief” was the precursor to welfare and passage of the social security act that permanently closed the door how relief had previously been delivered.

The concept of poorhouse continued to thrive, however, creating name changes along the way. The Kansas newspaper collection on poor farms probably describe this the best. Here we can read about peoples’ struggles as farms were closed, as care changed, as counties attempted to expand care by calling it a different name—struggles that still continue to this day.

To access any of these records, or for additional information, visit our reference room or contact our reference staff.

This index was made possible by volunteer Joyce Volmut.