Prairie Paupers: North Dakota Poor Farms, 1879-1973

Steven R. Hoffbeck

This thesis has been withdrawn as it is a duplicate, the original can be found here:


This study examines the history of county poor farms in North Dakota and places them within the wider perspective of poor relief in the United States. North Dakota inherited its system of poor relief from the Elizabethan and American colonial poor laws. Poorhouses were a part of poor relief practices that also included local responsibility, outdoor relief, indenture of paupers, the poor list, expulsion of non-resident paupers, pauper burial, discouragement of vagrancy, and family responsibility for the poor. Chapter One outlines Elizabethan poor laws and poor relief in the American colonies. The increase in numbers of poor farms in the nineteenth century is examined in light of policies which discouraged relief applications. The growth of private charity and the role of reform movements in the United States is documented within the context of the poor relief apparatus. Chapter Two is a study of the Dakota laws concerning pauper relief and the application of the law. The establishment of county hospitals, poorhouses, and other relief practices in response to changing population

pressures shows a modest adaptation of inherited poor-relief practices. The drought and depression period of the 1890s is the background for a limited involvement by the state government. Chapter Three charts the growth of Progressive changes in poor relief, particularly the protection of children. Children were present in poorhouses in the state until the 1940s. New Deal programs changed the nature of poor relief from a local to a federal responsibility during the Great Depression. Poor farms were discontinued as a result of the rise of the federal welfare state. Chapters Four through Seventeen contain the histories of fourteen North Dakota poorhouses, drawn from original records. The poor farms were discontinued by 1973 and were replaced by modern nursing homes and welfare programs.