Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Jun 05

The Woman From the Poor-House

Posted on June 5, 2015 at 2:16 PM by Elise Kelly

"Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house."
- Henry David Thoreau

What would it have been like to stay at the Greene County Poor-House?

Would it have been like Oliver Twist's haunting survival in the English workhouse during the very early years of his life?

For some, who found themselves in desperate poverty, having a roof over their heads and knowing where they would receive their next meal, the poor-house was a sanctuary. 

 "Olivertwist front" by Richard Bentley
Looking through admission records from the (1829-1849) Greene County Poor-House Day Book, I discovered several people in the County who were in dire circumstances seeking refuge. One woman by the name of Maryan [Mary Ann] Davis, was a  pregnant, destitute twenty-eight year old woman who was admitted in November 1847. (see below).

Greene County Poor-House Day Book 1829-1849
Many women who were unwed and pregnant were often sent to live at the poor-house. These women gave birth during their stay.

The children's births were recorded in the Day Book. Some women who already had a family before entering the poor-house were admitted along with their children

  Greene County Poor-House Day Book 1829-1849

During the early years of the institute, male and female residents were not allowed to socialize with one another. They lived separately. On one side of the building, the second and third floors housed the female dormitories, while the male dormitories were located on the opposite side.

                                    Architectural Drawings of the Building

Residents did have responsibilities while at the home. There was a working farm on the property and some residents milked cows and harvested the fields. Other residents worked indoors mopping floors and assisting in the dining halls.

When residents first were admitted, some were described in the Day Book as being intemperate, immoral, insane or having a roving disposition. Taking these individuals in and having them work, the supervisors believed this provided an opportunity to reform them and cure them of the "bad habits" and "character defects" that were assumed to be the cause of their poverty.

Surprisingly, I found one male resident who was deemed insane, removed from the facility by a Sheriff because he was suspected of committing murder in Holmes County, Ohio!

Below is RULE #6 - where all inmates (residents) had to do work in the house and on the farm.

         From the Greene County Poor-House Admissions/Discharges 1840-1876

Other Rules That Residents Had To Follow:
1. Chamber pots had to be emptied in the privies
2. No inmates were allowed to sleep on the comforts or blankets (No Naps!)
3. No provisions were permitted outside the dining room except in sickness

Certain provisions included:
- Apples
- Bacon
- Whiskey
- Peppermint

                Greene County Poor-House Day Book 1829-1849

So what happen to Mary Ann Davis and the child she was carrying? Unfortunately, I was unable to locate a discharge record for Mary Ann after 1847. However, I discovered she was admitted to the poor-house six years earlier in 1841. In this admission record, she is described as a pauper and that her habits were rather imprudent. She was not able to support herself or her child.
Greene County Poor-House Day Book 1829-1849

In 1841, Mary Ann and her child stayed at the poor-house for almost five months. During the bone-chilling month of January 1842, she was deemed to be able to support herself and her child by proper industry and economy. Six years later, Mary Ann would find herself pregnant again but fortunately, she knew a comforting place that would help her during this challenging time. Her child that is mentioned in the 1841 and 1842 records is not  mentioned as accompanying her in the 1847 record.Hopefully, he or she was taken in by a caring family member or family friend.

Greene County Poor-House Day Book 1829-1849

Although many came to the poor-house seeking aid and relief like Mary Ann - some residents did not want to be there. Those who were committed because of poor health or mental illness were sent to the infirmary. This will be explored in next week's blog.

Until Next Time!
This Week's Trivia Question: During the early Victorian Era, poverty was considered a dishonorable state. Name the famous English writer who depicted poverty and life in the poorhouse during the Victorian Era. 


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