The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990 Page: 170
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
ernmental services. An institution operated by a town or city was known
as an almshouse, while a poorhouse was a county institution of a similar
nature. In Texas, as in many agricultural states, the poor farm became
the county's version of the poorhouse, providing a means of caring for
the destitute en masse in a removed, agrarian-based, institutionalized
The history of the existence of county poor farms in Texas, though
obscure, is an important element in understanding how the state fol-
lowed nationwide trends in treating its pre-Depression poor and why
these institutions now have become an almost forgotten part of the
state's past. As the evidence of Texas poor farms quietly passes, their
existence remains significant as a closing chapter in a poor care system
that was based on a nonfederal initiative and as a gauge for the prog-
ress Texas has made since the Depression displaced poor farms and
moved the state to more modern welfare efforts.'
The first direct mention of the establishment of county poorhouses
in Texas is found in the 1869 constitution, article XII, section 26, which
Each county in the State shall provide, in such manner as may be prescribed by
law, a Manual Labor Poor House, for taking care of, managing, employing and
supplying the wants of its indigent and poor inhabitants; and, under such regu-
lations as the legislature may direct, all persons committing petty offences in
the county may be committed to such Manual Labor Poor House, for correc-
tion and employment.'
By including such a provision, the state gave direct responsibility for
the poor to its county governments and at the same time reinforced two
nationwide beliefs: first, that care for indigents was intertwined with
care for criminals, and second, that this care was to be based on the
principle of "less eligibility," which meant that those receiving aid were
2Ruth A Whiteside, The Impact of the Texas Constitution on Pubhc Welfare (Houston: South-
west Center for Urban Research, Institute for Urban Studies, 1973), 4-6; Velma Lee Cathey,
"History of Public Welfare Legislation in Texas" (M A. thesis, North T'exas State College, 1949),
11; R. Clyde White, Administration of Public Welfare (2nd ed.; New York. American Book Co,
'Primary data for this paper was obtained initially by the author in the spring of 1987 when
traveling for the Texas Historical Commission's Main Street Program After being Inadver-
tently told of (and subsequently taken to) the remainders of poor farm operations in Kaufman
and Parker counties, I initiated, through the Texas Historical Commission, a survey of all
county historical commissions In the state for poor farm information. The response was minl-
mal (see p 189) I then sent a questionnaire to each county clerk in the state, asking for infor-
mation on poor farm records and existing physical remains The results from this survey (174
of 254 responses-or 69 percent-were received, with sixty-one surveys providing positive
poor farm information) provided much of the material for this paper
'Comttuton of the State of Texas 1869 (Austin: n.p , 1870), art. 12, sec. 26.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990, periodical, 1990; Austin, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/m1/210/?q=The%20County%20Poor%20Farm: accessed December 5, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.