2009 Summer Institute

Reform, Reformers, and Reformatories

Reflective Paper

Joy E. Aulph


Part I:

While reviewing the primary documents disc provided during the Summer Institute, the series of documents about the Champaign Poor Farm struck me.  By using “A Short History of the Champaign County Farm” in conjunction with “The County Poor-House” article you can deduct that the editorial was written at the beginning of William Roughton’s tenure as Superintendent from 1890 to 1892.  The picture included in the documents is not dated, but the clothing alludes to the same time frame as the article. The picture is a group photo of the residence outside what is presumed to be the main house of the poor farm.  From the blue prints of the property it can be determined that the inhabitants of the Farm House lived fairly well for the time, having a rather extensive property that included a stable, a chicken house, and a corn crib, in addition to the Main House.

The most information can be obtained from “The County Poor-House” article which indicates that the Farm is approximately three quarters of a mile east of the courthouse in Urbana.  Given that the location of the courthouse has not waivered in the last 120 years that would put the Poor Farm at the corner of what is currently Main and Hartle Street.  The article further states that “the land is composed of one hundred and twenty acres of as fine farm land as can be found in Illinois,” supporting the previous belief that the residence experienced an adequate life style with their surroundings.


Part II and III:

During the Summer Institute the theme of the social underclass, immigrants, and disadvantaged reoccurred throughout the week.  The first time was during the first day of mini-sessions when Karen Klebbe spoke about the asylums.  The theme continued on Tuesday with the keynote presentation about Women’s Suffrage, and on Thursday during tours of Joliet Prison, and Jane Addams’ Hull House.  Throughout these encounters, the theme of an unwanted population or nuisance society was continuously revisited.  Whether they were homeless, mentally unbalanced, convicts, suffragists, or immigrants, the goal was to keep the unwanted population silent as long as possible, or exile them to an area of moderate distance that accommodated the socially accepted or elite. 

The practice of ignoring an unwanted population can be found in “The County Poor-House” article.  Within the first sentence the author states that while citizens of Champaign County are aware of the Poor Farm, “it is very doubtful that whether ten out of every one hundred persons in the city have ever made a visit to this institution.”  Even among the residents of the Poor House there is a division between who is acceptable to board in the main house. When speaking about the living quarters it is noted that the “mad-house” of “six inmates” who “don’t have enough sense to eat, when food is handed to them” live in a separate building, with their own superintendent.  This portion of the article demonstrates the tendencies humans have to discriminate against one another, regardless of class.

The rejection of these groups can be connected to present day debate over the Tent City inhabitants, and their campaign to convince City Council to approve space for an “open-air tent community”.  During a unit on persuasive writing, students could research the practice of the Poor Farm and how it relates to the current Tent City movement.  By providing students with a copy of “A Short History of the Champaign County Farm”, they would notice that the Poor Farm was in existence until 1952, which was only 57 years ago.  Students could conduct interviews with senior citizens to get their perceptions of the Poor Farm and how it positively or negatively affected the community.  By gathering information about how the Poor-Farm program was funded, and why it was terminated, the research could culminate with a debate over the possibilities and usefulness of a new Poor Farm.

When formulating ideas around Language Arts lessons what is striking is the language used by the author to describe the Poor Farm population and their living accommodations.  The language used to describe the homeless was tactless, impolite, and inconsiderate at best.  Lines that stand out include the following:

1)    “The Poor-Farm is where old men and women, those who are helpless and sick, and paupers can go and be well taken care.”

2)    “This house is not the hideous, dirty and lonesome place which you hear about when anyone has occasion to speak of a poor-house, but is a good, comfortable and clean place, which from the road resembles a well-to-do farmer’s home.”

3)    “The reporter visited the place about dinner time, thinking he would get a chance to see the meal and how it compared with the tin-pan-and-no-table-cloth story which he had always heard in connection with poor-houses”.  “The dining-room looked like the dining-room in anyone’s house of moderate circumstances.”  “The meal consisted of bread and butter, coffee, pork and beans, potatoes, turnips, onions, and several other dishes.”

4)    “Mr. Roughton is new superintendent and was for ten years of turnkey of the county jail and thoroughly understands the care of the people he has to deal with.”

When analyzing these lines, students can discuss author’s purpose, theme and the message the media is sending through their choice of words. By reading current articles about theTent City, students can analyze how language has changed to describe the underclass in politically correct times, and note the difference in the language used to describe the homeless today versus in 1890. Students could rewrite the Poor Farm article from 1890 to use more politically sensitive language.  If nothing else, over the course of a few days, students can read and analyze the parts of speech and descriptive language used to describe the population at the Poor Farm and the feelings the word choice elicits.

Overall, the theme of the unit would be centered around the equality towards humanity and human rights.  What are the basic needs citizens should have provided for them?   Should the government provide for the less fortunate, and if so, to what extent?