Please tell me about the term “poor farm.” In modern conversation, people talk about “going to the poor farm.” Where and when did that saying originate?
The saying has been in use since the establishment of the first poor farms here in New England in colonial times. Following the English tradition of providing for those in economic need, the colonists recognized two principal groups of needy people: (1) able-bodied adults and children and (2) those who were permanently incapacitated. Able-bodied adults were put to work whenever possible, and children were trained for self-support through apprenticeships. The lame, sick, and aged were given what was then regarded as humane care. Institutions were established, usually with working farms, in an effort to make the inhabitants as self-sufficient as possible. Each town usually had its own poor farm. Such farms were still in existence a few decades ago, when government programs such as Social Security largely eliminated the need for them.