COUNTY FARM, POOR FARM, POOR HOUSE or ALMSHOUSE, is, in name, a public institution maintained as a shelter for the aged poor. As the terms "poor farm" and "poor house," are undesirable, and the term "county farm" inaccurate, the present tendency in the United States is to include all under the term "almshouse." In Ohio, however, the legal name is county infirmary; in Indiana, county asylum; in Maryland, county home; in California, county hospital.
Several of the early States, particularly in New England, in corporated the theory of institutional relief in their constitutions, and there are now almshouses in every State except New Mexico. Forty States maintain county institutions but Indiana is the only State in which every county must provide a home for its pau pers. In Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, poor relief is a town function, while in Pennsylvania and New Jersey responsibility for the care of the indigent may devolve upon county, town or township. In most States the county commissioners, trustees or supervisors comprise the almshouse management. In New England control is vested in the town, with a special office of overseer of the poor; in California, Michigan and New York, the superintendent of the poor is an elected officer. The police jury is the controlling body in Louis iana, while in West Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas and Oregon, the county courts have jurisdiction. Some States maintain State departments of public welfare, public welfare commissions, State boards of charity, or similar bodies, but only in Michigan does the State body have actual authority over the local management, the others having merely right of inspection and recommenda tion. There is no central supervising agency in many of the States.
Though in name almshouse means a shelter for the aged poor, the inmates are usually a heterogeneous group of insane, feeble minded, epileptics, blind, deaf-mutes, orphans, deserted children and prostitutes, as well as the aged poor. Those of New England more nearly fulfil the real purpose of an almshouse than those in any other section. Two systems operate in practically every State: (I) direct management by county officers, or poor officers; (2) contract system. Under the first system, which controls 88% of the institutions, a superintendent is employed at a specified salary to manage the almshouse. The farm produce belongs to the institution, and the proceeds of any unused surplus reverts to the local treasury or to the almshouse. Under the contract system, the farm and almshouse are leased to an operator for the care of the poor, while the proceeds of any unused surplus produce revert to the lessee. The latter system is used extensively in the South, but it is specifically prohibited by law in Connecticut, In diana and Utah. Able-bodied inmates are supposed to make themselves useful, but State inspectors and superintendents report that their labour produces less each year.
BIBLIOGRAPHY.-A. Johnson, The Almshouse, Construction and Bibliography.-A. Johnson, The Almshouse, Construction and Management (1911) ; Estelle M. Stewart, "The Cost of American Almshouses," U.S. Bur. Labor Statistics, Bid. No. 386 (Washington, 1925) ; Harry C. Evans, The American Poorfarm and Its Inmates (Mooseheart, 1926) .