"A poor woman wants permit to go to Almshouse": Women, gender and poverty in New York's Burned-Over District, 1821-1861
AuthorCash, Sherri Goldstein
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation studies poor women and the poverty relief system in New York's "Burned-Over District," the region comprising the Erie Canal corridor, during the period 1821-1861. The study offers a response to the historiography of middle-class formation in the region, which has largely omitted discussion of the working class and particularly the poor. While charitable work was critical in middle-class women's activities, poor women themselves are shadowy figures in the historiography. The following dissertation attempts to elucidate who poor women in the region were and why and how they used the poverty relief system. The study also uses gender as a framework of analysis in examining the middle-class discourse about poverty, the poor and especially poor women. In this discourse, able-bodied married and widowed women appeared as relatively deserving of assistance or as "worthy" poor for much of the period while single mothers and childless single women appeared as "unworthy." By the end of the antebellum era, only downwardly mobile, formerly middle-class, white, Protestant women appeared in the discourse as poor women who were entitled to public dependence.
Degree ProgramGraduate College