The institutional path of old age in Chicago, 1870-1912

Anderson, Arthur Edward, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Cross, Robert D., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Berlanstein, Lenard R., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

The institutional path of old age was permanently established in Chicago between 1870 and 1912 by two distinct responses to the city's growing number of dependent aged. The public response centered on the poorhouse and the private response focused on the old age home.
The poorhouse evolved from a catchall repository for a variety of social problems in 1870 into a massive institution providing shelter increasingly for the aged and chronically ill by 1912. The aged were considered to be legitimate almshouse residents, but their needs were generally ignored. Charity officials concentrated instead on ridding the almshouse of other classes of residents and improving almshouse management. The poorhouse environment robbed the aged of privacy and personal esteem.
The private sector constructed over thirty old age homes, due largely to an early impetus from ethnic organizations. The creation of old age homes was the first widespread effort to focus, practically and exclusively, on the needs of the aged.
Old age homes served as an extension of the family. They provided continuity for those without kin or whose relatives could no longer care for them. They also maintained the aged's relationships with their religious, ethnic, fraternal, or occupational groups. Sponsors of old age homes sought to create a homelike atmosphere by providing traditional furnishings and an ordered living environment. In the process, they created a new type of "family."
Old age homes were practical responses to the needs of the aged primarily within the sponsors' social group. Founders were not concerned with the general problems of the aged nor were they motivated primarily by theories regarding the nature of old age.
A study of 1,200 residents revealed that the aged who lived in Chicago's old age homes were needy individuals who had resided in Chicago for many years. The pattern of old age dependence varied between the native born and the foreign born. However, most had no kin living in the city, and those who did generally had no more than one relation who might have provided support. In addition, most residents of old age homes had meager financial resources.
Old age homes provided an alternative to the poorhouse. They were permanent, and visible, symbols of both the needs of the aged and the private response to those needs.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Old age homes -- Illinois -- Chicago, Older people -- Institutional care -- Illinois -- Chicago
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