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The early English Poor Laws had a great influence on the development of international public policy regarding the poor and unemployed. This collection provides an unparalleled opportunity for researchers in the fields of sociology, public health, social work, psychology, history, and others, to study the evolving laws over a 250-year period.

Filmed from the archives at Sutro Library, a branch of the California State Library, the collection contains books, pamphlets, and public papers arranged by date.

Included are materials from England, Scotland, and Ireland, such as:


  • London labour and the London poor by Henry Mayhew, renowned for its clinical descriptions of living conditions in the slums
  • a twenty-year run of the accounts and expenditures of the parish of Paddington
  • the Local Government Board reports as presented to the British Parliament
  • reports from more obscure institutions, such as Princess Mary's Village Homes for Little Girls and the Destitute Children's Dinner Society
  • other works outlining the philosophical, economic, or sociological basis on which policy was formulated

Pre-1850 material focuses on the able-bodied unemployed poor. This group of dependent poor aroused the most controversy and inspired passionate writings on their treatment. Various proposals were submitted ranging from the construction of workhouses to a national system of labor exchanges. Joseph Townsend's Dissertation on the poor laws, published anonymously in 1786, supported the abolition of the Poor Law system, declaring that the trouble came from the Poor Laws themselves.

Material published after 1850 focuses on the care of the poor, including discussions of the relationship between sanitary conditions and disease, and poverty and crime. Items concerning poor children, delinquency, and health also appear in documents from this era. Examples of this are Florence Nightingale's Suggestions for improving the nursing service of hospitals and on the method of training nurses for the sick poor and Mary Bayly's Ragged homes and how to mend them.

Containing rare and fascinating material -- much of it unavailable from any other source -- English Poor Laws is sure to be a unique and highly valued addition to any library's collection.

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