My Family in the Poor Asylum and County Hospital/ The Care of the Poor in America

When I visited Washington County, Tennessee last summer I was very surprised to hear their old Poor Farm/ County Home was still standing. I spoke with a woman who worked there. She told me the county home in the late 20th and early 21st Century performed a positive role in the community. The poor farm was first established on that site in 1895, and closed in 2004. The name poor farm brought to mind the Victorian workhouses and debtors prisons in Charles Dickens novels. When I heard it was still standing I was like, wow, I’d love to see that. The actual building isn’t something out of a Victorian novel just a simple structure that doesn’t suggest a poor farm, it actually looks more like a nursing home.

poor farm

poor asylum washington

My ears perked up when the woman told me she worked at the old poor farm because my grandfather Charles Forgey’s great-uncle, Dennis Callahan, died at the poor farm in Brownstown, Jackson County, Indiana in 1907. He was there because no one was capable of taking care of him in their home. He was very advanced in age, 84 when he was admitted and 88 when he died, and suffered from epilepsy. I was disappointed the Brownstown Banner further stigmatized him by reporting that he died in the poor farm (you can see the article on the top of the page).  I suppose everyone in that small town knew already, but still it stings to see the stigmatizing word used. Of course the use of the name was meant to stigmatize and discourage others from seeking relief from the county.

Institutions for housing the poor were first formed in America beginning in the 17th century, and were modeled on the English models providing local relief. Social reform movements in the 19th Century pushed for expanding institutional living in hopes of training the handicapped, curing or just warehousing the mentally ill, and reforming the poor and intemperate. There were also boarding schools organized to Americanize Native Americans by removing them from their communities and families.

The institutionalization movement meant the number of these institutions increased throughout the 19th and early 20th century. When I visited Knoxville, Tennessee someone pointed out the deaf school building is still standing.

poor farm indiana
To see residents of the poor farms/houses on the census without a name you can use the keyword inmate at Ancestry Then check the page to see what kind of institution is was.

Being poor was considered a moral failing, which should be punished, and at the same time the poor needed structure and discipline to reform themselves. Conditions in the poorhouse/poor farms were designed to discourage the poor from even considering becoming a ward of the town or county.

Poor Farms were rural poorhouses. On poor farms residents worked on the farm to raise food for themselves and the other residents. Sometimes they sold the produce to generate money.

The poorhouse/ farm began as an institution where anyone the county or town found to be incapable of taking care of themselves was sent. This could be the poor, orphans, the handicapped, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Over time new institutions were opened exclusively to care for individual groups such as the mentally ill. Often the mentally ill were kept on the poor farms in a separate building. Later they were sent to State Mental Hospitals.

poor worn out
some reasons why poor requested assistance from local officials. One couple stated they were just plain wornout

The poor sent to the poorhouse/ farm were wards of the state; they could not leave without permission. The fact they were called inmates also suggests the fact they were often held without their against their will. As a matter of fact some inmates never left and are buried on the property of these institutions, without any markers or records stating who they were. They were poor, therefore, they were unimportant.

no record
Some of the inmates on the Census

The Poor Farm populations increased when counties ended outdoor relief or direct payments to the poor living outside these institutions at the end of the 19th century. This resulted in overcrowding.

Rules were made to instill discipline in inmates. Failure to follow rules could result in reduction of your rations or another punishment.

Age and disability were the most common reasons someone was admitted to the poor house. Because of the age, poor living conditions, and the general health of those admitted to the poorhouse the mortality rate in these institutions was high.

Punishment and deplorable living conditions drove some poor farm inmates to escape.  An inspector described conditions at one poor farm,”windows without shades, filthy beds, linen not changed for weeks, vermin; toilets filthy, unsanitary; clothes unclean; common bath; no segregation; two women sleeping in toilet room; nauseating odors. Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teach, described her experience in the poorhouse “, I doubt if life, or eternity for that matter, is long enough to erase the errors and ugly blots scored upon my brain by those dismal years,”

Poor farms in the South were segregated by race.

Many argued outdoor relief or direct payments to the poor and elderly were more economical since staff had to be paid to run the poor farms. They felt money for salaries and, maintenance fees of the buildings, could be better spent if given directly to the needy.

In the 20th Century the poor had better options than the poorhouse/farm. More direct relief was becoming available. Only those who couldn’t physically take care of themselves were housed in these institutions. That meant the population was mainly elderly.

My grandfather Charles Lynn Forgey was able to receive direct relief payments by working for the WPA (Works Projects Administration) during the Great Depression. It was a federal government program that put the unemployed to work in various ways doing work for their communities. When he lived in Glendale his job was to identify the species of trees planted on public land. My grandfather was a self trained botanist. When the family moved to Puente his skills from working as a carpenter were put to use as a member of the crew building for Hudson School (my grandfather had worked as a carpenter, and he built the first house the family lived in). Below you can see he is working on the school construction project, and was assigned to this public emergency relief project. Soon after this he got work at Douglas in Long Beach, after WWII began.

assigned to public work 2

By the mid 20th Century the deinstitutionalization movement for the poor, and able bodied elderly, really picked up momentum. The campaign for the passage of the Social Security Act involved using the deplorable conditions in the poorhouses/ farms to win over public support for their cause. After the Social Security Act passed, and the elderly were getting what was basically outdoor relief, the need for poorhouses/farms diminished. Some remained as nursing homes, for those who were mentally and physically unable to care for themselves. That’s basically what the Washington County, Tennessee facility became.

The nursing home institution is a remnant of the poorhouse/farm. Care in most nursing homes is still substandard and patients are subject to neglect, even today. There is still a two tiered system for the elderly, with the wealthy getting high quality care in expensive facilities, and the lower middle class and poor often subject to inferior care

Another outgrowth of the poorhouse/ poor farm is the County Hospital, or Public Hospital, where the poor get their medical care. These hospitals also funneled the sick poor away from the poorhouse/poor farm where they would have previously been cared for.

Cook County Hospital, in Chicago, was the place where many of my relatives received care. Not always the best care, but certainly better than no care at all. Two of my great-grandfathers died in Cook County Hospital. Fred Mason died there of TB in 1917, and Frank Kappel died there is 1937.


After my grandmother Dorothy Kapple brought her children from Chicago to California they still used the County Hospital because they didn’t have health insurance. General Hospital  in Los Angeles (the building can be seen in early General Hospital soap opera openings scenes) was another just barely better than nothing healthcare facility. My Uncle Tommy Kapple had his appendix removed there. He was placed in the hallway with many others because there were no rooms available. Rooms were filled with beds until they couldn’t roll more in. Everyone in a room shared one bathroom, and that could be 6 or more people. One nurse was responsible for large numbers of patients, also leading to substandard care.

The imperfect systems for helping the needy in the past were at least attempts to do something for the poor and helpless. During the Depression so many people were out of work and poor the stigma of poverty practically disappeared. Presently we are turning our backs on the poor. Many want to do less rather than more for them. The poor are again blamed for their situation in life, again seen as moral failures.

Our society now has a wider gap than ever between the rich and poor, and the middle class is shrinking. With automation replacing workers we need to find ways to provide support for those who cannot find work. Right now we have a system that provides unlimited support for the elderly. Those not yet old enough to receive these relief payments, who find themselves unemployed and without healthcare are left to fend for themselves. Unemployed adults and children are left to suffer for lack of enough food and healthcare. Homelessness is growing. Rents are unaffordable for many. Home prices are skyrocketing. Home builders are catering to the wealthy. With conditions as they are what will happen to future generations?

If we don’t change attitudes toward the poor, and strengthen and expand the social safety net, the US will officially descend into 3rd world status.




Dear Mother Grandfather has shot himself/ Guns in our society and family

My Forgey ancestors were mostly Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish love of guns is nearly unsurpassed by any other ethnic group. Since they settled frontier areas as a buffer against the Native Americans they needed guns for protection and to hunt for food. Guns meant survival and were used to fend off hunger and defend from attack. Frontier Americans became experts with guns.

Here is a sample of what I found out about guns in our family and in our community while doing research:

In the 1790’s Tennessee Scots-Irish immigrant James Forgey found a gun while out walking along a road in Knox County, Tennessee. He reported his find to the local newspaper.

Sometimes guns appeared in estate inventories. There are 2 blunder buses and one old musket listed in John Browning’s 1690 Maryland inventory. These ancient weapons didn’t cause mass causalities in a short time because they were slow to load.



In 1860’s Iola, Allen County,  Kansas my grandfather Charles Forgey’s  great-grandfather Anderson Wray was shot by his neighbor over a land dispute. He recovered and evidently forgave his neighbor.

My Grandfather Charles Lynn Forgey born, in 1898 Indiana, was a descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants. He was an expert with a gun just like his ancestors. He joined the US Marines in 1916. He won a sharpshooter award while in the Marines. He also was responsible for setting up the practice range, as I’ve learned from surviving military records. My grandfather continued to hone his skills with a gun after leaving the Marines. He enjoyed hunting, and would also target practice at a shooting range. My mother Edna would often go with him to the shooting range, but stayed in the car because she didn’t like the noise. The shooting range he went to is still operating in Whittier Narrows.

Rifle range Charles forgey

As you can see in the photo above my grandfather Charles was a gun collector. He kept his guns in a locked gun cabinet. Did he ever use the guns in self defense? No, never once did he use them in self defense. Did he ever use them in a plot to over throw the government? No, never. They were strictly his hunting, and target practice guns.

In the past the US didn’t have the social safety net programs we now have to rescue people from starvation and complete financial ruin. People sought help from charities which provided short term limited assistance, and help wasn’t available to everyone everywhere. Suicide became a solution for those living in poverty, especially the elderly. With no social security, and possibly failing health, they could not hope to dig themselves out of a financial hole. Poor elderly individuals often chose suicide to relieve them of their suffering. My mother remembered an elderly couple in Glendale, California went into an abandoned school where they shot themselves; this was in the early 1930’s.

Here we see the death certificate of Thomas Callahan of Jackson County, Indiana. He was my Grandfather Charles Forgey’s  1st cousin once removed. Why he shot himself in the temple is unknown?


The original owners of my Forgey Grandparents land in La Puente, California was the Workman/Temple family. They settled in the area before California was a state, they received a land grant from the Spanish government.

William Workman, the patriarch of the family, shot himself, in his office, due to financial problems back in the 1870’s. He founded a bank that went bust, and believed he could never recover from that huge financial setback. You can visit the home and office where he committed suicide. The Workman Temple Homestead museum is open to the public.


Back in the 1980’s, at a family party, one of my Uncles threatened to shoot one of my cousins during a heated argument. My Uncle had a little too much to drink. He left the party to get his gun. The police were called, but he didn’t return with his gun. Evidently he slept it off.

In my personal experience I have never heard of anyone acquainted with me, or my family, using a gun in self defense. I’ve never known anyone who has used a gun to overthrow the government either. Even during the revolution it wasn’t guns owned by private citizens that ended the revolutionary war, it was a French blockade. Without the help of the French the poorly armed Americans never would have won the war. They needed not only guns, but also cannons and money.

I know of relatives who are long time gun owners who are very responsible with weapons, and some not. I don’t see any problem with having rifles for sport, or even a handgun if it makes you feel safer. I’ve never owned a gun and never will. To me good locks and good sense are the best protection. Semi-Automatic guns in private hands cannot be used to overthrow the current US government; a government which is armed with grenades and missiles.

Responsible people with handguns and rifles, who are not mentally ill, aren’t a threat. They are a threat, most likely, only to themselves if they decide to use their gun to commit suicide. It’s the testosterone crazed men with semi-automatic weapons that are the problem.  No ordinary citizens should be able to keep a semi-automatic rifle in their home, or a bump stock. Please support tighter gun laws!




The American Tapestry/ Celebrating Our Many Cultures

I took the train into Los Angeles for Chinese New Year. The train was packed because of the Chinese New Year festivities and the NBA All Star Game is in town. The conductor didn’t announce Union Station when we arrived. They usually do? Anyway a number of people unfamiliar with the train asked me “is this Union Station?” I said yes. I take the train to LA often. When I hear the name Union Station it reminds me of my father, Robert Kapple, who arrived at the station in 1947 coming from Chicago. His divorced mother decided to relocate the family to Los Angeles after visiting her brother here. She had enough of the cold weather in Chicago. My father had enough of shoveling snow too.

My Aunt June and Great Aunt Mary standing in front of moving truck in 1940’s

My father’s family had been in Chicago from the late 19th Century on the Mason/ Mullen side and from 1910 on the Kappel/Kurta side. They lived in an Italian neighborhood. My father often talked about the different ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. He said the ethnic groups didn’t mix much and maintained their own cultures in their neighborhoods. As a matter of fact leaving your neighborhood and straying into the wrong neighborhood could be dangerous, as my father found out when a kid pulled a knife on him. They lived on the far south side, not the posh north side (I found out far south side is far from the city center during my recent trip to Chicago). They lived in the immigrant neighborhoods.

Not very much diversity here in 1930’s Chicago. The diversity in California was something family family embraced.

Coming to California introduced them to the Mexican culture of Southern California. Their Mexican neighbors introduced them to dishes they were unfamiliar with. A neighbor taught my Grandmother Dorothy how to make enchiladas, which became a favorite of my father.

Racism existed in Los Angeles as it did in Chicago, but there was a little bit more socializing among the different ethnic groups. What is now Pico Rivera was an area where Mexicans were allowed to live and attend school after the US took possession of California. It’s still a mostly Hispanic area.  Separate but equal education began to be chipped away at, in 1947, with the ruling in the Mendez, et al v. Westminster case. The court ruled segregation violated the 14th Amendment.

My mother’s family settled in California after my Grandfather decided to leave Nicaragua after his stint in the Marines. My mother was 5 years old when she arrived in California. My grandmother Graciela being Nicaraguan appreciated the Hispanic culture of Southern California which included a Nicaraguan community. My Mother Edna remembered going to school with Japanese students. She recalled going home with a Japanese school mate and she watched her set the table. She remembered how different their tableware seemed to her. Her brothers also had Japanese classmates. My grandfather was a gardener and often purchased plants from their Japanese neighbors. The Forgey family witnessed their Japanese neighbors being shipped off to camps during WWII, and regretted the loss of these neighbors.

The Forgey neighbors were Italian, Mexican, French Basque and Japanese in Puente. Another city the family lived in, Glendale, had restrictions that kept minorities out. I don’t think there were many Mexican children in Glendale Schools back in the 30’s and 40’s? Our family was probably allowed to stay in segregated schools because they were only half Hispanic. African Americans weren’t allowed to stay overnight in Glendale. They weren’t allowed to be buried in Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, where Michael Jackson is now buried.

My Uncle Cecil Forgey enjoyed Spanish dance which is part of our Hispanic heritage

I thought about my mother when the strings of firecrackers were lit today for Chinese New Year. She used to tell me about the strings of firecrackers being lit in Los Angeles Chinatown when she was a child. Their traditions became part of our traditions.


Some people are afraid of how multicultural we are becoming in America. Southern California has been multicultural for a long time. Hispanic culture has always been celebrated here. The book Ramona romanticized the early Spanish and Native culture of California. For generations we’ve been celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Nisei Week has been celebrated for many generations in California. The Kingdom Day Parade is the oldest and largest parade celebrating Martin Luther King Day. These are just a few ethnic celebrations and celebrations of diversity in California.

we all celebrate
All ethnic groups come together to Celebrate Chinese New Year

I love the many cultures we have in Los Angeles. I enjoy attending their many ethnic celebrations like Chinese New Year and Cinco De Mayo. Our lives are so much richer for having so much diversity; meeting people from so many places and learning from them. Our society is comparatively young. We can learn from societies much older than ours, such as the Chinese. We have integrated some of the positive aspects of other societies into our own already. Immigrants have also embraced the freedom and opportunity we have offered them.


Diversity makes life so much more interesting. Diversity is just being introduced to areas where it never existed before. Some feel threatened by it. They will eventually learn to celebrate it as we do in California, and realize how enriching it is. It took time to come to this realization in California, it will take some time elsewhere too. We can prove diversity produces a rich society.

Kung Hei Fat Choy! I was born in the year of the Rabbit. What year were you born?

Genealogy Society And Politics


My new blog combines subjects I’m deeply interested in. Genealogy has been a lifelong interest of mine from the time a first cousin once removed, the late Helen Irene McNiece,  sent our family a brief history of our family in Indiana. Our surname Kapple has also been the source of conversation. I was told that wasn’t the original spelling and the surname was Ashkenazi German. My grandfather’s birth certificate said he was born in Australia which got me into active research of his family. By the way he wasn’t born in Australia.

grandfather's death certificate

My interest in studying Society and Culture really got started when I took Anthropology and History courses as a college freshman. College courses opened up a window into brand new interesting worlds for me, I had never traveled outside California as a child. Although my first experience exposure to foreign cultures came through a PBS show. The PBS show “Big Blue Marble” encouraged viewers to apply to them so they could much you with a Pin Pal from another country. I had a pin pal in Malaysia and Trinidad. I also love traveling to foreign countries. I’ve traveled to England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, and Nicaragua. I will be traveling to Germany and Austria this year. I love comparing our society and culture with others past and present.

I developed a deep interest in politics which really began in 1976 with the election of Jimmy Carter. My father wasn’t registered to vote because he said he didn’t want to be called for Jury duty. My mother was a longtime voter as you can see at when she is registered as Edna Forgey then Edna Carter (her first husband). I got my parents excited about voting in that election and my father registered. I was only 13 years old, so couldn’t vote myself. I rolled the TV table in my room right up to my bed the night of that election. Carter wasn’t declared winner until quite late. My father actually woke me up to tell me the good news. Carter was not projected winner until 3:30 am Eastern Time.. I’ve been a democrat with a strong interest in politics ever since.

I told someone in my High School accounting class that I hated accounting. She said she loved it. She said “Annette you are interested in people, I’m not.” I thought she was wrong, but maybe she knew me better than I knew myself at the time. I am interested in people first and foremost, and love to hear their stories and share them with others.

I hope to shed light on the societies and cultures my ancestors, and their siblings lived in, using documents and accounts written at the time about the society they lived in and their personal experiences.