The Almshouse | Merril D. Smith

Contains reference to child death

always men
decide her fate—

once, her father, husband,
would ponder and ruminate

now full-bellied overseers
on charity deliberate

they calculate,
each charge enumerate–

her feckless spouse has left her,
her baby dead—unfortunate–

yes, now she
(in her worthless state)

is worthy—to appreciate
this place—an almshouse inmate,

though once she had dreams
she cannot communicate

the foolish fancies
she cannot celebrate

nor anticipate–
all is too late.

Writer’s Commentary

While working on my dissertation that became my first book, Breaking the Bonds, I read through volumes and volumes of “Daily Occurrences” entries for the Philadelphia almshouse looking for entries about women who had been deserted and/or abused by their husbands. “The Almshouse” is inspired by these entries, in particular one from 1793, in which the Guardians of the Poor recorded that the woman’s husband had left her, and her one-month-old baby had died. I’m looking back on work I’ve done in the past, looking with fresh eyes and trying to give voice to the voiceless women who cry out to me.

Merril D. Smith is an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American History and numerous books on history and gender issues. She is currently working on a book on sexual harassment and a collection of poetry. Her poetry and stories have appeared recently in Rhythm & Bones, Vita Brevis, Streetlight Press, Ghost City, Twist in Time, Mojave Heart Review, Wellington Street Review, Blackbough Poetry, and Nightingale and Sparrow.  Her blog is at

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