[photo, 311 West Saratoga St., Baltimore, Maryland]
  • Board of State Aid & Charities
  • State Department of Public Welfare
  • State Department of Social Services
  • State Department of Employment & Social Services
  • Department of Human Resources
  • Department of Human Services
  • Department of Human Resources, 311 West Saratoga St., Baltimore, Maryland, January 2002. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    Many functions of the Department of Human Services originally were administered by county government from the colonial period to 1900. State government assumed certain responsibilities in 1900 when Maryland's first State agency of public welfare, the Board of State Aid and Charities, was formed. In the 1930s, State efforts were joined by the federal government.

    County Poor Relief. Although colonial settlers were nearly all young and able-bodied, disabling accidents and other disasters deprived some of their means of livelihood. Separated by the ocean from family and kin, such unfortunates had nowhere to turn. As early as 1650, an order of the Assembly authorized a tax levy to provide maintenance for the maimed, lame, and blind of St. Mary's County. Still, few people applied for assistance. Creation of a bureaucracy such as existed in England under the poor laws was considered unnecessary and wasteful, even though several governors recommended it. County governments tried to limit their financial obligations. They required persons harboring a stranger to post bond that the stranger would not become a charge on the county. Parents of bastards also had to post bond for their support.

    Predating other child-protective agencies by centuries, county courts in 1658 began to protect the welfare and estates of orphan children in probate matters. An orphan was any minor who inherited an estate and whose father had died. The court appointed guardians and oversaw administration of a child's resources until the child came of age. When the estate was insufficient for the child's maintenance, the court bound out the child to learn a trade.

    In the seventeenth century, Maryland's need for labor was such that no able-bodied person lacked work. Acquisition of land and upward mobility was possible for nearly everyone. As available land was taken up, however, economic conditions changed and, prior to the Revolutionary War, fewer opportunities existed for persons without capital and property.

    Two methods of poor relief developed in Maryland. The first was to provide direct payment of money for support, a method which began in the colonial period and continues to this day. The second was to house the poor in a county almshouse, later known as the county home.

    As early as 1650, direct support payments (later called out-pensions) developed from annuities granted by the county courts to provide for persons too old, crippled, or young to work. Parish vestries also administered poor relief in some counties, as in England. After the emergence of almshouses in the late eighteenth century, persons receiving relief outside of the almshouse were known as out-pensioners and received an annual pension from the county tax levy. By 1799, out-pensions were granted to the bedridden and people "whose peculiar circumstances may render a situation in the poor-house particularly unsuitable for them" (Chapter 65, Acts of 1799). Annually, the legislature passed laws authorizing persons to receive a pension. These laws indicate that many out-pensions went to relatives caring for orphaned children or a lunatic family member. The 1799 law limited to ten the number of out-pensioners in each county and to thirty dollars the annual amount of each pension, but this law continually was amended.

    County Almshouses. The county almshouse became the primary public institution for the destitute. The legislature in 1768, recognizing that "the necessity, number and continual increase, of the poor within this province is very great, and exceedingly burthensome," passed an act to relieve the poor by creating almshouses, or workhouses, in five counties (Chapter 29, Acts of 1768). Later built in other counties as well, almshouses did not function until after the Revolution. The concept behind almshouses was punitive: the original act vested absolute power in each county's five Trustees of the Poor "for the better relieving, regulating and setting the poor to work, and punishing vagrants, beggars, vagabonds and other offenders" (Chapter 29, Acts of 1768). Initially, persons were sentenced to the almshouse, and required to wear a badge on their sleeve with an emblazoned "P" for pauper. This punitive attitude towards the poor also was reflected in the Constitution of 1776, which prohibited men without property from voting. They were disenfranchised until 1801 (Chapter 90, Acts of 1801).

    Because the intent was to make the inmates work for their upkeep, almshouses were situated on farms. A workhouse was part of their structure when they first were built. Nonetheless, despite the efforts of trustees and overseers, during most of their history almshouses were not self-supporting; they relied on county tax levies. Because those accepted in the almshouse were adults and children unable to support themselves, the "able-bodied" unemployed were not admitted. Consequently, though the demand was made for hard labor, inmates who were elderly, infirm, crippled, blind, deaf, or insane could not provide it. In 1838, a statewide flurry of interest in silk cultivation resulted in legislation enabling eight counties to embark on that profit-making scheme in their almshouses (Chapters 77, 90, 160, 170, 192, 221, 231, and 296, Acts of 1838). Several counties planned to use profits to hire a teacher for the children of almshouse inmates, but no evidence indicates the scheme was implemented. As in farming, the trustees overestimated the abilities of their work force.

    Almshouses survived in Maryland until after 1940 with little change except in the demography of their clientele. The poor and destitute perceived them as a last resort. Inmates were plagued by filth, vermin, inadequate diet, and the crowding together of persons with totally different needs. An 1877 report by the Secretary of the State Board of Health referred to one county almshouse as "a mockery of charity and a nursery of pollution." Almshouses provided relief to people who had no family or friends to support them in the community. Most commonly they were mothers and children, the elderly, insane, feeble-minded, alcoholic, blind, deaf, and other physically handicapped. Vagrants and lunatics, if not in the almshouse, were likely to be confined in the county jail. Almshouses reflected the optimistic faith of the early nineteenth century in the efficacy of institutions in solving, or at least hiding, societal ills. That belief led to the creation of more specialized institutions which eventually reshaped almshouse populations. Children were the first to leave. An 1886 law prohibited the presence in an almshouse of any child aged three to sixteen years of age for more than ninety days, provided of course that the child was not "an unteachable idiot, an epileptic, or a paralytic, or otherwise so disabled or deformed as to render it incapable of labor or service." (Chapter 262, Acts of 1886). Those children removed from almshouses were to be placed by the Trustees of the Poor with a respectable family or in an institution. The trustees previously had authority to bind out pauper children and the children of free blacks and mulattoes as apprentices. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, as the State built institutions for the insane, the feeble-minded, and incurables, and training schools for the deaf and blind, these groups also gradually moved out of the almshouses. As early as 1817, counties could have committed their insane to the Maryland Hospital, which became exclusively a hospital for the mentally ill in 1838. The number of insane persons confined in county almshouses and jails did not diminish, however, even after the second State hospital for the insane was built in 1894. The dependent insane finally were removed to State hospitals in 1911 (Chapter 435, Acts of 1908).

    From 1900 to 1940, almshouse residents increasingly became the elderly and chronically ill. In 1906, perhaps to relieve the stigma, almshouses were renamed as county homes (Chapter 32, Acts of 1906). Changing the name did not alleviate the problems. Special commissions reported to the Governor and legislature in 1931, 1933, 1938, and 1940 that conditions in almshouses were a disgrace to a civilized country, jeopardizing the health of their inmates. Nonetheless, until the State built its first chronic care hospital in 1950, almshouse residents had no place to go.

    The counties and Baltimore City bore the financial burden of their almshouses and out-pensioners alone, although the General Assembly passed all laws relating to their administration. The State took no direct fiscal responsibility for the poor and destitute; relief came from county taxes. In 1816, an unusual statewide measure for the temporary relief of the poor due to "the awful calamity of a scarcity of grain" enabled counties to borrow, levy, or appropriate funds for their suffering citizens, but no State monies were provided (Chapter 192, Acts of 1816). State funds built a few public institutions in the late nineteenth century, but they were far outnumbered by private charities. The legislature, recognizing the public service of these private institutions, haphazardly granted annual appropriations to a select and favored few, requiring no accountability or efficiency in return.

    Private Charities. Private philanthropy grew profusely, paralleling the growth of private fortunes in the nineteenth century. In Baltimore City especially, private citizens and religious bodies supported soup kitchens, orphanages, hospitals, schools, nurseries, and old-age homes. Private charitable institutions developed to meet public welfare needs not met by almshouses, out-pensions, and the few existing State institutions. Due in part to the multiplicity of charitable institutions, out-pensions in Baltimore City ceased around 1862, and, until outlawed by the legislature, City government instead appropriated funds to private charities. Baltimoreans early realized that while private charitable donations and institutions were more than adequate to aid the City's poor, distribution was chaotic and inadequate. Two organizations, the Baltimore Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (1849) and the Baltimore Charity Organization (1881), were formed to organize philanthropy according to tenets of "scientific charity." Their efforts ultimately professionalized social work but also categorized the poor as worthy and unworthy. To avoid duplication of resources, both organizations used a central registry of recipients and investigated applications for assistance. Their concerns focused more on solutions to underlying causes of poverty than relief of immediate needs.

    Modern Public Assistance. Scientific charity attacked in particular the out-pensioner system, which was flawed. For instance, county trustees of the poor or the county levy court (whichever had responsibility for pensions) had no authority or manpower to check on recipients without an act of legislature. A person could receive a pension until death, no matter how circumstances changed. In each county, the process was different with no uniform standard of need or accountability. In contrast, the proponents of scientific charity wanted an organized system with the poor classified and labeled according to need; they believed statistics would provide enlightened forms of relief. Opponents of scientific charity's campaign to end out-pensions argued that most recipients of public assistance were mothers with children who would be separated if pensions were ended. Progressives working for reforms such as workmen's compensation and child-labor laws embraced the mothers' pension issue as well. A federal conference in 1909, the White House Conference on Children, influenced some states to establish mothers' pensions. In 1916, Maryland extended partial relief to widows with children under the age of fourteen. County government administered and funded the pensions, each application was investigated, and a mother's worthiness was considered (Chapter 670, Acts of 1916). Pensions went to the most needy, in case county funds were not sufficient to provide pensions to all acceptable applicants.

    Board of State Aid and Charities. In Maryland, the State role in social welfare began with the creation in 1900 of the Board of State Aid and Charities, the first State agency with any responsibility for social services (Chapter 679, Acts of 1900). Initially, the Board did not shape State policy for social welfare or administer programs for the poor; instead, the Board investigated private charitable institutions and recommended to the legislature which were worthy to receive State funds. Beginning in 1922, the Board headed the Department of Charities and received annual reports from the State's two tuberculosis sanitoriums (Chapter 29, Acts of 1922).

    The Great Depression beginning in 1929 and the resultant New Deal changed the structure of social welfare. The federal government established and funded programs for jobs, old age pensions, allotments for dependent children, and distribution of surplus food commodities. States were responsible for creating the machinery to issue federally subsidized support.

    In order to qualify for federal aid under the federal Social Security Act, powers of the Board of State Aid and Charities were increased substantially in 1935 (Chapter 586, Acts of 1935). The Board was authorized to coordinate poor relief in Maryland and administer Aid to Dependent Children, Old Age Assistance, Assistance to the Needy Blind, and General Public Assistance. It also licensed institutions, agencies, or organizations having custody of either children or the elderly; established county welfare boards; and received federal funds and surplus commodities under federal acts relating to public welfare. Under the Board, county welfare boards certified eligible persons for employment in the federal Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

    State Department of Public Welfare. Retaining its watchdog function, the State Department of Public Welfare replaced the Board of State Aid and Charities in 1939 (Chapter 99, Acts of 1939). The new Department administered public assistance and coordinated public welfare activities in Maryland for nearly 30 years.

    State Department of Social Services. Reorganized and renamed in 1968, the State Department of Social Services took over duties of the State Department of Public Welfare (Chapter 702, Acts of 1968).

    State Department of Employment and Social Services. The State Department of Social Services became the Department of Employment and Social Services in 1970 (Chapter 96, Acts of 1970). In 1970, the Department became responsible for all State income maintenance, social service, unemployment insurance, and employment and training programs and various diverse commissions relating to aging, children and youth, migrant labor, manpower, Spanish-speaking persons, and veterans.

    Department of Human Resources. The Department was renamed the Department of Human Resources effective July 1, 1975 (Chapter 382, Acts of 1975).The Department of Human Resources and its predecessor agencies at times have had duties and functions which now belong to other executive departments.

    Because the poor often were lumped together with insane, feeble-minded, blind, sick, elderly and criminal persons, both in institutions and in the public mind, duties of the Department of Human Resources often have overlapped those of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Chronic care hospitals, now under the latter department, began as tuberculosis sanitoriums overseen by the Department of Charities. The first State inspection of almshouses was conducted in 1876 by the State Board of Health, and later the Board of Mental Hygiene was required to inspect them every six months. From 1943 to 1966, the State Department of Public Welfare had jurisdiction over the juvenile training institutions now within the Department of Juvenile Justice. From 1970 to 1983, the Department also was responsible for employment and training programs. These were transferred to the Department of Employment and Training in 1983, the Department of Economic and Employment Development in 1987, and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation in 1995.

    From 1996 to 2005, the Department of Human Resources encompassed five administrations: Child Care, Child-Support Enforcement, Community Services, Family Investment, and Social Services (Code 1957, Art. 41, secs. 6-101 through 6-407). In July 2005, the Child Care Administration transferred as the Office of Child Care to the State Department of Education (Chapter 585, Acts of 2005).

    Department of Human Services. In July 2017, the Department of Human Resources was renamed the Department of Human Services (Chapter 205, Acts of 2017; Code Human Services Article, secs. 2-101, 2-201, 2-202).

    Today, the Department of Human Services is responsible for four administrations: Child-Support, Community Services, Family Investment, and Social Services (Code Human Services Article, secs. 2-101 through 2-512).

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