Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia

By Karin Wulf | Go to book overview

[5]
Ann Dunlap's "Great Want":
Poverty and Public Policy

Living in mean housing along Philadelphia's Tun Alley, widowed and pregnant Ann Dunlap suffered severely through the harsh winter of 1761‐ 1762. She was not alone. With the end of the Seven Years War on the American continent in 1760, the prosperity of wartime requisitioning had given way to an economic slump. The combination of economic ills and the cruelly cold weather placed the poorer population of Philadelphia in acute distress. Standard mechanisms for poor relief were incapable of handling either the volume or the character of need in this critical period. The skyrocketing prices of essentials required to stave off starvation and freezing, particularly firewood, made needy a whole new population.

Dunlap's neighbors, Margaret Trotter and a woman known to us only as Isaac William's wife, appealed on her behalf to one of the ad hoc, privately organized charitable groups formed to ameliorate the emergency conditions of that winter. The two women described Dunlap as "Lying in & in great want." The Committee to Alleviate the Miseries of the Poor, a private relief organization of "Gentlemen" with "benevolent intention," borrowed key practices from public relief officials, such as determining need and merit through a system of recommendation. Once the committee acknowledged an individual's neediness, it issued a numbered ticket for wood, blankets, or stockings (the principal provisions). This system was designed "to prevent Impositions of ill designing persons who may feign a pretence of Indigence" so that "a just & equal distribution may be made among those who are real objects of charity." 1. Through the offices of the Committee to Alleviate the Miseries of the Poor, Trotter and Williams were able to deliver to Dunlap two blankets and a pair of stockings. It was not much, but those items might save Dunlap and her baby

____________________
1.
Accounts and Minutes of Committee to Alleviate the Miseries of the Poor, Box i and Oversize #26, Wharton Willing Papers, HSP.

-153-

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