"The Friends Alms-House," on Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, Philadelphia, PA, by William L. Breton, 1828.
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Watercolor of the front view of the Alms House.

Credit: Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

In keeping with William Penn's dream of Pennsylvania as a "Holy Experiment," the Society of Friends established the first alms house for the poor in 1713.  To provide for the growing number of indigent, the city in 1732 built a "workhouse" that occupied the entire block between Spruce and Pine, Third and Fourth Streets. By 1767 a much larger alms house, located on Spruce Street, between Tenth and Eleventh, included an infirmary and workhouse. In the early 1800s, overcrowding forced the city to look across the Schuylkill River, where by 1830 it opened separate workhouses for both men and women.

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