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The Poor Law, the Workhouse and the Construction of Ablebodiedness

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The workhouse was at the heart of the reforms envisaged by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834, as was the concept of ‘ablebodiedness’. Welfare policy had far-reaching consequences, not just for those who were accommodated in the workhouse, but also for those recipients relieved outdoors, and to the wider working class and notions of manliness and womanliness. This paper explores how the New Poor Law contributed to discourses on the able body – and the disabled body – through a mixture of sources, from the Poor Law Report, changing poor law policy, the census, workhouse records, literature, illustrations, newspapers, and social investigation.

This talk is part of the Core Seminar in Economic and Social History series.

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