Poor Law


Poor Laws in Denmark

Svendborg Museum made a great little book about the poor laws in 1996, It was based on the poor house in Svendborg, but I don't think Svendborg was better or worse than other places. It's called Fattiggården and was written by
Henrik M. Jansen and Otto Jonasen. It's in Danish only, has about 74 pages, and cost me 20 kr (About US$ 3.5) on a sale at Frilandsmuseet, so it may be sold out.

Some interesting things from a time line in the book:

1708 - the first poor law - begging is illegal (Still is). Poor people were split in two groups - worthy and unworthy. The parishes and market towns had to provide for their own worthy beggars (That's why you often find a note of where an unmarried mother lived 10 months before childbirth). Unworthy beggars where either chased away or put to jail and had to do hard labour.

Poor people where not allowed to leave the parish. If they did and were caught in another parish, this parish would put them on display outside the church during church hours.

1771 - a box was placed on the Maternity house in Copenhagen. Mothers could anonymously put their newborn children in it. 24 were put in it the first 5 days...

The box was removed in 1774, because of people's indignation.

1808 - all the poor people's belongings were marked and now belonged to the poor-law authorities. Poor people who receive help no longer have access to theír own things. Being in possession of marked things were punished.

1824 - Poor people who received help are not allowed to marry with out the permission of the poor-law authorities (Wonder what that meant to the pregnant unmarried women.....).

1849 - Poor people receiving help, like women, servants, et cetera were not allowed to vote (1849 was the year of the constitution)

Then a lot of horrible examples and stories until:

1920-21 - 73.770 Danes receive help and are not allowed to vote.


1929-30 - 113.172 Danes receive help and are not allowed to vote.


1958 - 4500 Danes receive help and are not allowed to vote.

1961 - Law on Public Welfare - poor people were allowed to marry, and they
could also vote - So I guess Denmark is a fairly young democracy !!!!!

(Text on this page by Martin Andersen, Rootsweb Denmark list member.)


The image on this page is the Fattiggaard in Østofte, now used as a private home. The webmaster's ggggrandparents died here in the early 1800's. Photo by Paula Goodfellow, 2004.

Design by Paula Goodfellow
Information and text by Paula Goodfellow, Betty Jack, Rock Johnson and other members of the Denmark Rootsweb email list.
Inages and text copyright 2004-2012.
I'm happy to add any other useful sites, and to fix broken links. Please report them to Paula Goodfellow.

Page last updated September 3, 2012