© Cor Snabel
Poverty is a plague, but in combination with old age it could become inhumane suffering.
One of the first forms of charity was the care for the elderly. In the 14th century the first "Gasthuis" was build, where old, poor and disabled people could live. Travelers passing through and pilgrims could find a place to sleep here.
In 1602 the City Council founded an Old Man's House and an Old Woman's House, but also the church and some private citizens did help the elderly with large amounts of money.
Another group who had to live from charity was the orphans. The city founded the "Burgerweeshuis" or Citizen Orphanage and the "Aalmoezeniersweeshuis", (Aalmoes means alms) where the children of the non-citizens and the abandoned children were accommodated. The food was very simple; meat was too expensive, so the daily menu was bread with butter or cheese and dried peas and beans. Hygiene was very poor; five children had to sleep in one small bed. Boys and girls were strictly separated and both groups were educated in the Orphanage school. The boys had to learn a trade at fifteen from a craftsman in town and the girls had to work within the Orphanage in the knitting- and spinning factory. When they were nineteen years old, they had to leave the Orphanage. On May 1st. they received a necessary outfit and some money.
The third charity-institution was for the poor citizens, who had a roof over their head, like widows, cripples and single women, but also workmen with large families, seasonal workers and the unemployed.
But this group was checked very carefully.
They were often visited and if their circumstances were changed for better they were removed from the list. Fraud was severely punished, In 1676 a woman, who had cheated charity was convicted to one hour on the scaffold with a paper on her breast: "This woman cheated charity".
Another group "benefited" from charity. The insane, who were a thread to the other inhabitants, were locked up in the "Dolhuis". Their fate was not enviable, locked away for the rest of their days, without treatment or any contact with the outside world.
Charity was important for both parties. First of all the receiving party had to show their gratitude to their benefactors by living according to the laws of the city and the church. The other party needed the charity for their salvation and peace of mind.