Meal Tickets for Tramps in Fargo, 1895
The plight of homeless people has always brought three reactions – compassion, indifference, or condemnation. Homeless people have been called many names in the past – hoboes, tramps, transients, bums, or vagabonds. Today’s Datebook tells about a supposedly-compassionate response to tramps in Fargo as described in The Casseltonian newspaper, of Casselton, on this date in 1895.
In Fargo, local residents, restaurants, and the police, cooperated in a plan to provide a meal to hoboes who were willing to work for food. A local association printed special meal tickets and gave two of these tickets to each participating family. When a hungry man asked for food, the family put him to work for one hour – either chopping wood or doing yard-work. After the hour of work, the family gave the hobo a “ticket for a meal at a designated restaurant.” If a family had no work for the hobo, the family escorted the hungry man to a city park and asked a policeman to put the hobo to work. The family gave a meal ticket to the officer, who would then countersign the ticket for the meal – after the work was done. The system intended to help the homeless by providing work rather than a handout.
Tramps had become a national problem after the Civil War ended in 1865. According to author Josiah Frank Willard, large numbers of ex-soldiers, who had become accustomed to camp life in Army tents during the war, “preferred to wander about the country” rather than “returning to regular occupations . . . [and] The railroads became their highways. At first they walked, but it was an easy and natural step to ride” the rails. “By 1877 the hobo had come into existence as a class. By 1885 they were recognized as a nuisance.”
Some became vagabonds because the trauma of war had given them what was called “soldier’s heart” then, and what is known now as “post-traumatic stress” or “shell-shock.”
Did Fargo’s meal-ticket plan solve the hobo problem? Well, hobos quickly learned to avoid the city’s work-plan system – by moving on to the next city on the railway line that did not have a meal-ticket policy.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
“City and Vicinity,” The Casseltonian [Casselton, ND], April 26, 1895, p. 3.
Editorial, The Casseltonian [Casselton, ND], April 23, 1895, p. 2.
“Suppressing Trampdom,” Mandan Pioneer, February 24, 1899, p. 1.