Injuries, Impairment, and Intersecting Identities: The Poor in Buffalo, NY 1851–1913

  • Jennifer F. ByrnesEmail author
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


According to intersectionality theory , the intersection of age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and physical impairment can create dynamic social identities. This theoretical stance is supported by historical and osteological evidence about the former residents of the Erie County Poorhouse . Historical records suggest that, in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, poorhouse “inmates” were generally considered “undeserving poor.” Identities were constructed through the complex interaction of multiple facets of their individual identities. Although the path to the poorhouse varied, one commonality was an inability to work and support oneself. Erie County Hospital annual reports indicated that males were ten times more likely to be treated for traumatic injuries than females. Similar demographic trends were observed in the skeletal sample recovered during salvage excavations at the former Erie County Poorhouse cemetery. Skeletal analyses of 207 adult skeletons indicated that adult males were more than four times as likely to acquire observable appendicular traumatic injuries as adult female. When clinical literature was used as a guide to assess physical impairment, traumatic injuries tended to be more severe in males versus females. These findings suggest that the constituent elements of their social identities predisposed individuals to differential risk of sustaining traumatic injuries and associated physical impairments. Physical impairments may have variously reinforced or altered perceived social identities via the intersection of disabled identities.


Skeletal trauma Intersectionality theory Erie County Poorhouse New York State Bioarchaeology Disability Impairment 



I am greatly indebted to Jennifer Liber Raines, for both facilitating access to the historical documentation, as well as sharing her passion and general knowledge for Buffalo’s rich history with me. Much of my comparative analysis relied on data collected by Rosanne Higgins, in which she provided access to her dissertation data on the mortality data from the ECP. Jennifer Odien assisted in collecting traumatic injury, demographic, and interobserver data for this study. Erin Chapman for her assistance with photography editing. Many thanks as well to Jennifer Muller and the three anonymous reviewers who provided critical reviews and commentaries on this chapter. David Ingleman for his keen editorial eye and thought-provoking conversations lending to the conceptualization of this work. Lastly, Joyce Sirianni for her continued support with my dissertation and beyond.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Social SciencesUniversity of Hawaiʻi–West OʻahuKapoleiUSA

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