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Poormaster is the name of a now obsolete job position similar to that of Paymaster. Most of the states in the early United States had their own poormaster.

The duties of a poormaster were to validate those who applied for relief and issue funds.[1] The job was often a political sinecure before the 1930s. However the job was not without its risks. Those rejected often held grudges, and poormasters were sometimes guarded by police officers during the Great Depression.[2]

Harry L Barck was one such. He held the position of Poormaster for the city of Hoboken, New Jersey. He was killed by Joseph Scutellaro, a frustrated applicant, on February 15, 1938.[3] Scutellaro, who killed Barck with a spindle, received two years in prison.[4]

The occupation ceased to exist after the 1940s, with the advent of social assistance.


  1. ^ Barbagallo, Tricia A. (4 August 2001). "The Poor of Albany". New York State Museum. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  2. ^ "RELIEF: Last Client". Time. 7 March 1938. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  3. ^ Reynolds, Quentin (1952). "Chapter 7, Part 4". Courtroom. Popular Giant. 
  4. ^ "POORMASTER Slayer Guilty/ ONE JUROR SWAYS ELEVEN TO CONVICT DEFENDANT". Middletown Times Herald. Jersey City. 16 January 1939. p. 7. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 


  • Historian Holly Metz has received a grant to write a book on Barck [1], to be titled Killing the Poormaster.[2]
  • Livermore, Mary (1888). "Chapter 31". My Story of the War. Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington and Company. 
  • Killing the poormaster : a saga of poverty, corruption, and murder in the Great Depression (book) https://lccn.loc.gov/2012021790