Lucinda Jane Potter stayed at the Poorhouse collectively for 50 years, the vast majority of her 66 years of life. She was born in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario in 1866 to parents Daniel Potter (1834-) and Catherine Hilts (1834-) who were married the same year Lucinda was born. She was the oldest of three children- her sister Mary Elizabeth (1871-1873) and brother, Daniel (1873-).  The family was living together in Whitchurch in 1871 where her father was working as a plasterer.


1871 Canada Census Potter Family; Source:


At some point over the next few years, the family moved to the township of Waterloo. It is unclear where they were living at the time or whether the father, Daniel, was working.


On October 18, 1875, Lucinda and Daniel entered the Poorhouse. The reason of pauperism was listed as “drunken parents” with no further details.


1875 Register of Paupers, Vagrants, and Idiots received at the House of Industry and Refuge; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


Daniel was just 3 years old when he was sent out on trial to “M. Zehr of Wellesley” one year after arriving at the Poorhouse. This Zehr family are assumed to be Michael B. Zehr (1845-1920) and Elizabeth Oesch (1849-1914). Lucinda and her brother were not sent to the same family together and were separated only after a couple of months of being in the Poorhouse together. Daniel remained with the Zehr family for the rest of his life, taking on their last name after they “adopted” him.


Lucinda unfortunately had a different fate compared to that of her brother. In the span of seven years, Lucinda was sent to four different homes around Waterloo County, the longest trial being 3 years and the shortest being 11 days. Below is a chart of her movement back and forth from the Poorhouse over the seven years.


Date Returned to House Date sent out on Trial Remarks in Registry Length of Stay
Oct. 18 1875 June 6, 1876 Geo. [Pfaukol], St. Clements 11 days
June 17, 1876 June 20, 1876 Jos. Wilhelm Hewstead P.O. 3 years
Oct. 10, 1879 May 11, 1880 John Roth St. Agatha P.O. 10 months
Nov. 11, 1880  Sept. 1, 1881 Mrs W [Cutchens] 1 year, 8 months


Lucinda was returned to the House one final time on June 12, 1883 ( she was 17 years old at this point) and would remain in the House until her death 49 years later.

At the House, Lucinda was victim to physical and verbal abuse by the managers, Peter and Alvina Itter. These accounts of abuse came to light after an inquest was made by the Standing Committee of the House of Industry and Refuge in 1893 for accusations made against Peter and Alvina Itter for neglecting, mistreating and abusing some of the people living in the House of Refuge during their 13 years as managers. Lucinda’s name was repeatedly mentioned by firsthand witnesses of being someone who consistently suffered abuse by the hands of the managers. An account by former inmate, Elizabeth Beight, that was published in the Berlin Daily Record on July 4, 1893 stated the following:


I saw Mrs. Itter whip with horsewhip Flory McFee so it left marks and also saw her whip Lucinda Potter with a strap. Heard Mrs. Itter use indecent language. I was told by an inmate that Mrs. Itter ill-treated her, kicked and downed her on the floor, putting one knee on her and striking her in the eye. She nearly lost her eyesight by the effect.

Source: Kitchener Public Library Archives


As the Standing Committee was reading over the statements, Mr. McBride suggested: “… there was some evidence that Lucinda Potter was struck and horse-whipped and he would like to have her examined if possible.” Another statement was read afterwords by Mr. Robson: “It is said that on one occasion [Lucinda] went to the cellar. Mrs. Itter came down after her and without saying anything caught her by the hair and struck her head against the wall.” (July 21, 1893 in Galt Reformer, source: Kitchener Public Library Archives).

Another account from Hattie Strassburger, a former inmate turned domestic for the House, gave a statement during the trial:


Hattie Strassburger, a former domestic at the House, testified to the abuse she saw against Lucinda Potter, June 23, 1893; Source: Kitchener Public Library Archives


In response to these testimonies, Mr. Kribs, the former Reeve of Hespeler and the 1st Deputy Reeve of the Township of Waterloo when Lucinda was first sent to the Poorhouse in 1875, testified against the claims of abuse in support of the Itter’s:


Mr. Kribs, Sr., of Hespeler, formerly a member of the County Council for some years, following Mr. Randall, said he visited House very frequently during Mr. Itter’s term of office and always found things in good shape whenever he went there. Knew Mr. Itter personally for years and in fact had recommended him as a good man for the position and was instrumental in getting him appointed and think him both humane and kind. Had spoken to inmates who had been under Mr. Itter’s care for years and then been discharged, such inmates always said they had been used well. For instance, a Hespeler man named M. Connolly was loud in his praises of the treatment he had received while there. Said he was used first-class. Mr. Kribs said he had committed Lucinda Potter to Poor House and considered her the worst girl he ever knew. She was, at the time of committment, only 12 years of age yet she cursed her mother who was lying on her dying bed. Her mother, when alive, had been unable to manage her, and he did not think anyone could without using a strap and thought the strap should be used on refractory inmates.

Source: Kitchener Public Library Archives


There were similar statements made by two other men who worked at the Poorhouse during the time Lucinda was there. Joseph Carl, who knew Lucinda since she was a child when she first entered the House, said Lucinda “is a bad girl. The worst in the Poor House. Have frequently seen her deserve punishment.” (July 18, 1893 in Berlin Daily Record, source: Kitchener Public Library Archives). Another statement was made by Louis Schroeder, a farm hand, who also knew Lucinda and said she “never behaved herself at all.”  (July 18, 1893 in Berlin Daily Record, source: Kitchener Public Library Archives). These testimonies helped to get the Itter’s acquitted of all charges laid against them. They were asked to resign after the trial, but no other recourse was taken for their actions. For more information on the Scandal of 1893, visit the Itter’s page.


When Lucinda was 33 years old, she became pregnant at the House. Nothing was written or recorded in any of the archives about how she became pregnant or by whom. She was taken to the Berlin-Waterloo Hospital where her son, Robert William Potter, was born on June 13, 1899.


1899 Robert William Potter’s Birth Certificate; Source:


Her son stayed with her until he was sent to the Berlin Orphanage on June 26, 1901, when he was two years old. It is unclear where Robert went after this point.


During her time at the House in the late 1910s, Lucinda began getting paid for some of the work she was doing around the House. She was paid $1.00 for working as a nurse assistant in the hospital wing.


1907 Keeper`s Cash Accounts; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


One year later, she received $15.00 for working in the desolation hospital, or more commonly known as the Pest House. Below is an excerpt taken from the Standing Committee Meeting Minutes.


House of Refuge,

Berlin, March 4 -1908

The House of Refuge Committee met today.

The members were all present, also Warden Lockhart, thus. Alison, Chairman, presiding.


Moved by Mr. Suggitt; seconded by Dr. Campbell: That Lucinda Potter be given the sum of fifteen dollars for her services as nurse at desolation Hospital.



Lucinda remained in the House until her death on February 21, 1932. On her death certificate, the cause of death is stated as “carcinoma of the breast” which she had been suffering from for three years. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener.


1932 Lucinda Potter’s Death Certificate; source:




The painting at the top of the page is called Peasant Woman with Child on Her Lap by Vincent Van Gogh, 1885, Private Collection (F149), PD