Jenny arrived at the Poorhouse on July 16, 1869 as inmate #36. At the time, she was listed as 90 years old, although there is no way of knowing for certain exactly how old she was because she was not able to verbally communicate. Her tongue was cruelly cut off many years before she entered the Poorhouse, the reasons for this are still unknown. This mutilation made it almost impossible for Jenny to communicate anything about herself except for her first name. She was given the nickname “Old Jenny” by Waterloo County locals who were accustomed to seeing her wandering the streets.

While she was staying at the Poorhouse, she met William Jaffray when he made his visit to the Poorhouse in 1871. He wrote this about her:


She is an old acquaintance of the people of Waterloo. Not being able to tell her own story by reason of mutilation of the tongue that she has managed to describe by signs as having been cruelly wrought upon ship board and all that is know of Jenny has been gleaned from other sources. She has always been “silly” with a furious fashionable fondness for all sorts and sizes of bonnets. So avaricious has she been in this respect, when roaming the country, that Jenny has often been met with half a dozen story’s of bonnets on at a time. Old Jenny will no doubt spend the remainder of her days in the Poor House, and, by present appearances promises to be one of those who shall long in the land. She had been a wanderer of the country for 35 years, and was sent to the institution by the township of Waterloo.


This brief insight let’s us understand some of the intricate details of Jenny’s life. She may have immigrated to Canada from a different country, as Jaffray’s article states that she was “wrought upon ship board”. As well, Jenny most likely made up the population of “wandering poor” that would travel from village to village and city to city in search of a place to sleep and something to eat.

Before entering the Poorhouse, she was living in the Waterloo County, often relying on compassionate members of the community to take her in and care for her. There is an instance of the Township of Waterloo refunding John W. Martin for taking care of Old Jenny before she was committed to the Poorhouse in 1869.


Minutes of the Township of Waterloo Municipal Council, July 31, 1869; Source: Region of Waterloo Archives


Old Jenny appeared on the 1871 Census for the House of Industry and Refuge as one of the inmates. She is listed on the census as “over 20 and unable to read or write”, “deaf and dumb”, and “unsound mind”. There are remarks beside her name stating “idiotic, cannot get -any- information”.   This also indicates that she may have been suffering from severe mental illness and was not able to communicate with those around her.


1871 Census of Canada; Source:

1871 Census of Canada; Source:


Jenny remained in the Poorhouse until her death on March 29, 1880. She died of old age. She was listed here as being widowed, which is the first time she is recorded as having been previously married.

Jenny's Birth Certificate; Source:

Jenny’s Birth Certificate; Source:


The last remarks on her death certificate, which was recorded by Dr. Walden, read: “Her tongue was cut off many years ago. She is remembered by many old people [for] being an old woman in their youth- could not give her name other for name above stated. She was buried in the House cemetery.