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Widows and Orphans First

Widows and Orphans First: The Family Economy and Social Welfare Policy, 1880-1939

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Widows and Orphans First
    Book Description:

    Widows and Orphans First investigates the importance of local economies and values in the origins of the welfare state through an exploration of widows' lives in three industrial American cities with widely differing economic, ethnic, and racial bases. _x000B_In Fall River, Massachusetts, employment was regarded as the solution to widows' poverty, so public charitable expenditure was drastically limited. In Pittsburgh, where few jobs were available for women or children--and where jobs for men were in "widowmaking" industries such as steel and railroading--the city's charitable establishments were more sympathetic. In the border city of Baltimore, which had a large African American population and a diverse economy that relied on inexpensive child and female labor, funds for public services were limited, and African Americans tended to establish their own charitable institutions. In this unique comparative study of widows' welfare and family economy, Jay Kleinberg examines the role of children in society and the development of social welfare policy for widows.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09163-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In November 1886 the Reverend T. Grace of St. Mary’s Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, recommended the admission of three boys to the St. Vincent’s Home, which the Sisters of Mercy ran in that city. Ten-year-old Patrick Cantwell and his two brothers, six-year-old Matthew and two-year-old Michael, were half-orphans living with their widowed mother. Since it was difficult for Mrs. Cantwell to work and look after such young children, she appealed to her priest for help in placing them safely. Within the year Patrick had gone to work in the mills. His mother reclaimed her two younger sons from the...

  6. 1 Widows: A Demographic and Economic Overview
    (pp. 17-42)

    Marie Besonet, a middle-aged widow, moved to Fall River from Quebec in the late 1870s so that her four oldest children could take jobs in the cotton mills. Her twelve-year-old daughter stayed home to help with the two youngest children, while one son toiled as a farm laborer. Despite being unemployed for three months in the previous year, the children earned enough among them to support a family of nine. They sacrificed their education for the good of the entire family. None of the children could read or write, though probably the four and five year olds would go to...

  7. 2 Widows’ Children and the Cult of True Childhood
    (pp. 43-68)

    The preceding epigraph attests to a changed attitude toward child labor, even for the poorest families. Only a few decades earlier social commentators had lauded young people’s efforts to support their families.McGuffey Eclectic Readers,popular midcentury school texts, celebrated religiosity, honesty, and hard work. Featuring young lads, often with widowed mothers, the stories rewarded their heroes’ honesty with jobs in stores, shops, and offices. They ignored the realities of child labor, however; few of these fictional protagonists worked in mills or factories or undertook the unremitting agricultural toil that characterized most young people’s employment.¹ Once education became more important...

  8. 3 The Transition from Charity to Widows’ Pensions
    (pp. 69-102)

    Local economies produced distinctive charitable regimes.¹ Maternalism—the belief that women’s presumed virtues of caring and nurturing endow them with needs and perspectives that transcend class, racial, and ethnic differences—was an important factor in the development of social-welfare policies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.² Even so, charities in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Fall River pursued widely different public-provision strategies as they responded to racial, social, and employment structures that either hindered or promoted the acceptance of maternalist values. The Fall River charity elite rejected the maternalist ethos as the basis of social-welfare policy. In Baltimore racism and...

  9. 4 The Implementation of Widows’ Pensions
    (pp. 103-135)

    As the previous chapter reveals, the values that led to the passage of widows’ pension legislation in the early twentieth century translated into varied funding regimes dependent on local economic and social structures. The implementation of these laws confirmed they could improve the material lives of poor mothers’ children, but only if legislators appropriated sufficient funds and officials disbursed them fairly. In practice, uneven allocation meant that the laws benefited some single mothers and orphans to the exclusion of many others. These diverse funding and distribution patterns presaged the Social Security Act of 1935, which expanded on existing state welfare...

  10. 5 Widows and Orphans First? The New Deal and Its Legacy
    (pp. 136-166)

    The New Deal incorporated existing patterns of racial and gender stratification into employment and welfare legislation. It distinguished between locally administered welfare programs for women and a national expansion of men’s rights as workers and family breadwinners.¹ Through the Social Security Act, the New Deal differentiated between federal programs that principally benefited white male workers and those that provided charitable assistance—at the discretion of state and county welfare officials—to people of color and white women. White men obtained rights to public jobs, to unemployment compensation, to old-age pensions, and to higher pay; African Americans and other racial minorities...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 167-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-230)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-235)