Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Mothers' Pensions in Chicago, 1911-29

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Exploring the origins of welfare in the context of local politics, this book examines the first welfare policy created specifically for mother-only families. Chicago initiated the largest mothers' pension programme in the United States in 1911. Evolving alongside movements for industrial justice and women's suffrage, the mothers' pension movement hoped to provide justice for mothers and protection from life's insecurities. However, local politics and public finance derailed the policy, entangling it in a social hierarchy of entitlements and exclusions. Widows were more likely to receive penisons than deserted women and unwed mothers; and African-American mothers were routinely excluded because they were proven breadwinners yet did not compete with white men for jobs. This revealing study shows how assumptions about women's roles have historically shaped public policy, and seeks to shed light on the ongoing controversy of welfare reform.