Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare

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9780029124857: Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare

When Americans denounce "welfare", most are thinking of the program of aid for single mothers and their children--the only program of the Social Security Act to become stigmatized. Gordon uncovers the tangled roots of competing visions of welfare and shows that welfare reform can only work if it recognizes that single motherhood is an enduring aspect of contemporary life.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A scholarly but resonant analysis of ``the cultural meanings of the welfare system,'' probing the mistaken assumptions behind fundamental policies forged during the 1930s. Beginning in 1890, writes Gordon (History/Univ. of Wisconsin), single mothers were portrayed as a symptom and cause of social decay; unlike today, however, the situation was seen as a temporary misfortune that usually befell white immigrants, often widows. Middle-class women's groups helped to create ``mother's aid'' for the deserving poor; the author calls this policy (a forerunner of the current Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, program) ``maternalist,'' rooted in the subordination of women in domestic roles. But there were other points of view: Black women activists, notes Gordon (Woman's Body, Woman's Right, 1976), had less distance from those they wished to aid; they emphasized universal education and health programs rather than charity. The thinkers behind Social Security, all white and nearly all male, focused their lens on money and jobs for men, even though they knew it was a fallacy to consider men the sole supporters and protectors of women. During the New Deal, social movements ``valorized'' the elderly and unemployed, ignoring single mothers; the women's movement was quiet, and the lack of African-American political power meant that blacks' views on welfare were ignored. Gordon argues that the Social Security Act of 1935 created generous programs for the elderly and unemployed that operated under a single, federal standard; she cites a range of factors, including accommodations for southern employers and bureaucratic infighting, leading to the stratified, state-administered Aid to Dependent Children (later AFDC). Gordon doesn't enter the current policy debate, but she does note trenchantly that in order to fight inequality we must make such entitlements as corporate tax breaks and home mortgage deductions as ``visible as welfare.'' The arguments get complicated, but this is challenging history--and a goad to clarify modern-day rhetoric. -- Copyright 1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

As the debate over welfare reform heats up, University of Wisconsin history professor Gordon offers a thoughtful analysis of the roots of welfare's "negative charge." Combining social, economic, political, and intellectual history, Gordon probes the roles of social workers and settlement houses, the Department of Labor's Children's Bureau and African American women's clubs, the crisis of the Depression, and 1930s social movements in building a stratified welfare state. Gordon provides a gendered perspective--tracing the role of women in establishing assistance models as well as the effects of actual and alternative approaches on women and children receiving aid--but stresses the interactions of race, class, and gender, and of political realities with philosophical ideals. Most notably, Gordon points up the "maternalism" of the women's social work network, and the commitment of most welfare advocates--male and female--to an already outdated "family-wage" concept that assumed and reinforced women's economic dependence. Pitied but Not Entitled is a vivid, enlightening exploration of the causes and consequences of unexamined assumptions. Mary Carroll

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