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MOTHERS' PENSIONS: THE ORIGINS OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WOMEN AND THE WELFARE STATE

by MOORE, LIBBA GAGE

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation is a historical study of mothers' pensions, the first state welfare program aiding poor mothers with dependent children. The early twentieth century mothers' pensions program represented a radical departure from nineteenth century relief policies of institutionalizing the poor. It laid the foundations for the legislation put forth in the New Deal and remains the basis of present day welfare policy. Importantly, this program marked a new relationship between the family--especially mothers--and the state, and provides the historical base to the current scholarship on women and the welfare state. The analysis presented here establishes a feminist framework from which to analyze both historical and present welfare policy. Through a case study of mothers' pensions, I focus on the complex ways in which contemporary gender relations inform welfare policy, and identify how welfare programs, in turn, act to define, reinforce, and reproduce gender relations in society. First, the dissertation locates the mothers' pensions movement within the Progressive Era climate of reform and the contemporary debates on motherhood and the home during a period of destabilizing industrial growth. The study then moves to an examination of individual state mothers' pensions laws and administrative practices. Here, I look at the definitions of proper family life and gender relations embedded and promoted in the laws and implementation process. I argue that the definition of a "fit mother" was derived from white, middle class standards of motherhood and, as a condition for aid, functioned to structure the behavior, relationships, and work options of poor, often immigrant women. In a review of the current liberal and marxist literature on welfare, the dissertation concludes with an argument for a feminist analysis of welfare policy. The discussion identifies women's primary relationships with men, children, and wage-work as the key traditional sources of women's dependency and the key areas of state regulation of women's lives. Finally, I address the problem of women's independence in a capitalist, patriarchal order.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:

School:University of Massachusetts Amherst

School Location:USA - Massachusetts

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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ISBN:

Date of Publication:01/01/1986

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