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Class, gender, and generation: Mothers' Aid in Massachusetts and the political economy of welfare reform

Dawn Marie Saunders, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Mothers' Aid was an early twentieth-century state mothers' pension program. In this dissertation, Mothers' Aid presents a focal point for examining the economic valuation of parenting, as reflected in the administration of and reform of welfare policies in the United States. Following a discussion of changing economic and familial roles of women and children in the U.S. prior to the Progressive period, Massachusetts' Mothers' Aid is shown to exemplify Progressive-era "maternalist" policies aimed at preserving traditional family forms, while being responsive to local concerns regarding potential employment opportunities for family members. Drawing data from archival Massachusetts welfare archives, a regression model demonstrates the articulation of Mothers' Aid administration with characteristics of recipients (marital status, children's ages) and local economies (industrial base, secular and cyclical employment trends for women and children). What emerges is a view of the dynamics of welfare administration as reflecting evolving societal standards regarding work and family life for women and children within a changing economy. The dissertation concludes with an examination of similar dynamics in subsequent welfare history at the national level (from the New Deal to current welfare reform debates). In particular, current workfare proposals, which seek to integrate adult welfare recipients fully into wage work in exchange for benefits, are contrasted against Progressive-era policies, which granted an economic valuation to parenting work, in its own right, in the form of regular benefits.

Subject Area

Economic history|Welfare|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Saunders, Dawn Marie, "Class, gender, and generation: Mothers' Aid in Massachusetts and the political economy of welfare reform" (1994). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9420686.