Welfare Politics in Boston, 1910-1940

By Susan Traverso | Go to book overview

PREFACE

ASTUDY OF welfare policy in Boston, this book explores the influence of political institutions and social relations on welfare policy, and the interplay between politics and social relations. Moreover, the local focus of this book highlights two influences on welfare policy often overlooked, ethnicity and religion. At the turn of the twentieth century, the influx of millions of foreign immigrants to American urban centers transformed social and political relations and, thus, the context for policy formation. The social and political incorporation of foreign immigrants shaped welfare policy as much as did the efforts by Progressive reformers to enlarge welfare programs. The establishment of Catholicism and Judaism as influential American religions had a bearing on ideas about individualism and collectivity and, thus, the philosophical underpinnings of policy formation. Interwoven with these ideological shifts were ideas about gender roles, the rights of men and women, and the distribution of resources to individuals and to individuals within families. Putting aside the tendency to use gender merely as a means of dividing policy initiatives or social reformers, this book examines gender within a specific social and political context, one redefined ethnically and religiously. Viewing political structures, social relations, and ideas together, this book uncovers the ways ethnic groups used conceptions of family-based citizenship to enlarge welfare provisions.

Public policy history has intellectual assets but also particular challenges. It can teach us the importance of the social and political contexts in which policy is crafted, the influence of individuals and groups of people on policy, and the impact of policy on the larger society. Policy studies can help us understand the political and economic structures, formal and informal, and the meaning of citizenship within those structures. We can explore the characteristics and identities we use to group people—race, gender, religion, ethnicity, economic status—and the ways groups have been entitled to and

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