Welfare Politics in Boston, 1910-1940

By Susan Traverso | Go to book overview

4
PRIVATE CHARITIES, 1920–1929

THE ENLARGEMENT of public welfare that sent shock waves through Boston politics reverberated among the city's private charities as well. With the introduction of Mothers' Aid in 1913 and the enlargement of Dependent Aid during the twenties, public assistance became available to a larger number of the city's poor, many of whom had previously relied on private charity. As a result, the city's private charities began to move away from their own relief operations and recast their programs as “family welfare. This process began the restructuring of poor relief as primarily a public function and pushed private charities in the direction of social services. In some ways, the expanding role of the public poor relief program diminished differences among the city's private charities as they began to define themselves, not against one another, but in contrast to the city's public welfare operations. In more important ways, however, significant differences persisted among the city's Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant charities, as they renegotiated their positions in relation to an expanded public welfare program. During the 1920s, Boston's private charities responded differently to the enlargement of public relief operations, and they took different steps as they moved away from relief and toward family services. Moreover, they held different views on the family and on gender relations within families as well as different ideas about the types of services that families needed. 1

The varied responses of Boston's private charities to the enlargement of public welfare in the 1920s suggest that the realignment of public and private welfare was more complex than the standard interpretations have suggested. First, while the emerging professionalization of social work affected the realignment of public and private welfare, its effects were uneven on the local level. Throughout the 1920s, private charities remained under the direction of men and women with no formal training in social work, and the practices associated with this new field, specifically casework and psychi

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