THE PROLONGED and widespread Depression of the 1930s put unprecedented demands on Boston's public and private relief agencies, precipitating the surrender of relief efforts by the private agencies and the permanent enlargement of public welfare operations. The expansion of public welfare during the 1930s, however, was not a deus ex machina, prompted by the economic emergency alone. It evolved out of earlier welfare practices and ongoing debates about poor relief. Moreover, the expansion of welfare during the 1930s, like earlier expansion, was gendered. Less oppositional than earlier, the welfare politics of the 1930s produced an enlarged public assistance program, focused largely on the needs of unemployed men. The narrowing of the political discussion to the unemployment crisis meant that issues related to general relief, aid for the elderly, and programs for women with dependent children went unaddressed in the local political discussion even as New Deal legislation introduced special programs for the elderly and dependent children. Thus, although the Depression and the New Deal created new welfare policies and programs, they did not produce a consensus about the purpose or function of public assistance. The political consensus that did emerge surrounded the appropriateness of aiding unemployed men with families. This represented a significant shift from the nineteenth-century vision of welfare as the site of last resort, but it did not guarantee long-term political support for social provisions to people in need. What it did do, however, was affirm the male-headed family as the ideal unit and encourage policy formation in terms of aid to families in need. 1
In many ways, the scale of the economic emergency as well as the federal intervention after 1932 differentiated the welfare policy of the 1930s from earlier program developments. The amount of public and private relief dispensed in the first three years of the Depression alone far surpassed all the relief expenditures of the previous decade. Moreover, the welfare programs
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Publication information: Book title: Welfare Politics in Boston, 1910-1940. Contributors: Susan Traverso - Author. Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press. Place of publication: Amherst, MA. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 90.
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