A Multicultural Chronology of Welfare Policy and Social Work in the United States

By Plait, Anthony M.; Cooreman, Jenifer L. | Social Justice, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

A Multicultural Chronology of Welfare Policy and Social Work in the United States


Plait, Anthony M., Cooreman, Jenifer L., Social Justice


Introduction

THIS CHRONOLOGY IS DESIGNED TO INTRODUCE FUTURE SOCIAL WORKERS TO significant events, policies, people, and publications in the history of welfare policy and social work in the United States. It does not provide a linear, agreed-upon listing of "great men" and "great women" of social work; nor does it follow the traditional periodization of social work history or present a single interpretation of landmark policies. Rather, it reflects Raphael Samuel's understanding of history as "an argument about the past." Drawing upon the richly complex literature that has been generated by post-1960s historians, this chronology reflects the debates and conflicts that have taken place about the effectiveness and equity of welfare policies, about the ethical and unethical conduct of the profession, and about whose ideas and interests speak for social work.

Issues of race and racism, ethnicity, class ,gender, and sexuality are central to the chronology's perspective. Accomplishments are noted--see, for example. the pension program passed by Congress in 1862 to support Civil War veterans and the Works Progress Administration created in 1935 to provide jobs for unemployed artists and musicians. Yet also note how welfare policy works for different groups. For example, the 60% of African American, female workers who were left out of the New Deal (see items in 1935 and 1940), the gays and lesbians who were barred from federal jobs by the Eisenhower government (1950 and 1953), or the working poor who are ignored by the welfare system today (1990). Also explore how new welfare policies in the 1990s have their roots in old ideas, such as New York's House of Correction (1736) and Buffalo's Charity Organization Society (1877). Compare Thomas Cooper's A Manual of Political Economy (1834) with Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve (1994). How much has changed in assumptio ns about welfare and poverty?

The primary focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries, though some references are made to earlier periods. All entries are cited and a bibliography is provided for further investigation. You are encouraged to explore the readings that provide the information for the entries. Use the chronology as a guide and summary, not as a substitute for in-depth understanding and analysis. Also ask yourself: What has been left out of this chronology? What should be added?

Chronology

16th Century

1523

Martin Luther publishes a relief scheme for Leisnig, Saxony, prohibiting begging and providing for a common chest aid to the weak, old, poor householders who "had honorably labored at their craft or in agriculture," but no longer had the means to support themselves (Piven and Cloward, 1971: 9).

1529

Food riots erupt in Lyons, France (Ibid.: 10).

1530

German Emperor Charles the Fifth issues an edict outlawing beggary and directing each municipality to maintain its poor (Ibid.: 9).

1531

The English Parliament passes an act decreeing that local officials must register all individuals deemed indigent and provide them with a document authorizing their right to beg. Almsgiving to unauthorized beggars is prohibited (Ibid.: 15).

1534

The Aumone-Generale, comprised of churchmen, notables, and merchants, is established in Lyons, France, as the central body whose responsibility is to establish a list of all needy persons and provide relief and medical care. Begging is prohibited (Ibid.: 11).

1536

Henry VIII of England passes an act requiring local parishes to take care of their destitute and create a procedure for the collection and administration of donations to the poor (Ibid.: 15).

1534

Henry VIII of England passes a law attempting to limit the number of sheep in any one holding to inhibit the displacement of farm workers and forestall disorder (Ibid.: 14).

1572

England enacts the Elizabethan Poor Laws establishing a local tax to finance the care of paupers. …

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