Mothers' Aid programs and the professionalization of social work, they
created new agencies to which low-wage workers could apply and
tended to reduce the stigma of applying for aid. The result was a public
relief system that perhaps more closely resembled a "dole" than the British system of unemployment compensation. This fact became painfully
evident during the early years of the depression, as relief became the
only alternative for millions of unemployed workers. The irony was not
lost on Jacob Billikopf, a leader of Philadelphia's private emergency relief
organization. Speaking to the National Conference on Social Work in the
spring of 1931, Billikopf noted:
If the spirit of irony . . . were hovering over this land, he would find a source
of sardonic amusement in the spectacle of a country which for a decade has
protested that it did not want unemployment insurance because it was a dole,
and which so protests, slowly realizing that under its boasted American methods
all that it can offer to those most in need is the real dole of public or private
As Billikopf spoke, the issue of federal aid for unemployment relief was
moving to the center of the political agenda.
Anne E. Geddes, Trends in Relief Expenditures, 1910-1935 (WPA Research
Monograph No. 10) ( Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1937), 6-15.
The studies reviewed by Geddes were, in fact, the product of increasing
concern about the "mounting bill for relief." These studies and the discussion of
relief they encouraged in the journals of social work are key sources for this
chapter. See John B. Dawson, "The Significance of the Rise in Relief-Giving during the Past Five Years: Its Relationship to Increased Costs and the Adequacy of
Relief," Proceedings of the National Conference on Social Work [hereafter NCSW]
( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922), 228-236; Ralph Hurlin, "The
Mounting Bill for Relief" and Raymond Clapp, "Relief in Nineteen Northern
Cities," both in Survey 58, no. 4 ( November 15, 1926): 207-211; "When Relief
Soared," Survey 62, no. 6 ( June 15, 1929): 352. For more developed analyses of
the causes of the increase in relief see Edward E. Lynde, "The Significance of
Changing Methods in Relief Giving," The Family 8, no. 5 ( July 1927): 135-136; Linton Swift, "The Relief Problem in Family Social Work," The Family 10, no. 1
( March 1929): 3.
Walter I. Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State, 6th ed. ( New York: Free
Press, 1979), ch. 10; Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse ( New York: Basic
Books, 1986), 208. For a more negative assessment of developments in the 1920s
see James T. Patterson America's Struggle against Poverty ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 27-30.
Barbara J. Nelson, "The Origins of the Two-Channel Welfare State: Workmen's Compensation and Mothers' Aid,"
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: The American Dole:Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression.
Contributors: Jeff Singleton - Author.
Publisher: Greenwood Press.
Place of publication: Westport, CT.
Publication year: 2000.
Page number: 48.
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