Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935

Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935

Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935

Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935

Synopsis

In this book, Muncy explains the continuity of white, middle-class, American female reform activity between the Progressive era and the New Deal. She argues that during the Progressive era, female reformers built an interlocking set of organizations that attempted to control child welfare policy. Within this policymaking body, female progressives professionalized their values, bureaucratized their methods, and institutionalized their reforming networks. To refer to the organizational structure embodying these processes, the book develops the original concept of a female dominion in the otherwise male empire of policymaking. At the head of this dominion stood the Children's Bureau in the federal Department of Labor. Muncy investigates the development of the dominion and its particular characteristics, such as its monopoly over child welfare and its commitment to public welfare, and shows how it was dependent on a peculiarly female professionalism. By exploring that process, this book illuminates the relationship between professionalization and reform, the origins and meaning of Progressive reform, and the role of gender in creating the American welfare state.

Excerpt

"I can hardly believe I have lived to see this day," exclaimed veteran reformer Molly Dewson in response to New Deal legislation. "It's the culmination of what us girls and some of you boys have been working for for so long it's just dazzling." Indeed, Dewson and a host of her female contemporaries had inaugurated their reforming careers during the Progressive era (1890‐ 1920), continued to fight their reforming battles through the 1920s—a decade that one activist called the "tepid, torpid years"—and stood ready with their program when the Great Depression bent Americans once again toward reform. This book seeks to explain that continuity of reform activism among America's middle-class white women.

Previous historians have confirmed Dewson's judgment that female New Dealers had been hawking their agenda for a long time before Franklin Roosevelt's administration finally bought it.The earliest of these was Clarke Chambers, who showed that the 1920s were not tepid or torpid for activists in select voluntary organizations.For them, the decade provided time to fashion a reform program bound for popularity in the 1930s. Published in 1963, Chambers's book was full of women, but because it predated the renewal of feminism in the late 1960s, it did not ask why women were especially prominent among the diminished numbers of activists in the 1920s.Not until feminists swept into academe and offered gender as a primary category of historical analysis did a historian, J. Stanley Lemons, explicitly argue that women in particular sustained their commitment to reform through the 1920s. Susan Ware subsequently supplemented the evidence and enriched the argument in her study of female policymakers in the Roosevelt administration and again in her biography of Molly Dewson. Indeed, the trend among women's historians in the 1980s was to see the New Deal as, in part, a culmination of female reform activity since the Progressive era.

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