Trends in Social Work, 1874-1956: A History Based on the Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work

By Frank J. Bruno | Go to book overview

18
MOTHERS' PENSIONS

THE PRIOR CLAIM of the widow on relief, whether public or private, noted in earlier chapters, softened the almost rigid theory that relief is injurious and should be granted only in the almshouse. The plight of a mother left dependent by the death of her husband opened the heart, if only slightly the purse strings, of a nation beginning to be self-conscious of social causes and results. Logically, the next step would have been to consider the mother and her children as a preferential class of relief recipents, but some influence never identified ignored the mother and singled out the children for aid. The inference is almost inescapable that in some way the French movement of bonuses for children influenced the first legislation. Nowhere in the history of American welfare before 1910 had there been any indication of a philosophy that children living in their own homes were to be assisted apart from their parents.

The report of the first White House Conference on Child Welfare in 1909, from which the movement for mothers' pensions received inspiration, stated that "homelife is the highest and finest product of civilization," and on that basis it made the plea that no home should ever be broken up for reasons of poverty alone. Yet in 1911 when the first legal provisions were passed in Missouri, and the same year in Illinois, they were for grants to children alone; the mother and the home she sought to maintain were ignored in these early provisions, so far as recognition of their claim for assistance was concerned. In six states and the District of Columbia, this shortsighted policy has not

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