Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy

By Suzanne Mettler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR The Development and Implementation of Old Age Insurance and Old Age Assistance

MR. MCCORMACK. Of course, this annuity is a matter of right. MR. ALTMEYER. Yes. MR. MCCORMACK. A man 65 years of age who is on the rolls receives it without regard to his income? MR. ALTMEYER. Yes, sir. MR. MCCORMACK. And if he dies, his widow then secures what she is entitled to, what is provided for her, as a matter of right. MR. ALTMEYER. Yes, sir.

-- Hearings Relative to the Social Security Act Amendments, House of Representatives, 1939

It is my hope that when we come to passing legislation dealing with human need we can forget the section of the country from which we come . . . when it comes to old-age pensions we should realize that we are dealing with citizens of the United States. Their relief ought to be upon two bases: First, citizenship; and second, need. We in the South, the North, the East, and the West recognize today that this is one great country, not split up into 48 subdivisions in matter of human need. Let us legislate upon this basis.

--Rep. W. F. Norrell, Arkansas, Congressional Record, June 1939

Policyrnakers had barely discussed the situation of elderly women during the creation of the Social Security Act, yet during the early years of the law's implementation, women figured prominently among the beneficiaries in what became a burgeoning Old Age Assistance program. States acted quickly to take advantage of the matching federal funds available for the program. In several states, particularly in the West, the same cross- gendered, cross-class popular movements that had pressured Congress in 1935 turned their energies toward state legislatures, prompting the establishment of especially generous pensions and lax eligibility requirements. Elderly women in those states began to receive benefits on a fairly equitable basis with men.

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