PLACING WELFARE HISTORY IN BOSTON
IN THIS BOOK I trace Boston's social welfare history in its own terms. In doing so, I resist the more common approach, namely, the measuring of welfare policy against abstract notions of statecraft, whether conservative or liberal. Between 1910 and 1940, Boston's charity system was transformed into a public assistance program as the responsibility for poor relief shifted from the city's Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish private charities to the public welfare department. The result was a broader, though still fragmented, safety net for the city's poor and a reconfiguration of public and private responsibility. As the dates indicate, the move toward enlarged public relief in Boston began not with the introduction of New Deal initiatives during the 1930s but, instead, over the twenty years preceding the passage of federal welfare legislation. During those decades, local political and social conflict reshaped the city's welfare policies and programs. The “welfare politics” that emerged during this period are the focus of this book.
My contention that the social welfare system that emerged in Boston between 1910 and 1940 was fragmented and inadequate supports interpretations of American social policy which highlight the limited public commitment to aid for the poor. However, rather than suggesting that this outcome represented a falling short of some ideal welfare state model, I argue that Boston's incomplete welfare system was the product of the social conflict, cultural dissimilarities, and antagonistic politics which characterized that urban center in the first half of the twentieth century. The politics surrounding public welfare grew out of the social and political changes taking place in Boston as the city's immigrant-stock population became a majority and as ethnic politicians, predominately Irish, gained control of city government. Played out in the formal political arena and among the city's private charities, the welfare politics of this period challenged the Protestant leaders and Yankee politicians whose long family ties to the city provided them social, economic, and political advantage. The political struggle over welfare