MOTHERS' AID, 1910–1919
THE CAMPAIGN for a state-funded widows' pension and the eventual passage of the Massachusetts Mothers' Aid Act in 1913 destabilized Boston's charity system. Mounted largely by middle-class women's organizations, the widows' pension movement criticized Boston's public and private relief agencies and proposed a program that would assure an “adequate” income for widowed families by providing public subsidies. The proponents of widows' pensions in Massachusetts, like their counterparts in other states, were motivated both by concern about poor women and children and by anxiety about rapid social changes related to urbanization and immigration. Resenting the criticism of these women's organizations and guarding their control over poor relief, the representatives of the public relief system and the leaders of the Protestant charities blocked the legislation for a widows' pension. In its place, they proposed a Mothers' Aid program over which public welfare officials and Protestant charity leaders would have more control. Passed into law in 1913 and administered by the Overseers of the Poor, Mothers' Aid became a highly supervised relief program for only the poorest women and children.
Despite the efforts by Boston's Protestant charity leaders to limit the impact of this new program, Mothers' Aid developed beyond their control. Its focus on the needs of poor women and children gained strong popular and political support, especially after the election of Massachusetts' first Catholic governor, in 1914. As much a product of the campaign for widows' pensions as of the final legislation, Mothers' Aid broke with traditional poor relief practices by offering a higher level of support to poor women with less of the stigma traditionally associated with public aid. As a result, enrollment in the program soared despite its association with the Overseers of the Poor.
In addition to beginning a shift toward larger public welfare programs and expenditures, Mothers' Aid also offered Boston's Catholic and Jewish charities new opportunities to influence public welfare policy. Unlike the