Social Welfare and
in Historical Perspective
The revolutionary policy developments ushered in during the post–welfare era are best scrutinized in light of social welfare history. In this chapter, we examine the contours of American social welfare as it evolved during the past four centuries. In surveying this historical terrain,1 we pay special attention to the place of religious benevolence in poverty relief. To be sure, our one–chapter treatment of such an expansive period does not enable us to render as detailed an account as that provided by excellent volumes and essays2 devoted exclusively to the history of American social welfare and religious benevolence. Nevertheless, this chapter highlights how key social changes have affected public assistance and religious benevolence in America. Our overview is designed to highlight historical issues that are germane to our investigation—including the role of race, denominationalism, and shifting standards of deservingness in distinguishing the worthy poor from their unworthy counterparts. As our historical rendering makes clear, contemporary welfare debates are a reworking of issues with a long history in American social life. In the end, a keen understanding of complex historical processes enables us to scrutinize more adequately the prospects for faith–based initiatives in twenty–first-century America.
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Elizabethan Poor Law, first adopted and applied throughout England in 1601, grew out of a series of tensions rooted in remarkable social