Class, Community, and Welfare
IN THE WINTER of 1905, a brutal storm hit the Southeast. Snow and ice, a rare occurrence in Atlanta, blanketed the city for a full week. While a few cheery ice skaters enjoyed themselves in Piedmont Park, the storm forced businesses and schools to close; downed communication, electrical, and transportation systems; and caused widespread misery among Atlanta’s poorer populations, whose shabby housing and meager incomes offered few resources for dealing with the storm.1 Joseph Logan, a young Atlanta lawyer, hoped to organize the various and often overlapping charity efforts being extended to storm victims through the creation of a citywide clearinghouse for relief. Logan was disturbed that “there had been little or no cooperation, no intelligent investigation, [and] no system of records.”2 The work of Logan’s new Associated Charities to remedy this disorganization was part of a growing trend toward “scientific charity,” a movement designed to bring efficiency and standardization to philanthropic efforts that began in the Northeast in the 1870s but reached Atlanta only in the winter of 1905.3
The Associated Charities’ goal of orchestrating and coordinating relief never fully materialized in these early years. The dire need of a growing number of people seeking aid and the lack of other organizations able to take on new cases forced the Associated Charities into the business of direct relief. Labeled by a contemporary as the “mother of most of the social work in Atlanta,” the Associated Charities became the city’s largest source of direct relief.4 Most important for this book, however, is the way in which this middle-class dominated agency went about giving relief. The Associated Charities, and essentially all Atlanta relief organizations run by the middle classes of both races, had developed by 1909 or so a set of welfare practices focused almost entirely on poor married women. Charity officers and, later, social workers primarily conceived of these women as mothers, caretakers of the family home, and the mainstays of working-class neighborhoods. Even as Atlanta’s social welfare network began to professionalize in the 1910s, female clients still dominated in black and white agencies alike.
Women proved a useful, if not ideal, vehicle for reaching and reshaping the