The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Myth of Voluntarism

In early February of 1931 President Herbert Hoover, responding to demands for more aggressive federal action in the deepening economic emergency, described his view of the American system of emergency relief in the following way:

The basis of successful relief in national distress is to mobilize and organize the infinite number of agencies of relief help in the community. This has been the American way of relieving distress among our people and the country is successfully meeting its problem in the American way today. 1

The president went on to say that local governments might provide public funds to assist the victims of economic and natural disasters. Even federal aid might be needed to prevent starvation. However, these were secondary lines of defense to be utilized only in extreme emergencies. Hoover clearly was arguing that private relief funded by voluntary contributions was the "American way" to deal with poverty and unemployment, far superior to a tax-funded "dole." Speaking before a gathering of Red Cross officials in April, the president proclaimed that "a voluntary deed by a man impressed with the sense of responsibility and brotherhood of man is infinitely more precious to our national spirit than a thousandfold poured from the treasury of the government." Several days earlier Hoover had praised Philadelphia's emergency relief committee for financing aid to the unemployed "through the private generosity of the people of Philadelphia." 2

Hoover's relief ideology, often called "voluntarism," was once viewed by historians as perhaps the prime example of his fundamental conser-

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The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State 1
  • Notes 18
  • Chapter 2 - The "Rising Tide of Relief" 27
  • Notes 48
  • Chapter 3 - The Myth of Voluntarism 57
  • Notes 82
  • Chapter 4 - The National Dole 93
  • Notes 120
  • Chapter 5 - Work Relief 131
  • Notes 160
  • Chapter 6 - Ending the Dole as We Knew It 173
  • Notes 199
  • Conclusion 209
  • Notes 217
  • Appendix - Relief Estimates and the Children's Bureau Series 221
  • Notes 224
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 239
  • About the Author 245
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