This study has focused on a crucial episode in the history of the American welfare state, the expansion and federalization of relief from 1930 through 1935. I have argued that the traditional framework that interprets these developments primarily in terms of the depression and the New Deal ignores crucial features of welfare policy during this era. It ignores the significant expansion of relief-giving prior to the depression and the impact of efforts to modernize and professionalize welfare services during the 1920s. The conventional wisdom conveys the impression that most local relief efforts were characterized by a traditional voluntarism during the Hoover regime, when, in fact, there was a significant expansion of public welfare spending culminating in the first federal welfare program, the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1935. Not only did the ERCA finance most relief nationwide during the winter of 1933-1934, but Hoover's Reconstruction Finance Corporation was forced to play a much more active administrative role than has generally been assumed.
There was no great expansion of federal relief spending during the first months of the New Deal. While the Federal Emergency Relief Administration embraced a more aggressive regulatory role than that of its predecessor, its primary goal was to reduce the national relief caseload and federal spending role (while raising relief standards). Indeed, the New Deal was almost as hostile to the "dole" as was the Hoover administration. Yet, as numerous historians have stressed, this hostility led to unprecedented experimentation with forms of public employment, beginning with the CWA and culminating in the Works Progress Administration. Still, the work relief policy of 1935 was not an inevitable