The Case of Mothers' Pensions in Memphis
Thus Tennessee, in spite of her two [mothers' pension] laws, has pensions available in only four counties, and outside of Shelby County, no appropriations of large size and no machinery for administration. What happens to women and children in the other 92 counties?-- Mabel Brown Ellis, 1920530
In the previous chapter, we argued that the inability of child labor activists to get control over agricultural child labor limited mothers' pension programs in the early-enacting southern states to the city jurisdictions where child labor laws might be more easily enforced. In the present chapter, we will apply this theory by doing a plausibility probe on the state of Tennessee. Tennessee has been chosen for this study, at least partially, because it seems to follow the pattern indicated. The state enacted a mothers' pension law as early as 1915 despite its very high level of child labor, but this law was a permissive one. In practice, only one jurisdiction in the entire state, that including the city of Memphis, actually implemented a mothers' pension program.
What explains this lonely achievement? In creating an explanation, we have found that we need a two-stage argument to explain what was going on. First of all, it does appear -- as we shall see -- that farmers displayed the same disinterest in and animosity toward child labor legislation evident in Oklahoma and throughout the South in general. Demands for child labor, especially in cotton and tobacco production, meant that controls over child labor throughout the rural parts of Tennessee were minimal and that en-