Even before they could vote, women advocated for reforms to improve the lives of mothers and children. Many marshaled support for “mothers’ pensions” to provide state assistance for widows and single mothers so that neither they, nor their children, would be forced to work. These campaigns challenged claims that the desperate circumstances of single mothers could be attributed to character defects or personal irresponsibility. By 1915, seventeen states had introduced some form of assistance for widows and other mothers in need. However, mothers’ pensions were often not available to women of color: in states where they were available, an estimated 96% of families receiving benefits were white.
Minoff, Elsa. “The Racist Roots of Work Requirements,” Center for the Study of Social Policy (Feb. 2020), p. 12. See also Linda Gordon, Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890-1935. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Galleries & Exhibits
- 11865-1925: Hunger in the Industrial City
- 21929-1940: America in Crisis and Recovery
- 31945-1965: WWII and the Paradoxes of the Postwar Era
- 41955-1980: The Fight for the Right to Food
- 51975-1996: The Unmaking of the Great Society
- 61997-Present: How It Is — And How It Should Be