Charity, therapy and poverty : private social service in the era of public welfare

Morris, Andrew James Francis, Department of History, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia
Milkis, Sidney, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Charities and non-profit agencies have played a vital role in the expansion of the public welfare state in the United States during the twentieth century. While most historical work on the expansion of the welfare state, particularly post-World War Two, has focused on public-sector institutions, this dissertation draws in the study of non-profit agencies as central actors in the expansion and evolution of welfare policy and practice. It analyzes the transformation of American charity, from institutions that at times opposed the expansion of public welfare, to ones that promoted, defended, and depended on public welfare. Rather than seeing voluntary-state relationships as zero-sum, many nonprofits realized that the expansion of the postwar welfare state would be instrumental to the vitality of their own organizations.

This dissertation traces the evolution of charitable institutions known in the 1920s as "Associated Charities" or "Family Societies" to organizations known in the postwar era as "Family Service" agencies. This transformation encompassed their shift from dispensing material assistance to dispensing social services. Even prior to the Depression, such agencies had begun to see the limits of the voluntary sector and to argue for a more robust public welfare state. The New Deal made that a reality, and private agencies, which could no longer compete financially with the state, began to emphasize meeting new needs. After the war, their professional social workers increasingly provided family and marital counseling. This dissertation pays particular attention to this development at the local level, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware.

To maintain their focus on emotional, rather than financial, needs, family service agencies became defenders of a new public-private welfare regime that left material assistance in the hands of the public sector, and carved a niche for inter-personal, "intangible" assistance in the private sector. Moderate and conservative local elites-as boards of directors of such agenciess--came to see the value of maintaining public assistance. They also helped promote the legitimacy of social services as effective tools in meeting social problems. Though they defended welfare, voluntary agencies promoted an emerging method of therapeutic helping that stressed their historic commitment to solving problems at the level of the individual.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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