'Employable Mothers' and 'Suitable Work': A Re-Evaluation of Welfare and Wage-Earning for Women in the Twentieth-Century United States

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U.S. welfare policy has yet to adequately address a mother's two work roles – care-giving and wage-earning. These two responsibilities have produced conflicting policy responses, sometimes within the same historical period. Citizens and legislators have raised concerns about mothers who worked too much outside their homes; or conversely, mothers who did not work enough to support their families. These contradictions are reflected in the language and practice of welfare policy. During the twentieth century, programs such as mothers' pensions gained public support by promising to subsidize some mothers to raise their children. That language changed after World War II to reflect an expectation that women must enter the workforce to earn, as in the workfare initiatives of the late twentieth century. In contrast to the shift in language over time, the practice of encouraging wage-earning has demonstrated remarkable continuity.


Mothers; Mothers' pensions; Public welfare; Public welfare--Government policy; Social service; Women; Working mothers; Working mothers--Services for; Working mothers--Social conditions


Gender and Sexuality | Public Policy | Social Policy | Social Welfare | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


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