An American Experiment in Paid Motherhood: The Implementation of Mothers’ Pensions in early Twentieth-Century Chicago

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Gender & History





First page number:


Last page number:



Public policy issues for women in the early twentieth century were shaped by debates over the best way to resolve gender inequalities. Should policymakers view all women as potential mothers, industrial partners, or individuals with rights comparable to men?’ A wide range of politicized and organized women brought the specific problems of women and children to the public’s attention as they sought the aid of government to redress the inequitable treatment of women in the family and the workplace. Within this context, a specific policy for impoverished mothers developed. Progressive social workers and women’s organizations linked the problems of poverty in mother-only families to the dual role of homemaker and wage-earner which these women adopted out of necessity. Supporters advocated a policy which became known as mothers’ pensions or mothers’ aid and justified the new public expenditures with arguments as varied as ‘paid motherhood’, cost effective family rehabilitation, or a new program for social justice. In brief, the policy proposed to supplement the family income of mother-only families so that women might raise their children at home rather than disrupt the family by placing the children in state institutions. Illinois passed the first statewide legislation in 1911, but within ten years forty states had approved similar laws.


Low-income single mothers; Mothers; Mothers' pensions; Sex differences; Sex discrimination; Sex role; Single mothers; Single mothers--Economic conditions; Single mothers--Services for; Women


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




Use Find in Your Library, contact the author, or interlibrary loan to garner a copy of the item. Publisher policy does not allow archiving the final published version. If a post-print (author's peer-reviewed manuscript) is allowed and available, or publisher policy changes, the item will be deposited.

UNLV article access

Search your library