The experiences of widows and their children during the Progressive Era and the New Deal depended on differences in local economies and values. How did these widely varied experiences impact the origins of the welfare state?
S. J. Kleinberg delves into the question by comparing widows' lives in three industrial cities with differing economic, ethnic, and racial bases. Government in Fall River, Massachusetts, saw employment as a solution to widows' poverty and as a result drastically limited public charity. In Pittsburgh, widows received sympathetic treatment. Few jobs existed for them or their children; indeed, the jobs for men were concentrated in "widowmaking" industries like steel and railroading. With a large African American population and a diverse economy that relied on inexpensive child and female labor, Baltimore limited funds for public services. African Americans adapted by establishing their own charitable institutions.
A fascinating comparative study, Widows and Orphans First offers a one-of-a-kind look at social welfare policy for widows and the role of children in society during a pivotal time in American history.