It is a commonplace that the United States lagged behind the countries of Western Europe in developing modern social policies. But, as Theda Skocpol shows in this startlingly new historical analysis, the United States actually pioneered generous social spending for many of its elderly, disabled, and dependent citizens. During the late nineteenth century, competitive party politics in American democracy led to the rapid expansion of benefits for Union Civil War veterans and their families.
Some Americans hoped to expand veterans' benefits into pensions for all of the needy elderly and social insurance for workingmen and their families. But such hopes went against the logic of political reform in the Progressive Era. Generous social spending faded along with the Civil War generation.
Instead, the nation nearly became a unique maternalist welfare state as the federal government and more than forty states enacted social spending, labor regulations, and health education programs to assist American mothers and children. Remarkably, as Skocpol shows, many of these policies were enacted even before American women were granted the right to vote. Banned from electoral politics, they turned their energies to creating huge, nation-spanning federations of local women's clubs, which collaborated with reform-minded professional women to spur legislative action across the country.
Blending original historical research with political analysis, Skocpol shows how governmental institutions, electoral rules, political parties, and earlier public policies combined to determine both the opportunities and the limits within which social policies were devised and changed by reformers and politically active social groups over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
By examining afresh the institutional, cultural, and organizational forces that have shaped U.S. social policies in the past, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers challenges us to think in new ways about what might be possible in the American future.
A monumental study that will likely become a classic in the history of the modern welfare state.
Complex, richly detailed…and grounded in extensive archival research… [Skocpol] has demonstrated that the polity and political institutions do matter… [A] powerful book that will surely generate a great deal of new research and writing about the history of social provision in the United States.
Recognition that a kind of welfare state emerged even in America has hardly stilled the need to ask, once again, why the American variant came out so differently from those in western Europe. Skocpol’s newest book… brings to these issues as powerful and iconoclastic an intellect as the historical sciences possess. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers belongs on a shelf of social policy history classics.
Protecting Soldiers and Mothers is doubly important because it gives us new facts to think about and new perspectives within which to think about them… Skocpol’s research is so original and thorough and her critical intelligence is so strong…that her book will become the necessary starting point for all who study the evolution of social welfare policies in the United States.
Invites readers to remember a halcyon period in women’s politics when—both in spite and because of women’s formal political exclusion—extensively organized, politically active women united around motherhood and claimed a place for women in social policy.
Protecting Soldiers and Mothers is a landmark book. Its unified argument and wealth of detail will be of compelling interest for political scientists and historians, theorists of the welfare state, social policy-makers, and feminists… By means of searching, consistent, grounded investigation of the ways that policies are made (or are not made) in the United States—along with lively, well-informed use of comparative national data—the book ruptures the ‘inevitability’ model of welfare state development and opens the door to new and different policy making in America’s future.
Skocpol’s book is a landmark contribution to the history and politics of American social policy. She has reclaimed a major and forgotten period that does much to explain why the American welfare state took the shape it did.
Theda Skocpol’s Protecting Soldiers and Mothers will be regarded as one of the most significant books—perhaps the single most significant book—on the development of the American welfare state.
By demonstrating the pivotal role of women’s voluntary organizations as well as individual women leaders in constructing early twentieth century social welfare policy, Skocpol not only rewrites the history of social welfare but gender history as well.
- 736 pages
- 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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