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Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in United States

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Perdana

    A really amazing original research and such a tour-de-force take on the issue that is prevalent in the US: where should we trace the social provision in the US? Who involved? Whose values? The gender dimension is really solid and groundbreaking to see women's involvement, regardless of their ideology, in the governance of the state. The only thing that holds me back from giving 5 it's because of the thickness :-) #LazyPhDStudent

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Primiani

    Really great original research about an area of American social policy prior to the Great Depression/New Deal 30s that I did not know about and that I feel is probably glanced over generally. However, I feel like there was a lot of repetition in this book and the author could have made this a lot shorter instead of hiding behind the idea of "whoops I wrote two books instead of one! Half women half Civil War pension conception analysis".

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Great argument. Not the most exciting book, but certainly seminal scholarship that was followed by an array of phenomenal scholarship considering maternalism vis-a-vis the welfare state/New Deal.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    An amazing door-stopper of a book that investigates the surprising origins of the welfare state in America. Skocpol's main, and best known, contribution, is pointing to Civil War pensions as a kind of early 20th century welfare policy (by 1910, about 18% of all people over 65 were covered by these broadly defined "veterans" pensions, and the program constituted about 1/3 of the entire federal budget (!)). But Skocpol also goes much beyond that important insight, for instance, highlighting the di An amazing door-stopper of a book that investigates the surprising origins of the welfare state in America. Skocpol's main, and best known, contribution, is pointing to Civil War pensions as a kind of early 20th century welfare policy (by 1910, about 18% of all people over 65 were covered by these broadly defined "veterans" pensions, and the program constituted about 1/3 of the entire federal budget (!)). But Skocpol also goes much beyond that important insight, for instance, highlighting the differences between US and British trade union movements in lobbying for "social legislation" (the Brit unions were more industrial and less craft based, and also more tied to export trades. The US movement was tied to local industries (printing, construction, streetcars) and was therefore less interested in attaching itself to the state. Of course US unions and Gompers also had to deal with anti-labor injunctions and recalcitrant courts). Skocpol also looks at the surprisingly successful lobbying efforts of women's groups in the pre-voting era. Groups like the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) and the Congress of Mothers (post-1924 it became the ubiquitous PTA) were able to successfully lobby for wage and hour laws for women, a Children's Bureau in the Federal government, and state-granted "widow's pensions," which became AFDC in the New Deal. Their moral suasion and political organizing had real power, even before the 19th amendment. Sometimes the book rambles, and later in the book Skocpol spends less time on the international comparisons that make the first half so interesting, but overall, its a great look at the forces and lobbies that shaped early American welfare.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    A very comprehensive account why America does not have a social welfare system like in Europe. Also a very interesting arguement between paternalist and materalist social policy in America aka why labor lost for men but why women had success for their own and children. I would recommend for anyone who ever questions why the United States does not a have complete social insurance policy for its citzens. Only one flaw though, the author does not trace the evolution of judicary ideology towards the A very comprehensive account why America does not have a social welfare system like in Europe. Also a very interesting arguement between paternalist and materalist social policy in America aka why labor lost for men but why women had success for their own and children. I would recommend for anyone who ever questions why the United States does not a have complete social insurance policy for its citzens. Only one flaw though, the author does not trace the evolution of judicary ideology towards the 14 amendant concerning free contracts. Bummer, but it would have made sense to the reader, insteading making the surpreme court look sexist first(which it was anyway) and then second this big lurking monster which comes out on high to crush little legislation for the benfit of Americans. Ranting aside, tiss a good book for policy wonks!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Skocpol covered the decline of the Civil War Pension system during the late 19th century, and the rise of pensions for mothers and widows in the 1910-20s. It's a fascinating look at a very different political climate, with patronage rather than programmaticly oriented political parties, and a very weak and amateur Federal government. This book has a strong theoretical explanation of how women excluded from the vote managed to exercise political power through moral education and a unique concepti Skocpol covered the decline of the Civil War Pension system during the late 19th century, and the rise of pensions for mothers and widows in the 1910-20s. It's a fascinating look at a very different political climate, with patronage rather than programmaticly oriented political parties, and a very weak and amateur Federal government. This book has a strong theoretical explanation of how women excluded from the vote managed to exercise political power through moral education and a unique conception of the public role of Motherhood. This book is also mind-numbingly dense and detail oriented, and covers policies which left no standing institutional legacy, so while a classic in feminist history, not something I can really recommend to the layperson.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    This is a praise-worthy and insightful examination of the transformation of social welfare for Civil War Veterans into a uniquely materialistic legislation that benefited women and children. Furthermore, Skocpol explores American resistance to other forms of social welfare, such as those contemporaneously popular in Europe, that benefited disabled workers and the elderly. At times this book can make for dull reading, and it is perhaps also longer than necessary. However, it remains an important This is a praise-worthy and insightful examination of the transformation of social welfare for Civil War Veterans into a uniquely materialistic legislation that benefited women and children. Furthermore, Skocpol explores American resistance to other forms of social welfare, such as those contemporaneously popular in Europe, that benefited disabled workers and the elderly. At times this book can make for dull reading, and it is perhaps also longer than necessary. However, it remains an important work of social history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Boring, boring, boring. If you want to know all about legislation to protect mothers and soldiers, get it. Otherwise, avoid this book like the plague.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tamar

  10. 4 out of 5

    Charles

  11. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ania

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claire Haeg

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  15. 4 out of 5

    Philip Cohen

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amber Manning

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bri

  18. 4 out of 5

    TS Allen

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sean Dennerlein

  20. 4 out of 5

    N. N.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  22. 5 out of 5

    Drew Pinkley

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jake Parent

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Dawes

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Groves

  28. 4 out of 5

    Allison Lange

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jlocke

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lee S.

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