"Rationality & Welfare: Public Discussion of Poverty and Social Insurance in the United States 1875-1935"
by Professor Theron Schlabach
Chapter 3: Social Workers: Professionalism, Reliefism, and Passivity
In the three and one-half decades from the beginning of the twentieth century to the passage of the Social Security Act, social workers as a group were not among the opponents of social insurance, but neither were they very firm supporters. To be sure, at the turn of the century charity workers were fostering some discussions and trends that harbingered a more institutional approach to welfare, and for a brief period at the climax of American progressivism social workers included social insurance in a grand reform platform. Yet at the same time the agents of welfare became increasingly preoccupied with professionalism, and built their professionalism quite largely around ideas that harked back to the relational approach of COS days. By the 1920s the new professionalism dominated the social work field and, moreover, coincided with new methods of co-ordinating private efforts, methods which recalled COS organizing techniques. The severe hard times of the early 1930s brought the trends of the 1920s to a halt, but also brought welfare problems so enormous that social workers scarcely found time to think through the problems of engineering a careful, deliberate, well-rationalized set of social insurance institutions. And so, while social workers were seldom outright opponents of social insurance, at no stage were they effective supporters.
By the decade just prior to World War I, charity workers were rapidly and consciously professionalizing their field and becoming social workers.1 The volunteer friendly visitor yielded to the paid case worker, universities provided new courses, departments, and even schools of social work, and in 1917 the National Conference of Charities and Correction changed its hoary name to National Conference of Social Work. In one way, the professionalism reflected the increased institutionalization of American society. Yet the social workers did not often adopt the habit of looking at welfare in terms of carefully structured, institutional devices.
In the first years of the new century, the attitudes of charity workers toward social insurance were ambiguous. Charity workers almost invariably supported workmen's compensation, and listened respectfully when Henderson and others suggested contributory systems to cover sickness, old age, disability, and unemployment. But their response was quite cool toward non-contributory, or gratuitious, systems, such as the old age pensions that Boston welfare reformer Edward Everett Hale suggested in 1903, or that England enacted in 1908. And they were unsure as to government's proper role: a 1902-1907 NCCC committee on workingmen's insurance chaired by Henderson (and made up of professors and businessmen as well as social workers) recommended only that workingmen's insurance should be fostered by state legislation; this, explained the committee, did not necessarily mean insurance at the cost of government and by means of state administration2
By 1912, with America's progressive tide at its peak, a new NCCC committee was ready to propose a complete set of compulsory social insurance institutions. The proposal was merely one item in a much larger program for reforming workers' working and living conditions.3 Social workers had done much to prepare the public for such a program by their numerous firsthand descriptions of poverty and its causes; quite logically, Paul Kellogg, an editor of Charities and the Commons, and director of the Pittsburgh Survey, was the committee's first chairman in 1909. After the committee presented its program at the 1912 NCCC meeting, Kellogg and New York settlement worker, Henry Moskowitz presented it to presidential aspirant Theodore Roosevelt. At the Progressive Party convention that followed Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull House seconded Roosevelt's nomination, and the Bull Moose adopted the suggestions almost bodily into his platform.4
Yet both the committee and its program were broader than the circle of practicing social workers. At the peak of its activity the committee's chairman was Owen R. Lovejoy, who as secretary of the National Child Labor Committee was more a professional reformer than a professional social worker. Membership included academicians such as Catholic seminarian John A. Ryan and economist John R. Commons, as well as social work spokesmen such as Kellogg and Miss Addams. In 1912 social workers, especially as represented by the NCCC, did not yet constitute a clearly professionalized and definable group.
Nor did the social workers offer ideas on social insurance rising uniquely out of direct contact with the poor. The 1912 NCCC report neglected to discuss any structural details of their proposal, and its rationale was only the very general one that social insurance was one of a set of minimum standards, one plank in the sub-basement floor, which constituted positively the lowest stratum that should be tolerated by a community interested in self-preservation.5 The reform would distribute wage loses justly and economically, and would provide for the conservation (a term dear to progressives) of human welfare. The WCCC's suggestions stemmed from recognition of broad changes in American conditions and institutions, more than from direct experience with dependency among individuals, families, and neighborhood groups. In 1913 the NCCC committee disbanded, moreover, and the American Association for Labor Legislation became the focal point of social insurance discussion--especially for an energetic but ill-fated campaign throughout the teens for state systems of health insurance.
Social workers continued occasionally to discuss social insurance, however, and in the ensuing years they sometimes offered rationales that did stem quite directly from social work practice. They were, for instance, quick to see in health insurance a means of breaking a circular realtionship between disease and poverty that charity workers, from their first-hand experiences, had long emphasized.6 Edward T. Devine managed also to defend social insurance with another long-standing, very central concern of social workers, that of preserving the family. Devine had no sympathy for sneers against the fullest development of family responsibility and solidarity, and he argued in 1915 that social insurance was fully compatible with that development--if properly conceived and structured. He would not build upon the principle "that society and not the individual is responsible for all these misfortunes and burdens." Rather, he believed "that even sickness, unemployment, and old age are personal and family matters" so that "ordinary mishaps and accidents under normal conditions are to be met by savings and the helping hand of relatives, neighbors, and friends." So he disliked gratuitous social insurance or pensions systems. Even government subsidies to contributory insurance were a compromise concession. Harking back to the kind of private insurance concepts that Willoughby had fostered, Devine preferred contributions only by employers and employees, and a rational distribution of risks on a sound actuarial basis. Any other system rested on dishonest and fallacious grounds.7
Devine's suggestions, which he explicitly labelled a conservative theory of social insurance, were not entirely typical of social workers ideas. James Jenkins of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities consciously or unconsciously recognized in social insurance a tool for redistributing wealth, for he suggested financing it through an inheritance tax. More carefully considered and realistic were the suggestions of John A. Lapp, of the National Catholic Welfare Council. Lapp clearly understood health insurance to be a mechanism for smoothing an uneven burden by spreading it latitudinally throughout society, and explicitly emphasized the need to remove the burden from the individual. He also suggested removing a substantial part of it from workers as a class, for he emphasized that industry and the entire community should contribute.8
Welfare workers on the eve of World War I had scarcely come to any broad consensus regarding social insurance; and certainly they had not as a group developed any deep theoretical understanding of the reform, or even much practical understanding based on their professional contacts with dependency. Even Lapp's arguments were not at all unique to the social work profession, for they were essentially those that the AALL was using to promote its model health insurance bills. Judging from reaction to old age and mothers pensions, Devines antipathy toward gratuitous systems was quite widespread. But that attitude was a function of dislike for unprofessionalized public outdoor relief more than of clear thinking about the social insurance mechanism.9 The social workers generally supported contributory plans, but their interest remained occasional and incidental.
For the most part, social workers were preoccupied with their new professionalism and its values. Those values centered around developing instruments and standards of professional training, around agency and bureau building and administration, and around techniques for treating individual cases. They had little to do with the really fundamental question of whether social workers should be trying to build some automatically-functioning welfare mechanisms into America's developing institutional structures.
As America moved into the normalcy of the 1920s, the health insurance campaign floundered and the increasingly professionalized social workers grew even more indifferent to social insurance. Lapp and a few other writers occasionally recalled the reform, and as reformers outside the social work profession gained some success with old age pensions by the end of the decade, discussion of them began to revive. But The Survey, successor to Charities and the Commons and edited by Kellogg, and The Family, organ of the new American Association for Organizing Family Social Work (later the Family Welfare Association of America), largely ignored the question. A polarization occurred whereby the reformist wing of the NCSW became interested primarily in the cooperative movement, defending, with divisive arguments full of Marxist terminology.10 But what distracted more social workers were developments that harked back to COS days: on the one hand an effort, reminiscent of the COSs emphasis on cooperation and central registrations; to coordinate local relief, family service, and other welfare agencies; on the other, recalling the COS techniques of investigation and friendly visiting, a new emphasis on social case work.The effort at coordination took the form of Community Chest and Council of Social Agency movements. Like their COS predecessor, these movements in the final analysis aimed to streamline the financing and administration of charity based on the old relational approach rather than viewing welfare as a problem of non-discretionary, institutional mechanisms. The Community Chest was to coordinate private welfare agencies fund-raising, the Council of Social Agencies to allocate the funds according to rational plan. Community chests appeared under that name at the end of World War I, but their roots went further back: to the endorsement committees that local chambers of commerce began to create about the turn of the century to screen charitable requests; and the financial federations that they later developed to raise money in single, coordinated drives; and finally, World War I. war chests, which collected funds from all elements of the community for various wartime purposes. By the mid-1920s about 200 cities had adopted the community chest plan, and the movement was spreading rapidly. Welfare officials meantime created the central councils, sometimes as antidotes to the control that businessmen were able to exert over social work through the new fund-raising mechanisms.11
In general, the chests and councils were conservative forces in welfare. They formalized a somewhat uneasy but long-standing alliance between private agencies and their wealthiest donors. William J. Norton of Cincinnati, whom The Survey considered in 1927 to be the dean of community chest executives, argued that chests were democratic because they induced the poor as well as the rich to give; but when challenged he admitted in 1928 that chambers of commerce and other plutocratic elements exerted strong control. His defense was that these were benevolent, high-grade plutocrats the salt of the earth. Some other social workers were more skeptical.12 Nervertheless, any conflict was at bottom not democracy v. plutocracy so much as which elite group would exert dominant control: the businessmen in the fund-raising organizations or the social work executives in the welfare councils. And the executives were, for the most part, deeply conservative. Their main thrust was to shore up private efforts and refurbish established practices. Their frame of reference, for practical purposes, was still the local community, and they showed little inclination to depart from the particularized, relational approach to welfare. They had little interest in national, institutional reforms such as social insurance.Let no one deduce from the community chest movement, however, that social workers were indifferent to social insurance in the 1920s simply out of preference for private over public effort.
In one respect, their attitudes toward public relief, the social workers did not return to COS premises. Charity workers had become increasingly friendly to public welfare beginning about 1900, and in the 1920s that friendliness grew ever warmer. Charles H. Johnson of the New York State Board of Charities spoke the dominant note when he declared in 1924: There is a place for both public and private work, and the best results can be obtained by working in harmony and not by the affection of superiority on either side." That was the ideal. In practice, many social workers, including Johnson, assumed that private social work had higher professional standards and was more flexible; and that therefore it should lead and educate so as to improve public welfare. The empirical evidence might not have supported that assumption--at least Frank J. Bruno, ex-Secretary of the Family Welfare Association of Minneapolis, implied a bit nastily in 1927 that private agencies did not actually do much experimenting, and that their much-touted standards were possible only because they could limit and select their case loads, and slough off the most difficult cases to public agencies.13 But whatever its merits, even the idea of superior standards in private agencies did not imply the old COS belief that public relief was inherently unworkable.
Public welfare merely needed improvement. Something important was happening in the weed patch of the public service, asserted Robert Kelso of Boston as NCSW president in 1922. Our departments of public welfare are destined to a future of leadership enviable in the profession of social work. Gradually many social workers began to see public welfare not merely as inherently workable, but as inherently better than private. In the steady increase of public governmental functions in the field of social work, wrote Kenneth Pray, Director of the Pennsylvania School of Social and Health Work in 1926, there was real democratic growth and promise.14
For the social insurance movement, however, there was bitter irony in the changed attitudes. The new receptiveness to public welfare (although in part merely a sequel to progressives' general renewal of faith in democratic government) fed on the professionalization of social work. Earlier, charity workers had put their faith for protecting high standards in the private agency built on COS principles. But by the 1920s the main guardian of welfare's morals had become, not a particualr type of agency, but the attitude of professionalism. With new organizations and schools disseminating professional standards even to the field of public welfare, social workers could at last entrust welfare even to public administration. But the new development had a built-in constriction: the standards and techniques that professionalism taught were those developed in private agencies. And private agencies, because of the limits of the jurisdiction of any particular unit, had always been local, particularistic, even individualistic in their outlook. Hence they fostered the personalized, relational approach to welfare, rather than a view emphasizing the need to build comprehensive welfare mechanisms into the larger economic structure. Consequently, under the hypnosis of professionalism, even the new friendliness toward public action did not bring social workers to any great enthusiasm for social insurance.
Indeed, the professional standards that social workers were developing in the 1920s made social insurance appear quite irrelevant. The lure of professionalization was leading social workers chiefly into the field of case work. That field, like the new coordination of private agencies through community chests and councils, lay squarely within what had earlier been the COS philsosphy. Case work was essentially a remapping of the personalized, relational approach to welfare.
In the 1920s, the words case work automatically evoked the name of Mary Richmond. In two books published in 1917 and 1922,15 and in frequent articles and lectures, Miss Richmond had raised case work from a mere instrument in the charity worker's bag to a philosophy that dominated the social work profession. The COS philosophy had, of course, included as one of its important dogmas the necessity of careful case investigation. In the 1890s Miss Richmond, then General Secretary of the Baltimore COS, began to write as if it were the central dogma. Investigation she eventually re-christened social diagnosis, in order, she explained, to fix the case worker's mind on the end in view.16 It mattered little that her contribution was more emphasis than innovation. As social work developed in the early decades of the new century, Miss Richmond, aided by the wealth of the Russell Sage Foundation whose staff she joined in 1909, managed to make her emphasis a foundation stone of the new professionalism.
Thus she connected COS technique and modern social work practice through the transition that was professionalization. Other professions, she pointed out, each had a body of knowledge that all members had to master. Part of the common ground for all social case workers would be the elements of social diagnosis. Miss Richmond's primary purpose . . . in attempting an examination of the initial process of social case work, she declared, was to make some advance toward a professional standard.17
However much case work theory gave its adherents a sense of professional status, it pointed away from social insurance. With Miss Richmond it rested on a concept of democracy that failed to see the need to translate democracy into solid institutional arrangements. To her, case work was essential to democracy, but democracy meant a spiritual conviction of the infinite worth of our common humanity. It was not a form of organization but a daily habit of life. Miss Richmond gradually drew a dichotomy between case work and the kind of social reformism that social insurance represented, declaring that reform should be retail, based on intimate knowledge of individual cases, rather than wholesale and general. Although she advised case workers to cooperate with social reformers, gradually she spoke of social reform as a separate category of social work, distinct from case work. Miss Richmond used the work "social" differently from the meaning implied in social insurance. She wished to apply it only to cases in which there was genuine interaction between persons--not to more or less arbitrary groupings of human beings, for example dependents and delinquents.18 Her definition, turning as it did on the relational concept, ignored the situation in which human beings had in common exposure to a particular hazard imposed by their economic roles within an increasingly structured socioeconomic system.
Caseworkism undermined the social insurance movement by de-emphasizing the economic and other environmental dimensions of welfare, and substituting client-centered diagnosis. With case work becoming the rule, observed Kelso in his NCSW presidential address of 1922, food and shelter have given place in importance to personal service. Economic aid to dependent families was legitimate, but only as one of a variety of personal services. To give material relief apart from other case work activity, wrote Pray in 1926, was to treat recipients not as whole, indivisible persons, but as members of a group or class, separated and differentiated from others by purely external, essentially impersonal conditions.19 Scarcely any concepts could have been more foreign to social insurance than such de-emphasis of economics and rejection of objective classification and impersonal criteria. By 1917, in place of economics, topics such as The Bearing of Psychology on Social Work began to appear at NCSW conferences. A 1930 book, A Changing Psychology of Social Case Work, by Virginia Robinson of the Pennsylvania School of Social irk, represented the full tide of a tendency of case workers to borrow concepts from psychiatry and to look for causes of dependency within the individual. Case work, Miss Robinson argued, should be set in a psychological rather than a sociological framework, for psychology offered a much surer body of data for a procedure which it is hoped to make scientific and professional."20 Once again, considerations of professionalism and case-work technique pointed social workers away from social insurance.
Even Miss Robinson admitted that it mould probably be well if, as a wholesome corrective for the intensive concern with the individuals inner life, some social workers during the 1930s would return to advocacy of social reform such as old age pensions and health insurance.21 In so saying she showed herself to be typical of the predominant attitude of social workers toward social insurance during the 1920s: not unfriendly, but simply preoccupied with some other concept of welfare. After their initial bout with mothers pensions in the 'teens, social work theoreticians seldom opposed social insurance. But their friendliness was most passive.
Casework-oriented social workers might appreciate social insurance as one resource for a family, but not for its essence: an institutionalized method of welfare structured to preserve people's dignity and independence by automatically assuring an income as a matter of legal and moral right, determining eligibility by objective criteria rather than leaving the recipient to the discretionary judgments of officials and case investigators. Stockton Raymond of the Associated Charities in Columbus favored social insurance, but he criticized workmen's compensation in 1919 for dealing with people in job-lots and not adjusting benefits to the particular family's needs. Wherever the human element is a factor, he dogmatized, case work is the best means of approach. As the old age pensions question came to the fore Elizabeth Dutcher of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities did not reject them, but warned in 1926 that the aged required a careful and somewhat specialized type of case work. Kellogg, as editor of The Survey, declared in 1930 that there is need aplenty for both funds and case work for the aged, and supported a New York bill for gratuitous old age pensions. He was doubtful about a contributory scheme that Governor Franklin Roosevelt was promoting, for he thought it posed too many unanswered questions.22
Case workers' failure to see the merits of a-dignified, automatically functioning mechanism for preventing dependency was most remarkable in the case of unemployment--which of all the hazards, seemed to call most simply for some maintenance-of-income device. Non-caseworkers within the profession such as the reformer John A. Lapp, president of the NCSW in 1927, or textbook author John Gillin, had little difficulty seeing in unemployment insurance a rational mechanism for replacing sympathetic charity with systematic justice. Even Kellogg declared in 1929 that while it may be that the English and German systems of unemployment insurance will not fit our national temper, the challenge of their performance as bulwards of protection for workingmen's homes was inescapable.23 But among the true case work spokesmen, unemployment insurance received scarcely more than a passing nod.
In the 1921-1922 recession the editor of The Family noted that unemployment insurance is being discussed. But the solution of his journal and its sponsoring agency, The American Association for Organizing Family Social Work, rested instead on the ideas of Mary Richmond. In 1908 Miss Richmond had likened unemployment to a crowded hall with many exits; and had marked the exits emigration, migration, change of occupation, part-time work, savings, credit, help of relatives, neighbors, and friends--an analogy that she revived in 1921 for a White House Conference on unemployment. Her program followed from her analogy: the family welfare agencies of each local community shoudl quietly form a special committee to investigate each case to decide which exit was suitable, to coordinate relief efforts, and to protect high professional standards in face of temptations to create dramatic soup kitchens or to provide the old, wooden same-thing-for-everybody. In 1921 the AAOFSW and The Family issued reports that used Miss Richmond's very words and phrases. A prominent 1923 book by Philip Klein, a colleague of Miss Richmond at the Russell Sage Foundation, took the sametack with an added emphasis on public works. Miss Richmond's general approach appeared again in 1930 in a Sage Foundation-sponsored conference of family welfare society executives, and in a Foundation pamplet.24
Miss Joanna Colcord, director of the Foundation's Charity Organization Department, did suggest in 1930 that when a local community formed a special committee on unemployment, the committee might wish to study unemployment insurance. The question of how far government should participate in insurance plans, she explained, will undoubtedly be under much discussion. But in her Foundation pamphlet she declared that we are . . . leaving untouched these larger economic considerations, and confining ourselves to suggestions involving direct action.25
In so saying Miss Colcord unconsciously summed up the attitude of the first generation of professionalized social workers. Professionalism had disseminated the limited outlook of private social welfare agencies. Case work had become the most exciting new frontier of professional thought. And neither private agency spokesmen nor case work theorists, oriented as they were toward the local community or even more narrowly toward the individual and his immediate, personal relationships, thought much in terms of systems and institutional's structuring. Hence they treated social insurance with a passitivity that was hardly more helpful to the movement than outright opposition.
The economic depression which started with the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in October, 1929 marked a complete change in the methods of American social welfare, particularly in poor relief, declares a typical textbook statement in retrospect.26 Complete change is hyperbole. As in most historical upheavals, there was both change and continuity.
Change was phenomenal. After a year or two of depression, local charity agencies turned wholesale to municipal governments for emergency funds. Cities looked in turn to states, and by the winter of 1931-1932 the major industrial states were creating new governmental agencies for emergency relief. By the summer of 1932 even President Herbert Hoover compromised somewhat his strong preference for localism, and put the federal government indirectly into the relief field by signing a law providing $300,000,000 for relief loans to state and municipal governments. In May, 1933 Congress and the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which went on to disburse more than $3 billion in three years for national, state, and local programs of cash relief, work relief, and rehabilitation. By the standard textbook criterion of shift from private to public initiative in welfare, change was indeed extensive.
By the more fundamental criterion, impetus toward rationalization of the welfare sector, there was: also some change. Quite naturally, the depression revived in social workers the neglected interest in the economic and environmental dimensions of welfare. The Survey observed that at the 1930 NCSW meetings the fact of unemployment cleaved its way straight through the Conference sessions and displaced a preoccupation with the drama of people's insides, with a new equilibrium between individual and group concerns. In a bellwether statement a year later Caroline Bedford of the St. Louis Provident Association warned that adjustment to an unsocial environment is dangerous advice; and declared that family case workers were as greatly concerned with the economic factors of family life as we are with psychological and medical factors.27 Social workers often expressed their reorientation in the language of planning. The concept of social and economic planning had suddenly become fashionable in intellectual circles, and alert social workers were quick to adopt the smart new style. The planning idea, of course, implied a rationalizing approach, a concern with the structures and institutions of economics and welfare.
Yet by neither criterion, private-public nor rationalization, was the change a revolution. In the change from private to public the depression merely accelerated sharply a long-term historical trend, and social workers' attitudes did not shift completely. Grace Abbott, Chief of the U. S. Children's Bureau and outspoken champion of public welfare, observed that virtually all social workers in the right wing which had previously opposed extension of public welfare moved to the center, and admitted its necessity. But they did not join the left, which maintained that welfare was by its nature a public function.28 As for planning, it remained more rhetoric than reality, more a fashion of language than a mode of operation. The concept with its implicit rationalization could have produced changes of far greater moment than a mere shift from private to public administration and financing. In fact, it produced even less of a revolution.The rationalizing process lagged partly because social workers adhered strongly to reliefism, the habit of giving aid on the basis of need with little thought to objective mechanisms and criteria. In contrast to the faddism of planning, reliefism was a well-entrenched habit of thought. Social workers could not throw it off in one grand conversion, nor did they try. Consciously or unconsciously following the tradition of relief, they responded with compassionate concern for human need more than with hard thought about the technical details of machinery for meeting that need, the kind of thought that a rationalizing approach would have required.
Some social workers spoke out for social insurance under the rubric of planning. Our national life demands intelligent ordering, conscious planning, and social control, declared Clarence M. Bookman, Cincinnatis nationally-famous community chest director in 1934; and Bookman thought that programs of social insurance with complementary programs to prevent the hazards were planning devices in which social workers should take interest. Bookman applied the planning concept at the level of specific solutions for specific problems--a concept more akin to social insurance than the more radical idea of one grand plan for all the processes of production and distribution. In similar vein, Edward T. Devine declared in 1933 that planning is necessary, but at the same time warned against state socialism, guildism, and brave-new-worldism. Devine wished to balance planning with the freedom of voluntarism. He favored compulsory social insurance, but as a corrective for an economy built on voluntary individual and group initiative.29 To such men, with their limited concepts of planning, social insurance was one planning device.
To conceive a proper relationship between social insurance and the relief tradition proved more difficult. Relief, in theory, had long since become a mere handmaiden to case work. At first social workers' inclination was to dichotomize, putting relief plus case work on the one hand and social insurance on the other. Now that the deluge is upon us, we have no definite program other than relief and individual case work, moaned John Fitch of the New York: School of Social Work in 1931, as he argued for unemployment insurance. Linton Swift, head of the casework-oriented Family Welfare Association of America concluded in the same year that for most persons receiving depression relief neither social case work nor relief is ultimately a remedy, and advocated social insurance. Yet few social workers repudiated the philosophy underlying case work, and in the end the logic shifted from dichotomization to fusion. Russell Kurtz of the Russell Sage Foundation expressed the final shift when he declared in 1935 that while the contractual insurance titles of the upcoming social security program would not need case work in their administration, the public assistance programs should incorporate sound case work techniques; and even recipients of contractual benefits should have access to case workers as a collateral service.30
One obvious way by which the social workers who championed social insurance related their reform to the relief tradition was by residualism--the concept of relief as the solution for the residue of cases that would not qualify for social insurance. Social insurance, employment exchanges, vocational guidance, etc. might make relief in large amounts less necessary, thought Bookman, but there would still be some need for reliefdistasteful, inadequate, and unfortunate as it may be. For these Bookman advocated an entirely different and modernized system of relief for this country. Most social workers took an approach much like that of a Philadelphia Community Council committee which reported in 1933: in practice it gave a higher priority to a high-standard, federally-financed program of relief than to either public works or unemployment insurance, on the assumption that under existing circumstances relief could not wait; but in theory it wished to see relief in third place, merely as a residual measure to meet the primary necessities of those excluded from other programs.31
Some social work commentators were reluctant to mix relief features into the actual social insurance programs. Fitch objected to government contributions to unemployment insurance on the ground that it would change the character of the plan from insurance to relief, and to mix the two was bad bookkeeping. Swift was not so adamant against government contributions, but in his discussion of social insurance he warned against the easy acceptance of relief from tax funds as a panacea for all ills. Such persons conceptualized insurance and relief as distinctly different in character. Relief, suggested Arthur Dunham of the Pennsylvania Public Charities Association in 1934, was a sympton of a disordered society; whereas social insurance was an expression of collective social intelligence.32
Yet even such persons retained a relief outlook to the extent of being concerned primarily with giving benefits to the needy, rather than with other goals such as preventing the hazards or stabilizing the economy. And many social workers went much further, made little distinction at all between relief and social insurance, and would have structured social insurance around a relief rationale. The venerable New Yorker Homer Folks commented in 1933 that after all contributory insurance raised its funds through taxes just as did relief, and that even Elizabethan poor laws had been a rudimentary form of general social insurance. He supported social insurance, but thought it more important to upgrade relief to the point that its investigations not be humiliating and its recipients not carry a stigma. Need should be the central criterion, thought Folks. The prestigious female triumvirate at the Chicago School of Social Service Administration, Grace and Edith Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge, agreed. Referring to health insurance, their organ, The Social Service Review, declared in 1934; "What America wants . . . is universal provision for everyone in need, and not a system that reaches only the contributing group. Contributory systems commended themselves to the powerful because they put a substantial part of the cost on the workers. As models for social insurance the Review suggested mothers' pensions and old-age pensions-- the most relief-like of all programs.33 Persons such as Folks and the Chicago group clearly wished to by-pass the problem of residualism; the effect was a strongly reliefist concept of social insurance.Whether by fusing social insurance with the casework tradition, by the rationale of residualism, merely by beginning at the point of wanting to provide compensation to people in need, or by actually favoring gratuitous systems modeled closely on relief patterns, social workers almost universally reflected the relief tradition. When they thought about social insurance, it was reliefism, more than any other orientation, that dominated their thoughts.
The chief effect of the relief tradition, however, was not to shape but to displace social insurance ideas. Even when the great crash came, a Pittsburgh settlement worker later observed caustically, social workers generally relied upon the individualist approach of the case-work method, believing that somehow they would be true to their professional training if they could succeed in having case-work techniques embodied in programs of public assistance.34 Many social workers were reformist, but their reform still consisted primarily of trying to apply to public welfare the patterns learned in private agencies. Their reformism culminated in calls for a permanent Federal Welfare Bureau that would coordinate relief nationally by giving grants-in-aid, setting standards, and providing other services to state and local work or cash relief and rehabilitiation programs. The welfare bureau idea was one version of planning the welfare sector, of course, and it would have been possible to combine that version with the planning rep-resented in social insurance.35 But the social workers did not use the idea in that way. Once again reform and rationalization meant to them streamlined and centralized financing and administration, not a built-in, non-discretionary welfare sector for the economy. They were thinking in terms of one grand COS or Council of Social Agencies; not of social insurance.
The NCSW, for example, included discussions of social insurance in its programs, but when its Committee on Current Relief Program reported early in 1934 the report made no mention of social insurance. Instead it concentrated on technical imporvements in the administration of federal cash and works relief projects. The FWAA made occasional and favorable references to social insurance in its publications, but did not sponsor thoroughgoing studies of the reform; and even its references were virtually always mere incidental remarks in much larger discussions of relief policy. The American Public Welfare Association, child of the depression shift to public welfare, published a factual review of existing old age pensions and unemployment insurance proposals in 1933, and at its May, 1934 meeting it endorsed insurance for the unemployed, the aged, dependent mothers, and the sick. But two months later it released a program of Legislation for Social Security, that had as its central concepts the federal welfare bureau and the upgrading of pauper relief to higher-standard public assistance. Social insurance it included as hardly more than one form of public assistance to be subsumed under the new welfare bureau. The major contribution of the National Federation of Settlements to tire discussion was a 1931 book of case studies of unemployment, a book that suggested unemployment insurance but scarcely gave it more emphasis than it gave traditional devices such as local chamber of commerce and municipal committees on unemployment.36
Social workers promoted their casework standards and the vision of an integrated, federalized system of public welfare in the hope of making relief more adequate and liberal. But once again they tried to improve welfare without a shift in philosophy. So they entrenched ever more deeply the particularized, discretionary relief or semi-discretionary public assistance approach.
A few social workers did perceive the inherent limitations of discretionaryism, and catch a vision of some system that would make economic security automatic and dependable. But they were radicals who were highly impatient of the detailed, technical, piecemeal approach of categorical social insurance. One of their most prestigious spokesmen was Mary Van Kleeck, ex-settlement worker, official in the International Conference of Social Work, and the Russell Sage Foundation's long-time Director of Industrial Studies. But most of them were relatively young, untrained newcomers to the social work field, in contrast to the old-line agency executives and educators who provided most of the profession's favorable comment toward categorical social insurance. Many were participants in a so-called rank-and-file movement of militant, low-echelon social workers. The militants fought for particular causes, such as better working conditions, more professional training, and higher standards of case work and relief. But their hallmark was militancy, not particularism, and they also challenged the entire welfare system, calling for new and grand, overarching solutions. Indeed, they challenged the entire economic system. Their ultimate solution was total economic planning. After completing a study of America's chaotic coal industry, Miss Van Kleek travelled to the Soviet Union in 1932 and returned sparking enthusiasm for Russia's planned coal industry. Thereafter she denounced the New Deal's piecemeal relief as hardly more than devices whereby social workers helped politicians ward off the needy's challenge to the status quo. Rank-and-filers and other militants applauded loudly.37
But total economic planning was beyond the reach of mere social workers. Consequently, the militants more and more rallied around another solution, still radical and overarching in its conception, but beginning with the welfare sector rather than with the entire economy. The Workers' Social Insurance Bill, or Lundeen Bill as it was dubbed after Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota sponsored it in the House of Representatives in 1934, proposed simply to guarantee a weekly minimum of $10 plus $3 for each dependent to persons who were unemployed or unable to work because of sickness, old age, maternity, industrial injury, or any other disability. It would benefit all farmers and all workers, whether industrial, agricultural, domestic, office, or professional. Workers and farmers themselves would administer the measure, and could withhold benefits neither because of strike activity, nor for refusal to work at substandard wages, under unhealthful conditions, or at an unreasonable distance from home. The money would come entirely from the federal treasury, replenished with taxes on inheritances, gifts, and personal and corporation incomes fiver $5000 per year.38
The Lundeen bill had one virtue that would have improved almost every other social insurance proposal advanced in the decades before 1935: it gave unchallenged priority to the ideal of guaranteeing economic security to all of the potentially dependent. It also was simple and all-embracing-but these it carried to the point of being faults rather than virtues. It was most vague about administrative machinery, and totally lacking in guarantees against massive fraud and malingering. Its economic theory was the naive assumption that bleeding the rich would eliminate dependency. Politically it was fantastic: neither Congress nor the electorate were ready either for the radical redistribution of wealth or for the income guarantee that the bill sought. But such earthy and technical considerations hardly deterred the radical minority of social workers. Indeed, sentiment for the Lundeen bill penetrated much deeper than the mere fringe of the profession.
Social workers' receptivity to the Lundeen bill was no mystery, for the bill was well within the relief tradition. Its supporters recognized that it was insurance only in that it guaranteed benefits in certain contingencies, not because of its internal mechanism. Actuarial mechanisms they explicitly rejected as illiberal, and spoke instead of a compensation approach.39 The compensation approach was in reality the strain in the relief tradition which had long sought to make benefits more adequate, qualifications more generous. Its preoccupation was the specter of people in need, not careful institutional analysis of alternative welfare mechanisms. Its adherents might espouse economic planning in general, but on specifics they were most simplistic and vague. So despite their concern for some system that would make welfare automatic and dependable, their thought was more akin to the liberal wing of the relief tradition than to the institutional approach in welfare.
The route from traditional social welfare concepts to Lundeen-bill radicalism was so direct that it was easily possible for social workers to travel it with scarcely a passing gesture to social insurance. The cases of Harry Lurie and the American Association of Social Workers illustrated how easily social workers could almost by-pass the main line of social insurance discussion, that of categorical insurance programs.
In the first several years of the 1930s Lurie, Director of the Bureau of Jewish Social Research in New York, had interests similar to most other liberal social workers: adequacy of relief, the shift from private to public auspices, and the federalization of public welfare. Yet, more than most, he was inclined to be critical, and to ponder social work's philosophical roots. Without repudiating caseworkism, he declared in 1931 that case work was less significant than the fact that government was beginning to single out certain categories of dependents, for instance mothers and the aged, to support at levels above traditional poor-law relief. He was receptive to the use of social insurance for some categories, but his criteria did not point toward contributory insurance mechanisms. Declaring that America's economic system neither distributed wealth equitably nor provided economic security without remedial measures of taxation and regulation, he wrote that all forms of relief or insurance are measures to equalize income.40 Lumping insurance with relief, and emphasizing redistribution of wealth, pointed toward gratuitous rather than contributory systems, perhaps even toward some radical measure. Yet in 1931 and 1932 Lurie was not noticeably radical. For instance, despite the severe limitations of the July, 1932 law by which the federal government provided relief loans to states, he accepted the law as a significant step toward federalization of relief.41
At the depth of the depression Lurie was a prominent member of two committees of the AASW, formed respectively in January, 1931 and November, 1932. The first, although a bit interested in unemployment insurance, was like most social workers preoccupied with problems of relief. But in May 1933 the second issued a report that dealt not merely with relief but ranged broadly to working conditions and wages, public works, employment exchanges, progressive taxation, and social insurance. Almost radically it called for a minimum standard of living for all, a comprehensive plan of social and economic organization, and something more than piecemeal change. Still, its ideas on social insurance were quite moderate: it was unsure that the government should share in unemployment insurance contributions; viewed social insurance more as a device for saving through time than for redistributing wealth throughout society; favored a psychology of self-aid and mutual aid rather than charity; and called for a contributory rather than a gratuitous system for old age.42 For that moment in 1933 Lurie and the AASW were on the main line of the categorical social insurance movement.
But by 1934, when the Roosevelt administration began in earnest to formulate a social security program, social workers were becoming noticeable radicalized. Apparently a major precipitating factor was their deep disillusionment when Roosevelt decided in January, 1934 that the Civil Works Administration, the most liberal of his job-producing public works programs, was too expensive to continue. An AASW conference in February called for a permanent, comprehensive, well coordinated and adequate system of welfare services, so conceived as to ensure ourselves against common hazards such as unemployment, old age, widowhood, sickness, or other factors. But the conferees did not specify that the system should use the social insurance method, certainly not categorical, contributory plans. They did endorse the moderate Wagner-Lewis bill--a congressional proposal to stimulate state systems of unemployment insurance through tax credits--and reject the Lundeen bill. But that action struck one observer as inconsistent with the theoretical stance of the conference: that the faculty distribution of wealth was at the root of social problems, and that welfare programs should rest on taxation of high incomes and excess profits.43
At the conference Lurie called on social work to become less remedial and more revolutionary, less preoccupied with administrative technique, and more with social change. Within the next several months rank-and-filers began to publish their own organ, Social Work Today, and Miss Van Kleeck delivered a blistering but much-heralded attack on social workers' close alliance with the Roosevelt administration. During the remainder of 1934 the AASW's organ, The Compass, conspicuously ignored Roosevelt's much-publicized effort to construct a social security program. Instead, as the AASW prepared for its February, 1935 conference, The Compass promoted the Lundeen bill. At the 1935 conference there was almost universal dissatisfaction with the seemingly timid, piecemeal measure that the Roosevelt administration had produced--and deep division over whether to endorse the measure as a tiny step forward or to reject it entirely. In the end the conference endorsed neither the administration measure nor the Lundeen bill. Lurie, however, supported the radical measure. And in contrast to its uncertainty on social insurance, the entire conference strongly supported ever more liberal federal programs of work and cash relief.44
Lurie and the AASW typified social workers' ambivalence toward social insurance. Early in the depression they were not unfriendly to the main line categorical insurance movement, but were preoccupied with expansion of relief. So they contributed little to the hard, technical discussion of social insurance, as if broad principles, especially belief in the need to redistribute wealth, were enough. By the time the federal government was prepared to move for social insurance, they were out of touch with political currents and preoccupied with the radical, simplistic Lundeen bill and with ever more relief. Attuned by the relief tradition to think only in terms of the immediate response to need, rather than of structure of mechanisms for anticipating need and maintaining incomes, social workers as a group in the depression were unstable in their support for social insurance.
The attitudes of ambivalence at the least, passive approval at the most, had been typical of social work from the turn of the century on-ward. At a high moment in the progressive atmosphere before World War I social workers offered significant support for social insurance, but little that arose uniquely out of their own first-hand experiences with poverty.
And already they were becoming preoccupied with their own professionalization, around values that were not conducive to social insurance because they stemmed from experience in pirvate agencies. During the 1920s the proccupation with professionalism, especially around the techniques of case work, continued. Caseworkism, and a renewed attempt to rationalize welfare by the old method merely of reforming local financing and administration, helped to keep the old particularistic, relational approach to welfare intact. In the exigency of depression in the early 1930s, the reliefist habit of thought came to the fore, in both traditional and radical forms, and short-circuited tough thinking about social insurance. At no time were social workers as a group openly hostile. But neither did they grasp the logic of the institutionalizing approach to welfare that social insurance represented.
NOTES Ch. 3
2 See Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (hereafter cited as NCCC Proceedings), Charities, and Charities and the Commons' passim. For Hale's proposal see Edward Everett Hale, Old Age Pensions, Cosmopolitan, 35 (June, 1903), 168-72; or Edward Everett Hale, We. The People: A Series of Papers on Topics of Today (New York, 1903), 133-37; Report of Special Committee [on Workingmen's Insurance], NCCC Proceedings (1906), 452-57.
11 Some primary-source articles are: Isaac Ogden, Federated Support of Charities; Is it Fractical?" Charities and the Commons, 18 (May 25, 1907), 227-29; Francis McLean, The Trend of Charity Organization and Endorsement, The Survey, 22 (Aug., 1909), 707-10; American Association for Organizing Charity, Financial Federations: The Report of a Special Committee (New York, 1917); Sherman Kingsley, War Chests in Peace Times: The Contribution which Financial Federations May Make to the Future of Social Work, The Survey, 42 (May 31, 1919), 342-46; Sherman Kingsley, Social Work, Cleveland Year Book,1921 (Cleveland, 1921), /204-24; W.J. Norton, Financial Federations--I. Fundamentals, The Survey, 47 (Oct. 15, 1922), 89-90; C. M. Bookman, The Community Chest Movement--An Interpertation, NCSW Proceedings (1924), 19-29.
12 William J. Norton, Social Work Grows Up, The Survey, 59 (Nov. 1, 1927),134-37; Joseph Lee, The Chest and Social Work, The Survey, 59 (Mar.,15,1928), 749-50, 792-93; Norton, The Chest and Democracy, The Survey, 60 (Apr. 15, 1928), 90, 135-37; Edward T. Devine, Welfare Federations I. How Not to Do It: Philadelphia, The Survey, 46 (May 4, 1921), 203-05; Chicago Council of Social Agencies, The Financing of Social Agencies: A Fact-Finding Report, with Special Reference to Raising Annual Operating Budgets (Chicago, 1924) ; and The Survey,1920-1930, passim.
13 Charles Johnson, The Correlation of Public and Private Social Service, NCSW Proceedings (1924), 30-32; Robert Kelso, Is There a Dividing Line Between the Cases Which the Public Agency Should Take Over, and Those Which Should be Handled by Private Social Agencies? NCSW Proceedings (1921), 215-18; Raymond Clapp, What the Federations Are Doing to Accomplish That End, NCSW Proceedings (1924), 525-30; M. C. Maclean, The Effect of the Federation movement upon the Relationship Between Public and Private Welfare Agencies, NCSW Proceedings (1924), 520-24; etc. Frank Bruno, The Integration of Effort in Theory and Practice by Private and Public Agencies for the Common Good, NCSW Proceedings (1927), 242.
18 Mary Richmond, quoted in Gertrude Vaile, Introductory Remarks (to the report of the Committee on Public Charities), NCSW Proceedings (1917), 333-34; Richmond, What is Social Case Work?, 249; Richmond, The Retail Method of Reform,, in The Long View: Papers and Addresses, selected and edited by Joanna Colcord and Ruth Mann (New York), 1930 , 219-20; Richmond, What is Social Case Work?, 222-25; Richmond, Social Diagnosis, 26.
20 William Healy, The Bearings of Psychology on Social Case Work, NCSW Proceedings (1917), 104-12; and NCSW Proceedings, 1915-1930, passim; Virginia Robinson, A Changing Psychology of Social Case Work (Chapel Hill, 1930), 48.
22 Stockton Raymond, Case Work and Industrial Standards, NCSW Proceedings (1919), 394-95; Elizabeth Dutcher, Care of the Aged From the Point of View of the Private Society, The Family, 7 (July, 1926), 146; The Seventh Age, The Survey, 63 (Mar., 1930), 691-92.
23 John Lapp, The Status of Social Insurance, NCSW Proceedings (1923), 111-12; John Lapp, Justice First (Presidential Address)," NCSW Proceedings (1927), 3 -13; John Lewis Gillin, Poverty and Dependency: Their Relief and Prevention (New York, 1925), 453- 86; Gillin, Poverty and Dependency, 120-25; Paul U. Kellogg, Unemployment and Progress, NCSW Proceedings (1929), 100.
24 Editorial, The Family, 1 (May, 1921), 58-59; Mary E. Richmond, The Long View, 510-17, 520-21, 524-25; The American Association for Organizing Family Social Work, Distributing the Load, The Family, 2 (Jan., 1922), Sec.2; Philip Klein, The Burden of Unemployment (New York, 1923); Joanna Colcord, Facing the Coming Winter, The Survey, 65 (Nov., 1930). 206-08; Colcord, Recommendations Growing Out of Experience (New York, 1930).
27 Mary Ross and Paul Kellogg, New Beacons in Boston: The Fifty-Seventh National Conference of Social Work, The Survey, 64 (July, 1930), 341-47, 361, 367; Caroline Bedford, The Effect of an Unemployment Situation in Family Societies, NCSW Proceedings (1931), 206-07, 210.
30 John Fitch, The Responsibility of Social Work in an Economic Crisis, The Family, 12 (Apr., 1931), 52-54; Linton Swift, Community Chests and Relief, The Survey, 64 (Sept., 1930), 502: Swift, Social Insurance and Relief, The Family, 12 (May, 1931), 81-85; Russell Kurtz, Social Case Work in a National Program of Social Security, NCSW Proceedings (1935), 224-36.
32 John Fitch, Who Should Pay the Cost of Unemployment Reserves? The American Labor Legislation Review, 22 (Mar., 1932), 39-44; Swift, Social Insurance and Relief, 83-84 ;Arthur Dunham, Public Relief--Mastery or Drift, The Survey, 70 (Dec., 1934), 380.
33 Homer Folks, Public Relief as a Social Problem, NCSW Proceedings (1933), 43, 45-48, 51, and passim; see also Folks, Making Relief Respectable, in Savel Zimand, ed., Public Health and Welfare: The Citizen's Responsibility--Selected Papers of Homer Folks (New York, 1958); editorial, Social Insurance and/or Social Security, Social Service Review, 8 (Sept., 1934), 537-40.
35 American Association of Social Workers, Tentative Program AASW Delegate Conference, The Compass, 16 (Jan., 1935), 3-6; undated flyer of the American Public Welfare Association, Legislation for Social Security (referred to in Public Welfare News of July, 1934); Bookman, The Federal Emergency Relief Administration, 29.
36 Joama Colcord, Report of the Committee on Current Relief Program, NCSW Proceedings (1934), 111-29; Fami1y Welfare Association Newsletter; The Family; Unemployment Relief Methods; Rose Porter, The Organization and Administration of Public Relief Agencies: A Guidance Report or Handbook Prepared at the Request of the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief by the Department of Special Studies of the Family Welfare Association of America (New York, 1931); and otter FWAA publications, 1930-1935; passim; Marietta Stevenson and Lucy Williams Brown, Old Age Security and Unemployment Insurance (Chicago: The American Public Welfare Association, 1933); Resolutions Adopted at the Annual Meeting of the American Public Welfare Association, May 23, 1934, The Social Service Review, 8 (Sept., 1934), 529; undated flyer of American Public Welfare Association, Legislation for Social Security (referred to in Public Welfare News of July, 1934 Marion Elderton, Case Studies of Unemployment (Philadelphia, 1931), especially the introduction by Helen Hall.
37 Jacob Fisher, The Rank and File Movement in Social Work (New York, 1936); Social Work Today Vol. 1-2 (Mar.-Apr., 1934 -Apr., 1935) , passim; Mary Van Kleeck, A Planned Economy: As a National Objective for Social Work The Compass, 14 (May, 1933), 23-24; Social Work Today (July -Aug., 1934), 4.
39 Phyllis Lowell, I. Social Workers Take Counsel, Social Work Today (Mar.-Apr., 1934), 5; Dorothy W. Douglas What Kind of Unemployment Insurance? Social Work Today (May-June, 1934 , 3; see also Dorothy Douglas, Unemployment Insurance--For Whom? Social Work Today (Feb., 1935), 9-12, 34.
40 Harry Lurie, Spreading Relief Thin, The Social Service Review, 6 (June, 1932), 223-34; Lurie, The Place of Federal Aid in Unemployment Relief, The Social Service Review, 5 (Dec., 1931), 523-38; American Association of Social Workers, The Responsibility and Contribution of Social Workers in Unemployment Crises," The Compass, 12 (Dec., 1930), 2; also The Federal Relief Question, The Compass, 13 (Nov., 1931), 1; Lurie, The Drift to Public Relief, NCSW Proceedings (1931), 211-22.
42 Neva Deardorff Report of the Commission on Unemployment, The Compass, 13 (June, 1932), 13; Committee on Federal Action on Unemployment, National Economic Objectives For Social Work, The Compass, 14 (May, 1933), 10-19.
44 Wilbur Newstetter, Second Thoughts on the Washington Conference, The Compass, 15 (Apr., 1934), 8; Mary Van Kleeck, Our Illusions Regarding Government, NCSW Proceedings (1934), 473-85; The Delegate Conference and Some National Issues, The Compass, 16 (Nov., 1934), 1; Lea Taylor, Preliminary Report of the Conference, The Compass, 16 (Mar., 1935), passim; for Lurie's support of the Lundeen bill see Taylor, Preliminary Report, 24; for conference support see Taylor, Preliminary Report, passim.