|February 5, 2009|
Morris book examines charity-welfare history
The crushing demand of the Great Depression in the early 1930s turned many charities in the U.S. from opponents to supporters of public welfare. While in previous years, they argued that charities, not government, were the best source of relief for the impoverished, their inability to meet the unprecedented demands of the unemployed led them to welcome the creation of the welfare state.
With this transformation came realignment: the public sector would provide the financial safety net, and the voluntary sector would focus on specialized therapy services such as marriage and family counseling.
Linton Swift, president of the Family Welfare Association of America, which represented thousands of community voluntary agencies across the country, was one of those converts who coined the phrase that describes the new division of labor: “New Alignments.”
These new — and ultimately unstable — alignments between charities and welfare through the 1970s is the subject of a new book, "The Limits of Voluntarism: Charity and Welfare from the New Deal through the Great Society" (Cambridge University Press, 2009), by Andrew Morris, assistant professor of history.
By the end of the period studied by Morris, the New Alignments had been eroded by President Johnson’s War on Poverty, new federal policies that infused public money into non-governmental organizations and the competition among charities for donations. Charities now were expected to deliver services previously offered by public agencies, and the stage was set for the current debate over public funding of faith-based charities.
Many charities and nonprofits now rely heavily on public funds, stirring debates over where the line between public and voluntary actually stands; in this earlier era, charities preferred to advocate for welfare, but to keep their own organizations distinct from public programs.
Some of Morris’ most memorable research took place in the basement of one social service agency with records dating back 100 years, as he rooted through minutes of old meetings to try to discern how the agency’s conservative board of directors made their peace with these new social policies.
“Having taken my share of minutes on various committees, I'm keenly aware of how little of what actually gets said, much less the tone of the conversation gets translated into the written record,” Morris said.
He was grateful, he said, any time a writer broke from a tone of organizational neutrality to expose a problem or conflict.
Among Morris' discoveries were records, from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota, of a 1950s pilot project in St. Paul, Minn., in which charities collaborated with public welfare organizations to deal with what they called “multi-problem families.” The program, which made intensive use of social worker’s counseling skills, was influential in both the voluntary sector and in plans for reform of public welfare. “It amazed me to discover the extensive impact of this one little project,” Morris said.
The cover photo of Morris’ book, courtesy of the University of Minnesota archive, depicts a trio of social workers reading a booklet titled “Patterns of Change in Problem Families.”
Morris joined Union in 2003. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Brown University, and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, where he received a Miller Center Fellowship in National Politics. He has published several articles including “The Voluntary Sector’s War on Poverty,” which received the 2006 Ellis Hawley Award for best article by a junior scholar from the Journal of Policy History.