Women and the Welfare Rights Movement

Date
2014-04-15
Authors
Becker, Madeline
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History
Abstract

What can the Welfare Rights Movement tell us about gender relations in the United States in the late twentieth century? Welfare, defined by the U.S. National Women’s Agenda, became a “women’s issue” in the late 1970s. But who were the women responsible for giving welfare a feminine connotation?

The Welfare Rights movement is a remarkable, yet overlooked, social protest in American history. Dominated by poor, African American women, the movement played an interesting role in the changing perceptions of gender and poverty in the U.S.

My research will study the movement’s origins, the growing politicization of its female members, and the hostile reaction of an increasingly conservative government structure of the 1970s. I will also study the contradictions of the movement, such as its reliance on male leadership, despite its feminine rhetoric, and how such contradictions undermined potential alliances with other feminist organizations.

The National Welfare Rights Organization filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and failed to achieve many of its goals. Still, the movement had a profound impact on women in America. By completing this research, I hope to give a voice to these overlooked women and gain a deeper appreciation of the battles they fought against poverty and sexism.

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