Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24




Origins of Welfare in the States:

Albert G. Byers and the Ohio

Board of State Charities



For the past fifteen years, government programs to aid poor and

dependent people have been attacked by both liberals and conser-

vatives. In the 1960s, a coalition of academics and social workers

formed the welfare rights movement to criticize the inadequacy of

New Deal and Great Society programs and to propose various strate-

gies to bring about a guaranteed national income. Because welfare

rights advocates were unable or unwilling to form alliances with mod-

erate groups, the guaranteed income never materialized. An alliance

of liberals and conservatives defeated President Nixon's welfare re-

form plan in 1969 while the liberal agenda itself was decisively reject-

ed in the Presidential elections of 1972 and 1980. Ronald Reagan's

election signified the ascendancy of conservative criticisms that wel-

fare programs have been too generous, going well beyond assistance

to the "truly needy" and encouraging able-bodied people not to

work. Conservative plans to trim benefits and eliminate programs ap-

pear more likely to succeed than the liberal effort to secure a guaran-

teed national income. The question remains whether either approach

contributes to the stability of the polity.1





Robert M. Mennel is Professor of History, University of New Hampshire. Steven

Spackman is Lecturer in Modern History, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The au-

thors wish to acknowledge support from the Central University Research Fund of the

University of New Hampshire, the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust for the Uni-

versities of Scotland, and the assistance of Larry Gwozdz and Frank Levstik, formerly of

the Ohio State Archives. This article is dedicated to Robert H. Bremner, Professor

Emeritus, The Ohio State University, whose scholarship in social welfare history con-

tinues to enlighten us all.


1. The literature on this subject is immense, but see especially Frances Fox Piven

and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Function of Public Welfare (New York,

1971) for the welfare rights point of view and Martin Anderson, Welfare: The Political

Economy of Welfare Reform in the United States (Stanford, 1978) for the conservative

rejoinder. Anderson heads President Reagan's Domestic Policy staff. See also Daniel P.