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  • Delivering Aid: Implementing Progressive Era Welfare in the American West
  • W. Andrew Achenbaum
Delivering Aid: Implementing Progressive Era Welfare in the American West. By Thomas A. Krainz ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005. xiv plus 325 pp. $37.00).

Delivering Aid is a solid piece of revisionist social history. Unlike most social welfare historians, Thomas Krainz does not consider the Progressive era (the author's data come mainly from 1900 to 1920) to be a prelude to significant New Deal changes in the treatment of the poor, the uemployed, the elderly, as well as widows and dependent mothers and their children. "In terms of altering the welfare state the Progressive Era was a period of disappointment... delivery of poor relief looked strikingly similar to nineteenth-century relief practices" (p. 12).

Krainz pursues questions shared by many contemporary students of U.S. welfare history, which deal with the forces that affected Progressive Era relief policies. He focuses on gender issues, elaborates the rights of the needy as citizens, highlights pivotal policymakers, and examines critical moments in policymaking. Krainz, however, gives primary emphasis to why the implementation of Progressive measures—with one exception, provisions for the blind—did not much [End Page 797] alter the actual experiences of families and individuals who received assistance in their local communities. Finally, Delivering Aid analyzes welfare regulations and practices in the American West, a region that has not been much studied by historians of poverty, yet which "enthusiastically embraced Progressive Era reforms" (p. 9).

Having determined that local officials, not state or Federal agencies, oversaw welfare delivery in Colorado, Krainz combed the records in a third of the county courthouses. He selected eight counties as possibilities before choosing Boulder, Costilla, Denver, Lincoln, Montezuma, and Teller counties as his sample. Each setting was distinctive, geographically and demographically in terms of ethnic composition and class dynamics. The six counties Krainz studies varied by occupation, population density, and the extent and power of grassroots private relief organizations. In this context Delivering Aid maps the experiences—sometimes on a daily basis—of five thousand individuals and families who received public aid. "Local circumstances—economies, settlement patterns, environmental conditions, religious beliefs, kinship ties, philanthropic practices, and decisions by commissioners—largely accounted for these differences and shaped the type and form of assistance that each county adopted" (p. 33).

Krainz's case studies illuminate striking features to Delivering Aid in Colorado. The Penitentes (The Pious Fraternity of Our Father Jesus Nazarite) in isolated Costilla County actively arranged for women to care for the sick and others to donate food and lodging in virtually every Hispanic community. Lincoln and Montezuma counties gave large amounts of aid for shorter periods of time than occurred elsewhere. The aid women received in Boulder and Teller counties depended on employment opportunities. Native Americans on the Ute Mountain Reservation struggled to maintain traditional customs while they fought newly arrived Protestant homesteaders and protested the Federal government's resistance to honor its own pledges to offer annuities and food. Consumption strained local resources in Denver as doctors in the East recommended that their tubercular patients take advantage of Colorado's high altitude and dry climate.

More than the predictable bureaucratic jockeying and clash of personalities thwarted reform in Colorado during the Progressive period. One of the era's most notable advances on the national level—mother's pensions—had little impact on the state's impoverished women. Only a third of the county judges implemented (often partially) the Mother's Compensation Act. How ironic: Colorado was the second state in the U.S. to approve statewide coverage, but the law left implementation to local officials. Public officials, joined by resistant social workers and well-known officials from children's institutions, feared that the Progressive measure would bring a return to corrupt practices associated with delivering assistance on the frontier.

The implementation of a new blind benefit law did temporarily transform welfare practices by overriding the influence of county officials. Colorado established a Blind Benefit Commission to set uniform standards for determining eligibility; it also determined levels of assistance based on available funds collected through a statewide levy. Yet the impact of even this reform was...


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