This Business of Relief
Confronting Poverty in a Southern City, 1740–1940

Elna C. Green

A groundbreaking study of social-welfare policy in the urban South


"Written in lucid prose and possessing a useful sweep, This Business of Relief debunks misapprehensions that have had serious and negative consequences for public policy."
—Michael B. Katz, author of In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America

"Elna Green systematically explores the relationships between southern and national relief practices over a substantial period of time, discovering far more similarity than difference. Unlike typical social-welfare history studies, she casts her net wide, scrutinizing the impact of industrialization, evolving gender roles, race relations, and key social and political developments on poverty and relief. To carry out this project, Green demonstrates impressive command of a broad secondary literature and creative use of primary sources. It is in this last area that This Business of Relief especially shines. Green not only ferrets out a stunning array of primary sources, but she reads them in breathtaking fashion, presenting the lives of the poor through their own eyes and in their own voices."
—Peter J. Rachleff , author of Black Labor in Richmond, 1865–1890

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The South has been largely overlooked in the debates prompted by the wave of welfare reforms during the 1990s. This book helps correct that imbalance. Using Richmond, Virginia, as an example, Elna C. Green looks at issues and trends related to two centuries of relief for the needy and dependent in the urban South. Throughout, she links her findings to the larger narrative of welfare history in the United States. She ties social-welfare policy in the South to other southern histories, showing how each period left its own mark on policies and their implementation—from colonial poor laws to homes for children orphaned in the Civil War to the New Deal's public works projects.

Green also covers the South's ongoing urbanization and industrialization, the selective application of social services along racial and gender lines, debates over the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, the professionalization of social work, and the lasting effects of New Deal money and regulations on the region.

This groundbreaking study sheds light on a variety of key public and private welfare issues—in history and in the present, and in terms of welfare recipients and providers.

Page count: 376 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $30.95

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Elna C. Green is Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts at San Jose State University. She is the author of This Business of Relief and the editor of Before the New Deal and The New Deal and Beyond (all Georgia).