Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Hay, Carla H.

Second Advisor

Ball, Alan M.

Third Advisor

Donnelly, John P.


A single author cannot speak with the high authority of a panel of experts, but he may succeed in giving to his work an integrated and even an epical quality that no composite volume can achieve. Homer, as well as Herodotus was a Father of History, as Gibbon, the greatest of our historians, was aware; and it is difficult, in spite of certain critics, to believe that Homer was a panel. History writing today has passed into an Alexandrian age, where criticism has overpowered creation.' Something other than erudite and skillful histories inspired this study which focuses on the construction of values, the ways in which these are inculcated in the family, and the process by which values set one group apart from the other. My concern with these issues was heightened by working with American underprivileged high school students from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, an experience that dramatized for me the nature versus nurture question. To what degree is any individual a product of environment or family culture? To what degree do racial, religious and ethnic prejudices in the larger community prohibit the full growth, maturity, and empowerment of minorities? How can these inequities be reconciled and reconfigured to redress the problem? If social provisions for the poor have been designed to mitigate problems arising from social inequities or prejudices, then what underlying assumptions and values shape and construct such programs? To what extent do educational and social welfare programs serve as palliatives for racial, ethnic, and social differences? This dissertation examines several of the above questions in the historical setting of Victorian London and focuses on social issues surrounding provisions for poor women and children, particularly unwed mothers. Nineteenth century London renders an extraordinary opportunity to study social issues because profound demographic and economic growth combined with geographic expansion of a diverse population to render social and logistical problems beyond the scope of the unreformed eighteenth century municipal government. The period offers an extraordinary opportunity to survey the unfolding of institutional and attitudinal responses to poverty. In 1834, on the eve of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne, the English Poor Law was substantively changed to reflect the Victorian preoccupation with respectability. These changes profoundly impacted the poor, especially women and children. By the time of Victoria's death in 1901, a new era in social welfare policy that would ultimately result in the post World War II welfare state was at hand. My study raises the following large questions: How does society shape and define public and private charitable resources? What source of moral authority and what forms of power underpinned the privilege of the institutional providers? Who set the rules for distribution of assistance to the poor? Who collected and monitored the material and financial resources for the poor? What was the purpose or goal of the assistance, relief of material needs or reform of character? Who were the "poor''? What social characteristics did the poor share? Where did they live? How did they order their lives? How, in light of the constraints placed on the poor by gender and class, did the poor act as historical agents? Under what circumstances did individuals chose to appeal to public or private welfare?...



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