In Their Best Interests: Social Scientists, Public Policy, and the Revaluing of Working Mothers, 1940-2000


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation explores the evolution of defenses of maternal employment in the United States from World War II to the welfare reform debates of the 1990s. Although these arguments are often associated with defenses of women’s rights as individuals, their origins are more varied and the arguments more diverse than those concerning the right to work. A focus on the impact of employment on children, marriages, families, and society was a common thread in these debates. Between 1940 and 2000, defenses of working mothers shifted from an emphasis on the public good to an emphasis on private profit and individual responsibility, though elements of both always existed. This can help explain why even as more mothers than ever worked outside the home, support for public assistance to those mothers dwindled.