a1 University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
In the early twentieth century, amid heightening industrial tensions, many large corporations introduced welfare work to co-opt their employees' loyalties and pacify public anger. Many of the techniques and ideas of what became known as “welfare capitalism” were adapted from charity aid and settlement work. Over time, however, labor relations moved from being identified as a social reform issue—bound up with other issues on which the new profession of social work concentrated—to a business management prerogative. This article argues that professionalization played a significant role in these developments. Philanthropic reformers initially claimed welfare work as part of their professional agenda. However, in the second decade of the century, the social work profession began to narrow its field of operations. As social work's ambivalent claims on the factory and shop floor atrophied, business schools were introducing elements of industrial social work into their new management curriculums. The burgeoning field of professional labor management incorporated welfare work as one of its essential tools.
(Online publication January 13 2012)
Nikki Mandell is an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater. Her most recent book, co-authored with Bobbie Malone, is Thinking Like a Historian: Rethinking History Instruction (2008). Her first book, The Corporation as Family: The Gendering of Corporate Welfare, 1890–1930, was published in 2002.
1 The author thanks the anonymous reviewers for their insightful critiques of an earlier draft of this article. I am also indebted to David Brody and fellow historians at the long-past Justice at Work Conference in his honor who offered valuable feedback on a very preliminary version of this paper.