Authority and community: The organization of private social welfare in Cleveland, 1870–1920
This dissertation is about individuals, their organizations, and their actions to maintain important aspects of their lives during a period of economic, social, and political change. Specifically, it is the study of the network of authority relationships around private social welfare in Cleveland between 1870 and 1920. Protestant clergy, women, businessmen and professional social workers built an expansive network of charitable organizations. Grounded in Protestant values and tradition, these charities exhibited organization, efficiency, and standardization that were the desired outcomes of the early twentieth century charity worker. However, their authority was limited despite their successes.
The limitation of their authority was directly proportional to the degree to which Catholic immigrants, Jews, and African Americans built their own authority relationships to organize and govern their own lives. Prompted by the pressures of Protestant American values in a strange land, and informed by their own peculiar ethnic customs and traditions, non-Protestants built systems of charitable and self-help organizations that insulated them and provided the necessary space to make sense of their community. Yet developing these relationships was not easy. In addition to the explicit and implicit pressures of Protestant culture to assimilate, immigrants and migrants also fought internal struggles amongst their own social groups for control and authority. These struggles led to negotiated forms of authority that not only organized the social groups internally, but helped determine their relationships with Protestants and others outside their community.
What emerged in Cleveland by 1920 was a complex set of social relationships both within social groups and across them. The focus on private social welfare serves as a prism that reveals where social relationships were created within and across different ethnic, racial, class, and religious groups. The concept of authority helps to organize these relationships into an intelligible form. The actors themselves tell a story that is much more complex and dynamic than historians have heretofore argued.