The New Victorians: Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages


With the welfare reform of 1996, America abandoned the New Deal's guarantee of poor relief for all eligible people. It was the striking culmination of a political debate in which the nation appeared to turn away from the poor in a decisive and unprecedented fashion. Except, as Stephen Pimpare shows in this book, the assault on the poor was not unprecedented at all. Indeed, remarkably similar arguments were used to disastrous effect in campaigns against aid to the poor in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Then, as now, a nationwide system of poor relief was dismantled - from 1873 to 1898, thirty-nine of the fifty largest American cities cut back or eliminated their programs - by a network of well-heeled, tightly organized, and powerful "reformers." In The New Victorians, Pimpare reveals the disturbing parallels between the anti-welfare propagandists of the nineteenth century and the elite actors and well-funded think tanks of today. He shows how these New Victorians invoke the rhetoric of their predecessors while ignoring the abject failure of nineteenth-century reforms. And The New Victorians describes the story of grassroots and elite resistance during the Gilded Age that paved the way for the counter-reforms of the Progressive Era, offering urgent lessons for an era that many have called a new Gilded Age.

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New Press

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