Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2005 - 8/31/2005

Funding Totals

$24,000.00 (approved)
$24,000.00 (awarded)

Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State

FAIN: FA-51428-05

Michele Landis Dauber
Stanford University (Stanford, CA 94305-2004)

This project, a book based on my dissertation research, explores the highly explicit decision by proponents of the New Deal to assert continuity between the established history of federal disaster relief and the New Deal's relief and social security programs. I first recover the history of federal aid to disaster sufferers from the the early Republic to the 1930s, and then show how this history was recruited by New Dealers as a precedent for the expansion of the state during the 1930s in Congress, the Supreme Court, and in the polity. I show how the decision to use the history of disaster aid to justify relief for the Depression decisively shaped the New Deal and influenced the subsequent history of the American state.

Media Coverage

The Welfare State's Secret Weapon (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Christopher Shea
Publication: Chronicle of Higher Education
Date: 12/7/2012
Abstract: This article discusses the importance of the author's research on the history of disaster relief in the development of the US welfare state.

How FDR Won the War of Public Perception (Review)
Author(s): Sam Worley
Publication: Chicago Reader
Date: 12/10/2012
Abstract: This article reviews the book and discusses the importance of the disaster relief precedent in the political and public relations strategies of the New Deal. The author of the review echoes the book's suggestion that President Obama could emulate FDR's approach to good effect.

Poverty Requires Disaster Relief (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Michele Landis Dauber
Publication: American Prospect
Date: 12/14/2012
Abstract: The author of the Sympathetic State argues that a long-term plan for rebuilding a progressive political majority should work to rehabilitate redistribution by connecting it to the popular program of disaster relief.

Associated Products

The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State (Book)
Title: The Sympathetic State: Disaster Relief and the Origins of the American Welfare State
Author: Michele Landis Dauber
Abstract: As unemployment soared during the Depression, FDR’s relief and social security programs were attacked in Congress and the courts. New Dealers responded by citing a long tradition—dating back to 1790 and now largely forgotten—of federal disaster aid. In The Sympathetic State, Michele Landis Dauber traces the roots of the American welfare state to the earliest days of the republic, when relief was forthcoming for victims of fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. New Dealers drew on this precedent to frame the Depression as a disaster afflicting citizens through no fault of their own. Though advocates for social spending were successful in defending the New Deal, their strategy created the weak American welfare state — torn between the desire to relieve suffering and the suspicion that those in need are responsible for their own deprivation.
Year: 2013
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description:
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 978-0226923499


The Littleton-Griswold Prize in US law and society
Date: 10/22/2014
Organization: American Historical Association
Abstract: Awarded for the best book in any subject on the history of American law and society.