The Sentimental State

How Women-Led Reform Built the American Welfare State

Title Details

Pages: 236

Illustrations: 8 b&w scattered

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/01/2024

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6605-0

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 04/01/2024

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6606-7

List Price: $114.95

The Sentimental State

How Women-Led Reform Built the American Welfare State

Explores the link between nineteenth-century sentimental culture and female political action

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With The Sentimental State, Elizabeth Garner Masarik shows how middle-class women, both white and Black, harnessed the nineteenth-century “culture of sentiment” to generate political action in the Progressive Era. While eighteenth-century rationalism had relied upon the development of the analytic mind as the basis for acquiring truth, nineteenth-century sentimentalism hinged upon human emotional responses and the public’s capacity to feel sympathy to establish morally based truth and build support for improving the welfare of women and children.

Sentimentalism marched right alongside women’s steps into the public sphere of political action. The concerns over infant mortality and the “fall” of young women intertwined with sentimentalism to elicit public action in the formation of the American welfare state. The work of voluntary and paid female reformers during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries shaped what would become lasting collaborations between grassroots voluntary organizations and the national government.

Women saw a social need, filled it, and cobbled together a network of voluntary organizations that tapped state funding and support when available. Their work provided safeguards for women and children and created a network of female-oriented programs that both aided and policed women of child-bearing age at the turn of the twentieth century. Through an examination of these reform programs, Masarik demonstrates the strong connection between nineteenth-century sentimental culture and female political action, advocating government support for infant and maternal welfare, in the twentieth century.

Squarely placing gender at the center of its argument, The Sentimental State makes an important and necessary contribution to the existing scholarly literature on the growth of the modern welfare state. By adeptly demonstrating that nineteenth-century sentimental culture proved essential to the roots of early twentieth-century women's political activism, Elizabeth Masarik reframes the chronology of the emergence of the modern welfare state.

—Felicity M. Turner, author of Proving Pregnancy: Gender, Law, and Medical Knowledge in Nineteenth Century America

About the Author/Editor

Elizabeth Garner Masarik is assistant professor of History at SUNY Brockport.