Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





J. Laurence Hare

Committee Member

Tricia Starks

Second Committee Member

Michael Pierce

Third Committee Member

Ren Pepitone


History, Poverty, Social Welfare, Social reforms, Germany, Great Britain, United States, Transnational


This dissertation employs a transnational analysis to focus on historical perceptions of poverty and the development of private and public welfare in the modern era. This research places the emergence of early poverty relief schemes within a broader transatlantic context by studying the relationships among social reformers in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. This work has two primary objectives. First, it focuses on the Elberfeld Poor Relief System a nineteenth and early twentieth century German innovation emphasizing local poor relief and community responsibility, which transformed poor relief into an efficient structure. Second, the Elberfeld System was instrumental in influencing the management of poor relief in other nations, such as Great Britain and the United States, and studying these transnational connections demonstrates the historical contingency of poverty. While scholars on German welfare and poverty emphasize the role the Elberfeld System had on poor relief management, the prevailing narrative has relegated it to a status of under importance. Furthermore, the Elberfeld System was not only applied extensively throughout Germany, it had a direct impact over the ways individuals in England and America sought to curtail poverty’s effects. Each country developed unique poor relief organizations and systems conducive to themselves and their national setting. Yet the specific historical study of each individualized system, while having merit, is too narrowly focused thus missing larger transnational connections. This work demonstrates how private and localized poor relief aided in negotiating the shift to national welfare systems in the twentieth century. While this approach will demonstrate the historical attitudes towards poverty and its management, it will also illuminate how the evolution of poor relief, the development of the welfare state, and the shifting view of the very idea of poverty, were informed at every stage not simply by states and national institutions, but by transnational trends, ideas, and encounters.

Available for download on Thursday, June 03, 2021