Research paper on The Origins of Mothers’ Allowance

It is known that social welfare plays a significant role in the life of any society. It guaranties stability and social control. According to Dennis T. Guest (2003), “the policies and programs of modern social security legislation in Canada have roots extending back to the late 16-th century in England and France” (p. 11). It has been found that prior to the 1867 British North American Act, the major political entities were developed by French and English colonial authorities (Blake & Keshen, 1995; Herrick & Stuart, 2004).  In the 20-th century, due to the growth of urbanization and modernization of industrial society, the need for social welfare programs increased. Today, social welfare policies and programs available to Canadians are driven by the political will of the government and fiscal indicators to finance the appropriate social welfare initiatives. Special attention is paid to women and children. In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of Canada, “social welfare is a provincial responsibility”(Herrick & Stuart, 2004, p. 352). However, both the federal government and the provincial authorities have always supported the major income security programs and initiatives throughout the 20-th century. Among them are such programs as Worker’s Compensation established in 1914, Mothers’ Allowances established in 1916, Old Age Security established in 1927, Family Allowance of 1944, and some other programs (Herrick & Stuart, 2004, p. 352). The major purpose of the Mothers’ Allowances policy is to provide an income to mothers who lost their husbands and have dependent children in their care. For example, in such provinces as Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec these women’s allowances are available to Indian mothers who live in poverty (Rodgers et al., 2007, p. 192).

The major goal of this paper is to discuss the Mother’s Allowance policy development in Canadian social welfare system, paying special attention to the key factors that had an enormous impact on the development of this policy and the effect of this policy on the life of all Canadians.


It is known that in Canada, as well as in other countries, women occupy “a unique position relative to men in the field of social welfare” (Herrick & Stuart, 2004, p. 441). This fact is closely connected with labor division. Women have always been responsible for care giving. According to Francis J. Turner (2005), “mother’s allowance was one of the first provincial experiments with formal income support programs in Canada”(p. 244).  It is also known that Mothers’ Allowance legislation provided an allowance to poor widows in Canada. In 1916, the first Canadian province Monitoba passed that legislation. Later, it was spread in the province of Ontario and some other western provinces of Canada. According to the statistical data, by the late1950s, practically all Canadian provinces provided financial support to mothers who raised their children alone, without husbands. Although this policy was characterized by “restricted categorical eligibility, stringent moral requirements, domestic supervision, and meager financial support”, it became very popular among the poor mothers who had serious problems raising their children alone (Turner, 2005, p. 244). The programs based on the Mothers’ Allowance policy reflected the role of a state as a so-called guarantor of well-being of all women who became widows after the war. John M. Herrick and Paul H. Stuart (2004) state that the Mothers’ Allowance program provided assistance only to the worthy widows of Canadian soldiers killed during the war, but the divorced women and those women who had never been married were excluded from these benefits for a period of more than four decades (p. 440). However, later eligibility criteria of this initiative were extended and included a number of other categories of excluded poor mothers: “wives of incapacitated men, deserted women, foster mothers, mothers with only one child, divorcees, and officially separated mothers, wives of criminals in prisons, unmarried mothers, as well as previous residents of other Canadian provinces and immigrants” (Westhues, 2006, p. 297).

The Ontario Mothers’ Allowance program was established as a result of a widespread campaign organized by women’s organizations in the post-First World War period with the major purpose ”“ to provide the appropriate state benefits to the destitute fatherless families, according to Hugh E. Q. Shewell (p. 142). It is known that in 1920, the Ontario Needy Mothers’ Allowance Act went into effect.

In addition, it is known that in 1920, the Ontario Mother’s Allowance Commission administered the Mother’s Allowance Act which guaranteed allowance to a certain category of mothers. It is interesting to notice that by the end of the 1920s, there were more than 110 local boards of the Ontario Mother’s Allowance Commission, which received applications for the allowances. For the purpose of supervision, the members of the commission divided the province of Ontario into 17 districts. Each district had its investigators, who were involved in supervision practices, and paid regular home visits. According to Francis Turner (2005), “these visits conditioned the allowance to intense, close and direct supervision of beneficiaries based on specific class, ethnic, cultural and moral values of investigators” (p. 246). This method helped to define the major indicators of good motherhood, eligibility and the appropriate decision making practices connected with the support of motherhood. In other words, the major characteristics of the Mothers’ Allowance programs were focused on supervision of mothers concerning their motherhood expertise, household management practices, and morality. In 1952, a new structure of the committee’s administration was put in place. During the Mothers’ Allowance period (1916-1964), the role of women in Canadian society had been changed and the focus on work “grew to dominate the discourse of the programs gradually eroding their initial valuing of caring activities” (Westhues, 2006, p. 297).

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