Around 1900

Rationalization and Development: the Modernization of Municipal Welfare

Around 1900, poor relief began to evolve into modern welfare in the country’s progressive cities. Focus was placed on poverty and social plight in working-class districts. The reforms pursued a maxim of rationalization, centralization and bureaucratization. Public welfare thus entered the domain of legal practitioners, doctors and emerging social work.

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At the turn of the 20th century, the system of municipal poor relief still formed the backbone of social welfare. The principle of support in one’s home municipality was retained by most cantons. Nevertheless, new approaches for improving the situation of workers and for tackling poverty emerged around 1900, as did measures for controlling and disciplining the lower classes. As part of a drive for ‘communal social policy’, it was predominantly the cities that expanded their social provision. For instance, the city of Bern established an employment office in 1889, a poorhouse in 1892 and an unemployment fund in 1893. Bern also encouraged the construction of social housing and subsidized private day nurseries and crèches (1891/1898).

At the same time, a new generation of welfare experts – who gathered at the 1905 Swiss Conference on Poor Relief – called for the rationalization of welfare following examples set abroad. Guidelines were established for caseworkers, the centralization of organization, the bureaucratization of procedures and the professionalization of personnel. Social schools founded by women opened up the vocational field of welfare work for bourgeois women.

The new understanding of welfare was visible in an exemplary manner in how cities cared for youths. Further development and scientific attention accompanied the child protection provisions of the Civil Code (1912) as well as the institutionalization of education and training courses (from 1908). The city of Zurich thus professionalized the medical care of school children (1905) and reorganized the system of guardianship (1908). Public welfare was thereby expanded from children in need to ‘neglected’ and sick children. In this process, the authorities increasingly involved scientific experts, especially doctors and remedial educators.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Matter Sonja (2011), Der Armut auf den Leib rücken: Die Professionalisierung der Sozialen Arbeit in der Schweiz (1900–1960), Zürich; Tabin Jean-Pierre et al. (2010 [2008]), Temps d’assistance. L’assistance publique en Suisse romande de la fin du XIXe siècle à nos jours, Lausanne; Schnegg Brigitte (2007), Armutsbekämpfung durch Sozialreform: Gesellschaftlicher Wandel und sozialpolitische Modernisierung Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts am Beispiel der Stadt Bern, Berner Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Heimatkunde, 69, 233–258; Ramsauer Nadja (2000), “Verwahrlost”: Kindswegnahmen und die Entstehung der Jugendfürsorge im schweizerischen Sozialstaat, 1900–1945. Zürich.