In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt called a White House conference on how to best deal with the problem of poor single mothers and their children. The conference declared that preserving the family in the home was preferable to placing the poor in institutions, which were widely criticized as costly failures.
Starting with Illinois in 1911, the "mother's pension" movement sought to provide state aid for poor fatherless children who would remain in their own homes cared for by their mothers. In effect, poor single mothers would be excused from working outside the home. Welfare reformers argued that the state pensions would also prevent juvenile delinquency since mothers would be able to supervise their children full-time.
By 1933, mother's pension programs were operating in all but two states. They varied greatly from state to state and even from county to county within a state. In 1934, the average state grant per child was $11 a month. Administered in most cases by state juvenile courts, mother's pensions mainly benefitted families headed by white widows. These programs excluded large numbers of divorced, deserted, and minority mothers and their children.