The New Victorians

Poverty, Politics, and Propaganda in Two Gilded Ages

A controversial history of the Victorian roots of today’s conservative anti-welfare crusaders

“A powerfully written and eye-opening book. Stephen Pimpare shows us the startling parallels between the crackdown on poor relief in the Gilded Age and the contemporary rollbacks of public welfare, illuminating an ugly episode in recent policy-making with historical perspective.” —Frances Fox Piven

During the economic boom of the 1990s, arguments about the moral failings of the poor were used to pass welfare reforms heralded as the solution to a system that had failed everyone. Yet, as historian Stephen Pimpare demonstrates in this revealing social history, remarkably similar arguments were used to disastrous effect in campaigns against aid to the poor in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

In The New Victorians, Pimpare reveals the disturbing parallels between the anti-welfare propagandists of the nineteenth century and the elite actors and well-funded policy research organizations of today. Alarmingly, he shows how the New Victorians of today often invoke the rhetoric of their predecessors while ignoring the complete failure of nineteenth-century reforms. The New Victorians goes on to uncover the elite and grassroots resistance in the Gilded Age that paved the way for the counterreforms of the Progressive Era, revealing urgent lessons toward renewing support for broader state defense of the poor today.


“The very character of the women must be changed.”
—Josephine Shawlowell, 1879
“The lazy, shiftless, sauntering or swaggering, ill-conditioned, irreclaimable, incorrigible, cowardly, utterly depraved savage . . . will outrage an unprotected female, or rob a defenseless child, or burn an isolated barn, or girdle fruit trees, or wreck a railway train. . . .”
—Francis Wayland, 1877
“The focus must be on changing and saving people.”
—Newt Gingrich, 1996

Books by Stephen Pimpare

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