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Frances Fox Piven Papers, 1957 - 2011 [ongoing]
157 boxes (123.25 linear ft. )
Collection number: MS 238

Abstract:
Professor, political science and political activist. The material in the Frances Fox Piven Papers, which includes correspondence, organization files, speeches, and writings, reflects her involvement as both an academic and activist concerned with community development, poverty, the welfare state and urban reform. Organizations documented include the American Civil Liberties Union, Mobilization for Youth, and the National Welfare Rights Organization. Correspondents include June Jordan, Michael Harrington, and Senator Paul Wellstone.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

Restricted Access: permission is required from the donor to use this collection. Contact the SSC for more information.

New, unprocessed accessions are closed until processed; Piven's personal correspondence is closed for fifty years from its date of creation; and letters of reference are closed for twenty years from their date of creation.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to Frances Fox Piven's papers. Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Biographical Note

Widely recognized as one of America's most thoughtful and provocative commentators on America's social welfare system, Frances Fox Piven, political scientist, activist, and educator, was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1932. She came to the U.S. in 1933 and was naturalized in 1953, the same year she received her B.A. in City Planning from the University of Chicago. She also received her M.A. (1956) and Ph.D. (1962) from the University of Chicago. While married to Herman Piven, she had a daughter, Sarah. After a brief stint in New York as a city planner, she became a research associate at one of the country's first anti-poverty agencies, Mobilization for Youth -- a comprehensive, community-based service organization on New York City's Lower East Side. At its height the organization coordinated more than fifty experimental programs designed to reduce poverty and crime. A 1965 paper entitled "Mobilizing the Poor: How It Can Be Done," launched Piven and her co-author, Columbia University professor Richard Cloward, into an ongoing national conversation on the welfare state. Piven and Cloward's collaborative work came to influence both careers, and the two eventually married. Their early work together provided a theoretical base for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), the first in a long line of grass-roots organizations in which Piven acted as founder, advisor, and/or planner. Piven taught in the Columbia University School of Social Work from 1966 to 1972. From 1972 to 1982 she was a professor of political science at Boston University. In 1982 she joined the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She has co-authored with Richard Cloward Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (1971); The Politics of Turmoil: Essays on Poverty, Race and the Urban Crisis (1974); Poor People's Movements (1977); The New Class War (1982); The Mean Season (1987); Why Americans Don't Vote (1988); and The Breaking of the American Social Compact (1997), as well as dozens of articles, both with Cloward and independently, in scholarly and popular publications.

Piven is known equally for her contributions to social theory and for her social activism. Over the course of her career, she has served on the boards of the ACLU and the Democratic Socialists of America, and has also held offices in several professional associations, including the American Political Science Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. In the 1960s, Piven worked with welfare-rights groups to expand benefits; in the eighties and nineties she campaigned relentlessly against welfare cutbacks. A veteran of the war on poverty and subsequent welfare-rights protests both in New York City and on the national stage, she has been instrumental in formulating the theoretical underpinnings of those movements. In Regulating the Poor , Piven and Cloward argued that any advances the poor have made throughout history were directly proportional to their ability to disrupt institutions that depend upon their cooperation. This academic commentary proved useful to George Wiley and the NWRO as well as a great many other community organizers and urban theorists. Since 1994, Piven has led academic and activist opposition to the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996," (known as the Personal Responsibility Act), appearing in numerous public forums, from television's Firing Line to the U.S. Senate, to discuss the history of welfare and the potential impact of welfare reform initiatives.

In corollary activity, Piven's study of voter registration and participation patterns found fruition in the 1983 founding of the HumanSERVE (Human Service Employees Registration and Voter Education) Campaign. The Campaign's registration reform effort culminated in the 1994 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, or the "Motor-Voter" bill, designed to increase voter registration, especially among low-income groups.

Michael Harrington, whose book The Other America helped focus the nation's attention on poverty in the early 1960s, has said that Piven is "one of the few academics who bridge the world of scholarship and the world of activism." Of this mix, Piven herself has said: "One informs the other, energizes the other . . . There are dimensions of political life that can't be seen if you stay on the sidelines or close to the top . . ." The larger significance of both activism and academics in Piven's life can be gleaned from her remark that such work "also has to do with comradeship and friendship, . . . with being part of the social world in which you live and trying to make some imprint on it, . . . with the real satisfaction of throwing in with the ordinary people who have always been the force for humanitarian social change."

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Frances Fox Piven Papers (circa 1957-), extending 72 linear feet, are primarily professional, though they also contain some personal materials.

The collection consists of correspondence with colleagues, editors and publishers, students and friends; teaching materials; organization and subject files; and speeches and writings, reflecting her work as both an academic and activist in the areas of urban social welfare, poverty, and public policy. Taken together, Piven's papers offer a comprehensive critique of the welfare state, from Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty to the present, and ongoing efforts, acute in the late 1990s, to reform it. Other important and related subject areas illuminated throughout her papers include voting and voter registration (see especially SERIES IV. COMMUNITY SERVICE-HumanSERVE); community development (largely in New York City); working-class political activity; housing rights, reform, and homelessness in New York City (see especially course files in SERIES III. TEACHING; SERIES V. WRITING; and SERIES VII. SUBJECTS); campus politics (especially regarding Columbia University, Boston University, and the City University of New York); civil rights; and United States social and economic policies. Papers throughout the collection also pertain to Piven's co-author and husband, Columbia University School of Social Work Professor Richard A. Cloward. Substantial material documents Piven and Cloward's role in the founding and development of Mobilization for Youth and HumanSERVE (see SERIES IV. COMMUNITY SERVICE). Several correspondents are significant both for the extent of their correspondence with Piven and for their prominence on the national stage. These include poet June Jordan, scholars and activists Howard Zinn and Rosalyn Feldberg, and Senator Paul Wellstone. Other correspondence with significant figures throughout the social sciences and national social policy forums is scattered throughout the collection, and includes Chester Hartman, Sam Bass Warner, S.M. Miller, Herbert Gans, Ira Katznelson, Frank Reissman, Todd Gitlin, Nancy Chodorow, Donna Shalala, and Michael Lipsky.


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

Restricted Access: permission is required from the donor to use this collection. Contact the SSC for more information.

New, unprocessed accessions are closed until processed; Piven's personal correspondence is closed for fifty years from its date of creation; and letters of reference are closed for twenty years from their date of creation.

Restrictions on use:

The Sophia Smith Collection owns copyright to Frances Fox Piven's papers. Copyright to materials created by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission must be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use."

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Frances Fox Piven Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

Additional Formats

Selections from the Frances Fox Piven Papers can be viewed in the Web exhibit Agents of Social Change: New Resources on 20th-century Women's Activism .

History of the Collection

Frances Fox Piven began donating her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1988 and will continue to add to the collection.

Accruals:

Periodic additions to collection are expected.

Processing Information

Processed by Marla Miller, 1998.

Recent additions to this collection are unprocessed and are not reflected in the finding aid.


Additional Information
Contact Information
Sophia Smith Collection
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: (413) 585-2970
Fax: (413) 585-2886

Email Reference Form: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/emailform.html
URL: http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/ssc/

Language
English.