The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) founders
believed womenıs poverty resulted from a capitalist
economy that provided too few opportunities for poor
women in general and for black women in particular.
Thus, they declared welfare a right that all unemployed
women deserved. To ensure this right, the NWRO protested
at welfare offices when mothers were arbitrarily denied
benefits, did not receive checks, did not receive their
full amount, were wrongly terminated, or were treated in
a demeaning manner.
They also protested when mothers did not receive grants
of clothing and household furnishings that were
available to them by law, but were denied them by
welfare relief workers who did not inform the women
about the benefits. These protests were significant
since it was the first time that poor women, many of
whom were previously disempowered and stigmatized, had
collectively fought for increased welfare benefits.
In 1971, Johnnie Tillmon was hired as associate director
of the NWRO, becoming the first black woman and welfare
mother to be hired for a high-level staff position; in
1972, she became the director. Tillmon knew from
firsthand experience that women preferred a living-wage
job to welfare.
She had conducted a survey of poor women in her Watts
housing project and found that out of the 600 women who
participated in the study, all but one preferred work.
However, poor women had little access to living-wage
In order to solve this dilemma, she called on the
federal government to create a guaranteed income.
Although she and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to a
similar conclusion, that a guaranteed income was the key
to solving poverty, Tillmonıs focus was on poor women.
By calling for dignity and liberation for all women,
including people who were seen as the ³undeserving
poor,² Tillmon incorporated poor and black women into
the second wave of the feminist movement. As she stated,
³For a lot of middle-class women in this country,
Womenıs Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on
welfare itıs a matter of survival.²
Myers-Lipton, p. 218-219
(Excerpted from Social Solutions to Poverty
İ Paradigm Publishers