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Richard A. Cloward papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00466

Scope and Contents

Most of the materials pertain to Richard A. Cloward, although there are some of Frances Piven's items. Included are Cloward's obituaries and information about his final illness; correspondence, clippings, and writings about Cloward's legal entanglements with Brandeis and Columbia Universities; Piven's appointment books (1963-2000); electronic mail, correspondence, memorandums and articles about Piven's and Cloward's social welfare activism; and publishing contracts and royalty statements. Also includes Human Serve Fund Committee records, mostly financial, including lists of donors, bank statements, tax documents.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1944 - 2006


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that they own copyright, Frances Fox Piven has assigned the copyright of Richard Cloward's works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Richard Cloward, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical Note

Richard A. Cloward was born on Dec. 25, 1926, in Rochester, NY, the son of a radical Baptist minister, Donald Cloward, and Esther Fleming, an artist and feminist. He went to the Columbia University School of Social Work in 1949 to pursue graduate work in sociology, earning his master's and doctoral degrees, and joined the faculty there in 1954. He was a sociologist and social activist who was an architect of the welfare rights movement and the co-author of a groundbreaking critique of the welfare state as a tool for containing social unrest. Cloward first achieved recognition with his book Delinquency and Opportunity (1960), a study of juvenile delinquency, co-authored with Lloyd Ohlin, a colleague at Columbia; in it they argued that delinquency among very poor inner-city youths was a rational reaction to limited economic opportunities. Cloward and Ohlin tried to put this "opportunity theory" into practice on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, with the creation of a project called Mobilization for Youth, the purpose of which was to help youth gang members on their own terms. It quickly became a model for many federal programs under the auspices of the Johnson administration's war on poverty. Cloward won numerous awards for his teaching and academic work, and was equally well known for his efforts to influence social policy through grass-roots organizing and lobbying among the poor. Cloward frequently collaborated with his wife, Frances Fox Piven, whom he met at Mobilization for Youth. Perhaps their most controversial writing was an article published in The Nation in 1966, calling for "a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the rolls" as a means of forcing radical welfare reform. The article helped to foster the emergence of a more militant welfare rights movement, including the occupation of welfare offices in many cities, and other acts of civil disobedience. In their book, Regulating the Poor: the Function of Public Welfare (1972), Cloward and Piven analyzed the history of relief and public welfare systems, arguing that periodic rises in the welfare rolls helped the state to moderate disorder among poorer groups. In times of relative economic and political stability, the rolls would be shrunk to ensure a steady supply of low-wage labor for employers. In downturns, they said that the rolls would be deliberately expanded to prevent social disorder. Both controversial and entirely original, the book is still required reading for students of American politics and social policies, even as the analysis within it has remained well outside the political mainstream. In the Reagan era of the 1980's, Cloward and Piven wrote several books that warned of a growing attack on the welfare state and drew attention to the decline of organized labor, including The New Class War: Reagan's' Attack on the Welfare State and Its Consequences (1982). They also focused increasingly on mass voter registration as a means of maintaining support for policies to help the poor, forming an organization, Human Serve (Human Service Employees Registration and Voters Education) for that purpose. In Why Americans Don't Vote, published in 1988 and reissued in 2000, they put forward some of the rationale for this strategy. Under Cloward's stewardship, the group was later to play a major role in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the Motor Voter Act, which required state governments to permit people to register to vote in welfare agencies as well as in drivers' license bureaus. He and Piven were invited to the White House when President Clinton signed the bill into law. Richard A. Cloward died of lung cancer in New York on August 20, 2001. [paraphrased from obituary, NYT 23 Aug 2001]


4.771 linear feet (5 containers)

Language of Materials



Richard A. Cloward was a sociologist and social activist who was an architect of the welfare rights movement and the co-author of a groundbreaking critique of the welfare state as a tool for containing social unrest. Included are electronic mail, correspondence, memorandums and articles about Cloward's and Frances Piven’s social welfare activism; correspondence, clippings, and writings about Cloward's legal entanglements with Brandeis and Columbia Universities; Frances Piven's appointment books; publishing contracts and royalty statements; Cloward's obituaries and information about his final illness; and Human Serve Fund Committee records.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Frances Fox Piven in 2002 and 2013.

Related Materials

Frances Fox Piven Papers (includes collaborative work)

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. The following changes were made in this collection: Accession 2013-S-0005, Box 1 renumbered as Box 5



Finding aid to the Richard A. Cloward papers.
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2018-12-19: Finding aid updated to current standards and published
  • 2020-04-06: Added accession 2002-S-0025 inventory, updated dates

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063