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Frances Fox Piven papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00238

Scope and Contents

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.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1950 - 2012


Conditions Governing 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.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Frances Fox Piven has assigned the copyright in her 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 Frances Fox Piven, 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 / Historical

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."


89.793 linear feet (158 containers)

0.06181 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



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.


This collection is organized into eight series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Teaching
  4. IV. Community Service
  5. V. Writings
  6. VI. Speeches
  7. VII. Subject Files
  8. VIII. Audiovisual Materials


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

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Frances Fox Piven, 1988-2011. Additional materials donated by David Rosner in 2004 Martha A. Ackelsberg in 2008.

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 .

Related Materials

See also the New York City Women Community Activists Oral History Project in the SSC for interview with Piven relating to Mobilization for Youth.

Also see "Registering Millions: Celebrating the Success and Potential of the National Voter Registration Act at 20", a report published by Demos.

Additional interviews are in the Columbia University Oral History Archives, War on Poverty Project.




“Breaking up the Ghetto; Desegregation or Redistribution,” circa 1966

“The Worsening of Ghetto Housing,” circa 1966

untitled manuscript on ghetto housing, circa 1966

“The Case Against Urban Desegregation,” circa 1966 “Desegregation: How the Ghetto Pays for the Reformers’ Ideal,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts, research materials, correspondence, and memo response from George Wiley, 1966-1967

"Desegregated Housing: Who Pays for the Reformers' Ideal?" with Richard A. Cloward, 1966

Review, Cities: A Scientific American Book, 1966

"The Case Against Urban Desegregation," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"Separatism Versus Integration; A Rejoinder," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"Ghetto Redevelopment: Corporate Imperialism for the Poor," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

“Rent Strike: Disrupting the Slum System,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

New York Free Press articles: four-part series on how to organize a Rent Strike, with Richard A. Cloward, 7 November 1968; 14-20 November 1968; 29 December 1968-9 January 1969, and 16 January 1969; also, "The Arden House Affair," Westside News, 9 November 1967; "Westside news 22 June 1967.

“Rent Strikes Now!” n.d.


“The Public Interest in Urban Renewal:” proposal drafts, budget proposals, 1962

“Conceptual Themes in the Formation of Mobilization for Youth:” drafts & correspondence, 1965

"The Professional Bureaucracies Benefit Systems as Influence Systems," with Richard A. Cloward, 1965

“Resident Participation in Community Action Programs: An Overview,” 1965

"Participation of Residents in Neighborhood Community Action Programs,” 1966

“The New Metropolitan Politics: How the Negro Will Lose,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts and correspondence, 1967

"Comments on [Victor Palmieri's essay] 'Hard Facts About the Future of Our Cities',” 1967

"Black Control of Cities: Heading It Off by Metropolitan Government," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

“ The Demonstration Project: A Federal Strategy for Local Change,” 1967.

“What Change for Black Power,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“La participacion de los Vecinos en Programas Urbanos de Comunidad,” 1968

“Community Control: Beyond the Rhetoric,” 1968

Federal Intervention in The Cities: The New Urban Programs as a Political Strategy,” in Handbook for the Study of Social Problems, 1968

"New Directions for Established Institutions: ” published panel with Peter Weiss, Rev. Howard R. Moody and Leonard Buder, PIVEN moderator, 1970

“Federal Intervention in the Cities: The New Urban Programs as a Political Strategy:” correspondence, drafts and galleys, 1971

Review of George, Social Security and Society, 1973

“Social Science and Social Policy,” 1974

“The American Public Welfare System” 1974

Review, Ginzberg and Solow’s The Great Society, 1975.

“Social Policy and the Formation of Political Consciousness,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts, commentary and correspondence, 1978; also translation of manuscript into German

“The Transformation of City Politics,” 1982

“Welfare State Policies in the United States,” drafts and correspondence, 1990-91, and conference program, “First All-European Dialogue on Social Policies,” Helskinki, March 1990.

“The Politics of Unemployment in the 1980s,” n.d.

“Education Policy and the Formation of Political Consciousness,” n.d.

Rewrite, “The Professional Bureaucracies’ Benefit Systems as Influence Systems,” n.d.


“Low-Income People and Political Process,” with Richard A. Cloward, April 1964

“Migration, Politics and Welfare,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“The Great Society as Political Strategy,” 1970

“Electoral Instability, Civil Disorder, and Relief Rises: A Reply to Albritton,” with Richard A. Cloward: correspondence and drafts, 1978

Prospects for a Resurgent Democratic Left: Responses to Walter Dean Burnham,” (“The Reagan Revolution and the Eclipse of the Democratic Party”): drafts and correspondence, 1981

“Capital Against Democracy,” 1981

“The American Road to Democratic Socialism,” with Richard A. Cloward: correspondence, notes and drafts, 1982

“Toward a Class-Based Realignment of American Politics; A Movement Strategy,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1983

“Ideas, Protest and Humanitarianism,” 1983

Untitled article for Mother Jones’ campaign ’84 special issue, and special issue proposal, 1984

Untitled manuscript, with Richard A. Cloward, circa 1985, on voter registration (possibly for The Nation)

“Trying to Break down the Barriers,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1985

“The Executive Action Strategy,” with Richard A. Cloward, galley for The Nation, 1985 (“Part II, possibly of above)

Untitled manuscript on voter turnout, circa 1989 “Why Voter Turnout is Low, and Falling,” 1989, drafts and comments by Raymond Wolfinger

“The American Democratic Party,” 1990

“Why Turnout is Low, and Falling: The Multiple Determinants of NonVoting in the United States,” paper and correspondence, 1991; and “Rules, Parties and Political Attitudes: The Multiple Determinants of NonVoting in the United States,” 1991

“Richard A. Cloward, Liberals, the Democratic Party,” circa 1991

“The Mayors and the Federal System,” circa 1991

“State Structures and Political Protest: Notes Toward a Theory,” n.d.


"The Urban Crisis: Who Got What, and Why,” 1971

“Short Versions’ Urban Crisis:” drafts entitled “Why are Cities Going Broke,” “The Urban Fiscal Crisis, or, Who Got What and Why,” “The Urban Crisis: I., A Matter of Services or Politics?,” 1972

“The (Retroactively) Disastrous Consequences of the Welfare Explosion,” with Richard A. Cloward: correspondence and draft, 1972

“Who Gets What: Cutting Up the City Pie,” 1972

“The Urban Crisis as an Arena for Class Mobilization,” with Richard A. Cloward: correspondence and drafts, 1976

“The Urban Crisis,” 1978

“Public Choice and Private Power: A Theory of Fiscal Crisis,” with Roger Friedland: correspondence and drafts, 1981-2


“Institutional Analyses: Divergent Conceptions of Welfare,” June, 1962

“Echoes from the ‘Old Left:’ A Comment of the Mobilization for Youth Fiasco,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts, notes, research materials, 1965 “Organizing the Poor: How it Can be Done,” with Richard A. Cloward: February 1966

"The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty," with Richard A. Cloward, 1966

"A Strategy to End Poverty," with Richard A. Cloward, 1966

"Flooding the Welfare Rolls," with Richard A. Cloward

"Strategy of Crisis: A Dialogue," with Richard A. Cloward et al.

"Poverty, Injustice, and the Welfare State," with Richard A. Cloward, 1966

"Welfare Reform and the Redistribution of Income” ca. 1966

“Private Benevolence and the Welfare State: The Founts of Social Welfare,” 1966

Reply, Richard A. Cloward & Piven, to Reissman, re: “The Guaranteed Income,” 1966

“The House Deals with the Poor:” clippings, correspondence and text, 1967

“Welfare,” 1967

"Starving by the Rule Book," with Richard A. Cloward.

"The Weapon of Poverty: Birth of a Movement," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"We've Got Rights! The No-Longer Silent Welfare Poor," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"Women and Children Last," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"Improving Social Welfare: Using Available Resources," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

“Corporate Imperialism for the Poor,” with RAC, 1967.

“Starving in Mississippi,” with RAC, 1967.

“Disrupting City Services to Change National Priorities,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“Finessing the Poor,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“The Poor Against Themselves,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“Whose ‘Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding?” reply to Moynihan, 1969

“Welfare I: A Political Response,” Op-Ed with Richard A. Cloward, 1971

“The Perils of Relief Reform for the Poor,: Op-Ed with Richard A. Cloward, 1971

"The Relief of Welfare," with Richard A. Cloward, 1971 "How the Federal Goverment Caused the Welfare Crisis," with Richard A. Cloward, 1971

"Nathan Glazer's Retroactive Wisdom on Welfare," with Richard A. Cloward, 1972

Forward, Larry Bailis’ Bread or justice: grassroots organizing in the welfare rights movement, 1973

"Regulating the Poor in the 1970s:” correspondence and transcription of seminar, 1975

Untitled manuscript of paper presented at “Beyond Civil Rights: The Right to Economic Security,” Notre Dame, 1975; also, correspondence, transcript of panel on “Welfare Reform and the Redistribution of Wealth: The Right to an Adequate Income,” and paper by Piven “Welfare Reform and the Redistribution of Income.”

Review of Wilensky, The Welfare State and Equality, 1976

Reply to Moynihan, with Richard A. Cloward, 1977

“Welfare Reform Again,” Op-Ed with Richard A. Cloward, 1977

Reply to Roach and Roach, with Richard A. Cloward, 1978

Untitled essay on the future of public welfare for Public Welfare, 1979

Untitled Op-Ed, circa 1980

“Moral Economy and the Welfare State,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts, 1981

“Disruption and Organization: A Rejoinder” (to Gamson, “Organizing the Poor”): drafts and correspondence, 1983-4

“Toward a Just and Adequate Welfare State: Philosophical and Programmatic Perspective,” with Barbara Ehrenreich, 1985

Reforming the Welfare State,” drafts, circa 1992

Speech for “Conference on Justice and Human Rights Advocacy,” drafts, correspondence, copies of other conference papers, 1993

“Welfare Reform and the New Class war,” correspondence and editorial materials for Unmasking Social Inequalities (1995), 1993

“The Public Under Siege,” draft proposals and correspondence, 1994

“Was Welfare Reform Worthwhile?,” text and response by David Ellwood, 1996

“We Should have made a Plan!” with Richard A. Cloward, drafts, correspondence, conference materials, 1996-7

“Popular Power and the Welfare State,” n.d.

“Draft of PEO Policy Statement,” n.d.

“Low-Income People and Institutional Change,” n.d.

“Challenging ‘The Poor Law,’” n.d.

PROFESSIONALISM “Politics, Professionalism and Poverty,” with Richard A. Cloward: drafts, 1965

“Professionalism as a Political Skill: the Case of a Poverty Program,” 1966

"The Professional Bureaucracies Benefit Systems as Influence Systems," with Richard A. Cloward, 1965

“Political-Science Content and the Social Work Curriculum: Some Further Comments:,” correspondence, drafts and conference program, 1967

"Le Burocrazie professionali: il sistema assistenziale come sistema di influenza," with Richard A. Cloward, 1967

"Professionalism as a Political Skill: The Case of a Poverty Program,” 1967

“Uncivil Servants,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1968

“Public Employees and the Ghetto,” with Richard A. Cloward: draft, clippings and correspondence, 1968

“Militant Civil Servants in New York City,” 1969

Comment, New York University Public Service Employment Conference session on “Dangers, Issues and Directions,” 1972

“Social Work Individualizers on the Highways and Byways and at the Crossroads of the Urban Crisis,” review of Meyer, Social Work Practice, 1972

“The Social Worker as Advocate:” correspondence and paper drafts, 1975

"Boston University news Articles: correspondence and drafts, possibly by Howard Zinn; also, “The Ambiguity of Excellence,” by Piven, Howard Zinn and Murray Levin.


“Dilemmas in Social Planning: A Case Inquiry,”

“Social Planning or Politics:” draft and correspondence, 1968

“Advocacy as a Strategy of Political Management,” 1969

“Whom does the Advocate Planner Serve?”: correspondence, drafts, responses and rejoinder, 1969-70

“Comprehensive Social Planning: Curriculum Reform or Professional Imperialism,” 1971.

"The Political Uses of "Planning" and "Decentralization" in the United States:” correspondence and drafts, 1974

“Planning for Women in the Central City,” drafts, American Society of Planning Officials correspondence and workshop materials, “Planning for Women,” 1973-4 (includes response to paper by June Jordan)

“Planning and Class Interests,” 1975

“Commentary on the Cleveland Policy Planning Report:” correspondence, drafts, and research materials, 1975

“Planning, Power, Politics and People,” correspondence and panel transcript, 1990

“Dilemmas in Social Planning: a Case Inquiry,” 1968


“Hidden Protest: The Structuring of Female Deviance,” with Richard A. Cloward: draft, printed matter and correspondence, 1978

Correspondence and outlines for book with Fred Block and Barbara Ehrenreich on the attack on social welfare, 185-7

“Gender and the Future of the Welfare State;” correspondence, research materials and essay with Richard A. Cloward, in Richard Flacks, Cultural Politics and Social Movements (Temple, 1985)

“Welfare Reform Impact on Women and Families,” 1987 “What Happened to the Promise of Women’s Power: The Case of American Social Policy,” 1988

“Popular Politics and Social Policy in the United States,” 1988

“Welfare Doesn’t Shore Up Traditional Family Roles, “ reply to Linda Gordon, with RAC, 1988.

“Ideology and the State: Women, Power and the Welfare State,” correspondence and page proofs, 1989.

Review of Politics of Social Policy in the U.S., by Weir, Orloff and Skocpol, ca. 1989.

“Women in the Welfare State,” draft, galleys and correspondence, 1996 “Women and the State: Ideology, Power, and the Welfare State,” n.d.


“A Visit to Cuba:” correspondence, memoranda and draft, 1968 (see also Series VII, SUBJECTS)

Review of Howell, Hard Living on Clay Street: Portraits of Blue Collar Families, 1973

Review of Fellman and Brandt, The Deceived Majority, 1973

“Good Old Golden Rule Days,” Review of Greer, The Great School Legend, 1973

Review, Harrington’s The Other America: draft and correspondence, 1975

“Why Ordinary People Sometimes Rebel,” Op-Ed on Boston University and John Silber,” 1978

Review, Tabb and Sawers’ Marx and the Metropolis, 1979

Review of Schlozman and Verba, Injury to Insult, 1979

Untitled manuscript on the meaning of war; also, paper and Op-Ed by Seymour Melman on “The Permanent War Economy,” 1982

“The Myth of Academic Freedom:” drafts and correspondence, 1982

“Social Breakdown and Social Solidary [sic] Theories of Protest Movements,” with Richard A. Cloward, 1982

“The Idea that Will Defeat Reagan,” with Richard A. Cloward, ca. 1985.

“The Trouble with Full Employment,” with Richard A. Cloward, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Fred Block, 1988, drafts, correspondence, research materials

Essay on patriotism for The Nation, with Richard A. Cloward, 1991

“Part I: The Principle of Indeterminancy;” “The Classical Paradigm as Indeterminant,”n.d.

“Sociology’s Asociological Perspective on Deviant Behavior,” n.d.

“Dissensus Politics: A Strategy for Black Power;” “Dissensus Politics: Martin Luther King’s Political Legacy,” n.d.

Processing Information

Processed by Marla Miller, 1998.

The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created. Some media were unable to be copied or had imaging errors. See the log files linked in the container list for more details.

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. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Finding Aid to the Frances Fox Piven papers
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Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063