The Social Museum Collection

Worker Welfare

Worker Welfare

Francis Greenwood Peabody concluded his principal essay about the Social Museum by affirming his conviction that a sense of higher “social obligation” would bring about the “readjustment of industry either by legislation or by voluntary coöperation, the shorter working day, the protection of women and children, and the recognition of the employed as partners of the employers” [1]. The Social Museum reflects Peabody’s pointed focus on labor practices, representing under the “Industrial” subject heading a wide range of workers’ cooperative societies, employees’ and employers’ associations, and employment bureaus as well as material related to the prevention of industrial accidents and examples of welfare work. Defined as the voluntary effort of the employer to improve the living and working conditions of the employee, welfare work plans were first implemented to address the century’s newly formed labor force of working women, seen as more in need of protections and amenities. Presenting a striking contrast to the conditions in the stogie industry’s factories and sweatshops, Pittsburgh’s H.J. Heinz Company was among the employers of the day lionized for its sympathetic work environment. By introducing a host of welfare benefit plans—from subsidized housing and health care to sports teams and social clubs—employers sought to stabilize their workforce, increase productivity, circumvent efforts toward enforced benefits for workers by lawmakers and union representatives, and gain good publicity. Although in favor of attempts to improve working conditions, “labor,” a contemporary sociologist noted, “hates paternalism and fears that welfare schemes tend to the emasculation or embittering of labor” by “turning philanthropy into advertising” [2].


1. Francis G. Peabody, The Social Museum as an Instrument of University Teaching. Publications of the Department of Social Ethics in Harvard University, no. 4 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1911), 12.

2. Arthur J. Todd, “The Organization and Promotion of Industrial Welfare through Voluntary Efforts,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 105, Public Welfare in the United States (January 1923): 79.