Mothers' Pension Act
In 1913 the State of Illinois passed the Mother's Pension Act for the support of children left to the sole charge of their mothers by their father's death or permanent physical incapacity. On this date one hundred years ago, the Pantagraph found that it was necessary to explain the facts of the law to the public. Whether this was to convince the public that the law was not so lax as to allow women to take advantage of the law or to advise women to temper their expectations of the ease of procuring relief is not completely clear.
The reporter was very careful to point out that any woman left with real estate had absolutely no hope of obtaining a mother's pension. If one was so bold as to request this relief, one had to be prepared to lay out all possible facts as to assets, relatives with the ability to aid the family and most importantly, one's fitness to be in charge of children. The children had to be under 14 years of age, because of course, poor people could not expect that their children go to high school when they could be working.
The applicant must also have been a resident of the county for three years as well as a citizen of the United States. So immigrant women, with possibly no family support network, were even less likely to obtain help.
This humiliating process required that the mother file an application with the county court and then face an investigation by the probation officer, in whose power lay the decision to present the application to the court. For her trouble a mother could receive $15 a month for the support of one child and not more than $10 a month per any additional child. She could not supplement this income by working outside the home, for the pension was meant to allow the mother to stay at home with the children.
According to a US News and World Report article, the average income in 1915 was $687. At $15 a month for one child, the impoverished mothers were not going to come close to middle class living, so it is no surprise at all that many women would remarry or choose to work rather than accept such meager "help."