Demonstrators participating in the Poor People’s March at Lafayette Park and on Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C. (1968).

United States Library of Congress (digital IDppmsca.04302) (

Welfare Rights Movement

On June 30, 1966, in 16 major cities across the United States, thousands of people marched to demand economic and civil rights for poor Americans, marking the beginning of a nationwide welfare rights movement. The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), its central institution, demanded “decent jobs with adequate wages for those who can work [and] adequate income for those who cannot work,” (Kornbluh, n.p.). The NWRO also sought the right of poor people to fully participate in American society, including in consumer society, beyond the bare necessities. They argued, for example, that their children were dropping out of school because they lacked decent clothes and money to pay for books and other school supplies, which were unaffordable under welfare benefits. At its peak, the NWRO had 30,000 members and more than 100,000 people participated in its local campaigns (PBS, 2006). The organization took part in 1968’s Poor People’s Campaign and negotiated with the Nixon administration regarding welfare reform, but the two sides could not reach agreement on guaranteed income for welfare recipients (PBS). The NWRO disbanded in the mid-1970’s.

There was little overlap between the welfare rights and feminist movements; in fact, their goals were at times contradictory. While the feminist movement promoted “the workplace as a primary site of liberation for women,” many welfare rights activists rejected such a notion (Ernst, 2009, p. 188). Having labored in work that was both poorly paid and little valued, many welfare rights activists wanted the very thing that middle-class American women seemed to want to abandon – to be able to stay home and raise their children.


Ernst, R. (2009). Working Expectations: Frame Diagnosis and the Welfare Rights Movement. Social Movement Studies, 8(3), 185-201.

Kornbluh, F. (1998). The goals of the national welfare rights movement: why we need them thirty years later. Feminist Studies, 24(1), 65-78.

PBS. (2006). National Welfare Rights Organization. Retrieved from