Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Stromquist, H. Shelton

First Committee Member

Stromquist, Shelton

Second Committee Member

Faue, Elizabeth

Third Committee Member

Mumford, Kevin

Fourth Committee Member

Storrs, Landon

Fifth Committee Member

Priest, Tyler

Sixth Committee Member

Connerly, Charles


This dissertation locates the origins of Detroit's urban decline in the second and third decades of the twentieth century, when many of the city's leading automobile manufacturers and wealthier residents relocated to the city's suburbs and resisted incorporation into the city of Detroit. Suburbanization occurred in conjunction with the unprecedented growth in population and undeveloped property, which created major structural problems that Detroit's municipal government was unable to adequately address. Ultimately, the city's urban issues cost the city its ability to maintain its public services and expand its institutions to newly incorporated areas.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Detroit's municipal government had provided a comprehensive set of public services--what I refer to as municipal welfare--that were designed to provide for the welfare of the city's growing needy and immigrant working class populations. These institutions were often created because of the failure of the private sector to adequately provide services that were efficient and comprehensive. Detroit's residents and its policymakers mobilized around municipal welfare issues and established a set of innovative publicly owned relief and welfare institutions, including (but not limited to) the city's water works, its Poor Commission, its school system, its markets, its transportation system, and its recreation systems. In this period, the city's residents enjoyed a relatively low cost of living and avoided many of the harshest effects of urbanization that other large cities were experiencing at the turn of the century.

Detroit's municipal welfare system came under severe stress beginning in the 1910s, when much of the region's most lucrative industrial and residential properties became concentrated outside of Detroit's taxable jurisdiction in suburbs including Highland Park, Hamtramck, Dearborn, and Melvindale River Rouge. Because Detroit's government lacked the tax base to accommodate the city's rapidly growing population through its municipal welfare services, the city developed transportation problems, sewage problems, housing shortages, a deteriorating infrastructure, employment problems, increased racial segregation, and a sharp rise in the cost of living. The final two chapters focus on the political career of Josephine Gomon as Executive Secretary to the Mayor and as Detroit's first Secretary-Director of Public Housing to trace the attempts of her and others to maintain the city's commitment to municipal welfare during the 1920s and 1930s. Despite their efforts, when the Depression hit in the late 1920s and persisted throughout the 1930s, Detroit was forced to transfer most of its welfare services to state and federal agencies. The city's municipal welfare advocates lost their political influence in the process, marking the permanent decline of municipal welfare governance in Detroit. World War II and the post war boom temporarily revived the city's economy. However, it masked many of the structural problems that the city's poor and working class residents--many of whom were African Americans and working class mothers--were facing and the city's municipal welfare system had once addressed, setting the stage for the urban crisis that hit the city throughout the second half of the twentieth century.


xii, 330 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-330).


Copyright © 2013 Jacob Dean Hall

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