Frances Fox Piven









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Frances Fox Piven (1932- )
Frances Fox Piven
Boston Sunday Globe, May 20, 1979. Photograph by Gil Vasquez. Copyright unknown.

Social theorist, welfare rights activist, and political science professor Frances Fox Piven was born in 1932 in Calgary, Alberta. Raised in New York, she was naturalized in 1953, the same year she received a BA in city planning from the University of Chicago. After receiving an MA (1956) and a Ph.D. (1962) from that institution, she moved to New York where she worked as a city planner and then as a research associate for one of the country's first antipoverty agencies, Mobilization for Youth (MFY) on New York's Lower East Side.

In 1965 Piven and her MFY colleague Richard Cloward began a career of formulating the theoretical underpinnings of anti-poverty and welfare rights movements with the publication of a paper entitled "Mobilizing the Poor: How It Can Be Done".


Article and photograph: "No cloistered academic"

Headline and Photo

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Syllabus for "Movements of the Poor"

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More online documents

Finding aid

Cloward and Piven "apply social analysis to organizing strategy" to find ways to take advantage of changing social, economic, and political conditions to benefit the poor. Their work was instrumental in the founding of such organizations as the National Welfare Rights Organization and HumanSERVE, a voter-registration project that culminated in the "Motor-Voter" Act of 1994. Piven has taught at Columbia University (1966-72), Boston University (1972-82), and the City University of New York (1982-). With Cloward, she has co-authored numerous articles and nine books including Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (1971), Poor People's Movements (1977), and Why Americans Don't Vote (1988).

The Frances Fox Piven Papers, consist of 72 linear feet and are primarily professional papers. Included are correspondence with colleagues, students, and friends; teaching materials; organization and subject files; and speeches and writings, reflecting her involvement as both academic and activist concerned with the welfare state and urban economic conditions.


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