Author: B. Morrison
Author: B. Morrison
Barbara Morrison’s story begins in Baltimore in the 1950s where she lived with her parents and siblings in a working-class suburb. From the outside, their home life appeared idyllic, with a father who was a professional and a stay-at-home mother. Like many families, however, the resemblance to Ward and June Cleaver’s clan ends there. Barbara grew up largely avoiding interactions with her parents, lest she incur their wrath, and left for college with great relief.
One recurring theme of her childhood and young adulthood was that of being a second-class citizen simply because of her status as a female. Barbara’s mother was a frustrated homemaker who was vocal about her desire to be in the workforce instead of raising children. Barbara herself had to fight to get any sort of support from her family to attend college and, once she entered university, despite the burgeoning women’s rights movement of the 60s, she was still fighting an uphill battle for equality.
When she fell in love and got pregnant, Barbara encountered insidious institutional discrimination in the welfare system. In choosing to keep her child and raise it, Barbara found herself locked in to relying on public assistance. Although she wanted to work outside the home, the welfare benefits did not provide enough money to put her baby in daycare. Fortunately, as she struggled to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth in order to survive, Barbara encountered other women in the same position. “Innocent” is her account of the years she spent raising two young children on Section 8 housing and food stamps.
Barbara’s story is set in the 1960 and 1970s, but I doubt things are much different for most welfare mothers today. Barbara and some of the other women she befriended were determined to move out of poverty and find careers for themselves, and this took an amazing amount of effort, both to locate programs that offered grants as well as creating co-ops to provide childcare and household budget assistance for each other. They were plagued by unscrupulous landlords who knew that these disenfranchised women would be easy to take advantage of as well as the kinds of every day mishaps that happen to us all; cars breaking down, snowstorms, unexpected illness. The difference is that these women were living on the barest of margins and any unanticipated difficulty could lead to catastrophe reverberating through their lives for months.
This is a powerful, timely story for everyone. Because of her intellect and perseverance and willingness to create a strong community around her and her children, Barbara was able to pull herself out of poverty. While she was on welfare, however, she suffered indignities that nobody deserves and she paints a picture of the welfare system that is counterproductive for many of the individuals it purports to serve. There were no real incentives for her and her cohorts to work as hard as they did to pull themselves out of poverty and, that, perhaps is the most telling part of this amazing story.
Follow Here To Purchase Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother