Bureau Men, Settlement Women

Constructing Public Administration in the Progressive Era

Camilla Stivers

During the first two decades of the twentieth century in cities across America, both men and women struggled for urban reform but in distinctively different ways. Adhering to gender roles of the time, men working for independent research bureaus sought to apply scientific and business practices to corrupt city governments, while women in the settlement house movement labored to improve the lives of the urban poor by testing new services and then getting governments to adopt them.

Although the two intertwined at first, the contributions of these "settlement women" to the development of the administrative state have been largely lost as the new field of public administration evolved from the research bureaus and diverged from social work. Camilla Stivers now shows how public administration came to be dominated not just by science and business but also by masculinity, calling into question much that is taken for granted about the profession and creating an alternative vision of public service.

“Stivers uses history to argue that the trajectory of public administration could have been toward engagement and service instead of detachment and expertise. . . . Stivers’s contribution is in her interpretations of historical research on women’s urban settlement activism, combined with her original research on the bureau, its means, and mission in the context of New York City politics. Even more persuasively, Stivers documents and interprets the gendered anxieties of reformers—particularly their concern for maintaining a masculine image for reformers in the face of a central paradox.

—Journal of Urban History

“Iconoclastic and irreverent.”

Public Administration Review
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Bureau Men, Settlement Women offers a rare look at the early intellectual history of public administration and is the only book to examine the subject from a gender perspective. It recovers the forgotten contributions of women-their engagement in public life, concern about the proper aims of government, and commitment to citizenship and community-to show that they were ultimately more successful than their male counterparts in enlarging the work and moral scope of government.

Stivers's study helps explain public administration's long-standing "identity crisis" by showing why the separation of male and female roles restricted public administration to an unnecessary instrumentalism. It also provides the most detailed examination in half a century of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research and its role in the development of twentieth-century public administration.

By reconsidering the origins of the field and calling for a new sense of purpose in public service, Stivers suggests that public administrators need not rigidly emulate business practices but should instead strive to improve the ways in which they deal with people. Her well-researched critique will help students and professionals better understand their calling and challenge them to reconsider how they think about, educate for, and perform government service.

About the Author

Camilla Stivers is Albert A. Levin Professor of Urban Studies and Public Service at Cleveland State University. She is associate editor of Public Administration Review and author of Gender Images in Public Administration.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series