Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Kyle G. Volk

Commitee Members

Anya Jabour, Claire Arcenas, Rob Saldin, Lisa Pruitt


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Labor History | Legal | Political History | Social History | United States History


“The Road to Self-Support: Vocational Rehabilitation and the Associational State, 1917-1945” traces the origins and development of the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation (CVR) program from its inception in 1920 until the conclusion of the Second World War. Rapid industrialization and the fallout of the First World War handed the nation a large amount of people with disabilities, which drew on already strained state and local welfare relief. The project examines the interwar period and finds it to be a battleground of differing governing strategies over how best to solve America’s growing level of disabled workers. The project argues that policymakers settled on a federal-state cooperative system where daily administration was handled by state officials with only nominal federal oversight. State agencies proved ill-equipped to handle the volume of applicants and thus turned to non-state actors (private organizations and business leaders) to aid in the execution of their duties. As the New Deal order entrenched itself in American society, this associational mode of governance became the target of newly-empowered federal agencies. These agencies, this project argues, emerged as the administrative wing of the federal government and wielded authority independent of Congress. Though World War II provided the catalyst necessary for a partial resurrection of the associational state, the CVR program never eliminated it from practice. Clients routinely received placement in private industries for training and employment.

This dissertation is broken up into four chapters. Chapter 1 explores the origins of the CVR program and the debates over how to best implement such a policy played out in Congress and private organizations. Chapter 2 focuses on the role of the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) as an industry organization and how it capitalized on the associational structure of the CVR program and evolved into an authoritative body independent of the existing federal agency. Chapter 3 investigates the change in the federal policy as part of the New Deal order and how these changes eroded the power of the NRA and other private groups in favor of direct state control. Chapter 4 examines the social impact of the CVR program and how associationalism played a significant role in the implementation of policy with respect toward white women and African Americans.

Available for download on Monday, October 10, 2022



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