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Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse

Social Work and the Story of Poverty in America, Australia, and Britain

Social workers produced thousands of case files about the poor during the interwar years. Analyzing almost two thousand such case files and traveling from Boston, Minneapolis, and Portland to London and Melbourne, Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse is a pioneering comparative study that examines how these stories of poverty were narrated and reshaped by ethnic diversity, economic crisis, and war.

Probing the similarities and differences in the ways Americans, Australians, and Britons understood and responded to poverty, Mark Peel draws a picture of social work that is based in the sometimes fraught encounters between the poor and their interpreters. He uses dramatization to bring these encounters to life—joining Miss Cutler and that resurrected horse are Miss Lindstrom and the fried potatoes and Mr. O’Neil and the seductive client—and to give these people a voice. Adding new dimensions to the study of charity and social work, this book is essential to understanding and tackling poverty in the twenty-first century.


“This book is a brilliant and compelling intervention into how documents are constructed and how stories are imagined by those who tell them, those who hear them, and the historians who try to decipher their meanings. Mark Peel has written the first work of twenty-first-century history, and it stands as a model of how historians think and write multivocal accounts of the past. Convincing, provocative, and a pleasure to read.”

Daniel Walkowitz, New York University

“This is a book about learning to listen. It traverses the old and new Anglo worlds between the wars, attending to the exchanges between social workers and the poor—intimate exchanges of judgment, redemption, class, gender, and race. Yet as we listen and learn, so do the protagonists, themselves caught in tides of history that prove transformative. A remarkable exercise in felt history and historical imagination.”

Janet McCalman, University of Melbourne

“Arguing that case records can be a significant source for recovering the voices of the poor, Mark Peel uses these records as a departure point to probe the negotiations, disputes, and drama of encounters between the poor and their helpers in eight welfare agencies in the early twentieth century. Well-written and engaging, Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse maps new ground in its transnational and comparative scope.”

Karen Tice, University of Kentucky

“Highly recommended.”


 “This is a broad, sweeping, transnational overview of the experience of the poor and the way these ‘social workers’ were influenced by the difference societies in which they operated. . . . Interesting and well-researched.”

Australian Social Work

Table of Contents


Part One: Melbourne
Case 1: Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse
1. Service, Sympathy, and Efficiency
2. Mr. Smith and the Importance of Modern Casework
3. Wise Discrimination
4. Lady Detectives
5. There Are Those Who Feel Their Position
6. But Most Will Never Better Themselves
7. A Growing Sense of Justice
8. The Citizens’ Welfare

Part Two: London
Case 2: Miss Hedges and the Stupid Client
9. The Man with the Repulsive Face
10. We Are at a Crossroads
11. They Are Somewhere Down the Stairs
12. Little People
13. Dense and Low Grade, but Still He Builds Great Castles in the Air
14. Nightmare Days

Part Three: Boston
Case 3: Miss Wells and the Boy Who Wanted to Be an American
15. Changing Jerzy
16. Closed Mouths and Wise Guys
17. She Has Found Herself, and He Will Make a Good American
18. The Primitive Becoming More and More Dominant
19. More Sinned Against Than Sinning

Part Four: Minneapolis
Case 4: Miss Lindstrom and the Fried Potatoes
20. The Discovery and the Remedy
21. He Is Too Willing for Us to Assume Responsibility
22. His Attitude of Helplessness Is Exasperating
23. An Insecurity of Terrifying Proportions

Part Five: Oregon
Case 5: Miss Perry and the Boy Who Knew Numbers
24. Policing Relief
25. Evasive Types and Plausible Women
26. Into the Backwoods

Part Six: Men in Social Work
Case 6: Mr. O’Neill and the Seductive Client
27. In a Woman’s World
28. He Must Be Bent to Our Will and Made into a Man
29. Confronting the Nagger
30. Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Mattner


Appendix 1: Sources
Appendix 2: Cast of Characters
Appendix 3: Case Notes


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