The meaning of success: Perspectives of single African American mothers who are former welfare recipients and heads of household

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Steven J. Taylor


Mothers, Success, Single mothers, African-American, Former welfare recipients, Heads of household

Subject Categories



This study examines the experiences of 13 single African American mothers who are heads of household and former welfare recipients. All are from a northeastern city in the United States and at the time of this study, all were employed with the exception of one full-time graduate student. The purposes of the study were to investigate the skills and strategies these mothers developed and applied to organize their lives as they moved from welfare support to self-sufficiency and to discern their meanings of success.

This study employed qualitative methodology, specifically in depth but topically oriented interviews, allowing for comparison among informants. The theoretical perspectives for this study are symbolic interactionism (Blumer, 1969) and Patricia Hill Collins' (1987, 1990) Afrocentric perspective of motherhood.

For the mothers in this study, success relates to personal accomplishment in the face of adversity. These adversities manifest themselves in the form of obstacles which were categorized into three realms: setbacks, frustrations, and dehumanizing treatment. In order to overcome the many obstacles they confront on a daily basis, the mothers access support networks, both formal and informal; developed and utilized coping strategies; and employed adapting strategies in their homes and on the job. It is important to note that the mothers in this study escaped welfare despite and not because of the system.


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