Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Joanne Klein, Ph.D.


Lynn Lubamersky, Ph.D.


Lisa McClain, Ph.D.


The Elberfeld System is synonymous with the development of the welfare state in the German Empire. Historians underscore the Elberfeld System’s “Germanness” because of its adoption by numerous nineteenth-century Prussian industrial cities. Their interpretation is useful for understanding the development of the welfare state in the German Empire, but fails to appreciate the Elberfeld System within its own context. This thesis explores the social and economic reasons that the Elberfeld System succeeded when and where it did. Elberfeld was one of the earliest industrialized centers in continental Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Industrialization created class stratification between workers, employers, and leading industrialists. Elberfeld itself was unusual in the largely Catholic Rhineland because of its conservative Protestant citizenry. All of these factors contributed to the structure, adoption, and realization of the Elberfeld System in 1853. The Elberfeld System’s success was a reaction to revolts in 1848-1849, as well as result of economic prosperity in the 1850s. This thesis explores the development of poor relief in Elberfeld during the first half of the nineteenth century. It navigates how Protestant and Enlightenment ideals shaped the foundation of the Elberfeld System into a distinctive form of outdoor poor relief. It highlights how changing economic situations in the first half of the nineteenth century forced Elberfeld’s municipal government to continually reassess its understanding of poor relief. Through archival research, this thesis places the Elberfeld System within the context of its own time and place. These archival sources include poor relief management statements, sermons by Elberfeld’s Protestant ministers, and accounts of working class individuals.

By accentuating the regional and contextual significance of the Elberfeld System, historians can better understand why it was so highly revered in nineteenth-century Prussia and by the later German Empire.