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Columbia Professor Richard Cloward, a Force Behind Motor Voter Law, Dies

Richard Cloward

Richard Cloward, a professor at Columbia's School of Social Work who was a driving force behind the 1993 Motor Voter Act, died on Monday, August 20 in New York City. He was 74. The cause of death was lung cancer. A distinguished author and social activist, he was a member of the School of Social Work faculty for 47 years.

In 1982, Cloward co-founded Human SERVE (Service Employees Registration and Voter Education) with his wife, Frances Fox Piven. The organization established motor-voter programs in selected states as precedents for the federal legislation.

In advocating for the passage of the Motor Voter Act in 1992, Cloward told the Times, "The Civil Rights of Act of 1965 stopped government from preventing people from registering to vote, and this legislation goes the final step by imposing on government an affirmative obligation to register the eligible electorate."

Cloward was a catalyst in numerous protest movements on behalf of the poor. In 1966, he co-founded the National Welfare Rights Organization, which aimed to federalize Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) by building local welfare rolls.

In 1988 he published, "Why Americans Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want it That Way" (Beacon), a work co-authored with Dr. Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York. The book is a history of efforts to streamline the nation's electoral processes. The authors concluded that political parties would rather discourage voters who oppose their candidates than encourage voters who support them, but they predicted non-voters would eventually return to the voting booth.

Cloward published numerous books, monographs and articles, including "Poor People's Movements: Why the Succeed, How they Fail" (Pantheon, 1977) and "The Breaking of the American Social Compact," both co-authored with Piven (New Press, 1997). Cloward and Piven also co-authored "Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare" (Pantheon, 1971), which was listed among the 40 Most Notable Books by the American Library Association.

Cloward was born on Christmas Day, 1926, in Rochester, NY. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Rochester in 1949, before getting a master's in social work from the Columbia University School of Social Work in 1950 and a doctorate in sociology from Columbia in 1958.

He was an ensign in the US Navy in 1944-46 and a First Lieutenant in the US Army in 1951-1954. After serving as a group work supervisor in Pittsburgh and a social worker in an army prison in New Cumberland, PA, Cloward became an assistant professor at Columbia's School of Social Work in 1954. He also had visiting posts at the Hebrew University, the University of Amsterdam, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Arizona State University.

Survivors are his wife, Dr. Piven, a daughter, Leslie Diamond of Morristown, NJ, and his sons Kevin Cloward of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Keith Cloward of Philadelphia, PA, and four grandchildren.

Funeral services are private.

Published: Aug 23, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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