The Welcome Wagon: Its Role in Reciprocal Relationships
This thesis examines a unique volunteer organization known as the Welcome Wagon and the role that it plays in setting up relationships within a community. These relationships are formed by the visit of a hostess to the home of a new resident of a community with the presentation of free gifts offered by the area merchants. A discussion of the Welcome Wagon, its history and social structure, as well as a detailed ethnographic description are included. The Welcome Wagon is examined in a few ways. The emphasis of this thesis is on the reciprocal relationships that form with the gifts given, during the initial visit of the Welcome Wagon hostess, causing obligation on the behalf of the new resident to patronize these sponsors. This relationship,instigated by the Welcome Wagon hostess,allows her to be examined as a liminal figure mediating between the public sphere of the merchant and the private sphere of the homeowner. Results of the discussion showed that indeed the Welcome Wagon sets up reciprocal relationships between the merchants and the new residents, as well as other reciprocal relations. But it also showed the importance of the relationship between the Welcome Wagon and the new resident. The Welcome Wagon is responsible for the new resident to go through a rite of passage or transition from the outsider status of a new resident to a socially accepted and civic-minded member of the community. The new resident fulfills her obligation to the Welcome Wagon by her membership in the organization. This ensures the smooth operation of the group and perpetuates the organization's purpose. Future research could be done, focusing on the symbolism of the organization. Another possible focus may be on the theories of ideal woman, with the more extensive use of informant exegesis.
© Copyright 1989 Elisabeth Jones