“The health of the child is the power of the nation,”
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3g09867

Children’s Bureau


The early 1900’s was a time when social reformers were attempting to abolish abusive child labor practices and enact state legislation prohibiting factories and farmers employing very young children at very low wages. Some child welfare advocates recognized that the federal government was not yet fully engaged in addressing the physical or mental well-being needs of children. Their efforts eventually resulted in creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912.  The entries below reflect much of the history and several of the agency’s early administrators.

  • Abbott, GraceIn 1907, Grace Abbott boldly left behind her well-to-do rural home to live for several years in the midst of the desperately poor immigrants of urban Chicago alongside her mentor, Nobel Prize-winner Jane Addams. There — settled among the newly arrived Greeks and Poles and Russian Jews of the neighborhood — Abbott stood up in court for a young Bohemian victim of rape; she organized help for crippled and defrauded Italian laborers; she brought hope and pragmatic solutions to the problems of thousands of America’s newest citizens.Grace also worked as a muckraking journalist for the Chicago Evening Post. There she told a wide audience of readers about the plight of “the lost immigrant girls” — young women newly arrived to the U.S., speaking little or no English, who were being kidnapped and forced into prostitution and slave labor. And, as the Director of the Immigrants’ Protective League, she became an influential national leader, defending the rights of her immigrant friends before even the President of the United States.
  • Children's Aid Society of PennsylvaniaChildren’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania (CAS of PA) was formed in 1882 as a volunteer child welfare organization and quickly established itself as a leader among service-providers. In the early 20th century, Mary Richmond helped reform the organization to match the latest progress of the scientific charity movement through collaborations and research, and CAS of PA also holds a strong connection to the formation of the Pennsylvania School of Social Work.
  • Children's Bureau - A Brief History & ResourcesThe early 1900’s was a time in which the United States was attempting to change it stance on child labor and end abusive child labor practices. As more advocates started to address the issue, they recognized that the federal government was not yet fully engaged in addressing the physical or mental well-being needs of children
  • Children's Bureau: Part IThis is the story of the Children's Bureau of the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from the idea in 1903 to its founding in 1912 and on through the years to the present time. The Bureau's establishment by Congress was an expression of a belief on the part of many people that children are the most important of the Nation's resources and that the Government should foster their development and protection by setting up a center of research and information devoted to their health and welfare. From this center would flow knowledge of conditions surrounding children's lives, ideas on how to improve these conditions, and plans and programs for action in their behalf.
  • Children's Bureau: Part IIThe State of Washington was the proving ground for the emergency program for the care of the wives and babies of servicemen. At Fort Lewis, as around all training posts, in late 1940 and early 1941, families of many of the men had come to live. The Commanding Officer of the Fort, concerned with the well-being of his men, began observing some of the difficulties that these families–far from home–were encountering. He found a group of wives who were in need of maternity care but unable to get it. They were girls, most of them young, who had followed their men to camp with the hope that they might be with their husbands for a little while before they were sent overseas. Most of them were having their first babies. Frequently their husbands went overseas before their babies came. These girls had no fixed residence.
  • Children’s BureauFaced with a small staff of only fifteen and a miniscule budget of $25,640, the U.S. Children’s Bureau’s relied on data collected by other federal agencies and an army of female volunteers. In 1913 the bureau found that the world’s largest economic power had an infant mortality rate of 132 deaths per 1,000 live births that placed it behind New Zealand (83), Norway (94), Ireland (99), Sweden (104), Australia (108), Bulgaria (120), and Scotland (123). Bureau investigators concluded that poor sanitation, lack of good medical care, and poverty were the major factors contributing to infant deaths. Educating mothers, improving public sanitation, and requiring birth certificates would help save babies’ lives. Advice pamphlets published by the bureau became very popular and Congress declared 1918 Children’s Year.
  • Lathrop, Julia CliffordWhen the Childrens Bureau was formally created in 1912, President William Howard Taft appointed Lathrop as Chief, the first woman bureau chief in the federal government. She brought to the position her experiences and contacts from 22 years as a resident of Hull-House. As chief of the Children's Bureau, Lathrop made issues like child labor laws and juvenile delinquency ones of extreme importance. During its first two years of existence, the bureau produced and distributed free pamphlets on the health needs of pregnant women and the care of infants.
  • Lenroot, KatherineIn June 1921, Lenroot became Director of the Editorial Division, and in November 1922, at the age of 30, she was advanced to Assistant Chief of the Bureau, serving under Grace Abbott, the second Chief (1921-1934). Grace Abbott experienced health problems in the early 1930s and had to be away from the office for extended periods of time. Abbott discovered in Lenroot an ideal acting chief in her absence. Lenroot was committed to the philosophy of the Children’s Bureau, as outlined by its founders, and was careful and conscientious in carrying out the required administrative tasks. She wrote long and detailed letters to Grace Abbott at frequent intervals and sought direction for important decisions.
  • Progress Report on Maternal and Child-Health Services: 1940In 1938, the Advisory Committee on Maternal and Child-Health Services met with the Children’s Bureau and made several recommendations. This is a response.
  • Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Maternal and Child Health Services: 1938The first recommendation declared: "The advisory committee, recognizing that efficient administration of the maternal and child-health services depends upon the employment of fully qualified personnel and that personnel with such qualifications are not always resident within each State, urges that (1) selection of personnel be on the basis of qualifications only and (2) that salaries commensurate with the qualifications required and services performed be paid."