National Youth Administration trainee being trained to use a lathe in preparation for a job in industry, April 1943.
Photo: Public Domain



There are many youth organizations that contributed significantly to the history of American social welfare; however, only a few are listed here at this time.  It is planned to add more as the opportunity arises.


  • American Youth CongressThe student movements of the Depression era were arguably the most significant mobilizations of youth-based political activity in American history prior to the late 1960s. As time passed, many local youth organizations became more organized in their pursuit of progressive government, and in 1934 the American Youth Congress (AYC) came together as the national federation and lobbying arm of the movement as a whole.
  • Big Brother and Big Sister FederationIn 1917 a national conference was held in Grand Rapids, MI and the Big Brother and Big Sister Federation was established. Its purpose was to promote the development of new agencies, to provide advice to existing organizations and to sponsor conferences, training courses and seminars for workers and interested laymen. Big Sisters work geared to African-Americans was underway in Louisville, KY and Brooklyn, NY; Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., becomes treasurer of BB/BSF; first motion picture based on a Big and Little Brother relationship released by Paramount Pictures. By the late 1920s, the organization was helping over ten thousand children through nearly nine hundred agencies. Its annual conferences attracted widespread attendance and focused largely on juvenile delinquency issues.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of AmericaThe Big Brothers Big Sisters organization evolved over the years from several different efforts designed to help at-risk young boys and girls. It officially started in 1904, when a young New York City children's court clerk named Ernest K. Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. He spoke about the problems of fatherless boys to the men’s club of a local church, which promptly resolved to have its members develop personal relations with individual boys. In 1909, some of these men joined Coulter to incorporate the Big Brothers Movement, Inc. of New York as the first organization in the field.
  • Boys & Girls ClubsThe first known club was known as “The Dashaway Club.” It was founded in 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut by Elizabeth Hammersley and two sisters, Mary and Alice Goodwin. It began very casually. The three women took pity on a group of lonely and shabby boys. They invited them into their homes for refreshments and recreation. The club became so popular that they rented a meeting hall and offered dramatics, music and books. In 1880, Mary Stuart Hall – another public-spirited woman from Hartford (and the first female lawyer in the state of Connecticut) reorganized the “Dashaway Club” as “The Good Will Boys Club.” Hall wanted to prove that even tough street kids, given opportunity and guidance, could get along in society and abide by the rules. She drew upon her legal training to teach these young “citizens” to live by the rules of law. She worked with the boys until her death in 1927. The “Good Will Boys Club” continues today as the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford.
  • Child Welfare League History 1919-1977Formally established January 2, 1921, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has been one of the most important national organizations in the history of American child welfare. The creation of the CWLA coincided with the end of the progressive era and the beginning of another: an era dedicated to establishing national policies and standards combined with developing and disseminating program materials and practices to affiliate members thereby raising the quality of child caring services throughout the nation.
  • Committee On Youth Councils Of The Welfare Council Of New York City: A Report -- 1949As a result of the growing conviction about the necessity for active participation by youth in their own and community affairs, the Welfare Council of New York and the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office included two hundred young people as participants in the Youth Conference sponsored by those organizations and held at City Hall on January 13, 1945. Six hundred adult delegates from public and private organizations concerned about the welfare of youth also participated. A Youth Advisory Committee of eighteen young people played an important role in planning for the conference.
  • Recreation Movement in the United StatesThe first playground in the United States to offer recreational opportunity coupled with leadership was in 1885 when a large sandpile was placed in the yards of the Children’s Mission on Parmenter Street in Boston through the efforts of the Massachusetts Emergency and Hygiene Association. Here an average of fifteen connected with the chapel came three days a week though July and August to dig in the sand, sing songs and do their drills under the guidance of the matron provided. This experiment, commonly cited as the beginning of the recreation movement in America, was the direct result of a visit by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska to Berlin where she had observed the children’s sand gardens and had later described them to the members of the Massachusetts Emergency and Hygiene Association. It was due also to a desire on the part of its instigators to better social conditions. By 1889, 21 playgrounds of this type had been developed in Boston.
  • Third Street Music School SettlementIt is the mission of the Music School Settlement to provide quality education in music and the arts in an environment that nurtures achievement and creativity and offers to all who attend, regardless of artistic ability or economic circumstances, the opportunity to pursue their own personal development and enrich the quality of their lives.
  • Virginia Industrial School for Colored GirlsThe residents of the Industrial School were, for the most part, delinquent or dependent colored girls sentenced to prison by local judges and then paroled to the school. There were no foster homes for colored girls who needed care and jail or prison was the only alternative. It is reported that several of the girls were “feeble minded” and a few arrived with contagious diseases. Regardless of the circumstances, the goal of the school was to teach self-direction and character building with the expectation that, when ready, a girl could be “paroled” to a private family in the Richmond area and work for normal wages.
  • Young Mens Christian Association The YMCA idea, which began among evangelicals, was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines that separated all the different churches and social classes in England in those days. This openness was a trait that would lead eventually to including in YMCA's all men, women and children, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Also, its target of meeting social need in the community was dear from the start.
  • Young Womens Christian Association Throughout its history, the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.
  • Youth Finds Its Own Answers: 1939The student movements of the Great Depression era were arguably the most significant mobilizations of youth-based political activity in American history prior to the late 1960s. As time passed, many local youth organizations became more organized in their pursuit of progressive government, and in 1934 the American Youth Congress (AYC) came together as the national federation and lobbying arm of the movement as a whole.