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Kempshall, Anna “Star” – (1891 -1961)

Anna (Star) Kempshall (1891-1961): Prominent Social Worker, Long-time Director of the Family Service Department of the Community Service Society of New York


by John E. Hansan, Ph.D.


Editor’s Note Anna Kempshall was a distinguished social worker who received her social work diploma from the New York School of Philanthropy in 1913; however, very little information about her life or her career can be found in the usual sources of information about important social workers. Fortunately, a scrapbook about her career and numerous achievements was maintained by her older sister Helen Cabot Kempshall Pinneo.  The scrapbook was recently gifted to the Social Welfare History Project by Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson, a great niece, representing the Adamson, Ogden and Pinneo families. Some of the documents date back to 1917; and, not surprisingly, their condition is fragile and difficult to read or transcribe. Nevertheless, a number of the documents have been transcribed and have been posted on the SWH Web site, most of them under the tab for Social Work.  The writings of Anna Kempshall are valuable historical records of the experiences and challenges of family casework through two important periods of American history: the Great Depression and World War II.  This biography of Miss Kempshall was constructed from a number of documents in the scrapbook as well as memories of her living relatives.

Anna "Star" Kempshall as a young woman
Anna “Star” Kempshall as a young woman
Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson
Anna "Star" Kempshall, Circa 1909
Anna “Star” Kempshall, Circa 1909
Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson

Introduction: Anna Kempshall was born in Fanwood, NJ April 25, 1891 to Elizabeth Hawley Cabot and Eaton McLean Kempshall. At an early age she was nicknamed by the family as “Star.” This name evolved because her sister, Helen Cabot Kempshall Pinneo could not pronounce “Anna” and started calling her “sis-star.” Subsequently Anna Kempshall was known here and abroad by friends and family as “Star” Kempshall.

Career: Miss Kempshall started as a “visitor” in a Family and Children’s Society agency visiting families living in Elizabethport, NJ. Miss Kempshall showed such a natural flair for friendly visiting her supervisors urged her to enroll in the New York School of Philanthropy and study social work. Anna Kempshall enrolled and in 1913 and received one of the early diplomas for social work from the New York School of Philanthropy.  (Editor’s Note: The New York School of Philanthropy was the first higher education program in the United States for training people who wanted to work in the field of charity. It was established in 1898 with a six-week summer program that would today like a series of workshop than a college course. In 1904, the educational program was expanded to a full-year program and later to a two-year program. In 1919, the New York School of Philanthropy changed its name to the New York School of Social Work and today it is known as the Columbia University School of Social Work.)

Following her graduation, Star Kempshall started as a caseworker with the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York (C.O.S.), the forerunner of the Community Service Society (CSS). In a short time, Miss Kempshall distinguished herself through her unusual ability to train students and volunteers for social work with clients of the C.O.S. Miss Kempshall was promoted to assistant secretary and then secretary in charge of one of the agency’s district offices.

In 1917, four days before Christmas, and with only twenty hours notice, Miss Kempshall was dispatched by the C.O.S to assist the American Red Cross in relief work in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the site of an enormous explosion that caused death and damage to a large area surrounding the Halifax Harbor area. (Editor’s Note: On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia, Canada. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and the other held relief supplies, both intended for war-torn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth. The toll of the Halifax Explosion was enormous with over 1,600 men, women and children killed. An additional 9,000 people were injured and  25,000 buildings spread over 325 acres were destroyed.)

While in Halifax, Miss Kempshall wrote a letter describing her experiences that was published in the Charity Organization Bulletin January 16, 1918

         “From the moment we arrived in the town we have been busy working every day, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays all alike, from nine in the morning until eleven or after in the evening. The emergency period is still unfortunately not over. There are about two thousand families registered and we are making a desperate effort to go through them, picking out the ones that need immediate intelligent work done.

         “It seems that the people of Halifax feared a bombardment by the Germans and were instructed in case of any suspicion of such a thing to run to the basement – and when this explosion took place many that stopped to think rushed to the bottom of the house which collapsed upon them. Many children in a school were killed in this way. For some time I could not imagine why there were so many signs around the hotel, that one would be fined five thousand dollars if he failed to pull down the shade, until we heard that it was on account of the fear of a bombardment.

         “Even worse and more pathetic than the loss of life is the great injury to the eyes. So many have lost either one or both eyes. I cannot conceive of anything much worse than a young woman, the mother of little children, so suddenly to become absolutely blind. In one family the father and two little children were killed, the mother and the one child lost both of their eyes, and there were two little children uninjured. There is a special worker from Boston here to study the blind problem.

         “Today I spent at the oil works where nearly a hundred families made homeless, have been sheltered. We are trying to get them in touch with their relatives or find separate homes for them, which will be more or less difficult as so many houses were destroyed or so badly wrecked that it will be some time before they will be fit to live in. At the present time we have our office in a public school, the windows of which are still all boarded. There are also over a hundred soldiers quartered here awaiting transportation.”

 Her social work service in Halifax was formally recognized in a number of ways. The letter below is one example. (Editor’s Note: A copy of this letter from H. O’C. Baker was sent to Anna Kempshall by Joanna Carver Colcord, who, at the time, March 5, 1918,. was Superintendent of the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York.)

Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company, Limited.

Halifax, N..S.

February 28, 1918

 Mr. Frank Persons, Director General

            Civilian Relief,

                        American Red Cross,

                                    Washington, D.C.

 Dear Sir:

            As Chairman of the Registration and Relief Committee in Dartmouth and as one in close touch with the work for the relief of the sufferers from the Halifax disaster, I wish to express my appreciation of the very valuable service rendered by Miss Anna Kempshell of the Charity Organization Society of New York City and Miss Jessica Forbes formerly General Secretary of the Associated Charities, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who came to our assistance under the auspices of the American Red Cross Society.

            Those in close touch with the work have not only been impressed with the ability of these workers and their knowledge of their work but have been filled with admiration for the self-sacrificing spirit of service which during the emergency period kept them toiling by day and half the night, every day, Sunday, Christmas and New Years included. They could not have been expected to have worked harder if they had been our own citizens.

            Miss Kempshall left here on the 16th instant to return to New York but Miss Forbes, we are glad to know, is free to remain with us. Miss Forbes now has charge of the Registration and Social Service Department of the Relief work in Dartmouth.

            We owe a debt of gratitude to these workers and to many others who came to our assistance. While it is not my prerogative to acknowledge this debt on behalf of the citizens of Halifax, I feel that I should personally and on behalf of my committee express my appreciation of the outside workers who were specially associated with us and the generosity of the American Red Cross in paying their expenses. I do not know what we would have done without them.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) H. O’C. Baker.

Miss Kempshall steadily expanded her contacts and became active in Church World Service, The International Migration Service, the International Conference of Mental Hygiene, the National Association for Mental Health, the American Group Therapy Association, the Junior League and the Citizens Committee for the Care of Children and others.

By 1922, Miss Kempshall had become so interested in the family problems associated with immigration she resigned from the C.O.S. and accepted the position of associate director of the International Migration Service, a new organization doing on an international scale the sort of social work the C. 0. S. was doing locally. Unwilling to try to solve problems of immigrant families by theory alone, Miss Kempshall obtained a leave from the agency and set out to view the situation first hand. She worked with officials at Ellis Island and later in various ports in Turkey, Greece, France and England, trying to develop international policies and procedures to reduce the tragic separation of families headed for the United States and to provide for those who had been stranded.

In June 1925, Anna Kempshall made a presentation titled “Tentative Observations On Basic Training” at the Fifty-Second Annual Session of the National Conference of Social Work held in Denver, Colorado June 10-17.

On October 1, 1925, Miss Anna Kempshall returned to the Charity Organization Society in an executive role. She was offered the position of Secretary to replace Miss Joanna Colcord who left the agency to become Director of the Family Welfare Association in Minneapolis. In 1939, the Charity Organization Society was merged with the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor under the name of “Community Service Society” (CSS). Miss Kempshall was named director of the family service department, a role she carried with distinction until 1952, when her health began to fail.

Anna Kempshall Holding Her Great Niece, Star Adamson McLean
Anna Kempshall Holding Her Great Niece, Star Adamson McLean
Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson

In February 1946, a profile of Anna “Star” Kempshall was published in TRUMPET NOTES, a publication of the Junior League of Elizabeth, NJ, Inc.

 “There is one member in our midst who is doing outstanding work in a field which is close to the hearts of every Junior Leaguer. As Director of Family Service of the Community Service Society, New York’s biggest private agency, Star Kempshall’s career and experience cannot but be of special interest to us all.

“The Community Service Society, commonly known as the CSS, operates through twelve districts covering the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens, and Family Service is the division responsible for all case work done in these twelve offices. Star is located in the central administrative headquarters on 22nd Street in an attractive spacious office equipped with a long and impressive-looking conference table. Here she directs the work and policies of the Family Service staff of caseworkers and supervises the training of incoming students. Though slight and rather delicate in appearance, her accomplishments show tremendous energy, and beneath a quiet manner lies a firm determination to maintain the high standards of her profession. She is herself untiring in her devotion to her work, and she expects her caseworkers to function to the limit of their ability to help their clients, whose interests are always to be kept foremost. Star believes in the encouragement of initiative by delegating as much responsibility as possible to the individual worker, and she advocates an attitude of “professional self-consciousness” and readiness to learn new and better methods and theories of casework.

“Another important aspect of her work is in contact with other agencies, developing policies for closer cooperation and participation in community planning. Right now, through the War Emergency Committee, the CSS is working with 22 other New York agencies to coordinate their efforts to assist servicemen, veterans and their families. Throughout her career she has also worked closely with Junior League members, both as volunteers in the CSS and as fellow board members in other organizations. Both active and provisional members placed in the agency have proved of great value, and very often the Family Service staff have conducted courses for the Provisionals…..”

 Anna Star Kempshall, died on Wednesday, November 1, 1961 in New York’s Presbyterian Hospital. She was 70 years old. Surviving were a brother, Everard, of Cranford, N. J., and a sister, Mrs, Edgar H. Pinneo of Elizabeth, N. J,

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J. E. (2015). Anna (Star) Kempshall (1891-1961): Prominent social worker, long-time director of the Family Service Department of the Community Service Society of New York. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from