Robert E. Bondy (1895-1990) — Social Worker, Director of Disaster Relief for the American Red Cross,
Volunteer Advocate and Director of the National Social Welfare Assembly
Researched and Transcribed by Ian Lewenstein
Editor’s Note: No complete biography of Robert E. Bondy has been located. This entry was developed using two separate documents obtained from the files of the Social Welfare Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries by Ian Lewenstein. The first is a narrative description of Bondy’s career. Below that is a year-by-year account of his positions.
Volunteers “are the phalanx for a changed public attitude.”1 These words best characterize the career and contribution to volunteerism made by Robert E. Bondy (1895-1990). Bondy spent the majority of his career with the American Red Cross, overseeing disaster relief efforts together with implementing programs and services to deal with returning U.S. veterans who served in the two world wars. Bondy ended his illustrious career as director of the National Social Welfare Assembly and, finally, as chairman of the Health and Welfare Advisory Council of the AFL-CIO.
Bondy was born in southeastern Minnesota in the small town of Dover. In 1917, Bondy graduated from the University of Chicago, where he lettered in baseball and basketball while working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. After graduating, Bondy quickly became involved in social service work in Columbus, Ohio, where he was manager of the Social Service Bureau of Columbus’ Chamber of Commerce. Shortly before being drafted and becoming a private in the U.S. Army Infantry, Bondy coordinated a Columbus war drive, helping to raise $3,250,000.
After the war, Bondy served in various posts with the American Red Cross, rising to the post of the National Director of War Service in Washington, D.C. in 1922. Commenting on Bondy’s appointment, a military colonel remarked, “The American Legion has secured a valuable, energetic, and wise adviser”2 since it was expected Bondy would effectively coordinate cooperation between the American Red Cross and the American Legion, a prominent veteran’s organization. Bondy himself saw the need for the American Red Cross to meticulously document its activities, better disseminate its reports and, most importantly, improve its care of disabled former servicemen.
In a 1925 newspaper article, Bondy described the crucial role of the U.S. government in setting up and expanding modern hospitals for World War I veterans. More significantly, Bondy articulated the important part Red Cross volunteers play in relieving the veteran’s mind of home worries when he stated, “The trained Red Cross workers permit unimpeded contact between doctor and patient with a high percentage of cures.”3 This bridge role of the Red Cross was a common theme in Bondy’s work; he strongly believed that the volunteer was the foundation of effective social effort. Accordingly, “this participation of the layman and laywoman must be recognized as vital”4 because professional workers cannot handle all the work needed to deal with social problems in the U.S.
In addition to his focus on and concern for returning World War I veterans, Bondy ran various disaster relief programs. For instance, Bondy directed flood relief for the Mississippi Valley (1927) and oversaw drought relief for the southeastern coastal states (1930-1931). Bondy’s effective work was recognized and, consequently, in 1931, Bondy was nominated to the post of Director of Disaster Relief within the Red Cross. In his acknowledgement of Bondy’s nomination, James L. Fieser, the Vice Chairman of the Red Cross, averred that “He [Bondy] brings to this important post, exceptional training and experience in Red Cross work, together with first hand acquaintance with chapter officers and state and national leaders throughout the United States.”5 This knowledge of the rank and file was one of Bondy’s most referenced and respected attributes.
Bondy served as the National Director of Disaster Relief until 1939. During his post, Bondy was engaged in numerous projects such as a cotton distribution program (1932-1933) and relief operations for the devastating 1936 spring floods including the famous Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania, where half the homes in a metropolitan area of over 90,000 people were flooded.
In a 1936 article, Bondy detailed how, in confronting these natural disasters, the Red Cross disaster relief man “directs the local, countywide Red Cross Chapters to meet the emergency needs of food, shelter, clothing and medical attention; and, then, he gets there himself, with his staff and other workers from his disaster reserve. He goes by plane, or train, or auto, or railroad gasoline car, or Navy destroyer—or he walks part way; somehow he arrives.”6 In his work as the National Director of Disaster Relief, Bondy epitomized this description of the dedicated and community-inspired Red Cross volunteer.
Even during his time as managing Red Cross disaster relief efforts, Bondy found time to serve as the President of the Civic Federation in Montgomery County, Maryland; Bondy was an active participant in the affairs of Montgomery County, so much so that in 1933 he was awarded the Star Cup, an award given for most outstanding public service on behalf of the county. In particular, Bondy was recognized for his protection and development of the county’s public school system, particularly his consistent support for enlarging and improving the school system.
Despite stepping down as the National Director of Disaster Relief in 1939, Bondy continued his involvement in civic affairs. From 1939-1941, Bondy was the Director of Public Welfare in the District of Columbia. In June 1941, he continued his devotion to veterans by becoming the Administrator of Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces, a post in which he was responsible for developing and expanding Red Cross work for servicemen at home and abroad.
After the war, Bondy began his twenty year tenure as the Director of the National Social Welfare Assembly (NSWA) in New York City. When Bondy received the National Conference on Social Welfare Distinguished Service Award in 1965 for his social welfare work in the NSWA, a commentator remarked on his persistence, patience, and fortitude in directing the NSWA.7 Bondy was also commended for his unique three-way partnership between the national and local community, voluntary and government services, and lay and professional services. Bondy ended his career as a prominent leader in the 1950 and 1960 White House Conferences on Children and Youth and in the 1961 White House Conference on Aging.
Throughout his long career, Bondy was singularly dedicated to two connected yet distinct groups of U.S. society: volunteers as embodied by the American Red Cross and former American servicemen. Concerning the former, Bondy was instrumental in the development of Red Cross disaster relief systems including evacuation plans and other preventive measures such as using nation-wide weather bureau stations to anticipate threatened areas. Bondy always thought that the Red Cross had a place “in the army of social progress”8 and that this historic American organization was a “great spiritual force,”9 which had the duty of being the “big neighbor” and instilling key values of unselfishness, thoughtfulness, and alertness to meeting suffering throughout local communities. These attributes tied directly to his work for veterans, specifically his focus on preventive and remedial measures in dealing with veterans’ health and recovery along with cooperation with governmental and private agencies. Thus, Bondy can be considered a generous, devoted, and hard-working civilian leader, who pioneered American Red Cross Programs and made sure that U.S. veterans were properly treated and cared for.
Biography of Robert E. Bondy:
1895- Born August 13th in Dover, Minnesota
1917 – Graduated from University of Chicago. Married Ruth Dunn. This first marriage produced two children, Ruth Eleanor and Robert Earl
1917-1918 – Manager of Social Service Bureau of Columbus, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce
1918 – Private in U.S. Army Infantry
1919-1939- Various posts with American Red Cross
1919-20- Director of Field Service, Department of Civilian Relief, Lake Division, Cleveland, Ohio
1920-22- Assistant Manager, Southwest Division, St. Louis, MO. Involved in 1921 Colorado flood relief
1922-27- National Director, War Service, Washington, DC. Also member of advisory section of American Legion National Rehabilitation Committee. Both of these positions were concerned with helping the returning World War I veteran adjust to civilian life
1927-1931- Manager, Eastern Area, Washington, DC. Included directing flood relief for Mississippi Valley, 1927, and drought relief for Eastern States, 1930-1931
1931-39- National Director, Disaster Relief, including:
1932-33- Executive Director, cotton distribution program
1936- Director of relief operations, spring flood, including Johnstown, PA flood
1937- American delegate to League of Red Cross Societies, International Conference on Disaster Relief and Nursing, Paris, France
1938- Director of relief operations, New England hurricane
1933-35- President, Montgomery County, Maryland, Civic Federation. An active participant in Montgomery County politics from mid-1920s through 1930s
1939-1941- Director of Public Welfare, District of Columbia
1940-41- Chairman, Welfare and Consumer Interest Committee, District of Columbia Council of Defense. Major emphasis on needs of transient armed forces personnel stationed in area
1940- Chairman, Public Welfare Discussion Group of American Association of Social Workers
1940-45- Chairman, National Social Work Council, New York City
1944-46- Chairman, National Committee on Service to Veterans, under the auspices of the National Social Work Council. Emphasis on acquainting returning veterans with available benefits
1941-46- American Red Cross, Administrator, Services to Armed Forces. Emphasis on making information about government and Red Cross veteran benefits known to returning veterans.
1947-67- Director, National Social Welfare Assembly (successor to National Social Work Council), New York City
1948- Second marriage to Marjorie Knapp Workman, adding to his family these children: Ann Workman Sheldon, Jenny Workman, and Julia Workman Sterrett
1948-1953- Board member, American Immigration Conference
1959- Chairman, Health and Welfare Advisory Council, AFL-CIO, Community Services Committee
March 1990- Death in Tampa, Florida
Sources: The information for this biography comes from the SWHA Archives at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. When available, the footnotes indicate the box and folder number of the referenced material. In addition, information was gathered from the SWHA collection scope and content note.
Robert Bondy Papers. Biography. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN.
Robert Bondy Papers. Collection Scope and Content Note. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN.
1 Box 1, Folder 8.
2 Box 1, Folder 4.
4 Box 1, Folder 8.
6 Box 1, Folder 9.
8 Box 1, Folder 6.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Lewenstein, I. (2002). Robert E. Bondy (1895 -1990) — Social worker, director of Disaster Relief for the American Red Cross, volunteer advocate and director of the National Social Welfare Assembly. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/wwii-1950s/bondy-robert-e