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Social Welfare Developments, 1901-1950

in: Events

Editor’s Note: All items are in chronological order in the year under which they are listed.

The first State workmen’s compensation law is enacted in Maryland; it was declared unconstitutional in 1904.

Homer Folks, founder and head of the New York State Charities Aid Association publishes Care of Destitute, Neglected and Delinquent Children.

Conversion of the Marine Hospital Service into the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service in recognition of its expanding activities in the field of public health.

Illinois passes a law authorizing special pensions for the blind.

Graham Taylor leads the effort to create a “Social Science Center for Practical Training in Philanthropic and Social Work.” In 1920, with the support of numerous social welfare leaders the school merged with the University of Chicago to be one of its graduate departments: Social Service Administration.

Publication of Robert Hunter’s Poverty.

Founding of the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis.

The Massachusetts General Hospital becomes the first American hospital to have professional social workers on site. The position was created by Richard Clarke Cabot to help patients to deal with areas of their life that made treatment difficult.

The American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL), an organization concerned with the rights of workers, is founded.

The Federated Boys’ Club–the beginning of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America–is founded.

Upton Sinclair publishes his novel The Jungle, a work which shed light on the deplorable living and working conditions of many poor Americans, particularly immigrants.

The Pure Food and Drugs Act is passed, authorizing the government to monitor the purity of foods and the safety of medicines, now a responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration.

The first Federal Employment Service (forerunner of the United States Employment Service) is created to assist workers in finding jobs, and employers in finding workers.


On August 14, 1908, A race riot broke out in Springfield, Illinois, the capital.

A workmen’s compensation system is established for civilian employees of the Federal Government.

Publication of Clifford W. BeersA Mind That Found Itself, an account of the author’s hospitalization in an asylum.

The Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene and the National Committee for Mental Hygiene are founded by Clifford W. Beers, founder of Mental Health America.

The Pittsburgh Associated Charities, formed in response to the ongoing need for a single, short-term, combined appeal for food, shelter and medical supplies, is formed.

Credit unions first acquire legal status in the U.S. when the Massachusetts legislature passed a law providing for the chartering and organization of credit unions.

The first public commission on aging is established in Massachusetts.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is formed by a group of black and white citizens committed to helping to correct social injustices.

Christodora Settlement House Annual Report is published.

A Conference on the Care of Dependent Children is held in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt. This was the first of the White House Conferences on Child Welfare.

The first Federal old-age pension bill is introduced in Congress.

The first public welfare department in the nation is enacted by the City Council of Kansas City, Missouri on April 14 and Leroy Allen Halbert was named superintendent.

The first health insurance plans, which offered medical protection in the form of medical care for industrial workers in isolated areas, and disability benefits, are introduced.

The National Conference of Catholic Charities is created at a meeting on the campus of Catholic University of America.  In 1998, the name was changed to Catholic Charities USA.

The National Urban League is founded by Ruth Standish Baldwin and George Edmund Haynes.

The American Federation for Sex Hygiene, which aimed to reduce the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, combat prostitution, and provide sex education, is organized.

The first major survey of the economic conditions of the aged is conducted in Massachusetts.

The Triangle Waist Factory Fire in New York City resulted in the death of 146 young immigrants locked into the upper floors of a tenement building where they were working.

The first state laws for “mothers’ aid” (forerunner of aid to dependent children) are enacted in Missouri and Illinois.

The first workmen’s compensation law to be held constitutional is enacted in Wisconsin.

The first contributory system of pensions covering all State employees was established in Massachusetts.

The American Vigilance Association is created by merging the American Purity Alliance and the National Vigilance Committee.

The American Association for Labor Legislation, an organization that advocated for fair labor laws, forms a Social Insurance Committee.

Massachusetts enacts the first State minimum wage law.

The Public Health and Marine Hospital Service is changed to the U.S. Public Health Service.

The first division of child hygiene is established in a State Department of Health in Louisiana.

By an act of Congress the Children’s Bureau is established. Among the functions of this Bureau was the safeguarding of the health of mothers and children.

The American Association for Labor Legislation sponsors the First National Conference on Social Insurance in Chicago, Illinois.

The American Association for Labor Legislation’s Social Insurance Committee issues a Report favoring a State-run compulsory health insurance system.

The American  Vigilance Association and the American Federation for Sex Hygiene vote to unite under the name American Social Hygiene Association.

The first state law providing old-age pensions is enacted in Arizona. It abolished almshouses and provided pensions for aged persons, persons incapable of self support because of physical infirmities, and certain mothers with children. It was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court in 1916.

Margaret Sanger is indicted for violating postal obscenity laws because of mailing copies of her Journal.

Abraham Flexner declares that “social work” is not a profession because social workers do not have a great deal of individual responsibility and because it still lacks a written body of knowledge and educationally communicable techniques at the annual meeting of the National Conference on Social Work.

The first old-age pension legislation not challenged on the grounds of constitutionality is enacted in the Territory of Alaska.

Margaret Haley,  a former school teacher and the leader of the movement to unionize teachers, takes over the full-time leadership of the Chicago Teachers Federation.

Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in America in Brooklyn, NY.

Social Diagnosis, written by Mary Richmond, is published and is the first textbook on social casework, marking the development of a body of social work knowledge and techniques.

In response to the United States’ entry into World War I, Congress passes the War Risk Insurance Act was passed in October. This legislation set up the first government life insurance program.

The first Federal legislation establishing grant-in-aid provisions for vocational education was enacted.

The first state Department of Public Welfare is established in Illinois.

Establishment of the American Red Cross’ Home Service Division.

A cooperative Federal-State program of cash grants for public health services begins.

Father Edward Flanagan establishes Boys Town in Omaha, NE.

The first Federal grants to states for public health services for prevention and control of venereal diseases were instituted.

The Child Welfare League of America is founded.

The Women’s Bureau, a division of the U.S. Labor Department, is formed to safeguard working conditions for women.

The Association of Training Schools of Professional Social Work is created.  In 1952, this would become the Council on Social Work Education.

Creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau.

A Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund is established for Federal employees.

Congress enacts the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (commonly called the Smith-Fess Act), which was originally conceived as a vocational training and counseling program for industrially-injured civilians.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified on August 26, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act, which distributed federal matching grants to the states for prenatal and child health clinics, information on nutrition and hygiene, midwife training, and visiting nurses for pregnant women and new mothers, is passed. The act was the first federally funded social welfare measure in the United States.

Creation of the American Association of Social Workers.  In 1955, it would be melded into the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The Bureau of Indian Affairs Health Division is created, forerunner of the Indian Health Service, a part of the U.S. Public Health Service.

The American Association for Old-age Security is established by Abraham Epstein.

The Federal Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act sets up a workmen’s compensation program for certain maritime and related industries workers who could not be covered under State programs.

The Committee on the Costs of Medical Care (CCMC) is organized to study the economic aspects of the prevention and care of sickness.

The Sheppard-Towner Act (which provided federal funds for services for mothers and infants) is allowed to expire.

On October 27-29, the stock market crashes and ushers in the Great Depression. The Depression lasted until the outbreak of World War II. The effects of the Great Depression created an economic, political and social welfare crisis in the U.S.

Old-age Pension Laws in California and Wyoming, which were mandatory and statewide, become effective.

The Veterans Administration is established by Executive Order.

The census reports 6,634,000 persons (5.4% of the population) over 65.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House.

Passage of the New York State Unemployment Relief Act.

The Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds is founded.

The Bonus March, an event in which an estimated 40,000 unemployed and poor World War I Veterans and their supporters traveled to Washington, D.C. to petition Congress for a promised bonus for service: Bonus March May 1932, occurs.

President Herbert Hoover signs The National Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932.

The first State unemployment insurance law is enacted in Wisconsin on January 29.

The Reconstruction Finance Corporation is given authority to make loans and advances to States for relief purposes.

The Committee on the Costs of Medical Care’s report endorses group practice and voluntary health insurance. The report recommends State-sponsored medical care supported by taxes or insurance for the medically indigent. The AMA called the idea cumbersome and bureaucratic.

The American Federation of Labor endorses social insurance.

In his inaugural address, March 4th, President  Roosevelt promises “a New Deal for the American people” and rightly concluded that “this nation asks for action, and action now.” During the Roosevelt Administration’s first “Hundred Days” (March 4-June 16), Congress committed the country to extraordinary reforms with the Federal Government assuming responsibility for the welfare of millions of unemployed. The primary aim of all the legislation was economic recovery.

Frances Perkins is appointed Secretary of Labor in President Roosevelt’s Cabinet. She is the first woman to be appointed to a U.S. Cabinet position.

The March 1933 issue of The Survey Mid-monthly carried the first in a series of columns that would continue for a decade. The subject of the columns — Amelia Bailey — “Miss Bailey” to most people — was a 1930s-style virtual-reality public relief supervisor.

The Federal Emergency Relief Act is signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 12.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration is created. The agency is authorized to match the sums allotted for the relief of unemployed by State and local governments with Federal funds. The measure providing for the first direct grants to States for unemployment relief was expanded to provide medical attention and medical supplies to recipients of unemployment relief programs.

The Agriculture Adjustment Act goes is signed. The Act authorized the payment of subsidies to farmers not to plant crops in order to eliminate the surplus, thus raising crop prices and helping the US economy.

The Wagner-Peyser Act is enacted to establish a national employment system. It provided Federal grants to States that affiliated their employment services with the United States Employment Service. The latter was established as a separate bureau in the Labor Department to administer the Act.

The National Industrial Recovery Act is signed.

The Public Works Administration and Civilian Works Agency are created.

The Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act is passed on June 16. Many of its key economic and consumer protections were eliminated by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999.

Upton Sinclair launches his EPIC (End Poverty in California) movement.

Dr. Francis Townsend and Robert Clements introduce the Old Age Revolving Pension Plan, more commonly known as the Townsend Plan, a pension plan that would serve as the basis for Franklin Roosevelt’s social security insurance scheme.

Congress establishes the U.S. Employment Service which, jointly with the States, established and maintained employment agencies that helped workers find employment, and employers find suitable workers.

President Roosevelt recommended federal legislation to promote economic security his Message to Congress: “Among our objectives I place the security of men, women and children of the nation first.”

In response to the wave of bank failures after Black Thursday, the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934 is approved, making it possible to establish federally-chartered credit unions in all of the United States.

The Railroad Retirement Act of 1934 is approved by the president. The Act, to be administered by the Railroad Retirement Board, provided for retirement and disability annuities, as well as lump-sum payments to survivors, for railroad workers.

The President creates the Committee on Economic Security to study the problems relating to economic security and to make recommendations for a program of legislation. The Committee’s first director was Dr. Edwin E. Witte.

The first Federal Credit Union charter is issued to a group of people in Texarkana, Texas.

President Roosevelt announces the members of a 23-member Advisory Council to the Committee on Economic Security, with Frank Porter Graham, President of the University of North Carolina, as Chairman.

The National Conference on Economic Security is held in the District of Columbia. Representatives of employers, labor and the public attended.

President Roosevelt’s message to Congress calls for legislation to provide assistance for the unemployed, the aged, destitute children and the physically handicapped.

The Committee on Economic Security’s recommendations, embodied in the Economic Security Act, are introduced in the 74th Congress. Recommendations included Federal old-age insurance, Federal-State public assistance and unemployment insurance programs, and extension of public health, maternal and child health, services for crippled children and child welfare services, and vocational rehabilitation but not health insurance.

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ address on national radio explains the Roosevelt Administration’s proposal for what would become the Social Security Act of 1935.

The Social Security Act is introduced in the House of Representatives with a report.

The Works Progress Administration, created by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, established a Resettlement Administration and a National Youth Administration to administer emergency work relief programs for the unemployed.

The Social Security Act is passed by the House of Representatives, 372 to 33 (25 not voting).

The National Labor Relations Act was enacted.

The first compulsory health insurance bill is introduced in Congress, the “Epstein Bill” sponsored by Senator Arthur Capper, (Kansas).

The Social Security Act (H.R. 7260, Public Law No. 271, 74th Congress) became law with the President’s signature at approximately.

The Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits receives its first director, Murray W. Latimer.

Miss Jane Hoey is appointed Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance. By February of 1936, the agency had begun to distribute public assistance checks, after money was finally appropriated for the purpose. An unemployed worker–Neils B. Ruud–in Madison, Wisconsin, received the first unemployment benefit check paid under a State law. The amount was $15.00.

Publication of the Social Security Journal, Selected Current Statistics, began on a monthly basis.

In three decisions, the Supreme Court validated the unemployment insurance provisions of the Social Security Act and ruled old-age pensions were constitutional, (301 U.S. 495, 548, 619) in Steward Machine Company v. Davis; Helvering v. Davis; and Carmichael v. Southern Coal Company.

Unemployment insurance legislation becomes nationwide with approved laws in all States. Illinois was the last State to pass such legislation.

The name “Old-Age Benefit Program”, which was provided for under Title II of the Social Security Act was changed to “Old-Age Insurance Program” to distinguish it from old-age benefits under the public assistance program. The Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits became the Bureau of Old-Age Insurance.

President Roosevelt signs into law the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which codified the minimum wage, mandated overtime pay and appropriate employer recordkeeping, and set youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.

Ida M. Fuller became the first person to receive an old-age monthly benefit check under the new Social Security law. She paid in $24.75 between 1937 and 1939 on an income of $2,484. Her first check, dated January 31, was for $22.54.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the “GI Bill of Rights” is enacted. The Act provides education and training through state-administered payments to educational units; subsistence allowance; loans for the purchase or construction of homes, farms, or business property; job counseling and employment placement; and 52 weeks of adjustment allowances, i.e., the “52/$20 Club.”

President Harry Truman signs the National Mental Health Act, creating for the first time in US history a significant amount of funding for psychiatric education and research and leading to the creation in 1949 of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social welfare developments, 1901-1950. (2011). Retrieved [date accessed] from /events/1901-1950/.

11 Replies to “Social Welfare Developments, 1901-1950”

  1. Im trying to get information on the Welfare Training Center that was located in NW DC during the 1960’s when I was a child and lived there. I would like to know when it was built if it was another location first and what has happened to it now.

    • I don’t have access to any information about that training center at the moment. You might consider contacting one of the university libraries in Washington, DC–especially a Special Collections and Archives department. Normally I would suggest the DC Public Library, but I believe they are closed and not answering any questions until the pandemic subsides. Good luck.

  2. I believe that my mother worked for the Florence Crittenton organization in Chicago in the 1940s or 1950s. Are there any records from that period? Her name was Amelia DiFonso Tiritilli Pisapia.
    Thank you.

  3. I am pursuing a Bachelors in Economics and Management and am carrying out a study on the relevance of pensions in the elimination on poverty.This study comes in handy for some useful information over the past years.

  4. My friend born in 1931 , when he was a young man in Maryland, remembers that a young unmarried friend of his had money deducted from his check each week (by his employer or the government, he doesn’t remember) and given to his elderly mother to help with her expenses. Ever come across anything like this as a government program in your research??

    • Thank you for the comment. The only example of what you suggested is in connection with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The young men who enlisted during the Depression were paid $25 dollars a month and $20 doallars from their paycheck was sent home to their families. Jack Hansan

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