Skip to main content

Dunn, Loula Friend

Loula Friend Dunn (1896-1977 ): Child Welfare Worker, Public Welfare Administrator and Executive Director of the American Public Welfare Association


Miss Loula Dunn, Commissioner of Welfare for the State of Alabama
Miss Loula Dunn, Commissioner of Welfare for the State of Alabama
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID fsa 8d43717

Note: This entry also includes the citation for Miss Dunn’s Honorary Degree from Alabama College for Women, a letter from the college president  and her resume while she was Executive Director of the American Public Welfare Association.

Introduction: Loula Dunn was a public welfare administrator and social policy adviser. After teaching public school, she became a caseworker and then administrator with the Alabama State Child Welfare Department. During the Great Depression she directed social services for the Alabama Relief Administration and then administered Federal Emergency Relief and Works Progress Administration programs in six southern states. She became Commissioner of the Alabama State Department of Public Welfare in 1937. She served on the board of the American Public Welfare Association and was then appointed its first woman executive director from 1949-1964. She frequently served on advisory committees for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, advocating policy to extend child welfare and other public services.

Education and Career: Loula Dunn was born 1898 in Grove Hill, Alabama, the daughter of William Dickson and Ninnic Savage (Dickinson) Dunn, the former a native of Mobile who practiced law at Grove Hill and served as State Senator form the 19th District, 1901-03, Granddaughter of William Dickson and Sophia Louise (Horton) Dunn.  Miss Dunn received her education in the public schools at Grove Hill.  She also attended the Alabama Polytechnic Institute and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  Following several years’ teaching experience in South Alabama, Miss Dunn began working with the State Child Welfare Department where she held several positions, including that of Assistant Director.  She was appointed Commissioner of the State Department of Public Welfare by Governor Bibb Graves and began her duties October 30, 1937.  She was Alabama representative at the 1940 White House Conference on Children in a Democracy, has served as representative of welfare on the State Defense Council since its original appointment in 1941, and is a member of the Alabama Policy Committee.

In addition to her responsibilities as Commissioner, Miss Dunn held numerous offices and acted in advisory relationship to agencies and organizations both within and without Alabama.  She was a representative of welfare on the State Defense Council since its original appointment in 1941; she was a member of the executive committee of the Alabama Policy Committee, served on the organizing committee of the Alabama Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration, belonged to the American Association of Social Workers, of which she was a former national vice-president. She was also president of the Alabama Conference of Social Work. Miss Dunn represented the Governor as a member of the 1940 White House Conference on Children in Democracy.  She was also a member of three committees functioning under the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor:  Adviser Commission on Children in Wartime; Advisory Committee on Social Services for Children; Committee on Training of Police for Work with Juveniles.

Other positions held by Miss Dunn included vice-presidency of the Child Welfare League of America; membership on the crime control committee of the Council of State Governments; membership on the executive committee on the National Conference of Social Work. Miss Dunn was closely associated with the organization of the women’s branches of the military services.  She was appointed by the Director of the Women’s Army Corps to serve as Consultant to the Secretary of War in the selection of the initial officer candidates for that Corps.  She also served in an advisory capacity with regard to recruitment.  In addition, Miss Dunn was a member of the WAVE recruiting committee.

.In 1941 Miss Dunn was one of a group of American public welfare administrators who, through the American Public Welfare Association, accepted the invitation of the Canadian Government to inspect the wartime public welfare services of that Nation. Miss Dunn was also a member of the advisory committee of the Eighth Pan American Child Congress and a member of the advisory committee of the American Association of Schools of Social Work.

She resigned as Commissioner in 1948 to become Executive Director of the American Public Welfare Association (APWA).  Dunn was the APWA’s first woman executive. From 1948 until her retirement in 1964, she played a key role in bringing together social welfare leaders from all over the country to help study and draft legislation establishing many federally funded social work welfare programs. She influenced many, and during her long career she maintained close associations with such public figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Nelson Rockefeller.

Note: Below is the citation on receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Alabama College, May 27, 1940




In your life and work you have provided a worthy example to younger women who must learn how to live and how to do their share of the work of this State and this Nation.  Heretofore you were a successful teacher in the public elementary and high schools of Alabama.  Formerly, also, you were associated with another of Alabama’s distinguished women, Mrs. L. B. Tunstall, Director of the Department of Child Welfare of the State.  You were, likewise, the associate of the Honorable Thad Holt in setting up and administering the Alabama Relief Administration.  You were eminently successful as Supervisor of the National Program of Relief in twelve Southern States.  Since October 1957, you have served with distinction as Commissioner of the Department of Public Welfare of Alabama.  You have rejected the allurements of money and of professional prestige in order to continue in the service of the state of your nativity.  Truly, it can be said that life in your State and in America is sweeter and nobler and better because you have lived in them and worked for them.  In the achievement of a successful career you have lost no whit of those admirable feminine excellences so to be desired among women who occupy positions of honor and leadership.  Pursuant to its mandate and by the authority of the Board of Trustees of Alabama College, the college being an arm of the State, I confer upon you, causa honoris, the degree of Doctor of Laws, and I declare you entitled to all the rights, privileges, and honors thereunto pertaining.

In appreciation of your distinguished services to Alabama and to the South and to the Nation, the College presents to you its hood emblematic of the degree conferred upon you.  I now invest you with this hood as a modest tribute by the constituted authorities of the College to your contributions to human welfare.

Note: Below is a personal letter from the President of Alabama College of Women



Montevalle, Alabama

June 5, 1940


Honorable Loula Dunn, Commissioner of Public Welfare

State of Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama

Dear Doctor Dunn:

Thinking that you may care to have it for your personal files, I am sending to your herewith a copy of the citation used on the occasion of your receiving the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Alabama College on May 27, 1940.  But for the fact that I have been away from my desk since almost immediately after the graduating exercise until yesterday I would have written earlier in this connection.

Let me hope that you will not discourage the use of your newly required title by which you can be addressed no less worthily than many other people who have received honorary degrees.  Indeed you enjoy, I sincerely believe, a real distinction in that Alabama College has conferred honorary degrees upon only six women and upon no men in its history.  I also sincerely believe that our honorary degrees as the years go by will continue to carry even greater significance if the conservative policy of the College in conferring them in continued as I am reasonably sure it will be.

For the reason that I personally have great satisfaction in it, I am passing on to you a definition of a honorary degree which appeared some years ago in the Indiana Daily Student.  “An honorary degree is given to one who has proved that he could win without it.”

Let me welcome you again into the fellowship of the alumna of Alabama College and hope that you will always feel free to look upon the College as a real Alma Mater.

Faithfully yours,

A.  F.  Harman, President



Biographical Information


Place of Birth Grove Hill, Alabama

Education Attended:

Alabama Polytechnic Institute

University of North Carolina

Honorary Degrees:  LL.  D.  Alabama College

LH. D. Western College for Women

Positions Held:

Public Schools, Alabama – Teacher

Alabama State Child Welfare Department – Case Worker, Field Representative, Assistant Director

Alabama Relief Administration – Director of Social Services

Federal Emergency Relief Administration and Works Project Administration, Regional Social         Worker for twelve southern states

Alabama State Department of Pubic Welfare- Commissioner

American Public Welfare Association- Director (since 1949)

Participation in National and International Programs:

American Public Welfare Association

President 1944-1946

Vice-President 1940-42

Member, Board of Directors, 1938-39

Chairman, War Services Committee, 1943-45

Member, Welfare Policy Committee, 1947-49

Chairman, Children’s Committee, 1940-42

American Association of Social Workers


National Vice-President, 1935-36

Member, Alabama Chapter, 1932-present

Child Welfare League of America


Vice-President, 1940-50

Member, Board of Directors, 1937-40

Alabama Conference of Social Work


President, 1938-1939

Member, 1923-Present

American Society for Public Administration

Vice-President, 1946-47

Member, Organizing Committee, Alabama Chapter

Southern Sociological Society


Vice-President, 1945-46

Member, Committee on Public Welfare Relations in the South, 1947

Member, Committee on Social Work and Public Welfare for 1949

National Conference of Social Work

Vice-President, 1948-49

Member, Executive committee, 1940-45

Member, Special Committee of American Public Welfare Administrators which studies Canadian social services in 1941 under auspices of American Public Welfare Association

Representative of public welfare in broad Anglo-American Information Program, 1945; visited British Isles under auspices of Office of War Information at invitation of British Government

Member, Technical Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Programs of the forty-eight states, Council of State Governments 1951-present

Member, Steering Committee of Advisory Council on Participation of National Organizations in Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth- 1950

Member, Advisory Committee on Social Work Yearbook -1950

Member, Advisory Committee on Emergency Welfare Services, Federal Civil Defense Administration – 1951-present

Member, Consultants group appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to advise on the Extension of Social Insurances, 1953

ReferencesUniversity of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN. 

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Loula Friend Dunn (1896-1977): Child welfare worker, public welfare administrator and executive director of the American Public Welfare Association. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from