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Hoey, Jane M.

in: People

Jane M. Hoey (1892-1968) — Social Worker, Welfare Administrator, Government Official


Miss Jane Hoey, Director, Bureau of Public Assistance, and the only woman official of the Social Security Board
Miss Jane Hoey, Director, Bureau of Public Assistance, and the only woman official of the Social Security Board
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID hec 33630

Introduction: Jane Hoey was a social worker, a welfare administrator and a government official. Her most significant contribution was as the Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance and later the Bureau of Family Services within the U.S. Social Security Administration. She was responsible for implementing the public welfare provisions of the Social Security Act and the organization to carry out the programs. She remained in this job for nearly 20 years. For nearly two decades Jane Hoey counted among the handful of powerful women in the administration of the federal government.

Education and Career: Hoey received a bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College, Washington, D.C. in 1914 and earned amaster’s degree in political science from Columbia University and a diploma from the New York School of Philosophy, both in 1916.  Hoey’s career began in local government in 1916 when she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Board of Child Welfare of New York City. Her superior was Harry Hopkins. The two spent much of the next fourteen years working together in duties that paralleled one another. From 1917 to 1921 Hoey was Director of Field Service for the Atlanta Division of the American Red Cross. In 1923 she became Secretary of the Bronx Committee of the New York TB and Health Association. She later was appointed Director of the Welfare Council of New York City. Hoey remained on the Welfare Council for ten years.Jane Hoey was devoted to advancing her profession. She was a well known local figure and speaker who forged strong attachments with the settlement house movement and its leaders. The Welfare Council was itself a watchdog for professional standards and brought greater unity to social work within the city. In 1925 Hoey was Chairman of the New York Chapter of the American Association of Social Workers. In 1928 she served as President of the New York State Conference of Social Work. She was also an executive officer of both national organizations and president of the National Conference of Social Work in 1940-41. By 1935 Harry Hopkins and other close associates had gone to Washington to work in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal administration. The President created a Committee on Economic Security in 1934 and in addition to Harry Hopkins, Francis Perkins served on this committee. She supervised appointments to a number of advisory bodies that helped formulate the Social Security Act. Hoey joined the COE’s Committee on Child Welfare and after the law’s enactment in 1935 became Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance within the Social Security Administration.Jane Hoey was an experienced and highly-regarded expert on social welfare issues from New York State when she was asked to join the new Social Security program in 1936 to be head of the Bureau of Public Assistance. This Bureau was responsible for the major assistance titles of the Social Security Act of 1935, which included Title I Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, Title IV-Grants to States for Aid to Dependent Children, and Title X-Grants to the States for Aid to the Blind. In other words, of the seven programs authorized by the Act, Jane Hoey was in charge of three of them–more than any other Bureau Director.In her role as Bureau Director, Hoey was an aggressive advocate on behalf of the programs under her charge. She was sometimes described as “fiery.” One of her major early tasks was to oversee the development of the various State plans under the three titles. The State plans had to be in conformance with the federal regulations promulgated by Hoey and Board and Jane Hoey had to approve a State plan before payments could be made under the Act. This sometimes led to conflicts with various State officials, just by the nature of the federal/State relationships involved, and perhaps also, in part, due to the fact that Jane Hoey was a powerful high-profile female executive in an era when it was uncommon for women to be in such roles.

Hoey spent most of her twenty years as an official trying to persuade government and state officials to comply voluntarily with federal expectations. She developed and required a

statistical reporting system and set up a special unit to assist the states in getting professional staff. Her personal effort brought professionalism to the administration of public welfare in many states. Hoey’s position was not protected by civil service and she was dismissed when Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Republicans took control of the executive branch in 1953.

Jane Hoey’s Dismissal: In 1953, Hoey was fired by the new Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Ovetta Culp Hobby, in order to give her job to a Republican political appointee. This was a highly-publicized and controversial action at the time since Jane Hoey did not agree to a request for her resignation and was forced out.

Jane Hoey’s position had always been a non-political, career civil service job, and Hoey was a career civil servant. Indeed, she had originally been appointed to her job by the first Chairman of the Social Security Board, John G. Winant, who was a former Republican Governor of New Hampshire. Originally, the Social Security program was run by a three-person bi-partisan Board, all of whom were political appointees subject to Senate confirmation. And even though the Act was passed during a Democratic Administration, the first head of the program was a Republican, deliberately chosen by President Roosevelt to emphasis the non-partisan nature of the program. However, in 1946, the bi-partisan Board was abolished and replaced by a single, politically-appointed Commissioner.

Virtually all of the original employees of the Social Security Board were hired under Civil Service provisions. Indeed, the Social Security Board was the first major federal agency to hire virtually all of its staff under the merit provisions of civil service reforms introduced during the Roosevelt Administration. Prior to this, it was the accepted practice to award virtually all government jobs based on political affiliations.

In any event, in 1953 the incoming Eisenhower Administration was frustrated by the number of high-level positions in the government that were filled with career executives, many of whom, like Jane Hoey, had been in place since the Roosevelt Administration. The President and his Cabinet Secretaries saw their election as a mandate to replace top-level officials with political appointees who were more obviously in sympathy with their objectives. One technique it used was to persuade the Civil Service Commission to reclassify a number of high-level jobs as political positions, so it could remove the incumbents and replace them with political appointees. This was done with Jane Hoey’s job. Since she had Civil Service job protection, Jane Hoey was offered another job in a less-important position. At age 61, Hoey was one-year short of qualifying for her Civil Service retirement pension, and it was expected she would accept this job and serve out her remaining year then retire. Others in her position accepted these alternative jobs quietly; Jane Hoey refused to do so. Consequently, she was fired by the HEW Secretary. Thus ended Jane Hoey’s pioneering role in Social Security

Copy of Letter from HEW Under-Secretary Nelson Rockefeller Informing Jane Hoey of Her Dismissal

October 27, 1953
Dear Miss Hoey:

I appreciated very much your frankness in our discussion this morning regarding the Administration’s point of view on the appointment of its representatives to key policy positions throughout the Government.

In so far as its application concerns the Directorship of the Bureau of Public Assistance, I think there is an honest difference between us. You expressed the opinion that this position involves policy formulation but not policy determination, and that therefore the position should not be filled by an Administration representative.

However, as I pointed out, it is our sincere conviction that this distinction cannot be drawn, particularly in a program which has the importance and magnitude of the Public Assistance Program, involving annual grants-in-aid of over a billion dollars distributed throughout the States and Territories. The work of the Bureau of Public Assistance involves constant policy formulation and decision in connection with the innumerable problems which arise under the complicated legislative structure. To attempt to handle the policy formulation in the Bureau and to refer policy decision to a higher level in connection with the day to day operations in this tremendous program is not in our opinion feasible.

It was for this reason that some seven months ago Secretary Hobby requested the Civil Service Commission to classify to Schedule C the position of Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance. As you know, on April 27, 1953, the Civil Service Commission acted favorably on her request, stating that, “The Commission has given careful consideration to . . . the information supplied by your office in support of your recommendation that the positions of . . . and the Director of Bureau of Public Assistance be placed in Schedule C as policy-determining positions. In the opinion of the Commission, the information submitted by you justifies placing these positions in schedule C.”

As I pointed out in our conversation, the Secretary feels the time has come to appoint an Administration representative to this position, and the date which she has in mind for your retirement from this position is December 1. This decision on her part, as I explained to you, in no way reflects any lack of appreciation of your long record of devoted service in this field. It is simply a question of carrying out the Administration’s policy of placing its representatives in key policy-making positions throughout the Government. She would be very glad if you would care to stay in the Department in another capacity, or if you prefer to arrange for your retirement to which you are presently entitled.

The fact that the Secretary since taking office has only requested that 25 positions be exempted from Civil Service requirements, out of a total of some 35,000 Civil Service positions in the Department, is a clear indication of the concern which she has for the preservation of the integrity and effectiveness of the Civil Service standards and for the morale of the professional and non-professional career employees.

May I take this opportunity again to express sincere appreciation for your cooperation and assistance during these past months. The association has been a very pleasant one far all of us.

With best wishes,


/s/ Nelson A. Rockefeller
Nelson A. Rockefeller

Miss Jane M. Hoey,
Director Bureau of Public Assistance
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
Washington D. C.

Copy of Jane Hoey’s Letter to Rockefeller in Reply

November 3, 1953
Mr. Nelson A. Rockefeller
Under Secretary
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
Washington 25, D. C.

Dear Mr. Rockefeller:

This is to acknowledge your letter of October 27, which I received today. As you requested, I will leave my position December 1, 1953.

My greatest concern is the fact that in Schedule C where the position of Director of the Bureau of Public Assistance now falls, there are no requirements for professional or technical qualifications. I believe that professional social work training and experience are essential for this position. The public can only be assured of the nonpolitical administration of these important programs for the needy if such qualifications are required for this position and if the incumbent is assured of being able to function on a professional basis.

There is nothing political about poverty. This was recognized when the social security programs were initiated by having them administered by a bi-partisan board with staff employed on the basis of their professional and technical qualifications. It was because of this assurance of non-partisan administration that I accepted the position at the request of Mr. John G. Winant, a Republican, who was then Chairman of the Social Security Board.

Of lesser importance than this basic issue is our difference of opinion as to where responsibility for policy determination lies. Since all bureaus in the Social Security Administration are supervised by the Commissioner of Social Security, all policies recommended by the bureaus are decided by that official within the authority delegated to him by the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. As you know, there has been no discussion on matters of policy with me by the Secretary of any members of her immediate staff since the new Administration went into office in January 1953.

I am appreciative of the fact that you gave me the opportunity to resign. I declined to accept since I wanted to make the issue clear that my removal was for political and not personal reasons.

I shall continue to be keenly interested in the public assistance programs and in the needy people they benefit. It has been a privilege to serve them for eighteen years. I believe that Federal, States and local governments must have as their primary concern the welfare of all the people and that the worlds richest nation has the resources to provide the essentials of life and necessary services for those who have no choice but to look to their Government for aid.

Sincerely yours,

Jane M. Hoey

After leaving the Bureau Hoey became the Director of Social Research for the National Tuberculosis Association.  The Jane M. Hoey Chair in Social Policy was established by the Columbia School of Social Work in 1967.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Jane M. Hoey (1892-1968) – Social worker, welfare administrator, government official.
Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from

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