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Lurie, Harry L.

in: People


Harry L. Lurie (February 28, 1892-June 25, 1973): Social Worker, Author, Researcher and Administrator


Harry L. Lurie, First Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds
Harry L. Lurie, First Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds

Introduction: Harry L. Lurie made an historic contribution to the advancement of social welfare in America in administration, research, teaching and writing.  His career spanned more than a half century of service, dealing with an exceptional range of needs: with the Industrial Removal Office of the Federated Jewish Charities of Buffalo in 1913-1914, as Research Director of the Detroit Associated Charities in 1915-1920, Secretary of the Budget Committee of the Detroit Community Fund – 1917, Director of Relief and Social Service of the Detroit Department of Public Welfare in 1920, Superintendent (Executive Director) of the Chicago Jewish Social Service Bureau-1925, member of the Illinois Board of Public Welfare Commissioners-1929, Director, Bureau of Jewish School Research (national) 1930, Executive Director, Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds 1935-1954.  In these various responsibilities Lurie gave outstanding leadership to voluntary social welfare, both sectarian and non-sectarian, and to the development of governmental programs.  In addition to his employment, he chaired and served on the boards and committees of many voluntary and public agencies.  His teaching career started as a lecturer in sociology in the Merrill-Palmer School in 1921; Instructor in Economics at the University of Michigan in 1922; Graduate School of Social Service Administration of the University of Chicago-1925; University of California-1927; and Columbia University School of Social Work-1931 and 1957.

Early Years: Harry Laurence Lurie was born in Goldingen, Latvia to S. Heiz and Lina (Blumenthal) Lurie on February 28, 1892.  The family immigrated to the United States in 1898 and settled in Buffalo, New York.  Lurie attended public schools and in 1909 he taught English to other more recent immigrant children in classes sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Buffalo. In 1913 he was employed as an assistant to the Executive Director and in charge of the Industrial Removal Office assigned to help resettle immigrants sent to Buffalo from New York City. In 1915 he was employed as director of research for the Associated Jewish Charities of Detroit, a position he held until 1920.  From 1917-1920, Lurie served as Secretary of the Budget Committee, Detroit Community Fund. Director of Relief and Social Service, Detroit Department of Public Welfare, 1920-1922. His teaching career began as a Lecturer in Sociology, Merrill-Palmer School, Detroit, 1921-1922. Also in 1922, Lurie married Bernice Stewart and they had two daughters.

Professional Career: In 1925, Lurie was appointed Superintendent of the Jewish Social Service Bureau in Chicago. During this period he was also involved in surveying Jewish communal welfare agencies in Detroit, Baltimore and Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In 1930 he became executive director of the national Bureau of Jewish Social Research, which conducted research on the needs and services of the Jewish community throughout the nation.  The Bureau established the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds in 1932 and, cooperatively, the two organizations developed services to communities all around the country.  In 1935, the Bureau was incorporated into the Council and Lurie was appointed executive director, a position he held until his retirement in 1954.

Under Lurie’s leadership, the Council grew from an initial organization with 15 federations to 260, raising and allocating funds of over #100 million annually for programs and activities such as services for families and children, vocational services, hospitals, homes for the aged, Jewish education, recreation and community relations.  In a 1961 book he wrote, A Heritage Affirmed, Lurie  presented a history of Jewish federations in the United States and his professional participation over several decades.

In addition to his leadership of the National Council, Lurie devoted time to writing and publishing articles that advanced guidelines for service delivery in such areas as family life, community programs for Jewish children and Jewish social work. His extensive writings appeared in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly, Social Service Review, Child Welfare and Social Work Today.  He was also editor of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work (1965).

His contributions to Jewish social welfare were recognized by his election as President of the National Conference on Jewish Social Welfare, 1945-46. He also received the Distinguished Service Award, the National Conference on Social Welfare’s most prestigious award in 1969.  The citation read: “For his dedicated effort and inestimable contribution in assisting social work “to come of age” by means of his excellence in writing and his genius in editing… and For his courageous leadership in the effort to secure social legislation, and for a lifetime of accomplishment as a citizen of his day and time… The National Conference on Social Welfare pays tribute to Harry L. Lurie.”


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

Walter I. Trattner, Ed., Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in America, (1986), Greenwood Press, New York, Westport, CT.