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Mayo, Leonard W.

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Leonard Withington Mayo (1899-1992) – Social Welfare Administrator and Educator


Introduction:  Leonard W. Mayo was a leading educator and administrator in the field of social welfare and community health concerns for more than fifty years. Mayo’s career blended teaching and agency administrative positions. He also held numerous offices in social service organizations, including: the Child Welfare League of America, National Conference of Social Work, and the International Union for Child Welfare.

Leonard Withington Mayo
Leonard Withington Mayo
Photo: University of Minnesota Libraries

Leonard Mayo helped shape the nation’s policies on child welfare, mental retardation and physical disabilities. He served on four White House Conferences on Children and Youth from 1930 to 1960, and was an adviser to the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford Administrations.

In 1961-62 he was chairman and director of President John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Mental Retardation. He was named to that post after serving in New York on Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s Council on Rehabilitation.

Early Career: Leonard W. Mayo was born September 4, 1899 to William Withington and Myra Merrick Dooly Mayo at the Berkshire Industrial Farm, later renamed the Berkshire Farm for Boys, in Canaan, N.Y., where his father was director.  He graduated from Colby College, Waterville, Maine, in 1922 with an A.B. degree, and began his career as program director at the Opportunity Farm for Boys in New Gloucester, Maine. For the rest of the 1920’s he worked at the Maryland Training School for Boys in Loch Raven, Md., and at the Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He married Lena Cooley in 1924.

For five years (1930-1935), Mayo was a graduate student and instructor at the New York School of Social Work, Columbia University, with a leave for service at the Emergency Relief Bureau of New York City. From 1935 to 1941, he was assistant, then associate, director of the Welfare Council of New York, with time out in 1932 for a stint as assistant director of the Emergency Relief Bureau of New York City.

Professional Career: Mayo spent 1941 to 1949 at Western Reserve University, where he served first as dean of the School of Applied Social Sciences and, then, as vice president of the University. While in Cleveland, he also served as assistant director of Civilian Defense in Cuyahoga County and as chairman of the Metropolitan Council of Greater Cleveland. In 1949, Mayo moved to New York City to become director of the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children (now, the Foundation for Child Development). He held that position until 1965. After a year of free-lance consulting, he joined the faculty of Colby College, Maine, as Professor of Human Development and remained there until 1971. He spent several years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he headed the national advisory board of the Development Disabilities Technical Advisory System at the University of North Carolina

In the intervening years Mr. Mayo was executive director of the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children in New York City, taught human development at Colby College and headed the national advisory board of the Development Disabilities Technical Advisory System at the University of North Carolina.

Mayo held numerous elected and appointed offices. Among the most significant were: president of the Child Welfare League of America (1935-1945); president of the National Conference of Social Work (1948); chairman of the executive committee of the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth (1949-1951); chairman of the Social Welfare Division of the National Council of Churches (1952-1960); member of the mission to Korea, American Korean Foundation (1953); president of the International Union for Child Welfare (1957-1973); and member of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (1961-1962 and 1963-1967). He accepted appointments to various committees, commissions, and study teams by five U.S. presidents between 1944 and 1961.

In 1942 Mayo was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Social Science by his Alma Mater, Coby College. The Mandel School established the Leonard W. Mayo Chair in Family and Child Welfare as its first fully endowed chair in 1978. Case Western awarded Mr. Mayo an honorary doctorate at its commencement in 1991.

Mayo died in his sleep three days before his 93d birthday in 1992.


Tributes to Leonard Mayo

Association for the Aid of Crippled Children


Leonard W.  Mayo

Leonard W.  Mayo, our Executive Director for sixteen years, retired on March 31, 1965.  So multifaceted was his service to the Association that to describe it in adequate terms would be a formidable task.

The organization to which he came in 1949 was shifting its emphasis from a program of service for crippled children to one of research into the causes of crippling conditions in children.  With the assistance of Mrs.  Alice FitzGerald, who until then had been Executive Director of the Association, and Dr. Alan Gregg and his advisory group, Mr.  Mayo rapidly welded the accomplishments of the past to the potentials of the future.

A review of Mr.  Mayo’s sixteen-year period at the Association leads one to the realization that, in large measure, his foresight and imagination were responsible for the development of the Association’s current program.  Always aware of changing needs and new developments in the field, he was able to give to the program the breadth and flexibility which characterized it today.

His influence has been felt far beyond and confines of our work, for he brought his remarkable vision and administrative ability to many other activities in our general field of interest-both in this country and abroad.  From 1948 to 1956, Mr.  Mayo served as Chairman of the National Commission of Chronic Illness and, from 1951 to 1960, as Chairman of the Department of Social Welfare of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  In 1955 he was a member of the United States delegation to the first United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.  He is a member of the Board of the Child Welfare League of America, on which he served as President for eight years, and, since 1956, has been President of the International Union for Child Welfare.  In July 1959, he was appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller as Chairman of the Governor’s Council on Rehabilitation.

Mr.  Mayo was granted leave of absence from the Association in the fall of 1961 to become Chairman of the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation, a position he held until the report of the Panel was submitted a year later.  The recommendations of the Panel served a establish the guidelines with which the government has launched its attack on one of our nation’s most serious and costly health problems.  As a member of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, to which Mr.  Mayo was appointed by President Johnson in May 1966, he continues to make a major contribution in this important area.

Recognizing that his indomitable energies would not permit retirement in its classic sense, Colby College has appointed its distinguished graduate as Professor of the Humanities.  Thus, many others many now reap the benefits of his intelligence and imagination.

The Board, Council, and Staff of the Association are most grateful for Mr.  Mayo’s vital leadership—a source of inspiration to all.  We treasure his friendship.

LEWIS B.  CUYLER, President of the Board

NEVIL FORD, Chairman of the Council




Mayo receiving award from NCSW
Mayo receiving award from NCSW
Photo: University of Minnesota Libraries

Name of Nominee:  Leonard W.  Mayo, October 11, 1957

Leonard W.  Mayo—a distinguished social work statesman who, as chairman of the National Council of Churches’ Department of Social Welfare, has given outstanding service to the field of church-related social welfare.  As chairman of the National Conference on Policy and Strategy in Social Welfare in 1957, he has been responsible for the development of a coordinated social welfare policy among the thirty Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations constituent to the National Council of Churches.

When Mr. Mayo became chairman of the Department five years ago, he set up a pioneering research project.  For the first time the national denominations clearly set forth their purposes in the field of social welfare and surveyed the extent and nature of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox health and welfare services.  Twenty preparatory commissions provided additional data, and 75 local conferences were held across the nation.  This research provided factual background for the first National Conference on the Churches and Social Welfare which was held in 1955 to explore the role and function of the churches in social welfare.  Mr. Mayo was chairman of the planning committee and chairman of the conference, to which 30 denominations sent official delegates who shared their thinking with many outstanding social work leaders in America.  The results of the preparatory research and the reports of the conferences are set forth in three published volumes entitled The Churches and Social Welfare, compiled under Mr. Mayo’s direction.

The most urgent problems uncovered at the 1955 conference were thoroughly discussed again at local conferences and finally at the recent National Conference on Policy and Strategy in Social Welfare, to which the denominations again appointed official delegates.  Due largely to Mr. Mayo’s able chairmanship, the denominational delegates reached agreement on many questions of importance to social welfare.  The reports of this conference have been called a “Magna Carta for the churches in social Welfare.”


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

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Klassen, D. & Ryan, S. (2002). Leonard Withington Mayo (1899-1992) – Social welfare administrator and educator. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from