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Randall, Ollie A.

in: People

Ollie A. Randall (1890-1984) — Social Worker, Welfare Administrator and Advocate for the Aging


Introduction: Ollie A. Randall had a long career as a social worker, welfare administrator, lecturer, consultant, writer, and advocate for the aging. She worked for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (later Community Service Society) in New York for nearly forty years. After retiring in 1955, Randall began work as a freelance consultant and advocate in the field of aging. Among many other activities, she was principal consultant on aging to the Ford Foundation between 1959 and 1969, served in various capacities at the Gerontological Society, and was active in the National Council on Aging.

Career: Ollie A. Randall was born on September 3, 1890 in a sod house in western Kansas. At the Women’s College (now Pembroke College) of Brown University, she won academic awards and was also the captain of the varsity basketball team. Following graduation in 1912, she served as a librarian at Brown, tutor at Bryn Mawr, and statistician at the Russell Sage Foundation. In 1916, Randall began work with the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP) in New York, a career that was to last for nearly forty years. The AICP merged with the Charity Organization Society in 1939 to form the Community Service Society (CSS). Randall served as assistant to the director of the AICP from 1916 to 1926; as executive director of Ward Manor, an endowed AICP home for the aged, from 1926 to 1945; and as special consultant on aging for CSS from 1945 until her retirement in 1955. While working for AICP/CSS, Randall was active in other areas. In 1918 and 1919, she served with the American Red Cross as a communications coordinator for the American Expeditionary Force in France. From 1930 to 1933, she directed the Women’s Division of the Emergency Work Bureau, a voluntary organization helping to cope with the unemployment crisis of the early years of the Great Depression. Through AICP/CSS, she made connections with family and nursing services, which strongly influenced her involvement as technical assistant and member of the Commission on Chronic Illness from 1949 to 1956.

Although her work was primarily based in New York City, Randall developed ties with leaders in the field of aging across the U.S. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was already engaged for lectures and consultations well outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1949 and 1950, she played a major role in organizing the National Committee on the Aging of the National Social Welfare Assembly (later to become the National Council on Aging). She brought her wide-ranging personal connections and her broadly conceived definition of the field of aging to the nascent organization during its formative years. Randall consistently included health scientists, architects, lawyers, religious leaders, and nursing home administrators in her consideration of the problems of aging. One measure of Randall’s breadth of association is the fact that she was primarily responsible for drafting the invitation list for the first national Conference on Aging in August of 1950. The Conference, sponsored by the Social Security Administration, was a predecessor to the White House Conference on Aging that was held in 1961 and 1971, in which she played a similarly active role. The 1950 conference report, “Man and His Years,” bore the imprint of major editorial work by Ollie Randall.

Randall was also involved in two New York State legislative committees. In 1945 and 1946, she served as consultant to the Joint Legislative Committee on Interstate Cooperation, under the chairmanship of Harold C. Ostertag. In this capacity, she prepared a report on adult institutional care in New York State and developed ties with aging facilities and programs in neighboring states. For twelve years, from 1948 to 1960, Randall served the Joint Legislative Committee on Problems of the Aging, under the chairmanship of Thomas E. Desmond. With the Desmond committee, Randall had ample opportunity to pursue her holistic interests as the committee embarked on a thorough-going investigation of aging problems in New York State.

Randall’s retirement in 1955 only caused her to expand her activities. Randall served as president of the Gerontological Society in 1955-1956 and was active for varying lengths of time on the editorial, historical, and finance committees of the Society for fifteen years thereafter. Consulting was another increasingly important feature of her career after 1955. For ten years, from 1959 to 1969, she was principal consultant on aging for the Ford Foundation. The Foundation’s funding was instrumental in transforming the National Committee on the Aging of the National Social Welfare Assembly into the independent National Council on the Aging (NCOA) in 1960. The Ford Foundation program provided $6.7 million to projects in the field of aging between 1956 and 1963. Much of this work involved active consultation from Ollie Randall. Some notion of the breadth of her consulting activities can be gained by examining her itineraries during this period. In 1959, for instance, she engaged in consultations with the Baptist Home of the District of Columbia, the American Red Cross, the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People, and the Council of Community Forces of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ten years later, in 1969, speaking engagements took her to half a dozen communities in New York State, as well as to cities in seven other states. Many of her addresses subsequently appeared in a variety of publications, and she also contributed chapters to a number of books. However, a manuscript which she co-authored with Frederick Zeman, Social and Medical Aspects of Old Age, never saw publication.

Board memberships also occupied much of Randall’s time after 1955. She was particularly active in the National Council on Aging, a fact acknowledged when that organization designated its outstanding service award the Ollie A. Randall Award and chose her as its first recipient in 1964. Many of her board functions were essentially honorific, but some of her substantial board commitments included such institutions as Midtown Hospital, a pioneer in geriatric medicine; Hodson Community Center, the first public senior center in the nation; Sailor’s Snug Harbor, a 150-year-old charitable retirement residence; and Newark House, a refuge for elderly victims of Nazi persecution.

New York State activities continued to absorb much of Randall’s time through the early 1970s. She was on the Advisory Committee to the New York State Executive Department Office for the Aging, which coordinated the state’s aging programs. Also important in this period was the State Recreation Council for the Elderly, which Randall chaired. The Council was concerned not only with recreation, narrowly construed, but also with continuing education and leadership training in the aging community.

Notable commitments at the federal level during this period include participation in the Presidential Task Force on Aging of 1970, the White House Conference of 1971, and the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity in 1970 through 1972. These experiences led Randall to an increasingly vocal concern for the 25 percent of the elderly population living below the poverty level. Honors conferred on her, in addition to NCOA’s Ollie Randall Award, include an L.L.D. from Brown University and an honorary Ph.D. from Mt. Angel College in Oregon.

SourceUniversity of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN. More information is available at:

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project (2011). Ollie A. Randall (1890-1984) — Social worker, welfare administrator and advocate for the aging. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from