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Wickenden, Elizabeth

in: People

Elizabeth Wickenden (1909 – 2001): Administrator of New Deal Programs, Independent Consultant on Social Security and Social Welfare Programs

Elizabeth Wickenden, daughter of William E. and Marian (Lamb) Wickenden, was born in 1909, in Madison, Wisconsin. She grew up in Montclair, New Jersey and Boston, Massachusetts, where William Wickenden was an assistant professor at MIT. The family moved to Ohio in 1929 when he became president of the Case Institute of Technology. In 1927 Elizabeth Wickenden enrolled in Vassar College where she majored in economics and sociology.

Wickenden graduated from Vassar in 1931. She travelled and studied abroad for a year before moving to New York City where she worked for the Emergency Exchange Association. In 1933, she moved again to Washington, D.C. There she held administrative posts in a succession of New Deal agencies, beginning with the Transient Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). When FERA was phased out in 1935 she transferred to the Works Progress Administration where she served as the assistant to Deputy Assistant Aubrey Williams until 1938. She worked next for the National Youth Administration (1939-1940) and the Federal Security Agency’s Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Services.

In 1933, Wickenden married Arthur Goldschmidt, a permanent delegate to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, whom she met in New York. They had three children, Ann, Jean, and Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr.

In 1941, Wickenden left the federal government to work on behalf of the American Public Welfare Association, a national organization of state public assistance and welfare administrators. For the next ten years she served as the association’s Washington representative, monitoring and interpreting federal welfare legislation and legislative developments for administrators and policy makers in the social welfare field.

After 1951, Wickenden eschewed permanent employment in social welfare organizations, preferring to work instead on a contractual basis as an independent consultant to organizations, foundations, government bodies, and political candidates. She was a member of the federal Advisory Council on Public Welfare during the 1960s and President Kennedy’s Task Force on Health and Social Security Legislation (1960-1961). As a consultant on public social policy, Wickenden analyzed and interpreted policy and legislation, studied problems, helped formulate goals and strategies, and promoted social action. She was in great demand as a speaker and wrote numerous articles which were reprinted many times and widely distributed. Among the issues on which Wickenden consulted were Social Security and Medicare, child welfare, residence laws, the civil rights of welfare recipients (particularly women), and welfare reform. Chief among the national groups she worked with were the National Assembly of Social Workers, American Public Welfare Association, National Urban League, Family Service Association, the YMCA, the Children’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, and the Field Foundation. In the course of her work, Wickenden wrote and distributed bulletins, memos, or fact sheets on particular policy issues, testified before Congress on legislation, lead workshops and conferences, and served on committees, boards, and advisory groups. She also distributed information about groups, issues, and her own professional activities in the form of daily or weekly “notes on recent activities.”

One of Wickenden’s primary commitments was to the Forum on Social Issues and Policies of the National Social Welfare Assembly (later the National Assembly for Social Policy and Development), to which she acted as a “technical consultant on public social policy.” The forum brought together leaders of national, state, and local organizations to discuss current legislative and policy issues. Wickenden analyzed bills and proposals on public welfare and Social Security and if consensus emerged, Wickenden prepared and circulated a formal position statement on behalf of the participants.

In the early 1960s Wickenden became particularly interested in welfare law, a new field which sought to use legal measures to protect and promote the rights of individuals and families receiving welfare benefits. In 1962 she published an influential pamphlet, Poverty and the Law which cited the ways welfare agencies violated the statutory and constitutional rights of clients. She was instrumental in organizing the Project on Social Welfare Law at the New York University Law School, which stimulated research and publication on social welfare law and which served as a national clearinghouse for information on litigation, court decisions, agency rulings, and current research. In 1965 she was appointed to the Office of Economic Opporunity’s Legal Services Advisory ‘Committee which established the Legal Services Program. In 1972, Wickenden prepared an amicus curiae brief on Dublino vs. New York State Department of Social Services, a class-action suit which challenged state welfare regulations. Also during the 1970s, Wickenden served as welfare consultant and a member of the board of directors of the Children’s Defense Fund; an advocacy group focused on the rights and condition of children. One of the Fund’s activities was to litigate on behalf of juvenile clients of welfare agencies, juvenile offenders, and victims of racial discrimination.

After 1978, Social Security issues became more of a focal point for Wickenden’s activities. She became the director of the Study Group on Social Security, which analyzed and reported on legislative and other policy developments. She also helped form the Save Our Security Coalition to lobby against program reductions.

In addition to her work as a social policy consultant, Wickenden taught graduate seminars at two New York universities. From 1965 to 1974, Wickenden was a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and also taught urban planning and welfare planning at the Hunter College School of Social Work. From 1979 to 1983 she taught a seminar on social policy analysis and development at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. Wickenden also took an active role in social welfare issues affecting New York City, where she had resided since 1951. She was a consultant to the New York State Temporary Commission on Youth and Delinquency during the 1950s and director of the Project on Public Services for Families and Children at the New York School of Social Work from 1960 to 1961. In 1962 and 1963 Wickenden led an institute on social action methods, also at the New York School of Social Work.

In 1989, Wickenden formally retired and moved with her husband to Haverford, Pennsylvania. However, she remained actively engaged in issues of child welfare, Social Security, and national health insurance.

Source: Social Security Archives,