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American Association of Public Welfare Officials

American Association of Public Welfare Officials

(Note #1: The name was changed in May 1932 to the American Public Welfare Association (APWA); and in 1998 the name  was changed again to: American Public Human Services Association.)

(Note #2: This entry was developed using original resources from the APWA and personal correspondence of Leroy Halbert, director of the nation’s first department of public welfare established in Kansas City, MO in 1910 and the first elected board president of AAPWO in 1930. Mary L. Mall, grand daughter of Mr. Halbert shared Mr. Halbert’s original correspondence with the Social Welfare History Web site.)

Introduction: At the annual meeting of the National Conference of Social Work (NCSW) in San Francisco in 1929, the delegation representing public social services met and voted to undertake the establishment of a voluntary membership organization, with representation from all levels of government and all areas of the country. A year later, on June 12, 1930, about forty persons from twenty different states gathered in Boston to found the new organization. Nearly half of those in attendance were state welfare administrators. The convener of the group was Richard K. Conant, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare. Grace Abbott, chief of the United States Children’s Bureau, and her deputy, Katharine Lenroot, spoke of the help that the proposed association would be to federal agencies.

The new organization was named the American Association of Public Welfare Officials (AAPWO); its scope and mission was “…to coordinate and improve the activities of public welfare organizations throughout the country, through the education of public opinion to the importance of public welfare, and through the development and maintenance of high standards.”

The Launch of AAPWO: In 1930, as the financial depression progressed President Herbert Hoover appealed to the association to assist in developing public relief programs in the different states, counties and cities. Thus, the initial project of the new association was to help President Herbert Hoover’s Emergency Committee for Employment (later named the President’s Organization for Unemployment Relief) in gathering information on the need for emergency public relief and to develop plans on how to meet those needs throughout the country.

A letter dated 10 July 1931 from Leroy Halbert describes this assignment and the funding needed in order to proceed:

Leroy A. Halbert
Leroy A. Halbert

L.A. Halbert to Mr. Richard Conant, Commissioner, Department of Public Welfare, Boston, Mass., 10 July 1931.

“The committee made a budget for the regular activities of the Association amounting to $25,000.00 and a special budget for the extra work that the President’s Emergency Committee for Unemployment wanted us to do amounting to 30,000.00. These will be taken up with Mr. Croxton by a special committee consisting of Mr. Ellis and Miss Lenroot.
“The committee gave some consideration to the question of a permanent secretary. I gave them the information which I gave you personally in regard to my own wishes in the matter, the Committee discussed other candidates including, Mr. Frank Bane, Mr. William Hodson of New York and Mr. Stanley Davies of New York. A special Committee consisting of Mr. Ellis, Miss Lenroot and Mr. Louis Merriam, who was appointed to look up information about the candidates, and it was voted to submit several names to the foundation which furnishes us the money to set forth to the foundation the general qualifications which would be considered necessary for anyone who would be appointed. These qualifications include ten years experience in Public Welfare Work and experience as a Public Welfare Executive and perhaps other things that I do not remember. The names that are suggested will be submitted to the members of the Executive Committee for final action in selecting the permanent secretary as soon as the positive assurance of the necessary funds has been secured….”

A grant for this project was obtained from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund and money enabled the association to employ its first full-time staff and open an office in Washington, D.C., on September 16, 1931.

Mr. Halbert was one of four persons asked to be a part of the field staff. In a letter dated 8 September 1931, he asked the Chairman of the Rhode Island Public Welfare Commission for a leave of absence.

L. A. Halbert, Director of State Institutions of Rhode Island to Dr. Farnell, Chairman, State Public Welfare Commission of Rhode Island, 8 September 1931.

‘’…I have been asked by the American Association of Public Welfare Officials, of which organization I was president last year, to come to Washington and serve as one of four men who will represent the Association assisting the President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief. They wish me to come as soon as possible. This special work will take until the latter part of June 1932.
“I would like to have the Commission grant me a leave of absence until that time in order to enable me to render this national service, if the Commission can see its way clear to do so. I would like to leave not later than September 15…”

The First Executive Director: Frank Bane, commissioner of the Virginia State Department of Public Welfare, was appointed as the first executive director of AAPWO. The Children’s Bureau, which actively supported the organization, loaned Dr. Marietta Stevenson to provide staff services. Following on their survey of the nation, the field staff of the AAPWO prepared several research studies to document the conditions of unemployment, the resulting need for relief, and detailed descriptions of the desperate relief situations in the forty-eight states. In turn, Frank Bane reported from these studies in his testimony before congressional committees.

In February 1932, the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund again came to the assistance of the AAPWO by providing a grant of $25,000 annually for a period of five years. The purpose of the grant was to help the association carry on its work and implement a plan to create a more permanent secretariat. The temporary office of the AAPWO was moved from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. The new office was located near the University of Chicago, where Edith Abbott, Sophonisba Breckinridge, and other AAPWO friends were teaching and training graduate students. With a view toward broadening its base of membership support, the association’s board of directors, on May 18, 1932, voted to change its name from the American Association of Public Welfare Officials to the American Public Welfare Association (APWA).

In response to increasing requests for assistance from Congressional committees, federal agencies, state officials, and local bodies, the APWA worked actively advocating for federal financial participation in state and local programs and helped to implement the Federal Emergency Relief Act of May 1933. APWA membership and financial support gained momentum. In a span of two years from its birth, the association’s membership grew from an initial 151 persons to nearly a thousand.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal era ushered in an exciting period in American social welfare history. The enactment of both the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 and the Social Security Act in 1935 marked the beginning of a significant shift from emergency relief and private charity to a system of federal public work programs and the creation of a federal-state social safety net for the temporarily unemployed and the poor aged, blind and dependent children.

Following enactment of the Public Welfare titles in the Social Security Act, the American Public Welfare Association assumed a larger role as a liaison between federal agencies and the states. The association also provided leadership, training and staff support in improving public welfare administration, and the clarification of policies and procedures. In 1939, two component groups were formed under the auspice of APWA: The National Council of State Public Welfare Administrators and the National Council of Local Public Welfare Administrators.

During World War II, the APWA was involved in helping to assure continuity and coordination of welfare services. Activities included assistance to the Administration of Selective Service, aid to military inductees and their dependents, planning for new and emergency problems in defense programs, aid to refugee children, and their families, and efforts to move employable men and women from relief roles into jobs.

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