Skip to main content

Impressions of Great Britain

Proposed Press Release on Miss Loula Dunn — For immediate release.

By invitation of the British Ministry of Information, Miss Loula Dunn of Montgomery, Alabama, one of America’s prominent public welfare authorities, will visit Great Britian during March and April.   Her trip is being arranged by the Office of War Information.

Miss Dunn will devote most of her time to discussions with  British authorities on American accomplishments and problems in her  specialized field, the OWI stated.  She is at present Commissioner of Public Welfare of Alabama, a position she has held since 1937.  Her trip is part of a broad American information program for Britain which includes the visits of American speakers and specialists in fields of mutual interest to leaders of British and American organizations, the OWI said.

Miss Dunn is president of the American Public Welfare Association and also has served in advisory capacity to numerous public and private welfare organizations.  Among the topics she will discuss with her British
hosts will be maternal and child welfare and how Federal aid operates in the United States.   She will draw on her experience in Alabama to describe the developments in welfare work, child care services including child-placing and adoption, institutional services to children, baby clinics, maternity care, old-age pensions, etc.

As an adviser to the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, Miss Dunn will discuss its work, since there is no similar organization in the British Government.

The British have also expressed interest in more information on American war-time emergency programs such as nursery schools, recreation centers, factory and community arrangements to aid working mothers, women in public life, professional standards in social work, demobilization plans, and community planning for postwar, and Miss Dunn will discuss them.

Miss Dunn was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws  by Alabama College in 1940.  She attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute and the University of North Carolina, later teaching in the public
schools of Alabama.  She became affiliated with the Alabama State Child Welfare Department in 1923 and for 10 years held various positions with that agency.  In 1941, Miss Dunn was one of a group of American, welfare administrators who accepted an invitation to study the war-time public welfare services of Canada, and since the war, she has rendered consulting service to the women’s branches of the U. S. Armed Forces.



By Loula Dunn, President, American Public Welfare Association May 1945

These impressions of Great Britain and her people are based on experience in that country during March and April as a guest of the British Ministry of Information.  The trip was arranged by the United States Office of War Information as part of a broad American information program which includes visits of American specialists and leaders in fields of mutual interest.  Thus, the trip had for its dual purpose to aid in helping Britons understand and to interpret Great Britain to the United States.  It was possible in a brief five weeks, however, to gain only a general picture of the country and its people, but the picture formed some deep and lasting impressions.

The British are a superbly courageous people.  They are brave – brave in the fact of the dangers they have been experiencing for more than five years, and in their willingness and ability to look ahead and prepare now for the problems of the peace.  They are tired, terribly so.  In fact, they are “tired people in tired clothes,” but they are still courteous in spite of this fatigue.  Their morale is high, and they speak of the future with hope and optimism.

The first week spent in London was the last week of bombing.  Paradoxically, as the people became more jubilant, their utter weariness became more apparent.  It was as though the end of terror from the sky had eased a tension, letting the people reveal how tired they are, and at the same time causing them to square their shoulders as they sensed an early cessation of the war in Europe.

“We are glad you cam at this time because you find us at a point of strategic change,” one Englishman said in describing what has been happening in Great Britain.  “In spite of all we have gone through, we will soon be forgetting in part.  If you had come later, you could not have realized in the full measure, as you can now, what we have gone through.”

The measure of their losses becomes more apparent after seeing rows of wrecked buildings and whole sections of cities completely demolished; after talking with families who have been “bombed out” and “bombed out” again; after visiting hospitals and seeing the victims of Nazi bombs, some of them babies and young children who are horribly maimed for life; after sharing their wholesome but monotonous diet; and in spite of all this, seeing them carry on “business as usual” in  parts of buildings or windowless shops, with not outward expression of their fear or their fatigue.

Complaints about the strict rationing system are few, perhaps because it has operated fairly, perhaps because the need for it has been obvious.  Preferential treatment is given babies, young children, and expectant mothers, whether rich or poor, with the result that statistics show that these groups, as a whole, are better nourished than they were before the war.  Though “queuing” has become a part of the daily life of the British people, particularly that of the housewife, distribution in general worked well.  One of the heroines of this war is the British housewife who must do all of her own work, and who often has a number of  “guests” billeted in her home.  With all of this, she frequently performs a variety of volunteer duties or is employed on a part-time basis.  Like the women in the land army and the military services, she is making a significant contribution to the winning of this war.

Government, like the people who compose it, has stood up well during the emergency.  More power has been vested in the central authorities for the duration, and more items and services have been  placed under governmental control.  In Great Britain there are only two levels of government – central and local, with the nearest thing to a state government being the regional authorities which were set up during the blitz and now are being liquidated.

Considerable interest was expressed in the three levels of government in the United States, with many questions asked as to the division of authority among these three levels.  The difference in size of the two countries offers one obvious answer to the reason for a three-way distribution of governmental power in the United States.

The question of “states’ rights,” however, applies to Great Britain in the matter of local versus central authority and is coming up frequently now with reference to what wartime powers shall be retained by the central government and what shall be returned to the local authorities.  Government, however, has not occupied itself entirely with the demands of war, for despite the expansion of governmental function and control during the past five and a half years, national attention has been focused on the need fr economic and social planning throughout the British Isles.

Drawn together by their common dangers, the people of Britain have discovered that they have problems common to all classes.  This discovery, together with the sharing of suffering, has tended to lessen somewhat the gaps between rich and poor, nobleman and commoner.  The British are centering much of their thinking, too, on how to provide full employment and adequate housing when war has ended.  The principal recommendations included in Sir William Beveridge’s Report on “Social Insurance and Allied Services” are being enacted into law to give Great Britain full social insurance coverage under a system far more complete than that now in operation in this country.  A Ministry of National Insurance, incorporating the present Assistance Board, has been formed to administer the new plan which will provide for everyone without exception against sickness, unemployment, accident disability, maternity, old age, and even death.  Included in the plan also is a system of family allowances whereby every family, regardless of need or station in life, will receive five shillings or one dollar weekly for each child, after the first, until the children become wage-earners.

It is anticipated that as this new program– which is participated in by employer, employee, and government –becomes operatives, it will gradually lessen the need for the present payments made on a needs basis by the Assistance Board.  The belief was expressed by those who are developing these systems of insurance and family allowances that assistance will shift in large measure to a program of supplementation in cases where insurance and allowance coverage proves inadequate.  What will be the continuing or ultimate place of public assistance (poor relief), which is now handled by local authorities, is a matter very much under discussion.

In Great Britain there are no public welfare agencies as constituted in this country.  Perhaps the new Ministry of National Insurance will represent the agency most nearly comparable to the Federal Social Security Board.  Even so, the comparisons and contrasts are many.  As there are both sharp differences and striking similarities in the basic patterns of government in the United States and Great Britain, so there are likenesses and contrast in the social services.  In Great Britain governmental social services are scattered through various ministries (comparable to American departments or bureaus) and the different local authorities.  To understand them fully it would be necessary to study the administrative structure and operative program of such ministries as Health, Education, Labor, National Insurance, the Home Office, etc.  It would likewise be necessary to know the scope of authority and the range of services rendered by the municipal and county governments and the relationship of these local authorities to the central government.  An understanding of the division between the central government and the local authorities in areas of taxation is also a necessary part of the total governmental picture as it relates to the social services.  In addition, private agencies (voluntary agencies, as they are known in Britain) frequently are subsidized by public funds and carry out responsibilities which in the United States would be delegated to a public agency.  Thus, it can be seen that the program of the new Ministry of National Insurance gradually becomes operative, its effects will not be confined to any single agency of group of agencies.  Instead, its influence will reach into the activities of various social services, central and local, public and voluntary.

Great Britain has no central agency concerned with the care of well-being of children such as the United States Children’s Bureau.   Neither are there public child welfare agencies in the sense that they exist at the state and local levels in this country.  Like other social services, public responsibility for child welfare as it has come to be known in America is scattered among various ministries and divided between local authorities and the central government.

Recently a Royal Commission to Study the Care of the Homeless Child was appointed to inquire into the various programs of child care and to make recommendations.  The work of this Commission, which is composed of lay and professional persons, is just getting under way.  Already the Commission is assembling factual information on what is happening to children in Great Britain and is drawing on the experiences of other countries, including the United States, in the field of child welfare.  The practice of institutional care in foster boarding homes.  This seems especially true in England as compared with Scotland.  The physical well-being of children is emphasized, particularly that of the child under give years of age.  Child welfare clinics conducted by the Ministry of Health are available throughout the country and follow-up work in the home is done by health visitors.  Less emphasis seems to be placed upon the psychological and social needs of children, although there is a growing concern about the emotional stress and strain under which children have been living these last five years.  Evacuation of hundreds of thousands of children, both to other parts of Great Britain and to the United States, has created a pressing child welfare problems for the whole country.  Family adjustments as children are gradually returned to their homes have often been difficult and sometimes impossible.  The result is that the number of cases in juvenile court is rising, the establishment of homes for “difficult children” is already in practice, and the whole problem of child welfare is an acute and serious one.

In addition to the appointment of the Royal Commission, the government of Britain during recent months has passed a new Education Act.  Under this Act the age at which children leave school has been extended from fourteen to fifteen, with an ultimate of sixteen to be reached as soon after the war is over as seems practicable.  This Act also eliminates a number of fees and provides, at government expense, a hot lunch with some milk for every child.  It was planned to make this act operative in April, 1945, but shortages of teachers and school  buildings made delay necessary.

In general, labor in Great Britain seems to have been distributed on a fair and orderly basis.  Even with a National Service Act and strict controls, however, a manpower shortage has not been prevented.  This is true although many women have gone into the labor market for the first time and done well, and many men past the normal working age have again taken industrial and other jobs.  The Ministry of Labor has attached to its regional or district offices welfare representatives who apparently have been useful in a liaison capacity.  Lively discussion now centers around the extent to which labor controls will be required as the European war draws to a close.

As the British have gone further than the United States with the coverage of the social insurances, so that national has developed a broader program to protect the health of its citizens.  More public clinics and hospitals are established than are available in America, and interest at present is centering around the National Health Act which promises further expansion of health facilities.

These are some of the ways the British are expressing their concern about the social and economic needs of people.  In a recent poll conducted by the British Institute of Public Opinion, housing was named as the problem that government should tackle after the war.  This ranked higher than full employment, indicating the acute housing shortage in Britain. Government, too, is concerned with dispersal – with relocation and re-distribution of industries to prevent further crowding in the cities, with Town and Country Planning, with an orderly return of people to their former homes, with plans for helping veterans became readjusted to civilian life.  Many of their concerns are those faced in America, yet many of them, too, are peculiar to Great Britain.

It is necessary to remember, therefore, that while Great Britain and America are alike in many respects because of their common origins, language, and ideals, the two nations are also vastly different, geographically, politically, economically, and socially.  Even in five weeks it became clear that the United States can learn much from Great Britain and some of the planning it is doing for its people.  On the other hand, America has much to offer Britain.  For example, as the nation has extended coverage of social insurance and health services to a larger percentage of its population than has America, so the United States has developed social work standards for its civil servants and schools for training its social workers, public and private, to a degree not known in Great Britain.  Furthermore, the practice still exists in the Islands of conducting individual drives for different charities, rather than following the pattern of community chests which prevails in this country.  Because it is believed that interchange of social work experiences, standards, and customs should prove useful to both nations, plans are under consideration for exchange of American and British social workers.  The development of these plans, which is proceeding on both sides of the Atlantic, should offer mutual advantages to Great Britain and the United States and strengthen understanding of each others social work philosophies, policies, and practices.

The ware has done much to cement Anglo-American relations, particularly through lend-lease and the quartering of so many soldiers in the Islands.  While there are still many problems of social adjustment between the two countries, American soldiers are better liked than they were when they first arrived in England.  As American G.I.’s have penetrated British reserve, they have become more understanding of the British attitude and the British temperament.  Likewise, as the more than 20,000 English brides of American boys come to this country – and many of them are already here – they will bring to individual homes and communities a deeper insight into British thinking and British life.

The growing bond between the two nations was poignantly demonstrated in the attitude of the people of Great Britain at the time of President Roosevelt’s death.  While the memorial service at St.  Paul’s Cathedral was beautiful and moving, it was no more impressive than the sincere expressions of grief and sympathy of individual men and women on the streets, in the hotels, and on there trains.  Their common loss seemed to draw the two nations nearer together in a determination to achieve the ideals for which both Great Britain and America are fighting.

As this is written, actual hostilities in Europe has ceased.  The principles underlying British and American cooperation which were so signal a factor in the defeat of German are equally as important, however, in the period which lies ahead if the democracies are to bring out of this conflict lasting world security.

Source: Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota. More information is available at: