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Child Welfare League of America records

Identifier: sw0055

Scope and Content

The Child Welfare League of America records include minutes, memoranda, reports, correspondence, newsletters, conference programs, publications, drafts, and professional standards. The records also include five microfilm reels of minutes from the board of directors, executive committee, annual meeting, and standing committees, as well as newsletters and bulletins.

The CWLA records are a rich resource for the study of adoption, foster care, day care, child protection, single parents, minority children, homemaker services, child welfare legislation, and the administration of child welfare services and agencies. The records reflect CWLA programs relating to these topics as well as broader issues and trends in child welfare, both in the field of social work and nationally. In particular, CWLA was influential in promoting temporary institutional care, foster care, and family preservation. The organization was also an important influence in the adoption and day care fields and in pushing for better operation of children's institutions. The records also relate to the operation of the CWLA, its member services and accreditation process, and its relations with other social service organizations. In addition, portions of the records chronicle the formation of the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children in the mid 1970s. Another portion of the records documents the merger of the CWLA and the Florence Crittenton Association of America to form the Florence Crittenton Division of the Child Welfare League of America. Finally, the CWLA records contain microfilm minutes that document the National Association of Day Nurseries (1938-1943) and the National Children's Home and Welfare Association (1914-1935).

Many of the records dated prior to the 1960s are reports and other summary documents on various projects and activities of the CWLA and other child welfare organizations. There is relatively little correspondence and other "working file" materials from the pre-1960 period. These records, along with the minutes of the CWLA board and committees, are the principal source for studying the early history of the League.


  • 1900-2003

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Most of the records are open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room. Certain administrative records and project files as well as materials relating to mergers and the Council on Accreditation are closed until 2010 and 2020. In addition, agency surveys dating from 1970 to 1979 are closed until 2010 and surveys dating from 1980 to 1989 are closed until 2020. Restricted materials are identified in the folder list. Permission to use restricted materials must be obtained from an official of the CWLA. Please consult the Archives for additional information regarding access restrictions.


Please contact the Archives for copyright information.

Historical Note

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) grew out of child welfare advocates' demands for better communication and regulation among agencies and institutions serving children. Its development over more than a decade reflected the gradual professionalization of social work in the early twentieth century and paralleled a period of growing emphasis on the issues of dependent children, child protection, and related problems. During the 1909 White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, delegates cited the need for a national child welfare agency. At the 1915 National Conference of Charities and Corrections, Christian Carl Carstens delivered a paper on the need for standards in child welfare work. In response, delegates from fourteen child welfare organizations founded the Bureau for the Exchange of Information among Child Helping Agencies (BEI). Initially, the BEI operated with funding from the Child-Helping Department of the Russell Sage Foundation. It became an independent agency in 1917.

In December, 1919, attendees at an annual child welfare conference decided to establish a national organization and to seek funding for the project. In 1920, the Commonwealth Fund agreed to provide at least $25,000 per year for four years. The BEI accepted the grant and the mission to establish a national child welfare organization to improve children's services and distribute literature. The Bureau's members adopted the first article of a proposed constitution in 1920, calling the new organization the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Carstens was appointed executive director in 1920, a post he held until his death in 1939. The CWLA officially began operations in January, 1921. Organizational details were completed at that year's National Conference of Social Work. Sixty five organizations, representing a wide range of principles and practices, became charter members. Ida Curry of the State Charities Aid Association of New York was elected the first president.

In 1923, CWLA adopted a statement of purpose and formalized the services it would provide. These included: studying child welfare in order to develop better standards and methods; providing information and assistance to social welfare agencies and non-social service groups; and promoting community planning for children's work. The organization took a position on the long-standing debate over institutionalizing and "placing out" of dependent children. Standards promulgated by the CWLA stressed temporary rather than permanent institutional care for dependent children and the preservation of the family. At the same time, the CWLA recognized the continuing need for children's institutions in the total child care system. In order to improve the institutional system, it conducted surveys of child care facilities and developed standards and guidelines. In 1924, CWLA established a children's case work department and, by the end of the decade, it was conducting regional conferences for workers in the field and holding training institutes for executives and experienced staff workers.

Following Carstens' death in 1939, CWLA went through a period of self-evaluation. It established a Special Committee on Reorganization to study its mission in light of emerging government programs. The committee also studied whether the League should disband. In 1940, CWLA affirmed its commitment to national work in all areas of child welfare and stressed the importance of maintaining a major non-governmental agency. The reorganization committee proposed continuing the league's information exchange, as well as its accrediting and consulting services. It also recommended: establishing a personnel placement bureau, preparing materials for social work training in child welfare, setting standards, promoting child welfare legislation and advising agencies on legislation, and advocating for child welfare issues. Howard W. Hopkirk succeeded Carstens as executive director and served until 1948. Continuity in leadership remained a hallmark of the League. Hopkirk's successor, Joseph Reid, was executive director from 1953 until 1978. Major reevaluation of League activities accompanied administrative transitions in 1939 to 1940 and in 1953 to 1955 as the CWLA reshaped its program to meet members' needs and changes in child welfare programs.

CWLA operated on an increasingly national level throughout the 1930s and subsequent decades. The league developed ties with governmental agencies, such as the United States Children's Bureau, and added new program areas, including adoption, minority children, and day care. During World War II, it assumed the work and concerns of the National Association of Day Nurseries in promoting day care for children of working mothers. Work in this field continued to grow after the war, often in concert with the Children's Bureau and with organized labor. A Ford Foundation grant in 1959 underwrote an important nationwide study of day care. A CWLA study of adoption culminated in a conference in 1955. In the late 1950s, the League worked with member agencies to find adoptive homes for Native American children. In the mid-1960s, it developed a clearing house that subsequently became the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America (ARENA). It continued to promote foster care and emphasize the need to avoid placement in an institution, particularly of young children. Research became an increasingly vital part of the League's total program, as indicated by the creation of a separate research department in 1963.

The institution of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and other federal welfare programs during the 1960s and 1970s resulted in an enlarged research, program development, and advocacy role for CWLA. A committee studied needed improvements in public child care agencies. The League also took particular interest in Aid to Dependent Children, investigating a 1960 incident involving Louisiana's administration of the program and later joining in an amicus curiae brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case. The CWLA also played an important role in the development of child protective services and in federal legislation aimed at child abuse and neglect. .

During the early 1970s, the CWLA and the Family Service Association of America investigated the possibility of a merger, but, ultimately, decided against the plan. In 1976, CWLA merged with the Florence Crittenton Association of America, a federation of maternity homes and services for unmarried parents. From this merger, the Florence Crittenton Division of the Child Welfare League of America was formed. The League was also instrumental in founding the Council on Accreditation for Services for Families and Children (COA) between 1973 and 1976. The COA, which operated briefly as a joint body of CWLA and the Family Service Association of America, became an independent entity in 1977. CWLA continues to produce standards and other resources, conduct research, facilitate information sharing, and influence public policy and legislation in virtually all areas of child and family welfare, juvenile justice, and children's behavioral health

SourcesThe summary history draws upon:

  1. Child Welfare League of America Records, 1900-2003, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.
  2. Romanofsky, Peter, ed.Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions: Social Service Organizations. Westport: Greenwood Publishing, 1978. pp. 224-230.
  3. Gardner, Emily. "The History of the Child Welfare League of America, Inc., 1915-1987" Unpublished manuscript in the Child Welfare League of America Records, Box 93.
  4. Additional information was obtained from the Child Welfare League of America website (


100 Linear Feet


Records of a national social service agency dedicated to research, advocacy, policy legislation, and standards in the field of child welfare. Includes minutes, memoranda, reports, correspondence, conference programs, publications, and professional standards. Also includes five microfilm reels containing: minutes from the board of directors, executive committee, annual meetings, and standing committees, as well as newsletters and bulletins (1915-1955); minutes of the National Association of Day Nurseries (1938-1943); and minutes of the National Children's Home and Welfare Association (1914-1935).

Arrangement of the Records

The records are arranged into seven series:

  1. Series 1. Administrative Records, 1914-1994
  2. Series 2. Program Areas, 1900-2003
  3. Series 3. Florence Crittenton Division of the Child Welfare League of America, 1961-1987
  4. Series 4. Membership and Field Services, 1910-2005
  5. Series 5. Related Organizations, 1900-1988
  6. Series 6. Newsletters, 1921-1989
  7. Series 7. Audio Visual Materials, 1976-1984

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished inventories available. Please contact the Archives for more information.

Acquisition Information

The CWLA records were given to the Social Welfare History Archives in 1966. Additional gifts of records were received between 1966 and 1982, in 1986 to 1987, and in 1993.

Microfilm Edition

Portions of the Child Welfare League of America records held by the CWLA were filmed for the Social Welfare History Archives in 1966. (Subsequently, some of the original documents were given to the Archives.) The five microfilm reels contain minutes of the League's board, executive committee, and annual meeting dating from 1914 to 1955. Minutes of the Committee on Functions and Programs (1953-1955), a series of special newsletters (1933-1934), and a series of special bulletins (1937-1950) are also available on microfilm. The records of two related organizations that merged with the League were also microfilmed. These are: minutes and correspondence of the National Association of Day Nurseries (1938-1943), including minutes of the Bryson Day Nursery (1931-1940), and minutes of the National Children's Home and Welfare Association (1914-1935). There are no restrictions on access or use of microfilmed records.

Related Records

For further information regarding Christian Carl Carstens and the Child Welfare League of America, consult the Christian Carl Carstens Papers, 1919-1939, (sw0088). The papers of Howard W. Hopkirk (sw0132), the second executive director of CWLA, are also housed in the Archives

Researchers wishing to study the work of the Florence Crittenton Association homes prior to the association's merger with CWLA should consult the records of the National Florence Crittenton Mission, SW0006mand the Florence Crittenton Association of American, SW0006a.

Additional information about the Child Welfare League of America, in particular its work on the issue of day care during the 1980s, is found in the William Pierce Papers, SW0262. Researchers interested in the history of adoption policy in the United States should also consult the Pierce papers.

Processing and Finding Aid Information

The CWLA records were arranged and described in three distinct group as new materials were acquired by the archives between 1966 and 1993. The initial gift of records was arranged and described in 1983 as collection SW55. The shipments received between 1986 and 1993 were arranged and described in 1995 as collection SW55.1. An additional set of microfilm minutes and conference proceedings was designated as collection SWF2. Formerly, the records were described in three separate finding aids, making it necessary for patrons to consult multiple documents in order to obtain complete information on the CWLA records. As part of a project to mount finding aids online, the archives has merged the information about the CWLA records into one comprehensive finding aid.

Child Welfare League of America records
Brian J. Mulhern and Pat Hennessey, revised by Patti Leonard (1995) and Linnea M. Anderson (2005)
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Collecting Area Details

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