The Children's Bureau (1912)
As late as during the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, the United States did not have a single federal agency concerned with any aspect of the social welfare of Americans. This changed on April 9, 1912, when Congress created the Children's Bureau. This was an historic change, not only because it was a significant institutional innovation for the United States, but because the Bureau went on to become a forceful advocate for additional federal welfare programs.
The creation of the Children's Bureau occurred from the intersection of two major currents of early-twentieth-century politics in the United States: the Progressive movement and the woman's movement. The Progressive movement, a reaction to the political corruption and unregulated industrial practices so apparent by the first decade of the century, included significant demands for greater government protection of workers and the “deserving” poor. The latter were those who had become impoverished solely as a result of their life circumstances, for example, individuals who were blind, physically disabled, or too old to work. Foremost in this group were thought to be widowed and indigent mothers. Poor mothers were being placed in the position of either giving up their children or neglecting them, as they needed to work long hours at low pay to obtain the money needed to keep their family together. Mothers too poor to care for their children had either to move into county or charitable “poor houses,” or to see their children taken from them and placed in orphanages.
This “solution,” so natural to earlier generations, increasingly dis-