Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990

By Mary Martha Thomas | Go to book overview

8
Loula Dunn Alabama Pioneer in Public Welfare Administration

MARTHA H. SWAIN

Loula Friend Dunn, Alabama's Commissioner of Public Welfare from 1937 to 1949 and the executive director of the American Public Welfare Administration from 1949 to 1964, arrived to the profession too late to be among the ranks of the first wave of pioneers in the field of social work. Her generation of social work professionals drew their inspiration from those earlier reformers who founded settlement houses, directed associated charities, were deans of schools of social work, and even headed federal bureaus. According to Clarke A. Chambers, the social work historian who founded the Social Welfare History Archives, the "plot line" of social work during the formative years was at variance with that of other professions, notably teaching, law, and medicine. "In extraordinary measure," he states, "social work was staffed and managed by a coalition of women and men at every level of practice and leadership."1

By the end of the 1930s, when Loula Dunn rose to preeminence, that "unique partnership" was weakened, the "equilibrium distorted." Men had outpaced and now outranked women at the top administrative levels in the field of social work and in the professional associations. Men were predominant, too, in the state departments of public welfare, which were responsible for the administration of federal relief agencies and the social security titles that came in the wake of New Deal legislation.2 When Alabama's Loula Dunn began to achieve important appointments in public welfare administration in the mid-1930s, she was in a position unique for a woman. It was her competent administration of public welfare in

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