• September 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 8

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Centennial Series: The Children's Bureau's Golden Anniversary

This is the fifth article in our second Centennial Series, CB Decade-by-Decade. These articles will examine highlights from each decade of the Children's Bureau's first 100 years. The first Centennial Series addressed some of the social issues, practices, and policies that laid the groundwork for the creation of the Children's Bureau.

On April 9, 1962, the Children's Bureau celebrated 50 years of service to the nation's children and families. The occasion was marked by special publications, events, and recognition—by some of the nation's most prominent leaders—of the great work done on behalf of American children and families since 1912.

It's Your Children's Bureau, a commemorative publication written by then-Chief Katherine Oettinger, describes the long and often obstructed road toward the Bureau's creation in 1912. Oettinger predicted, "The Bureau's past has truly been a prologue, and what the future will bring for children is not clearly outlined today. One certainty is clear—children will be a major concern of our democratic society and government. Citizens, Federal, State, and local public and voluntary organizations will continue to join forces to advance the one sure resource of the future, the Nation's children."

It's Your Children's Bureau also highlighted the Bureau's partnerships with State health and child welfare agencies, explained how its grant-in-aid programs served children and families, and presented case studies of children involved with child welfare who had become child welfare success stories. The publication's title was derived from the citizen action that demanded the creation of the Bureau and the citizen concern that propelled the Bureau's mission. Thus, the publication ends with a statement to the citizens of the United States:

It's Your Children's Bureau
You must keep your Children's Bureau alert and sensitive to the circumstances surrounding boys and girls in your own community and State. Only if you demonstrate your concern and support in this way can the Bureau continue to fulfill its historical mission as spokesman for children and to carry its responsibilities to this Nation's children and their parents.

Other notable anniversary publications include Dorothy Bradbury's Five Decades of Action for Children: A History of the Children's Bureau. The 130-plus-page publication presents a detailed account of the Bureau's history and accomplishments, as well as a vision for its future. Oettinger wrote in the Afterword: "As we look back through 50 years of action for children, one thing stands out beyond all others. It seems of great significance and particularly fitting that the first Federal grant-in-aid provision for the health and welfare of the individual was concerned with children. Perhaps herein lies the perspective of the past and the forecast for the future: Society moves forward in terms of what its care, hopes, and aspirations are for its children. With pride and dedication, the Children's Bureau begins a new half century."

A special issue of the Bureau's much-lauded publication, Children, featured articles by several leaders in the field of child welfare. Oettinger, along with the Deputy Director of UNICEF, the Director of the Child Welfare League of America, and the Director of the National Committee on the Employment of Youth of the National Child Labor Committee were a few of the many contributors.

The Children’s Bureau also produced the scrapbook 50th Anniversary of the Children’s Bureau: Memory Book. The memory book is filled with newspaper clippings highlighting the anniversary, photographs, articles from Children's Bureau chiefs recognizing the Bureau's efforts over 50 years, and correspondence from renowned national leaders. Also preserved in the scrapbook are telegrams from such notables as President Harry Truman; Lister Hill, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare; Arthur Flemming, former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and Norman S. Marshall, Commissioner of the Salvation Army.

The actual anniversary celebration was a daylong event followed by an evening reception that honored the three living former and current Bureau Chiefs: Katharine Lenroot, Martha Eliot, and Katherine Oettinger. To organize the golden anniversary, a citizens committee was formed with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as the honorary chairperson. President Kennedy kicked off the celebration with a speech, detailing significant improvements in child health and well-being over the Bureau's 50 years.

A recording of President Kennedy's speech, “Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Children's Bureau," is available on the JFK Library website:


The written speech is also available:


This year marks the Bureau's 100th anniversary. While the format for celebration has changed—newspaper articles gave way to websites, conferences to webinars, and printed publications to PDFs—the cause for remembrance remains the same. Just as it did 50 and 100 years ago, the Children's Bureau continues to work with States, Tribes, and territories to improve the health and well-being of the nation's children and families.

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