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"Democracy...a challenge" [View Image]
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“Democracy…a challenge,” Public Works Administration, August 1, 1940
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph.3f05571

Federal Government Agencies 


Federal government agencies are set up for a specific purpose such as the management of resources, financial oversight of industries or national security issues. Typically Federal agencies are created by legislative action, but may initially be set up by a presidential order as well. Below are a number of entries about Federal agencies that had, and may continue to have, a significant impact on American social welfare programs and policies.





  • Carry On: Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers and Sailors"In the first number of this magazine, June 1918, Surgeon General Gorgas promised that 'the Medical Department of the Army will 'Carry On' in the medical and training treatment of the disabled soldier until he is cured or as nearly cured as his disabilities permit.'"
  • Children's Bureau - A Brief History & ResourcesWritten by Angelique Brown, MSW. The early 1900’s was a time in which the United States was attempting to change it stance on child labor and end abusive child labor practices. As more advocates started to address the issue, they recognized that the federal government was not yet fully engaged in addressing the physical or mental well-being needs of children
  • Children's Bureau: Part IWritten by Dorothy E. Bradbury, Assistant Director, Division of Reports Children's Bureau. "Thisis the story of the Children's Bureau of the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from the idea in 1903 to its founding in 1912 and on through the years to the present time."
  • Children's Bureau: Part IIWritten by: Dorothy E. Bradbury, Assistant Director, Division of Reports Children’s Bureau. "In getting underway–and in carrying out the three children’s pro-grams for which it was given responsibility under the Social Security Act–the Bureau in characteristic fashion turned to advisory groups for advice and guidance. Advisory groups were immediately set up for each of the programs. For the most part, these were professional people concerned with the technical aspects of the program."
  • Children’s BureauWritten by Kriste Lindenmeyer, Ph.D., Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The establishment of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912 marked a high point in the effort by many Americans to improve the lives of children.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1875"Senator Charles Sumner introduced the Civil Rights Act in 1870... The bill guaranteed all citizens, regardless of color, access to accommodations, theatres, public schools, churches, and cemeteries. The bill further forbid the barring of any person from jury service on account of race, and provided that all lawsuits brought under the new law would be tried in federal, not state, courts."
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964In the 1960s, Americans who knew only the potential of "equal protection of the laws" expected the president, the Congress, and the courts to fulfill the promise of the 14th Amendment. In response, all three branches of the federal government--as well as the public at large--debated a fundamental constitutional question: Does the Constitution's prohibition of denying equal protection always ban the use of racial, ethnic, or gender criteria in an attempt to bring social justice and social benefits?
  • Civil Rights MovementAlthough the roots of the civil rights movement go back to the 19th century, the movement peaked in the 1950s and 1960s. African American men and women, along with whites, organized and led the movement at national and local levels. They pursued their goals through legal means, negotiations, petitions, and nonviolent protest demonstrations.
  • Civilian Conservation CorpsThe Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the most successful New Deal programs of the Great Depression. It existed for fewer than 10 years, but left a legacy of strong, handsome roads, bridges, and buildings throughout the United States.
  • Civilian Conservation Corps Accomplishments: 1939"My Hopes for the CCC" by Robert Fechner, Director, The Civilian Conservation Corps. This article appeared in American Forests: The Magazine of The American Forestry Association, Washington, D. C. (January, 1939).
  • Conscientious Objectors: World War IIby Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day Column," June 20,1944
  • Emancipation ProclamationThis document gave the states of the Confederacy until January 1, 1863 to lay down their arms and peaceably reenter the Union, if these states continued their rebellion all slaves in those seceding states were declared free.
  • Emancipation Proclamation: January 1st, 1863Although January 1st, 1863, is the date most Americans identify as the day the Emancipation Proclamation officially took effect, the ideals of the Proclamation had been carefully contemplated by President Lincoln many months before.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938Written by Jonathan Grossman. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.
  • Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933Text from the The Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933
  • Freedmen’s BureauAt no time was the federal government more involved with African Americans than during the Civil War and Reconstruction period, when approximately four million slaves became freedmen. No agency epitomized that involvement more than did the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, usually called the Freedmen's Bureau.
  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1850Of all the bills that made up the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was the most controversial. It required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves. It denied a fugitive's right to a jury trial. The act called for changes in filing for a claim, making the process easier for slave-owners. Also, according to the act, there would be more federal officials responsible for enforcing the law.
  • Health Conservation and WPA (1939)The following address was delivered by Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner, Work Projects Administration. "In our WPA project work, we have come to grips with the problem of public health on a number of important fronts...we are not just talking about the need for better sanitation the need for more medical, dental and nursing service, the need of school children for hot, well-balanced lunches, the need of home visits to underprivileged families in time of illness...We're...doing something about them."
  • Hopkins, Harry LloydWritten by Dr. June Hopkins, Associate Professor, History Dept., Armstrong Atlantic State University. Harry L. Hopkins (1890-1946) — Social Worker, Architect of the New Deal, Public Administrator and Confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Immigration and Ethnicity: Documents in United States History
  • Lasting Values of the WPAWritten by Ellen Woodward, WPA Assistant Administrator in charge of the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects. "No one can better appreciate the lasting values of the work relief program than we women, for its results affect primarily that which is closest to our hearts--the home."
  • Lathrop, Julia CliffordJulia Clifford Lathrop (1858-1932): First Chief of the Children’s Bureau and Advocate for Enactment of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act of 1921
  • Lenroot, KatherineKatharine F. Lenroot, (March 8, 1891 – February 10, 1982) – Director of the Children’s Bureau, Child Welfare Advocate and Social Welfare Leader
  • Meeting The Manpower Crisis In Staffing The Mental Health Facilities: The Role Of The Federal Government (1963) Speech given by Milton Wittman, D.S.W. at the Annual Meeting of Conference of Chief Social Workers in State and Territorial Mental Health Programs, Cleveland, Ohio, May 17, 1963. "It seems inappropriate to consider the “manpower crisis” only in terms of numbers of social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurses. Rather, it seems more important to discuss the use which is made of these professions in the structure of mental health programs as they function today and as they may function in the future."
  • National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was enacted by Congress in June 1933 and was one of the measures by which President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to assist the nation’s economic recovery during the Great Depression.
  • National Recovery AdministrationThe National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) was signed by newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 16, 1933. The new law created the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The NRA began to work with businesses to establish the mandated codes for fair competition, which were to be exempt from the antitrust laws.
  • National Youth Administration: The College and High School Aid ProgramA speech by Aubrey W. Williams, Executive Director of the National Youth Administration in 1937. "The Youth Administration was established to equalize opportunity for Youth. It was set up to raise economically disadvantaged Youth to within reach of opportunities denied them."
  • National Youth Organization"I hereby prescribe the following functions and duties of the National Youth Administration: To initiate and administer a program of approved projects which shall provide relief, work relief, and employment for persons between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five years who are no longer in regular attendance at a school requiring full time, and who are not regularly engaged in remunerative employment."
  • Naturalization Process in U.S.: Early HistoryWritten by Eilleen Bolger. The first naturalization act, passed by Congress on March 26, 1790, provided that any free, white, adult alien, male or female, who had resided within the limits and jurisdiction of the United States for a period of 2 years was eligible for citizenship.
  • New Floors and Ceilings in the Minimum Wage: 1939"The Wage and Hour Administration Reaches a Second Stage" by Beulah Amidon, an article in Survey Graphic, December, 1939
  • New Governmental Interest in the Arts (1934)Eleanor Roosevelt's speech before the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Artists in 1934. "Go ahead and make this thing as beautiful as you can make it...make of this thing something that really was the expression of a "love"--a piece of work that was done because he loved to do it."
  • Organization of Municipal Charities and Corrections (1916)Paper presented by L. A. Halbert, General Superintendent, Board of Public Welfare of Kansas City, Missouri at the National Conference Of Charities And Correction Held In Indianapolis, 1916. "If we were able to ascertain the activities of all incorporated towns and cities, it would show a tremendous volume of activity and an expenditure of many millions of dollars."
  • Outlining the New Deal Program (1933)A Radio Address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sunday, May 7, 1933.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)Written by Stephen Jager, independent historian. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was the Supreme Court decision that judicially validated state sponsored segregation in public facilities by its creation and endorsement of the “separate but equal” doctrine.
  • President's Committee on Fair Employment Practice (FEPC)President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, creating a Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC) to investigate complaints of discrimination and take action against valid complaints in any defense industry receiving government contracts.
  • Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Maternal and Child Health Services: 1938Recommendations regarding the selection, training and compensation of personnel, cooperation with other agencies, and hospital standards.
  • Shelby County v. Holder (2013)
  • Social Security Compared to Public AssistanceThis is the concluding section of a lecture by Abe Bortz, the first SSA historian, on the history of social security.
  • Social Security: A Brief History of Social InsuranceThis is a portion of Special Study #1, a lecture Dr. Bortz, the first SSA Historian, developed as part of SSA’s internal training program. It features an extensive overview of social policy developments dating from pre-history up to the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935.
  • Social Security: A Radio Address by Frances Perkins, 1935Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins' national radio broadcast, one of the earliest popular explanations of what would become the Social Security program.
  • Social Security: Early HistoryThis is a portion of Special Study #1, a lecture Dr. Bortz, the first SSA Historian, developed as part of SSA’s internal training program. It features an extensive overview of social policy developments dating from pre-history up to the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935.
  • Social Security: Organizational History of SSAThe Social Security Administration (SSA) began in 1935. It became a sub-cabinet agency in 1939, and returned full-circle to independent status in 1995. Throughout the years, arguments had been heard in the halls of Congress that SSA should be returned to independent agency status. This debate was given impetus in 1981 when the National Commission on Social Security recommended that SSA once again become an independent Social Security Board.
  • That Work-Relief Bill (1935)Article by Lester B. Granger, Executive Director, Los Angeles Chapter National Urban League. "Dismay is the first reaction which thoughtful Negroes will register toward this program-not so much because of what it plans, but because of what it fails to plan"
  • The G.I. Bill of Rights"The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of June 22, 1944—commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights—nearly stalled in Congress as members of the House and Senate debated provisions of the controversial bill. Some shunned the idea of paying unemployed veterans $20 a week because they thought it diminished their incentive to look for work. Others questioned the concept of sending battle-hardened veterans to colleges and universities, a privilege then reserved for the rich. Despite their differences, all agreed something must be done to help veterans assimilate into civilian life."
  • The Problem of Unemployment : January, 1935Speech given by Aubrey Williams, Assistant Works Progress Administrator and Executive Director of the National Youth Administration before the Buffalo Council of Social Agencies. "You and I know that the problem of unemployment does not stem directly from industrial was spawned in an era of giddy is an inescapable concomitant of our type of civilization...its roots are now sunk in the very bedrock of our capitalist society."
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority: Electricity for AllTVA was one of the most ambitious projects of the New Deal, encompassing many of FDR’s own interests in conservation, public utility regulation, regional planning, agricultural development, and the social and economic improvement of the “Forgotten Americans.”
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law, and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill that would become the Voting Rights Act.
  • Training Schools - And Civilian Public Service (1944)Article by Stephen Angell in The Reporter, 1944. The Civilian Public Service (CPS) was set up to provide conscientious objectors in the United States an alternative service to military service during World War II.
  • U.S. Administration on AgingThe Administration on Aging (AoA) is one of the nation’s largest providers of home- and community-based care for older persons and their caregivers.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: A HistoryThe establishment of the Veterans Administration came in 1930 when Congress authorized the President to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.” The three component agencies became bureaus within the Veterans Administration.
  • U.S. Public Health ServiceProtecting and advancing the health of our nation’s people and contributing to the delivery of health care world-wide is very important work and the main task of the Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS is a principal part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the major health agency of the Federal Government.
  • U.S. Public Health ServiceThe history of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) developed in stages: 1) the U.S. Marine Hospital Service (1798-1902), 2) the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service (1902-1912), and 3) the U.S. Public Health Service (1912-present).
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965: an introduction
  • Washington Sweatshop (1937)by Robert S. Allen, The Nation July 17, 1937. Wage-hour legislation was a campaign issue in the 1936 Presidential race.
  • We Do Our Part--But... (1933)Article by Ira DeA. Reid in Opportunity, Journal of Negro Life (September, 1933). "Three million Negro workers, more than half of the total number of Negroes who must labor for their livelihood, will not be covered by the industrial codes now being formulated by the NRA!"
  • What Rural Electrification Administration Means To Our Farm Home: 1939Article written by Rose Dudley Scearce in Rural Electrification News, 1939. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created in 1935 by President Roosevelt to promote rural electricity.
  • WPA Travelling LibrariesThe depression came and county libraries were sorely stricken financially. Rescuing funds from the Federal government through relief agencies came in the nick of time. Numerous employees were being furloughed, others were having their salaries cut for the third or fourth time, book repair and book purchases had ceased, many buildings were sadly in need of repair and service was cut to the bone in the summer of 1933.
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