Skip to main content

Family Service During War Time

Family Service During War Time

A 1943 Report to the Board of Directors of the Community Service Society of New York Describing Some of the Experiences of the Organization’s Social Work Staff

Editor’s Note: (1) The Community Service Society of New York was formed in 1939 by the merger of two historical and important social service agencies: The New York Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor (founded in 1843) and the Charity Organization Society (founded in 1882).

Editor’s Note: (2) The contents of this report describe the efforts of the Family Service Department of CSS, directed by Anna Kempshall, a nationally renowned social worker. Miss Kempshall received her social work diploma from the New York School of Philanthropy in 1913.  The original document displayed below was one of many in a scrapbook believed to have been maintained by her older sister Helen Pinneo. The scrapbook was recently gifted to the Social Welfare History Project by Mrs. Elizabeth C. Adamson, a great niece, representing the Adamson, Ogden and Pinneo families. Some of the documents date back to 1917; however, their condition is fragile and difficult to transcribe. Nevertheless, a number of the documents have been transcribed and will be posted on the SWH Web site because of their importance.  The writings of Anna Kempshall are valuable historical records of the experiences, challenges and evolution of family casework through two important periods of American history: the Great Depression and World War II.

 A Report:

In a world at war, where production and achievement are of vital importance, reports to the public are generally a matter of skyrocketing and fabulous figures. The average man, as he reads or listens, is strangely thrilled by the magnitude of statistics beyond his comprehension.

The social agency reporting to the public cannot produce statistics that are impressively high. It is the story behind the modest figures that will stir the imagination and inspire confidence in the reader.

The case working staff in the Family Service department has during the fiscal year 1942-43 served families in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens (Other statistics to be added by AK, i.e., Anna Kempshall, Director) The figures quoted, even to the statistically-minded, will have only limited meaning without the human substance of which they are made.

The men, women and children whom they represent are a cross-section of New York City folk as they live, work, play and feel in a war-torn world. They share the problems we all share, suffer the grief and fear we all feel, and nurse the hopes and aspirations that we all need if we are to survive. They turn to us when perplexities and sorrow are too great to cope with unaided, when hope and courage weaken dangerously under new and increasing strain. Our obligation to answer their call is a vital one. The maintenance and strengthening of family integrity is essential not only to a unified war effort but also to the planning for a better post-war world.

The reactions of our clients to the war are not brand-new ones. They are basically old reactions, heightened, revived or disguised. New, external problems have, however, placed people in a network of new dilemmas and conflicts which they cannot always solve unaided.

Fathers and sons are being called to serve in the armed forces. They are torn between the urge for adventure and the fear of danger implicit in such adventure, between the patriotic urge and the anxiety for the welfare of those left behind, between the need to be a man among men and the pull of homesickness toward the loved and familiar. Our staff understands these conflicting needs and has helped men gripped by them to answer their country’s call with greater confidence. Fathers are better able to face their uncertain future when they know that a case worker who has understood and helped them is also standing by the wife and children at home. Our staff has also been able to extend its help to men at the point of induction by giving volunteer service to the local Selective Service boards and to psychiatric screening units in hospitals.

New problems confront the wives and mothers. Where induction of a husband or son is imminent, the woman faces the pain of separation. Even where the tie has been weak or unhealthy in character, the breaking of it has an element of shock. Good and poor husbands alike leave gaps to be filled and a family’s life to be reconstructed. Mothers of families are all faced with new responsibilities. For example – household planning has become increasingly difficult with the frustrations and irritations of food shortages, higher prices, priorities and rationing. Some families need help in wise planning on a sharply increased income and others need help in adjusting to a lower income. Our case work staff has been fortunate in having the help of trained home economists (AK add statement from Mrs Addiss). The case workers have also been able to understand and help with the deeper reactions of people to problems of home management, — unrealistic fears of being hungry or deprived, a need to compete with one’s neighbors, resulting in panicky over-buying and hoarding, and so forth.

Many mothers have come to us in conflict as to whether or not to go to work. The motives may be patriotic, or desire for a more adequate income, or deeper personal urges for greater independence and release from home care. Since the absence of the mother from the home often creates serious problems of childcare, the decision is particularly crucial. We believe firmly that a mother’s care of her children is in itself an “essential industry”, but, if we are to be realistic, we know that it will not for every woman take priority over other “essential industries”. Our efforts have been to engage in a sort of “screening process”, to try to determine as promptly and soundly as possible the best solution for all concerned, to help the woman who should not work accept her homemaking role as a dignified and contributing one, and to help the mother who should work maintain all possible security for herself and her children.

We are keenly aware of the hazards for adolescents and children in a world at war. The adolescents must cope not only with the normal upsurge of new drives but in addition with the tensions created by the war situation. Their plans and hopes for the future now all carry a warning “if”. Education, careers and marriage must be planned as the uncertainties of war permit. Time appears short and satisfactions are seized greedily in a fleeting present. Delinquency, as we see it today, is frequently the response of the adolescent to new tensions and uncertainty (Boy’s Bureau report). Younger children react to the war according to the degree of balance and stability in their family setting. Where parents are reassuringly serene and the family relationships are basically sound and happy, the child is likely to tolerate well the new hazards in the outside world. Where the family balance is a precarious one and is threatened or disturbed by today’s added strains, even young children react with marked anxiety and behavior symptoms. We have found it especially important to know, in all our relationships with families, just what is happening to the children. Sometimes we serve them indirectly by helping their family group to regain its balance and find new strength. Sometimes we also help them directly to weather their own storm and stress. Our investment of time and effort in behalf of children and adolescents of today will be the builders of the post-war world of which we dream. Too many children in other countries are irremediably hurt in body and spirit. It would be a tragedy if we failed to conserve and improve the sturdiness and health of those in our midst who can be saved.

Our case work task today has many of the elements of our pre-war job. We have not thrown overboard our basic principles and we have tried to set aside time for such study and research as will sharpen out techniques and facilitate our contribution to the war effort on the home front. In putting first things first, we have had to adapt our program to changing community demands, to develop new economies of effort and to find the sound middle-ground between unproductive short cuts and undue leisureliness and minuteness.

Our doors are open wide to those who need us. We have also extended our services by sharing the equipment and training of our staff to meet certain community needs. Case workers of the CSS have volunteered or have been lent for a number of special projects. They have contributed their skills to the Selective Service Boards, the Army Emergency Relief, the United Seamen’s Service, the Western Queens Nursery School and the Committee on the Care of European Children, besides acting in a consultant capacity in several schools and day nurseries. The supervisory staff has shared in the training of 81 students from the New York School of Social Work, an important contribution when human needs call for more and more professional trained social workers.

The year has been a hard one, with new challenges to our skill and resourcefulness but we have felt as never before the living relationship between our small achievements and the colossal struggle of freedom-loving nations toward the goal of democracy.

View graphic versionView graphic version