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Zimand, Gertrude Folks

in: People

Gertrude Folks Zimand (1894-1966):  Child Welfare Advocate and Reformer

Gertrude Folks Zimand was born September 28, 1894 in New York City, the second of three daughters.  Her mother was Maud (nee Beard) Folks, a champion of woman suffrage. Her father was the noted social worker and reformer Homer Folks . As an undergraduate at Vassar College she was head of the Suffrage Club and the Socialist Club; she was also active in the Settlement Association and the debating society. She graduated from Vassar College in 1916.  When her Vassar classmates selected her for the Borden Memorial Fund Prize for a year of travel, she decided to use the money to work in France with the American Committee for Devastated France. For a short time she also served as secretary to her father who was director of the Department of Civil Affairs of the American Red Cross in France. After assisting with rehabilitation work in Europe at the end of World War I she returned to the U.S. and for three years taught sociology at the University of Cincinnati. In 1926,  Zimand returned to working for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), an organization her father helped to found in 1904.  She worked as a field investigator; edited the agency’s magazine, American Child; and was research director and associate general secretary. In 1943 she became general secretary, a position she held until her retirement in 1955.

In 1926 she married Savel Zimand a journalist and correspondent for several newspapers including the New York Times and New York Evening Post and health educator. Gertrude Zimand’s professional life was devoted to child welfare reform and eliminating the exploitation of children as laborers. She spent the majority of her career supporting the activities of the NCLC, which included campaigns for state laws to keep children in school until age 14, eight-hour work days for children ages 14 and 15, a federal child labor amendment, and other related welfare reforms. When successive pieces of child labor legislation reform passed during the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she redirected the NCLC into a National Committee on Employment of Youth. The Committee focused on the employment troubles of teenagers and young adults, especially the poor, minority groups, and those that had dropped out of school.

A prolific writer, Zimand wrote many articles and books, including Young Workers in the United States (1953), Young Workers and Their Vocational Needs (1955), and Children in the Theater (1941). That she was a significant force in child welfare reform is attested to by former Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell, who, upon her retirement in 1955, praised “the impact of her work, directly on the lives of children throughout the United States.” Zimand passed away on May 10, 1966, at the age of 71.

Sources: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha

“Guide to the Gertrude Folks Zimand and Savel Zimand Papers,” 1911-1958: www.specialcollections.vassar.edu

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