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Child Study Association: History 1928

The History of the Child Study Association of America

Its Growth and Activities


Editor’s Note: The Child Study Association of America existed from 1890 to 1972. The introduction to its files at the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities states:

CSAA appears to have undergone an important shift in focus during the 1960s. Although CSAA continued to provide discussion groups and other programs delivered directly to parents and to publish resources on child development and family life, it increased its professional education and consultation services. It offered education and training programs and resources to professionals in fields related to children and families. It also offered program consultation to private and public agencies. These efforts included several national-level programs. For example, CSAA ran a five year training program through the United States Children’s Bureau for nurses on working with expectant parents or parents of young children and a two year program for family case workers on reaching low income families that was sponsored by the Family Service Association of America. The association also provided curriculum and training in parent education and community action to family agency social workers as part of the OEO-funded Project Enable.

By the 1970s, the association was focusing almost entirely on training professionals who worked with families. A description of CSAA’s programs from 1969-1970 stated that it was”primarily a training center for the staffs of public and private health, education, and welfare agencies directly serving parents, children, and communities.” In 1967, CSAA began a program to provide parental involvement training to Head Start program staff from agencies in the Northeast (Head start regions I and II). Over the next few years, the program expanded to other regions. The training programs were designed to created a “core of well-trained parental involvement specialists” who would take over upon completion of the CSAA program. In 1969, CSAA also ran a program in the South Bronx area of New York City to train social workers, sociologists and doctors to educate parents regarding health services. Another program trained health department educators to work with para professionals who were recruited as part of a manpower training program. The association appears to have been hoping to develop into an accredited educational institution and was exploring steps necessary to achieve that goal. However, ongoing financial problems, including the termination of funding for CSAA to provide Head Start training, interfered with this goal and helped lead CSAA into a series of mergers that eventually resulted in the parceling out or cessation of all of its programs.

In 1972, CSAA formally dissolved and turned over all of its assets to Wel-Met, Inc. In 1973, CSAA merged with Wel-Met to form Child Study Association of America/Wel-Met. Wel-Met had been founded in 1935 by the Metropolitan League of Jewish Community Associations to operate summer camps for urban children. The new organization ran three camps and provided counseling and referral services. It also planned to provide adult education programs in the “moral, mental and physical training and up-brining of children,” which appears to have been CSAA’s contribution to the partnership. By 1977, CSAA/Wel-Met was plagued with financial problems, partly due to decreased participation in camping programs. The board decided to terminate operations and was exploring plans for handling the organization’s remaining assets, including the formation of a capital preservation corporation. It is not clear what became of the plan or whether CSAA/Wel-Met continued to provide any services or simply existed as a corporate entity. However, CSAA/Wel-Met still existed in 1985, when it merged with Goddard-Riverside Community Center in New York. Goddard-Riverside does not appear to have continued CSAA’s parent or professional education efforts, and the merger effectively marked the end of what remained of CSAA as a corporate body and the cessation of any of its original programs.

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Women in CSAA Library

The Last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of educational experimentation based on an awakening interest in child psychology.  Gradually invasions were made in the old academic curricula as the needs and nature of childhood became more evident.  Dr. Felix Adler, with his clarity of understanding and his courageous pioneer spirit in education, early encouraged parents of the school children with whom he came in contact, to undertake the systematic study of problems relating to their children; this first small group formed the nucleus of the Child Study Association of America.  Its three members met regularly throughout the year, studying the history and progress of education and the changes that had come about through the newer philosophical contributions in child psychology.  The second year—1889—saw five mothers in the group and the work more systematically planned.  A course of study was outlined and meetings were held regularly each week from October to May.  The work proved so stimulating and practical that thirty new members joined the group the following year and the name, “Society for the Study of Child Nature,” was adopted.

The first extension of the original group occurred with the formation in 1896 of Chapter I of the Society for the Study of Child Nature, though there is record that in 1894 the Society was asked to help in forming a similar society in Montclair, New Jersey.  The organization of the second chapter too place in 1903.  Until 1907 the movement was confined to New York City, but that year saw a chapter organized in Baltimore from which has grown the present “Baltimore District” with its many groups.  Other chapters were added until in 1908 it seemed necessary to have a central organization to pool resources and to avoid duplication and foster general growth through lectures, conferences and special committees.  It seemed most appropriate to call this the “Federation for Child Study.” Its aims were “to secure, tabulate and distribute information concerning methods of child study and their practical application, to undertake original research, to furnish means of cooperation between societies having similar aims, and to conduct conferences and lectures,” and it took as its slogan: ‘to make our parenthood more intelligent and of the highest use of our children.”

Although the early child study groups were made up chiefly of mothers, in 1913 a chapter was formed especially for social service workers, while in 1914 and evening group for nurses was organized.  By 1917 child study groups or “chapters,” had formed under the guidance of the Federation for Child Study, were beginning to appear in different parts of the country—In Louisville, Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, New Haven and New Orleans.  In 1923 the directors of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, which is organized to promote the welfare of children, feeling that the material gathered by the Federation for Child Study might be of use to many more parents that the organization unaided could reach, awarded a grant for the extension of its work, with the statement that the amount would be increased and extended to a three-year grant if the work showed development.  The following year a three-year grant was made and the organization was then incorporated under the name which it now bears, “Child Study Association of America.” At the same time the work was extended over a wider field, reaching many more groups both within and beyond the area of New York City, training leaders in parental education to meet ever increasing demand for leadership, and publishing pamphlet material and a monthly magazine.

The Association is now a national organization with study groups in all parts of the United States and chapter affiliated groups in China Japan, Great Britain and Canada.  How it functions through its Headquarters and Extension Offices in New York City with its various activities is described in detail in the annual reports of the Association and elsewhere.  A brief sketch of their development may, however, be appropriate here.

Study groups continue to be the source of the Association’s vitality.  Growing out of the actual need of parents and others who work with children, they afford an opportunity for those persons who are intelligently concerned about the development of their children to keep in touch with the latest contributions of psychologist and educator, to share the experience of other study group members and to interpret their owproblems in the light of the best present-day thought.  In the early days of the Association, literature was meager, and such as there was, was technical and theoretic, suited rather for development through academic methods than for  the practical guidance of a lay group with pressing personal problems. Rousseau, G.Young woman reading in the CSAA Library[View Image]
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Young woman reading in the CSAA Library

Stanley Hall, Locke, Richter, Ruskin, and Spencer provided topics for discussion during the early days, with the help of articles in educational magazines and material gathered in the Library of Teachers College.  In view of the fact that the work was so new, groups had to evolve and define their own methods of procedure.  It was based upon cooperation, that group members were expected to read the authors specified, to report on assignments and join in the discussion at meetings.  As a result of long years of experience, the Association has now worked out a method of organization and study which, while it is far from final, is adaptable to the many different situations are now embodied in a pamphlet, “Child Study Groups, a Manual for Leaders.”

An immediate need in the formation of groups was that for trained leaders.  As parents’ interests changed with their children’s development, it became necessary to find leaders for new groups.  At first, training through actual attendance of study groups was the only possibility offered by the demand for well trained leaders became so pressing that the Association decided to conduct each year an institute or training course for leaders and in 1923 a course in Paternal Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, was offered jointly with the college for which specially organized groups serve as demonstration of methods.

Parental interest has led to the forming of groups on all phases of childhood.  At the Headquarters of the Association, representative groups are led by members of the staff and specialists from other organizations.

The most recent development from study group work is the inauguration of a Consultation Service for those parents whose problems in relation to their children seem to need more intensive study and assistance than the groups alone can offer.

Another definite expansion of the work came through the organization of special committees which took shape under the Federation in 1908.   At that time were organized the Children’s Literature Committee, which reviewed and evaluated new publications; the Work and Play Committee, which collected data concerning games, amusements and occupations of Children; and the Reference Bibliography Committee which surveyed the fields of sociology, biology, psychology and education in search of literature and material which could  be adapted to the use of parents.  In 1913 a Committee on Information about Schools was developed.  Practically all of these are still functioning.  The Parents’ Bibliography and the Music Committees have also been added.  The findings of the former are embodied in the Association’s book lists which are revised and supplemented annually.

In order to bring to parents who are primarily interested in specific problems the larger implications of child psychology, to focus on the study of childhood all the sciences that bear on humanChildren at Play[View Image]
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Children at Play

living, and to offer its members the stimulation of the direct contact with authoritative leaders in the new educational thought, the Association from its earliest days sponsored a program of lectures and conferences. Of late a series of lectures or discussions centering on one general theme have been so well received and shown such excellent results in the addition of new members to the Association, that one or more have been included in the yearly calendars.  General interest in the child study movement led the Association in 1925 to conduct a public conference which would permit others besides members to see the relation of different branches of knowledge to the study of children.  This, the first nation-wide conference on parenthood, was enthusiastically attended and was the direct inspiration for the many conferences which have since followed under the Association’s and other auspices.  To the impetus of this conference may be certainly in part be attributed the organization of the National Council of Parental Education, which held its first meeting in 1926, and which is this year holding a three-day conference.

In the actual working out of study groups it was found necessary for each one to have a special fund for the purchase of books of reference.  In 1924 the family and friends of Alice Morgenthau Ehrich created a Memorial Fund to perpetuate the memory of a valued leader.  It was decided to devote this sum to the Association’s urgent need for books and establish a library on parental education.  Since that time the many personal bequests and endowments have added to the library until it has become one of unique value and service, containing several thousand volumes, a file of current magazine articles and the minutes of the various study groups.

Because the lack of adequate printed material, the Association found it necessary to prepare and publish from time to time book lists of selected reading for children and parents, pamphlets on special phases of child study and books for reference and study. In 1923 it began publication of a magazine, known as the “Bulletin of the Federation for Child Study,” which might aid in study group work. In keeping with the general growth of the Association, this magazine, now called “Child Study,” has made conspicuous strides. Originally a small bulletin which was sent out as a service to members it has now become a magazine of twenty-four pages with a circulation of over five thousand.  Each issue is devoted to a single topic of vital interest to parents.  Eminent psychologists, educators, and leaders in the field of child study contribute articles which present a rounded view of the subject.

A significant extension of the Association’s activities was the organization of the Summer Play Schools by its Summer Play Schools Committee.  This was begun as a piece of war relief emergency work when the Hudson Guild of New York City, under the supervision of the Committee and with the cooperation of a number of child welfare organizations, in 1917 opened its doors to two hundred children.  Instead of listless days in hot streets, they enjoyed organized and supervised play, athletics and games, music, dancing and a hot lunch in the middle of the day.  It was soon apparent that they might equally well benefit by this constructive program during normal times.  How existing institutions and equipment might be utilized for this enterprise became the work of the Committee and play schools grew in number from year to year.  In 1919 the United States Bureau of Education published a bulletin describing these play schools and recommending that they be established wherever possible.  There are now twenty such centers in New York City and one in Cleveland, Ohio.  Emphasis in the all-day program is upon home-making which carries over into daily living and groups of mothers organized during the summer often continue to meet during the winter as study groups. The Committee acts as a consulting body to the organizations conducting schools, helps with the making of programs and acts as a clearing house for cooperating agencies.

Since its first beginnings, the Association has been called upon by other organizations for assistance of various kinds.  Parent-teacher associations, realizing that more was needed in the classroom besides physical improvements, came to it for help in securing knowledge of applied psychology.  The many requests by mothers’ clubs, settlement groups, schools and educational conferences, led to the formation of a Speakers Bureau, which sends out leaders and speakers trained through active study group work.  Through book and toy exhibits, radio talks, representation at conferences, the daily mail and personal interviews, the Association extends its service.  Many colleges and universities are now seeking help in the preparation of programs as well as to utilize material accumulated in the library and to call upon the advisory services of the staff.  In every way possible the Association tries to share its resources—the result of its accumulated experience and to cooperate with workers in allied projects.

Its fortieth anniversary year sees the Association no longer alone in the field of child study and parental education.  Its function as a pioneer is over, yet its usefulness is greater than before.  The general awareness among parents of the need for better information on the training of children, the increase in the amount of reliable material on child care, and the development of other organizations and institutions in the field, have brought to the Association ever heavier demands which take their practical manifestation in an increased staff and an extension of activities.  The coordination of existing agencies and a reaching out into allied fields, through its continued role of interpreter between the specialist and the parent mark the present trends of the Association.

Source: Child Study Association of America Records. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

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