The Children's Bureau was created on April 9, 1912, becoming the first government agency in the world to focus exclusively on improving the lives of children and families. Over the past 100 years, the Bureau has played a vital role in addressing issues affecting American families and society—from reducing high infant mortality and eradicating child labor to preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting permanency for children and youth. The Children's Bureau Legacy: Ensuring the Right to Childhood, a new e-book commemorating the Bureau's centennial, recounts the Bureau's efforts that set the foundation for today's programs for children and families.
"Childhood is sacred, and the Children's Bureau was established to help, and remains dedicated to helping, the people in the field who are responsible for healing some of the most vulnerable children. There is no nobler mission than the mission of the Children's Bureau," said JooYeun Chang, Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau.
The Bureau was created at a time when the idea that children had a right to a happy, healthy, and safe childhood was a relatively new concept. At the turn of the last century, children were thought of as an economic necessity for families. In fact, in 1899, 1.75 million children between the ages of 10 and 15 were found to be "gainfully employed."
Rates of infant mortality also were alarming. According to the 1910 U.S. Census, there were an estimated 2.2 million children under 1 year of age and approximately 300,000 infant deaths that same year. Work to address social problems such as these was largely conducted by women's clubs, whose members consisted of middle-class homemakers. Social work was a new field that was just coming into its own through the work of early pioneers such as Jane Addams.
During the Progressive Era, women began to take on stronger roles in politics and activism, advocating for protecting mothers and children and exploring issues related to health and welfare. The Progressive Era emphasized government as a solution for social ills, and the idea of a federal bureau devoted to child well-being soon gained traction.
Getting there was a long and hard-fought battle—9 years passed and 11 congressional bills were introduced and debated before President Taft finally signed the law creating the Bureau and its mission to investigate and report upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life.
"We are proud of our history and the amazing accomplishments, pioneering accomplishments, related to infant mortality, child labor, juvenile justice, and other work to improve children's lives," said Joe Bock, Deputy Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau.
One hundred years later, the Children's Bureau continues to work with states, tribes, and territories to improve the overall health and well-being of our nation's children and families.
The social changes necessitating a Bureau dedicated to protecting children and families, the leaders who championed its creation, and the Bureau's work during its first 100 years are explored through compelling text and striking images in the new e-book.
The e-book is organized by key historical periods:
The Children's Bureau Legacy: Ensuring the Right to Childhood can be purchased from:
A free PDF also is available from the Children's Bureau centennial website: http://cb100.acf.hhs.gov/
Image 1: Cover of the The Children's Bureau Legacy: Ensuring the Right to Childhood
Image 2: Sharecropper's child suffering from rickets and malnutrition, Wilson cotton plantation, Mississippi County, Arkansas, Circa 1935. (Library of Congress, LC-USF33-002002-M2)
Image 3: "Next to the duty of doing everything possible for the soldiers at the front, there could be, it seems to me, no more patriotic duty than that of protecting the children who constitute one-third of our population." W. Wilson. (Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-9867)