1950s

The advent of the atomic bomb, the Korean War, and an economy influenced by defense spending had a profound impact on American families.

The 1950 Family Service Association of America (FSAA) biennial meeting in New York City was titled Family Living in a Time of World Tension. Industrialization and urbanization were booming. But now, with the readily available automobile, families fled the city for the suburbs. Women, teens, and older adults moved into the workforce in record numbers. Family welfare leaders agreed that these trends led to greater depersonalization of family life and interpersonal relationships.

The field was particularly concerned with the effects of continued inflation. A “new army of the poor” had emerged since World War II. Lower middle income and white collar families had seen their entire savings wiped out by rising taxes and inflationary living costs.

Major developments in the 1950s included:

  • Greater Interest in Establishing a Family Service Agency. In his report to the 1950 FSAA general assembly, Frank Hertel, FSAA general director, noted heightened interest in development of family service programs in communities without such a service. He attributed this in part to the mental hygiene movement that arose from World War II, with a focus on prevention of mental illness. A 1958 grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund enabled FSAA to hire two additional field staff for a three year period to assist more than 100 communities that had requested help.
  • Emphasis on Family Life Education. Most agencies implemented family life education to strengthen families and relationships, help people identify symptoms of potential trouble, and prevent family disruption. FSAA appointed a new national committee to define the role of family life education in the family service program, and to suggest principles and skills for a sound program.
  • Fees. Casework gained recognition as a skilled service, sought by a growing sector of the community that typically pays for professional help. During the 1950s, agencies experienced growing acceptance of fees and a steady growth in fee cases. Income from casework counseling fees constituted 2.2 percent of the average total agency income in 1958.
  • Integrated Services. Psychoanalysis had a significant impact on casework practice. Social casework recognized the influence of emotions in physical and social adjustment. The field incorporated principles of behavior into its integrated approach to understanding social difficulties. New concepts included social roles, social interaction, culture conflict, and family structure. During this decade, many agencies sought the services of psychiatrists for consultation and training. Family-oriented treatment was another major trend. The family now was seen as a whole rather than as a group of separate entities. Family service agencies previously had organized services around a specific age group or issue; now they were moving toward integrated, family-centered programs of service.
  • Growing Reliance on Community Chests. An FSAA 1954 memorandum revealed that member agencies relied on the community chest for close to 90 percent of their total income. Only a third of the agencies reported less than 80 percent of income from this source, and nearly a third reported 95 percent or more from the chest. In 1952, local agencies received only 28 percent of their income from chests.
  • Increasing Number of Agency Mergers. Mergers between child placement and family service agencies continued, frequently at the suggestion of the local community chest.
  • Family Homemaker Services. The family homemakers service was becoming well integrated into agency casework programs for the family. Its primary goal was to help families when a mother was temporarily unable to function so children didn’t have to be removed from the home. This service almost doubled in a decade, with 19 percent of agencies offering homemaker services in 1946 and 33 percent of agencies by 1957.
  • New Interest in Research. In the 1950s, evaluation of service effectiveness was a relatively undeveloped aspect of family service agencies. The Institute of Welfare Research of the Community Service Society of New York was an early pioneer in this area. Family Service of St. Paul (today’s Children’s Home Society & Family Services) in cooperation with the local council of social agencies, reviewed services and results in more than 1,000 agency case files in 1946. This study, published in Survey, drew widespread attention. Shortly after this, both New York Jewish Family Service and Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles initiated measurement of various counseling techniques. In 1955, FSAA created the research department to provide services to member agencies in the dual areas of operating statistics and special research studies. With the FSAA Committee on Statistics and Studies, the department produced a set of guidelines for agency research.

Information and Education Advance the Field

In addition to field service, information service remained a core FSAA function in the 1950s. The association typically received more than 1,200 specific inquiries each year from agencies requesting help on various organizational problems. In 1950, the information service prepared reports on financial assistance practice, salary trends, intake policies, homemaker service, and fee charging policies. The association collected and published monthly statistics on caseloads and service trends in 60 selected agencies and shared the data for comparative purposes in planning.

The social work profession evolved rapidly, adding new areas of specialty and new research-based methods. By the 1950s, there were more than 50 graduate schools of social work in the United States. Still, shortage of personnel remained a serious issue.

The FSAA Personnel Service and its national Personnel Committee took leadership in developing a national personnel program which included recruiting for social work training, promotion of scholarship grants, assistance to agencies in filling leadership positions, help in developing personnel practices, formulating position classification guides, and collecting information on salary standards and trends.

During the 1950s, FSAA and member agencies created scholarship programs to advance professional education. FSAA worked actively with the Council on Social Work Education in developing new and creative ways to call attention to social work as a rewarding career. At the request of the council, an FSAA committee prepared a report, “The Content of Family Social Work,” for use in the council’s curriculum study.

Association publications were geared to advance practice. Social Casework (formerly The Family) had become the standard periodical for the entire field. Its more than 10,000 subscribers were from every state and points as far away as Siam and Rhodesia. FSAA also published Highlights, the official membership bulletin, and a wealth of books, bulletins, and pamphlets. Another groundbreaking publication in the field was published by FSAA in 1956, Margaret Rich’s A Belief in People: A History of Family Social Work. Rich, a professional social worker and passionate advocate of the family service movement, served as FSAA associate director for many years. She completed the manuscript just weeks before her death.

Methods Adapt to Current Needs

The population and its evolving needs were growing rapidly in this period. Modern industry required a large, mobile labor force. Families moved often; farm families moved into cities, and city families sought better living conditions in the suburbs. More women were working outside the home than ever before. Compulsory military service promoted the trend of earlier marriage—and a higher divorce rate. Most family agencies had a greater demand for services than they could meet. The predominant characteristic of FSAA and its member agencies was their flexibility of programming. They fluidly adapted services to meet the changing patterns of family living.

The FSAA board established a Committee on Method and Scope in 1950 to study current practices and programs of family agencies and make recommendations for the future. The committee’s 1953 report defined the two major functions of the family agency as:

  • Providing casework services
  • Participating in community planning

Secondary functions were defined as:

  • Conducting group educational activities
  • Contributing to professional education and engaging in research

FSAA adapted to another change with the defense build-up that accompanied the war. This build-up created new communities overnight; small towns suddenly became urban centers. Where a desert or cotton field or farm existed just a few months earlier, there was now a steel mill or defense material depot. Federal lists identified about 525 communities that were considered critical defense areas. Many of these communities had no social service agencies.

FSAA played a leading role in the development of United Community Defense Services (UCDS). UCDS mobilized local leadership to help affected communities identify needs, develop plans, and create facilities and services to foster sound community life. One of 15 member organizations involved in UCDS, FSAA helped to develop essential health and welfare services in those communities and to coordinate other organizations receiving UCDS funds.

FSAA created a separate unit to serve the defense-impacted communities in which there were no member agencies or FSAA field staff. FSAA annual surveys revealed that only about 10 percent of the defense-impacted communities had an FSAA member agency.

From 1952-1955, three UCDS-devoted field staff consultants visited more than 120 communities to work with local civic leaders in establishing professional family casework services. Correspondence was conducted with about 50 additional communities.

The greatest obstacle to implementing a family service program, the FSAA/UCDS field staff learned, was opposition by the local community chest. In some cases, the chest did not want to raise the extra money necessary to support the service. In others, it did not want a new service to conflict with powerful interests that wanted the money spent elsewhere. Often chest member agencies did not wish to see a new service developed for fear of cuts in their own budgets.

The FSAA/UCDS field report summary addressed this issue in stark terms:

Where a community chest existed, we found that whether or not an agency is established depends largely upon whether or not the chest executive wants it. The existence of a community chest does not mean that the community is “organized.” Chests may be organized as much to keep out agencies by preventing money raising as to provide service. Where a chest exists, too often there is a tug of war between the agencies and the chest. Whichever one can provide the toughest team of lay leaders wins the jackpot of community chest money. Then too, there are many small chests which cannot support needed services, even where intentions are of the best. Agencies in the casework field have no means of raising money outside of the chest. What is necessary then, if people are to have the help they need, is a fresh look at ways by which this help can be financed. It appears that for the small communities, some combination of public and private financing must be sought. FSAA membership requirements state that the major source of support for private agencies must be private funds. It might be time that this policy should be reexamined. Also, in more and more communities, foundations are being set up by well-to-do local citizens. In the future, will it be that agency support is provided from this resource?

Statement of Principles Guides Policy

In 1952, the association created a Committee on Public Issues to study legislation affecting family life, prepare recommendations for board action, and update members about policy issues. The committee created a statement of principles to guide national and local action on matters affecting the security of the American family.

“We have adopted this statement of principles in order to give the family service field a more forceful way of working for the things we believe important to a strong and healthful family life,” said Clark W. Blackburn, the newly-appointed FSAA general director.

The principles provided a channel through which the association and member agencies could speak together in a concerted way. The fundamental conditions favorable to the attainment of satisfying and effective family life were defined as:

  • The opportunity for self support and financial independence or, when these are lacking or cannot be utilized, the means for maintaining decent standards of living
  • Availability of housing within the means of the family and compatible with wholesome family living
  • Availability of adequate services for the prevention and treatment of illness, physical, and mental
  • Educational opportunities for children, youths, and adults
  • Leisure-time resources for the attainment of well-balanced living
  • Opportunities to develop religious and moral values according to individual beliefs, and the safeguarding of rights to civil and religious freedom guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and Canada

As the family service field shifted its emphasis to counseling, it had lost its focus on working to improve conditions for families. FSAA conferences throughout the 1940s and 1950s inevitably featured a few speakers who exhorted their fellow members to demonstrate leadership in social policy.

In 1954, FSAA had asked members if they still believed social action was an important area and if FSAA should more forcefully take up the cause. The vote was overwhelmingly affirmative, and FSAA created a Committee on Social Issues. Sidney Hollander, chair of the committee, reported the committee’s recommendations at the 1959 biennial conference: “One thing we soon learned was that FSAA was no trailblazer in social action,” Hollander observed. “Some 30 or 40 other national social work agencies were way ahead of us in recognizing its importance.”

Family agencies should operate in two areas, the committee recommended:

  • Direct services to clients
  • Addressing the conditions under which families live

Social advocacy was, in fact, an obligation clearly stated in FSAA membership requirements, Hollander reminded conference attendees. “To me, the importance of the second in some way transcends the first, benefiting not only families in the agencies’ own caseload but that vastly greater number outside for whom agencies purport to speak,” he said. “Since such things as homes and jobs and medical care and security are essential factors in family living, and since such factors are increasingly determined by legislative decree, then obviously legislation must be of direct concern to our purposes and our programs.

“Because it is obvious doesn’t at all mean that family agencies follow that course. On the contrary, most of them do not. In the early days, the days of those great crusaders like Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop and their like, there was no doubt about their line of direction. But lately family agencies have become … so concerned with the values of diagnostic versus functional, that they’ve largely lost sight of and certainly lost interest in that earlier and more easily comprehended aim … Copious comments on case loads, personnel, budget, board structure, standards, yes; but hardly a word about what the agency was doing about communal needs, about housing or health shortages, about poor standards in the public services. Counseling and casework have … great value, but back of case work and counseling are people, people vitally concerned with food and jobs and sickness and a place to live.”

Hollander noted that FSAA’s entry into the social policy arena was welcomed. The association’s competency was looked upon as a source of potential support for legislation in which FSAA and other organizations were mutually interested. “We found that legislation is an area in which we have not only a right to be, but where we will be properly criticized if we stand aloof,” Hollander told conference attendees.

The committee also recommended that FSAA establish a public policy position to work in two broad areas: identifying policy issues and promoting change at the appropriate level of government, and cooperating with and supporting existing public welfare programs.

Also during this time, the FSAA recognized a great need and opportunity for joint projects which would strengthen family services. Such projects would improve family agency/mental health clinic relationships, advance the practice of caseworkers in public agencies, develop the content of family life education, and increase cooperation between family and children’s agencies.

The 1950s saw expanded efforts to collaborate with other professional organizations and government agencies. The FSAA Committee on Lawyer/Family Cooperation published a report to guide member agencies in promoting sound working relationships between the two professions. FSAA outreach generated increasing public funds to finance special projects, including contracts with public housing agencies and special casework programs financed through state and federal funds.

FSAA also worked closely with the Child Welfare League of America, the National Probation and Parole Association, and the National Travelers Aid Society in conducting community service surveys. They explored creation of a joint survey service to produce more comprehensive studies of casework needs and services in local communities.

Public Relations Generates Awareness of Family Issues

Throughout the 1950s, FSAA worked to establish a stronger national identity and increase awareness of family service and social casework. A series called “What’s Wrong With This Family?” ran in Better Homes and Gardens magazine from 1950–1953. Other marriage and family-related series ran in McCall’s magazine and True Romance.

The FSAA Public Relations Service, created in 1947, promoted a 13-week ABC radio series, “Family Closeup,” and supplied data and story ideas for countless other radio programs. It worked closely with editors and writers at national magazines, resulting in steadily increasing coverage.

Plays for Living was proving to be an immensely popular vehicle through which to educate the public about family problems. Founded by the American Theatre Wing in 1942 and known as the Victory Players, these one-act plays were performed by professional actors who volunteered their services. Broadway stars collaborated with sociologists and psychologists such as Margaret Mead and Dr. William Menninger to develop plays about psychological and domestic issues. Discussion was invited following the performance, moderated by professionals in the field. In 1959, the group, by then known as the Community Players, became an official division of FSAA. It evolved as a unique public relations and public education vehicle, winning prestigious awards and performing at the White House on several occasions.

There was a bit of irony in working so hard to create awareness of family services. Robert Collacott, a member of the FSAA Public Relations Committee and director of public relations with the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, commented: “Our new and primary emphasis in public relations has been one that is somewhat staggering. We want to carry our services to more people, and before I went down Damascus Road in this thing I used to say to my wife who was trying to convert me, I said, ‘well, my good God, if you have to go out and get clients and on the other hand you have to go out and get the money to serve them, why do all this work?’ Well, either under coercion or blandishment or something, I was waked up and from that time on we’ve carried the torch so extremely well in the method of drumming up business that now we have some strong accounts in a great many cities … and while we are enlarging our business no end, we still have the fact that very few of those are paying clients.”

First Fund Development Efforts Established

FSAA was working to drum up the funding to meet the increase in work it was experiencing. It created its first development position in 1955 with the hiring of Clare M. Tousley from the Community Service Society of New York. She was charged with securing additional funds to supplement the association’s income and support expansion of services. The following year, FSAA established a Development Committee. A consultant was hired from John Price Jones to study the organization’s financial structure and advise on ways for FSAA to attract unrestricted support for its programs.

The committee created the first national family service campaign with a series of appeals. Ninety percent of association funding came from membership dues. The goal of the national appeal was to raise $306,750 from foundations and individual giving to support expansion and special projects.

The need indeed was urgent: More than 1 million family members were aided annually through counseling and casework services provided by FSAA member agencies. One-third of these 265 family service agencies had waiting lists. At least 100 agencies not yet affiliated with FSAA were struggling to raise standards to attain membership, and more than 50 other communities were asking for help in organizing a family service agency. At least half of all American families were outside the reach of any community-supported family counseling service.

The most successful appeal was the National Children’s Project, which was meant to give strong aid to children “facing broken homes and whose parents fail to protect and guide them.” Another campaign raised fellowship money to train more college students for the helping professions. Another spread knowledge about family mental health through public service announcements and a television show. In 1957, the director of public affairs at the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) made the bold prediction that in a few years there would be a revolution in night-time television viewing with many more programs to meet the needs as well as to entertain the viewers.

Foster Care and Other Resources Spell End of Orphanages

By the 1950s, traditional orphanages were either beginning to phase out long-term custodial care on their own, or being closed all together. There were no longer such vast numbers of orphans. Epidemics that had devastated entire communities could often be prevented through widespread immunization programs. Immigration had been curtailed in the 1920s. The Social Security Act enabled many families living in poverty to be able to provide for their children. And the movement to place children in a home environment rather than an institution greatly reduced the number of orphanage placements. The need simply didn’t exist as it had a century or even several decades earlier.

Over the next few decades, many orphanages closed or merged with other agencies. The organizations that survived and thrived were the early adapters.

The two organizations that came together in 1969 to found today’s Pressley Ridge in Pittsburgh were both founded as orphanages; one during the Civil War the other during the Industrial Revolution. By the 1950s, Pressley House, founded in 1861, recognized that orphanage care type services were no longer needed. “Our board took a hard look at our mission and did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever known a board of directors to do; it closed the orphanage. Our census went from 100 kids to less than 10,” says B. Scott Finnell, current president and CEO of Pressley Ridge. The board determined that to best fulfill its mission, it needed to provide treatment services, not long-term custodial care. “Our purpose for being was to help kids who needed us. Their needs were changing. We had to change too,” Finnell says. “Rather than just providing food, shelter, and clothing, the board made the decision that the future was in providing treatment services. That laid the foundation for our ongoing program innovation.”

Social workers were hired, and the board recruited its first male member: Dr. Benjamin Spock. Following the 1969 merger, Pressley Ridge adopted the cutting-edge Re-education treatment philosophy. Developed by Nicholas Hobbs in the early 1960s, the Re-ED model calls for Re-education of Emotionally Disturbed children. Emotional disturbance is understood as a symptom of a malfunctioning ecosystem, not of individual pathology. Today, Re-ED remains the foundation of Pressley Ridge’s continuum of program models, offered in seven states, Washington D.C., and internationally. “During the most difficult periods of service, our commitment does not stop and is strengthened by the belief that young people and their families fail only when we fail to persevere on their behalf,” says Finnell. “It is our idealism that gives us the strength to never give up on the children and families we serve. It is idealism that prompts us to accept the biggest challenge and to ask, ‘If not us, who?’ ”

Read the next chapter from A Century of Service.

Resources Used

Stories from the Network

Family Service Association of America Snapshot

According to Family Service Association of America (FSAA) archives, in 1951 FSAA was one of the central organizing forces in the country behind the development of skilled, professional community services.

It was generally accepted as the standard-setting body in its field. FSAA’s 250 family service member agencies in 1951 worked continuously to enhance family living, prevent social breakdown, and directly aid people in difficulty.

At the time, family social work recognized that personal and family difficulties were rooted in a combination of factors—social, economic, physical, and emotional. Relief of economic distress had become primarily a government concern, freeing voluntary family service agencies to extend programs and to serve all populations. The focus had moved to prevention of family breakdown through counseling and other services. In 1951, FSAA member agencies served approximately 750,000 family members. Member agencies were supported by both governmental and private funds, with some agencies charging a fee for certain services. Nearly 95 percent of FSAA member agencies in 1951 were supported by a community chest or similar fund.

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch

When he visited the Montana State Industrial School and saw young juvenile delinquent boys housed with adult criminals, Franklin Robbie, a Montana pastor, was determined to create a better option.

In June 1957, the first boy was welcomed at Yellowstone Boys Ranch.

Today, the beautiful 400-acre campus in Billings, Mont., offers numerous services to emotionally disturbed youth and their families.

A psychiatric residential treatment center, therapeutic foster care, accredited school, and full continuum of community-based services help youth and families become successful.