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THE CHILDREN'S BUREAU
JULIA C. LATHROP
On April 9 of the present year, the President of the United States approved the act creating the Children's Bureau under the Department of Commerce and Labor. The efforts that led up to this accomplished fact may be briefly reviewed as follows:
Five years ago the idea of a Federal Children's Bureau originated with Miss Lillian D. Wald, head of the Nurses' Settlement in New York. Mrs. Florence Kelley, secretary of the National Consumers' League, a former resident of Hull House now living at the Nurses' Settlement, drew up the first outline of the matters relating to child-care which should be intrusted to the proposed bureau for investigation—an outline corresponding closely with the enumeration of subjects contained in the law finally enacted. The genuine value of a genuine settlement is thus evidenced by the fact that this bureau was first urged by women who have lived long in settlements and who by that experience have learned to know as well as any persons in this country certain aspects of dumb misery which they desired through some governmental agency to make articulate and intelligible. "They urged upon the National Child Labor Committee the possibility of undertaking a publicity campaign on behalf of such a bureau and that organization has for four years maintained an office in Washington, and, by wise and patient effort, has aroused and organized the public interest which has been an all-important factor in securing the law, so that no piece of governmental machinery ever went into operation with more harmonious and vigorous backing from public-spirited men and women.
The National Child Labor Committee took the lead only to bring together effectively the great associations interested in such
* Being an address before the Biennial Meeting of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, San Francisco, July 5, 1912.
an enactment and eager to urge the law. These associations represent, as was constantly admitted during the long debate in Congress, the most influential and the wisest views in this country on the care and protection of children. If the Bureau can continue to have their aid it cannot fail of usefulness and it will escape a danger which has been repeatedly mentioned; namely, the possibility that a federal bureau will relieve local bodies and volunteer associations of the sense of responsibility, will centralize the activities on behalf of children, and cool the ardor of those who would otherwise care tenderly and probably wisely for individual children. A distant office in Washington, filled with government employees, whose business it is to know about children, to gather and classify facts about them, instead of doing things for them, must make a constant effort likewise to avoid the faults of academic methods and aims. It is because my superiors at Washington wish this bureau to be vital, co-operative, serving the needs of the whole country, arousing rather than dulling the sense of personal responsibility, stimulating rather than usurping the functions of states and cities and counties and of volunteer associations, that I am here tonight.
Already the organization of the Bureau has begun. Under the strictest interpretation of the federal civil service law, as well as with the realization that no government agency can ever need more than this one will the steadying precision of statistical accuracy, two important appointments have been made. The assistant chief is Mr. Lewis Meriam, a Harvard graduate, for six years employed in the Census Bureau, where he steadily advanced from a minor clerkship to the headship of a division. The chief statistician is Mr. Ethelbert Stewart, long identified with the Bureau of Labor, later with the Tariff Board, and known as a statistical expert and a field investigator of the highest class. The private secretary of the chief of the Bureau, although excepted by law from the civil service requirements, has been selected on the same basis of personal fitness. The final appointment of the other members of the present staff must await definite decision as to the precise work to be undertaken for this first year.
The Bureau needs, as has been said, the sternest statistical accuracy at base because its appeal to the noblest human passion of
pity must never be founded upon anything but truth, because it must guard against the easy charge of sentimentality and must be able to present all its statements dispassionately with scientific candor and faithfulness. In order that neither time nor money be wasted in repetition or duplication one of the most important positions which will be created in the Bureau will be that of a librarian-reader who will scan the current literature of the world and who can not only interpret the principal modern languages but estimate the social importance of the various movements relating to children. Such a position will require fine linguistic attainments, training in social science, a special interest in the work of the Bureau, as well as the usual knowledge of a trained librarian.
Before submitting for consideration specific suggestions of a fundamental character, attention should be given to the words of the law in which the duties of the Federal Children's Bureau are prescribed.
The first clause is comprehensive: “The said Bureau shall investigate and report to said department upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people." The next clauses are more specific: "and shall
· The full text of the law is as follows:
An Act To establish in the Department of Commerce and Labor a bureau to be known as the Children's Bureau.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be established in the Department of Commerce and Labor a bureau to be known as the Children's Bureau.
SEC. 2. That the said bureau shall be under the direction of a chief, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and who shall receive an annual compensation five thousand dollars. The said bureau shall investigate and report to said department upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people, and shall especially investigate the questions of infant mortality, the birth-rate, orphanage, juvenile courts, desertion, dangerous occupations, accidents and diseases of children, employment, legislation affecting children in the several states and territories. But no official, or agent, or representative of said bureau shall, over the objection of the head of the family, enter any house used exclusively as a family residence. The chief of said bureau may from time to time publish the results of these investigations in such manner and to such extent as may be prescribed by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.
Sec. 3. That there shall be in said bureau, until otherwise provided for by law, an assistant chief, to be appointed by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, who shall receive an annual compensation of two thousand four hundred dollars; one private secretary to the chief of the bureau, who shall receive an annual compensation of one thousand five hundred dollars; one statistical expert, at two thousand dollars; two clerks of class four; two clerks of class three; one clerk of class two; one clerk of class one; one clerk, at one thousand dollars; one copyist, at nine hundred dollars; one
especially investigate the questions of infant mortality, the birthrate, orphanage, juvenile courts, desertion, dangerous occupations, accidents and diseases of children, employment, legislation affecting children in the several states and territories.” It is plain that such sweeping powers must be very carefully used if they are not to result in costly waste. The next paragraph of the law defines the number of the employees at fifteen and the statutory expenses at $25,640 a year. Small as this equipment appears, there could easily be waste of labor, and consequently of money; but here is seen the practical value of the federal civil service law which, permitting the choice of appointees on the basis of personal merit alone, is a protection against the wasteful appointments which thirty years ago would inevitably have been made. Indeed, it is well to recall the fact that such a bureau, requiring for real efficiency a staff composed of persons highly qualified and absolutely devoted to their work as a career, is only possible because there is a federal civil service law.
In the preparation of a program for the work of the first year, the fact has been brought out in a striking manner that the various bureaus of the government already possess an enormous amount of information with reference to child life which has been obtained at great cost and by the expenditure of large sums, but which is too detailed and technical for use by the general reader. There are likewise great private foundations carrying on studies regarding various phases of the life of children. For example, the Russell Sage Foundation is devoting a large sum annually to the study of children in institutions, the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality has undertaken a campaign to reduce the waste of infant life, and the work of the National Child Labor Committee directed against the industrial exploitation of children is familiar to all.
Those responsible for the work of the Bureau believe, therefore, that a careful survey of the field is its first duty. They think it proper that this task should precede original work on the part of the Bureau itself, and they therefore hope to present, in the form of brief, readable monographs, material now available or shortly to become so, originally too detailed and technical for the use of the lay reader. They are ready to accept the function of popularizing the wisdom of others and wherever such wisdom exists their own highest wisdom consists first of all in making that available.
special agent, at one thousand four hundred dollars; one special agent, at one thousand two hundred dollars, and one messenger at eight hundred and forty dollars.
SEC. 4. That the Secretary of Commerce and Labor is hereby directed to furnish sufficient quarters for the work of this bureau at an annual rental not to exceed two thousand dollars.
SEC. 5. That this Act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage. Approved, April 9, 1912.
If the subjects especially mentioned in the bill are now recalled it will be seen that certain of them have to do with the physical existence of the child-mortality, the birth-rate, disease, physical degeneracy. Questions of the birth-rate and of infant mortality, that is, death-rate of children less than one year old, whose fundamental importance and relevancy cannot be exaggerated, are wisely placed first. The great English statistician, Dr. Arthur Newsholme, has said:
Infant mortality is the most sensitive index we possess of social welfare. If babies were well born and well cared for, their mortality would be negligible. The infant death-rate measures the intelligence, health, and right living of fathers and mothers, the standards of morals and sanitation of communities and governments, the efficiency of physicians, nurses, health officers and educators. And Professor Dietrich, the great German authority, is responsible for the statement:
It was formerly believed that the rate of mortality among children who had not reached the first anniversary of their birth was a wise dispensation of nature intended to prevent children with a weak constitution becoming too plentiful. Today we know that a great infant mortality is a national disasteron the one hand because numerous economic values are created without purpose and prematurely destroyed and on the other hand because the causes of the high rate of infant mortality affect the powers of resistance of the other infants, and weaken the strength of the nation in its next generation.
The United States census of 1910 discloses the fact that in that year in the registration area 154,373 babies died when less than one year old. Moreover we are told on the authority of Dr. Cressy L. Wilbur, Chief Statistician of the United States Census Bureau, that the lives of at least one-half of these babies could have been saved by the application of methods which are within the reach of every community.