Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Katharine F. Lenroot papers, 1909-1974

Summary Information


This collection contains correspondence, research files, speeches, writings and other records related to Katharine F. Lenroot, a child welfare leader and the third Chief of the United States Children's Bureau (1934-1951). Lenroot served the Children's Bureau from its earliest years, and contributed significantly to the bureau's development during the New Deal and to the establishment of United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund after World War II. Most of the Papers relate to her professional career, and materials dating from her Washington years comprise the largest part of this collection. After her retirement Lenroot continued to devote herself to issues of child welfare at the state, national and international level

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0767
Bib ID 4079022 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Lenroot, Katharine F (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982
Title Katharine F. Lenroot papers, 1909-1974
Physical Description 13.4 linear feet (32 document boxes 1 flat box)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



This collection is arranged in four series.



Katherine F. Lenroot is best known as the third Chief of the United States Children's Bureau, and materials dating from her service at the bureau (1915-1951) comprise the largest part of this collection. Lenroot continued to devote herself to the field of child welfare after her retirement, and the second-largest part of the collection dates from 1951 to the early 1970s. A few materials from her Wisconsin years are present. The Papers include typescripts and reprints of Lenroot's speeches and writings, her research files, correspondence with various individuals and organizations engaged in the field of child welfare. The collection also contains reports, bulletins, and photographs from conferences organized by the Children's Bureau or attended by Lenroot. Very little purely personal material is found in this collection. The media covered Lenroot and the Children's Bureau on various occasions, and the Papers include a large number of newspaper and magazine clippings. Please note that newspaper clippings are in fragile condition. Official biographical notes and personnel records prepared by the bureau are another biographical source included in the Papers. An overview of Lenroot's career at the bureau and the network she built in the course are represented in the biographical notes, clippings, correspondence, and photographs from her retirement in 1951. Also included in the Papers are certificates of honorary degrees, numerous awards and honorary memberships that Lenroot received from both within and outside the U.S. In addition to the certificates, some folders contain correspondence, photographs, and speeches related to the ceremonies. Along with Lenroot's own writings and printed materials, this collection contains publications by other individuals and child welfare organizations, which Lenroot filed for her own reference; reprints, journals, pamphlets, and clippings. The largest set of works is by Emma O. Lundberg, a co-worker and a close friend of Lenroot's since the 1910s. The collection also includes original manuscripts of Burton Jesse Hendrick, the author of Andrew Carnegie's biography.

  • Series I: Writings and Speeches, 1911-1973

    The writings contained within the collection are both those of Lenroot and those by other individuals and organizations.

  • Series II: Professional, 1924-1974

    This series contains materials from Lenroot's professional career, spanning five decades from the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s. Lenroot's earlier research, at the Wisconsin Industrial Commission and at the Children's Bureau, are included in the preceding series.

  • Series III: Correspondence, 1928-1973

    This series contains Lenroot's personal and professional correspondence unrelated to the Children's Bureau. Two folders of previously catalogued correspondence are included in this subseries. Correspondence directly associated with the Children's Bureau can be found in Series II: Professional. The correspondence in this series is arranged alphabetically.

  • Series IV: Subject Files, 1909-1973

    This series consists of subject files labeled by Lenroot, with the exception of the last subseries labeled during processing. In order to maintain the original context, this series has been separated from other series, but most of the subject matter relates to Lenroot's professional career, and the series includes printed materials, clippings, photographs and correspondence as well.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Katharine F. Lenroot papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material-- At Columbia

Reminiscences of Katharine Fredrica Lenroot: Oral History, 1965 Oral History Research Office Collection, Columbia University Library

Records of the United States Children's Bureau, 1908-1969 (Record Group 102), National Archives and Records Administration


No additions are expected

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--New York School of Social Work. Method of acquisition--Transfer; Date of acquisition--1970. Accession number--M-70.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Yuki Oda (GSAS 2013) 8/--/2009.

Finding aid written Yuki Oda (GSAS 2013) 8/--/2009.

Revision Description

2010-03-25 XML document instance created by Jocelyn Wilk.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Abbott, Edith, 1876-1957 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Abbott, Grace, 1878-1939 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Child labor Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Child welfare Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Children Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Children -- Legal status, laws, etc Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Eliot, Martha M (Martha May), 1891-1978 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hendrick, Burton J (Burton Jesse), 1870-1949 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lenroot, Katharine F (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lundberg, Emma O (Emma Octavia) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
National Conference of Social Work (U.S.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pan American Child Congress Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social security Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States. Children's Bureau Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States. Social Security Administration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
White House Conference on Children and Youth (1950 : Washington, D.C.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
White House Conference on Children in a Democracy (1939-1940 : Washington, D.C.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Working class families Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Katharine F. Lenroot, child welfare leader and the third Chief of the United States Children's Bureau (1934-1951) was born in Superior, Wisconsin on March 8, 1891 to Irvin Luther and Clara C. Lenroot. From early on, her father's political career made Lenroot aware of social and political issues. Admitted to the bar in 1898, Irvine was elected to the Wisconsin state legislature in 1901. After his service in Wisconsin until 1907, he was elected to the national House of Representatives from 1909 to 1918, and to the Senate from 1918 to 1927. During her father's terms in the state legislature, Katharine frequently stayed in Madison, and after graduating from Superior State Normal School in 1909 she deferred entering college for a year to join him in Washington, D.C.

Affected by her father's engagement in the regulation of Wisconsin railroads, Lenroot majored in economics and minored in sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There, she was most influenced by the economist John R. Commons, who often required his students to conduct research for new legislation. Lenroot prepared a brief and testified before the legislative committee of Wisconsin to support minimum wage legislation, which did not exist in the United States at the time. With continued interest in minimum wage legislation, Lenroot decided to take the civil service examination, and upon completion of her B.A. in 1912, she began her professional career in 1913 as a deputy of the Industrial Commission of Wisconsin, of which Commons was a member. Lenroot, hired as an assistant to Emma O. Lundberg, with whom she would work closely in the following years, surveyed living costs in relation to the state's new minimum wage law.

In 1914, Lenroot and Lundberg both left Wisconsin to join the United States Children's Bureau in Washington, D.C. The bureau had been created only two years earlier by President Taft, with Julia Lathrop as the first Chief (1912-1921), and Lundberg was appointed the first Director of the Social Service Division. Through a civil service examination, Lenroot started as a special investigator in the division, and was soon promoted to Assistant Director. Lenroot mostly studied juvenile courts, and issues of unmarried mothers and their children. Illegitimacy as a Child Welfare Problem (1920, 1922) and Juvenile Courts at Work (1925), both co-authored with Lundberg, cover some of her research from this period. In June 1921, Lenroot became Director of the Editorial Division, and in November 1922, at the age of 30, she was advanced to Assistant Chief of the Bureau, serving under Grace Abbott, the second Chief (1922-1934). On Abbott's retirement, in December 1934 Lenroot was appointed the third Chief by President Roosevelt, and remained in the position until 1951. In 1935, she also served as the president of the National Conference of Social Work.

Under the FDR administration, the responsibilities of the Children's Bureau expanded significantly. Lenroot, along with Assistant Chief Martha Eliott and former Chief Grace Abbott designed and advocated the Title IV, or the Aid to Dependent Children, and Title V and VII of the Social Security Act of 1935. The act authorized the Children's Bureau to administer federal grants-in-aid to the states for maternal and child health and child welfare, and services to disabled children. Later, the bureau also became responsible for the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. From 1943 to 1947 the bureau administered the Emergency Maternity and Infant Care Program for soldiers' wives and children. To obtain the cooperation of professional and citizens' groups, the bureau also took the initiative in forming the National Commission on Children in War-time, which became the basis of Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth.

After the war, in July 1946, the Children's Bureau went through administrative reorganization, and was transferred from the Department of Labor, the home of the bureau since 1913, to the Federal Security Agency. While the child labor function remained in the Department of Labor, the bureau maintained its other functions, but the place of the Children's Bureau in the federal government continued to be a concern for Lenroot in the later years.

Lenroot's responsibility as the head of the Children's Bureau was not limited to national child welfare, and one of her contributions in the post-war years was the creation of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. In 1946, when the Economic and Social Council established the Temporary Social Commission of the United Nations, Lenroot was appointed as its Secretary to establish a new organization within the UN to specialize in child welfare. By then, Lenroot and the Children's Bureau already had considerable international experience. Lenroot's involvement in inter-American child welfare had begun in 1924, when she attended the Fourth Pan-American Child Congress in Chile. Fluent in Spanish, she was the chair of the U.S. delegation in the Fifth (Cuba, 1927), Sixth (Peru, 1930), and Ninth (Venezuela, 1948) Pan-American Child Congresses, and served as the president in the Eighth (U.S., 1942) Pan-American Child Congress. Lenroot was also a member of the Advisory Committee of the Traffic in Women and Children established by the League of Nations Council in 1922. From 1937 through 1939, she represented the U.S. on the Advisory Committee of Social Questions of the League of Nations. Drawing on her international and inter-American experiences, Lenroot served as the U.S. representative on the executive board of UNICEF from 1947 to 1951, and played a significant role in setting the direction of the new organization.

Lenroot retired from the Children's Bureau in 1951, a year after serving as the Secretary of the Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth. She was succeeded by Martha Eliott, who had been her Assistant Chief since the mid-1930s. For her nearly 37 years of service in the bureau, Lenroot was honored with the Federal Security Agency Distinguished Civilian Service Award. Among numerous other awards she received in the course of her career were the University of Chicago's Rosenberg Medal (1942), the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences (1947), and the Survey Award (1950). She also received honorary doctorates from the University of Wisconsin (1938), her alma mater, Russell Sage College (1948), Tulane University (1948), Western Reserve University (1951), and Boston University (1952). For her engagement in inter-American child welfare, a number of organizations in Latin America honored her as well.

Until the early 1970s, Lenroot continued to be active in local, national and international child welfare work. After her retirement from the federal government, Lenroot moved from Washington D.C. to Hartsdale, New York, and shared a home with Emma O. Lundberg until Lundberg's death in 1954. Lenroot frequently traveled to attend conferences and to give speeches and lectures before various audiences. Among the organizations Lenroot worked closely with were the Child Welfare League of America and the International Union for Child Welfare. She also kept in contact with the staff of the Children's Bureau such as Martha Eliott, discussing the role and the future of the bureau. After moving to Princeton, New Jersey in 1960, she served at the New Jersey State Board of Child Welfare and at the advisory council of Graduate School of Social Work at Rutgers University. From 1962 to 1963, Lenroot also worked as a consultant to the UNICEF, drafting their field manual and traveling to Geneva.

Katharine F. Lenroot died on February 10, 1982; she was 90 years old.