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   Katharine F. Lenroot Papers 1909-1974.

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Preferred Citation

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

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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 ft. (32 document boxes and 1 flat box)
Language(s): material is in English.
Access: This collection has no restrictions. This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.  More information »



This collection is arranged in four series:

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Scope and Content

Katharine 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.

Subseries I.1: Indexed Speeches, Articles and Radio, 1920-1951

This subseries contains Lenroot's speeches, articles, and radio talks dating from her times in the United States Children's Bureau. Although Lenroot began her service in the bureau in 1915, this subseries does not include materials prior to 1920. This material is arranged chronologically; an index, original to the material, accompanies each set of folders.

Subseries I.2: Speeches and Writings, 1911-1970

Most of the speeches and writings included in this subseries were produced after Lenroot's retirement from the Children's Bureau, although some material dates from an earlier period. Among the pre-Washington materials are a minimum-wage legislation brief that Lenroot prepared as an undergraduate and her report for the Wisconsin Industrial Commission. This subseries is arranged chronologically, but does not include an index.

Subseries I.3: Writings and Reports, 1915-1962

This subseries consists of published reports and articles by Lenroot. Studies that Lenroot conducted with the Children's Bureau in the late 1910s appear in this subseries. The materials are arranged alphabetically by title.

Subseries I.4: Printed Materials, 1918-1973

Within this small subseries are articles and publications by other individuals and organizations in the field of child welfare with whom Lenroot often worked closely. The folders have been arranged alphabetically by author.

Subseries I.5: Writings-- By Burton Jesse Hendrick, 1928-1940s

This subseries contains the original hand-written and typed manuscripts, and research notes of Burton Jesse Hendrick, three-time Pulitzer winner, and author of The Life of Andrew Carnegie. The materials here relate to the biographies of Andrew Carnegie and his wife Louise Whitfield Carnegie. In writing these biographies, Hendrick was financed by Mrs. Carnegie, but his connection with Lenroot is unknown.

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.

Subseries II.1: Biographical--Chronological, 1934-1972

This subseries contains newspaper clippings and journal articles about Lenroot, and official biographical notes prepared by the Children's Bureau.

Subseries II.2: United States Children’s Bureau, 1924-1970

Included in this subseries are articles, clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, and photographs relating to the Children's Bureau and its projects. Also present are Lenroot's personnel files, including files of her promotion to Chief. Although Lenroot officially retired from the bureau in 1951, she maintained contact with the staff, exchanging opinions and advice, and the subseries also includes materials after her retirement.

A significant amount of material in this subseries is regarding the White House Conference on Children in a Democracy in 1940 and the Mid-century White House Conferences in 1950, which Lenroot considered to be one of her major projects. Included are articles, clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, photographs, proceedings, and speeches associated with the conferences. Another subject in this subseries is Lenroot's concern about the place of the Children's Bureau, which appears frequently in her correspondence.

Subseries II.3: International Activities, 1924-1974

Both during and after her service at the Children's Bureau, Lenroot was concerned with international and inter-American child welfare, and this subseries contains documents and photographs associated with the Pan-American Child Congresses, the League of Nations, and the United Nations and UNICEF. The subseries also includes Lenroot's own account of the history of the Children's Bureau's international activities.

Subseries II.4: Special Events, 1930-1961

Throughout her professional career, Lenroot received a number of awards and honorary degrees. Certificates, clippings, correspondence, and photographs relating to the awards and ceremonies constitute this subseries. Materials from her retirement from the Children's Bureau in 1951 provide an overview of her official career and the network she built in the course.

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.

Subseries IV.1: Individuals, 1925-1973

Many folders in this subseries include correspondence with, articles, and clippings about, or publications by the individual.

Subseries IV.2: Subjects and Organizations, 1912-1970

These subject files often contain the organization's publications, sometimes accompanied by Lenroot's comments. Correspondence with Lenroot, research notes, including clippings and reprints, and papers written by Lenroot organization also appear in this subseries.

Subseries IV.3: Personal--Chronological, 1909-1971

This subseries holds a small collection of documents and photographs related to the personal life of Lenroot. The earliest material is from her high school years, and the latest dates from her eightieth birthday.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

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

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; 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

Selected Related Material-- At Other Repositories

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

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

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

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

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion November 20, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-03-25 XML document instance created by Jocelyn Wilk.

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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.


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

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

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.

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