Series S-0921 - Division of Social Welfare

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Division of Social Welfare


  • 1920 - 1954 (Creation)

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No. of Boxes: 90

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S-0921 consists of records documenting the United Nations’ Division of Social Welfare, a subdivision of the United Nations’ Department of Social Affairs. The records span from 1920 through 1954 and highlight the United Nations’ interest in social welfare services across the developing and developed world. The collection includes correspondence, interoffice memoranda, conference files, committee reports, working papers, and research notes and addresses a myriad of topics ranging from post-World War II refugee camps to penal reform.

S-0921 contains the records of several offices and sections within the Division of Social Welfare: Office of the Director, Office of the Deputy Director, Social Policy and Development Section, Social Defence Setion, Social Services Section, and Housing and Town and Country Section.

Office of the Director:
Files belonging to the Office of the Director document the administration and activities of the Department of Social Affairs and, more specifically, the Division of Social Welfare. Departmental and divisional reports, meeting minutes and materials, correspondence, and memoranda highlight programme initiatives and illustrate the breadth and depth and the Division’s scope. Topics addressed within the files include child welfare, family protection, juvenile delinquency, housing, migration, social defence, standards of living, and the trafficking of women and children.

In addition, several files concern the issue of refugees and displaced persons following World War II. These files detail the activities of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the creation of the United Nations’ International Refugee Organization (IRO) which was designed to continue refugee work after the UNRRA was disbanded. Also included are files for commissions and committees on which members of the Division of Social Welfare served, seminars hosted by the Division, and specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations whose work overlapped with that of the Division.

The papers are arranged in a loose alphabetical order, maintaining the original filing scheme of the Office of the Director. Subject files on similar topics appear throughout the Director’s files.

Office of the Deputy Director:
The files originating from the Office of the Deputy Director focus on topics similar to those of the Director. Arranged in loose alphabetical order, the papers highlight the work of the Division of Social Welfare and include correspondence, memoranda, reports, meeting and conference materials, and additional documentation of divisional activities. Also included are papers for several sessions of the Social Commission, the Temporary Social Welfare Committee, and the Economic and Social Council. In addition, there are records of the International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) which was established by the United Nations General Assembly on 11 December 1946 to assist children living in war-torn countries.

A large group of records, nearly two full boxes, pertains to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Proposed by United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and founded on 9 November 1943 following an agreement between 44 nations, UNRRA was formed to coordinate relief efforts for victims of war who resided in United Nations Member States and countries governed by Member States. Such relief was expected to come in the form of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and repatriation or resettlement assistance. These files document both the work of UNRRA and the transfer of its advisory social welfare services to the United Nations as stipulated by Resolution 58 of the United Nations General Assembly.

Social Policy and Development Section:
The Social Policy and Development Section files are comprised of papers formerly belonging to the Studies and Research Section, the Research and Publications Section, and the Refugee Division and Section. The Studies and Research Section subject files are arranged in loose alphabetical order and describe some of the scientific and cultural research activities undertaken by the United Nations. Additional files pertain to the United Nations Research Laboratories, an idea first proposed by delegates attending a May 1946 meeting of the Sub-Committee on Natural Sciences of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations. The purpose of the laboratories was to facilitate and coordinate international research efforts ranging from nutrition and disease control to soil erosion and reforestation.

In an effort to better gauge and prioritize international research needs, the United Nations called upon experts in a number of fields. Among those consulted was Albert Einstein, then at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. A letter signed by Einstein and dated 19 March 1947 confirms the physicist’s appointment with one of the members of the Division of Social Welfare. A typescript transcription of Einstein’s March meeting along with handwritten edits by Einstein records the conversation between the two. The letter and the transcript can be found in the Studies and Research Section files (S-0921-0032-0003).

The Research and Publications Section consists of three files of black and white photographs taken at the United Nations’ social welfare seminars held in Latin America during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Two of the files contain images of participants of the United Nations Social Welfare Seminar held in Medellín, Colombia in August 1947. The third file holds an album with one hundred small (3 ¼ by 4 ½) photographs taken at child welfare seminars held in 1952 and 1953.

The bulk of the Social Policy and Development Section files belong to the Refugee Division and Section. Administrative files include agenda and minutes from Division and Section meetings, progress reports, and documentation on specialized agencies with whom the Refugee Division and Section cooperated. Requests from refugees and displaced persons living in United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) camps in Europe express despair, sadness, anger, and confusion following the War, as well as hope for a better future. In these letters refugees asked for assistance in locating missing relatives, returning home, and rebuilding their lives in places where they trusted their liberties would be restored. Correspondence between UNRRA personnel and Division staff paint an equally telling image of life in the camps both for the victims of war and for the personnel providing their services.

Additional files illustrate the work of the Division of Social Welfare and the role it played in the creation of the State of Israel. Included are reports concerning Palestine and Jewish migration from Europe to the Middle East. These outline both the one-state and two-state solutions for governance of the area. Documentation details the General Assembly’s decision to accept the Partition Plan favoring two separate states for the Arab and the Jewish communities and the responses which followed this decision.

Several of the files belong to the Special Committee on Refugees and Displaced Persons, a committee formed on 16 February 1946 by the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The committee convened in London from 8 April to 1 June 1946 to review the refugee and displaced persons situation following the end of World War II and to produce a report which would later be presented at the second session of the Economic and Social Council in June. The committee’s efforts focused on defining the terms “refugee” and “displaced person” in order to determine which individuals would be entitled to government support. Members of the committee were also responsible for gathering data on refugees, as well as repatriation and resettlement efforts.

The committee’s final report proposed the creation of the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a non-permanent specialized agency of the United Nations. The bulk of the Committee’s papers in S-0921 pertain to the IRO and the work leading up to its creation, including drafts of its constitution and memoranda regarding Member States’ willingness to ratify it. Reflected within these files are Joint Planning Committee meetings conducted by members of the United Nations, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGC). The purpose of these meetings was to plan for the transfer of services from existing refugee organizations to the newly-created IRO.

Two boxes of files underscore the activities of the Preparatory Commission for the International Refugee Organization, the commission formed to initiate the work of the IRO before a Director-General was appointed. The files contain correspondence, cables, progress reports, and addresses presented at meetings and conferences.

The Social Policy and Development Section also encompasses the records of the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Evaluation of Advisory Social Welfare Services. This working group was tasked with evaluating the transfer of social welfare activities from UNRRA to the United Nations according to General Assembly Resolution 58 and the integration of those activities within the broader United Nations mission. The papers consist of alphabetically arranged files on advisory services in various countries, drafts of the final evaluation report compiled by the committee, and background information on the history of the United Nations’ social welfare programme.

Social Defence Section:
The Social Defence Section consists of subject files on juvenile delinquency, prevention of crime, and treatment of offenders. Correspondence and reports document the efforts of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, an intergovernmental organization which transferred its functions to the United Nations on 1 December 1950, and the United States Working Group on Social Welfare Activities of the United Nations. Also documented are meetings of international organizations and experts concerned with the prevention of crime; government responses to the United Nations questionnaire on prison reform; and reviews of international criminal policies.

Country files comprise the bulk of the Social Defence Section’s papers. They are arranged in alphabetical order and contain research compiled for the Division of Social Welfare’s study on a variety of topics, including juvenile delinquency, probation, prevention of crime, treatment of offenders, and general criminal statistics.

Social Services Section:
The Division of Social Welfare’s Social Services Section was responsible for administering and evaluating the advisory social welfare functions transferred from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to the United Nations. Through Resolution 58 of the General Assembly, provisions were made to send social welfare experts to work with the governments of United Nations Member States, as well as to coordinate continuing education fellowships for welfare specialists, to accelerate rehabilitation of the disabled, and to improve training programmes and materials used by emerging social work professionals.

The files contain information about national and international youth organizations, specialized agencies of the United Nations working with youth services, and government legislation concerning youth guidance. A study by the Division of Social Welfare on economic measures of family assistance makes up the bulk of the collection and consists of two sets of alphabetically arranged country files. The first set of files contains correspondence between the Division of Social Welfare and government representatives outlining the purpose and scope of the study, acknowledgements of delivered information, and requests for additional materials. The second set of country files holds information provided by the Member States participating in the study, as well as notes taken by Division staff on legislative information. Much of the published reference material submitted by Member States to the Division of Social Welfare in preparation for this study is contained in ten boxes at the end of the collection (S-0921-0081 – S-0921-0090). Other files from the Social Services Section contain information about studies on child war victims and adoption services.

Housing and Town and Country Planning Section:
There is one box of files belonging to the Housing and Town and Country Planning Section. The bulk of these files pertain to an International Meeting of Experts on Tropical Housing held in December 1947 in Caracas, Venezuela. Additionally, there are files for the Advisory Committee on Planning and Coordination of the Social Commission and the Interdepartmental Technical Ad-Hoc Committee on Housing and Town and Country Planning.

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  • English, French, Spanish (and a few files in several other European and Asian languages including German, Dutch, Czech, Norwegian, and Chinese)

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