The New York City Charities Controversy

  • June Hopkins
Part of the The World of the Roosevelts book series (WOOROO)


Harry Hopkins’ association with a new breed of professional social workers dedicated to modern methods of providing help for the needy placed him in opposition to many of the ideals held by entrenched and largely religious charitable institutions. He watched from the sidelines but with active interest while a controversy raged across the political landscape of New York City from 1913 to 1916, one that would have a significant impact on both public and private relief agencies. It began with the Mitchel administration, during the height of the Progressive Era. Newly appointed charities commissioner John Kingsbury appointed an Advisory Committee in 1914 to investigate the activities of private child-caring institutions in New York City, which had been receiving public funds. When city investigators working for the committee reported shockingly substandard conditions in many of these institutions and accused the State Board of Charities of not supervising them properly, the governor ordered a state commission headed by Charles Strong to look into the charges. The ensuing Strong Commission hearings polarized the city’s caregivers and led to the publication of defamatory pamphlets, to charges of libel and conspiracy, to wiretaps, and to a criminal indictment against Commissioner John Kingsbury. For Hopkins, this controversy became a living textbook in his postgraduate course in social welfare methodology. Because it clarified a significant number of important issues, this face-off between public and private caregivers did much to influence Hopkins’ belief in public responsibility for relief of the needy.


York City Private Institution Dependent Child City Official Religious Issue 
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  1. 1.
    This chapter relies heavily on sources in two collections: The John Adams Kingsbury Papers at the Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress (JAKP) and the Tierney Collection, Special Collections, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D. C. (Hereinafter Tierney, GUSC). See also Dorothy Brown and Elizabeth McKeown, “Saving New York’s Children,” U.S. Catholic Historian (Summer, 1995): 77–95, and Brown and McKeown. For a comprehensive study of welfare in New York State, see David M. Schneider and Albert Deutsch, The History of Public Welfare in New York State, 1867–1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941).Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    Francis Hackett, “The Sacred Cow,” The New Republic (June 3, 1916): 116–117Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Donald A. Ritchie, “The Gary Committee: Businessmen, Progressives, and Unemployment in New York City, 1914–1915,” The New York Historical Society Quarterly 57 (October 1973): 330–335. Ritchie pointed out that because of the economic dislocations caused by World War I, the city could not rely on financial assistance in the form of government loans. Bankers therefore supplied funds at 6 percent, to be paid out of taxes rather than long-term bond issues.Google Scholar
  4. 28.
    The Strong Report, 85; Robert W. Hebberd, “The Charities Investigation: Its Inspiration,” America 15 (May 13, 1916): 101–102.Google Scholar
  5. 29.
    Secretary to the Deputy Commissioner to Lester Roth, October 23, 1917. JAKP, A18: Private Child Caring Institutions 1914–1917, K-R; Hotchkiss, “Brief on Behalf-,” 16, Tierney, GUSC; “Report of Charles H. Strong to Governor Whitman,” 5–6. Tierney, GUSC; Homer Folks denied that he convinced Whitman to appoint Strong as commissioner, claiming that he only had “informal conversation” with the governor during which Strong’s name came up. Homer Folks, “The Strong Investigation and Certain Other Matters,” S.C.A.A. News 3 (June 1916): 1, 4–5, 7. It is not clear from the documents whether the governor had created the commission before he received Kingsbury’s report or not. However, given the time frame, it seems likely that he had.Google Scholar

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© June Hopkins 1999

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  • June Hopkins

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