Michigan Welfare League during the war years
The 1940s were dominated by the events of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The resulting war production pulled the country out of the Great Depression and changed the culture of the country in many ways.
Automobile production ceased in 1942, as production shifted to the war effort. In 1943 rationing of food supplies began. Women began to enter the workforce as men went to war, marking a radical shift away from women staying in the home. During the 1940s the development of penicillin revolutionized medicine as it greatly increased the survival rates for surgery. In a sorry chapter for our country, Japanese immigrants and their descendants were sent to internment camps, as fear and suspicion spread after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
With the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war came to an end and the nation’s servicemen returned home. The GI Bill allowed more men than ever before to get a college education. By the close of the decade, three times as many college degrees were conferred as in 1940.
After the war, labor-management conflicts grew, and the year following the war’s end saw more strikes than any other 12-month period in U.S. history. The United Auto Workers offered a “no strike” pledge during the war but went on a 113-day strike against GM in November 1945. Membership grew rapidly during this time period as unions fought to strengthen their positions.
In Michigan, the newly named Michigan Welfare League was just embarking on its three-pronged program of education regarding social welfare issues, improved standards in the field of social welfare and assistance in the development of a public welfare program. Nevertheless, national defense took center stage. Gas rationing and other war-time restrictions brought about many changes, including discontinuance of the annual conference for two years—the first time since 1914 that a conference was not held.
With war-time labor shortages came organizational changes. During the war years, the League joined forces with the Michigan Society for Mental Hygiene, sharing an executive director and sponsoring regional meetings focused on mental health and social welfare concerns. During this period the office of the two organizations was moved to Detroit. As talks began about a permanent merger of the two organizations, the joint arrangement ended in 1947; the League’s leadership was concerned about the potential dilution of its agenda in a merged organization.
In 1943 the mission statement of the League described the organization as, “an association of citizens to advance the common welfare through sound and efficient administration of child welfare, public health and relief, prisons, parole, probation, mental hygiene and related social services.” Issues mentioned in newsletters and board minutes included children in wartime, family economic security, juvenile delinquency and men rejected for military service due to medical conditions. The League opposed a proposed change in Michigan’s Social Welfare Act that would have increased the residency requirement for receiving services from one year to three. The League also called for changes to Michigan’s child welfare legislation.
It was during this period that the League’s program of providing services to local communities began. From 1946 to 1948 the League served communities throughout Michigan through an arrangement with the Michigan United War Fund, whereby a staff member was loaned to provide field services.
Funding became a primary concern during this period, since yearly expenses paid by members’ dues and fees could no longer support an organization so broadened in focus. In 1949 these pressures were relieved when the United Health and Welfare Fund of Michigan (now the Michigan Association of United Ways) assumed major financial support, a practice that continued for many years.
By the close of the decade the League had relocated its offices to the Hollister Building in Lansingand had laid out a four-point program:
o Hold annual and regional conferences
o Provide legislative services
o Provide consultation and field services to small communities
o Provide liaison and education services in the fields of health and welfare
Click here for a selection of clips from the late 1940s.
— By Sharon Parks