Social Welfare History Archives

The Social Welfare History Archives (SWHA) documents the history of human services, social issues, and the social work profession.  


The Social Welfare History Archives has over 370 collections that can be used by both the public and academic researchers.

Students, faculty, organizations, and community members are encouraged to use the collections. 

Explore the collections online; contact the archives about in-person or classroom visits; or search for a topic.

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Use archives in the classroom

Historical resources in the Social Welfare History Archives are an engaging and challenging way to develop research methods, build critical thinking skills, and enrich student’s understanding of past and present issues. 

Archival collections are available to use for

  • class instruction sessions, 
  • student assignments and projects, 
  • research papers, 
  • digital humanities projects, and 
  • capstone and thesis projects.

The Archivist works in partnership with students as they develop historical research skills and helps them address barriers and challenges to using the materials. Working with historical documents builds engagement and excitement about archival sources and research.

Faculty, instructors, and grad students as well as K12 schools and community groups are invited to contact the archives about in-person or remote classes. Instructional services are available for both University of Minnesota and non-University groups.

Benefits of using historical documents in the classroom:

  • supports student success and engagement
  • contextualizes historical topics
  • gives history a voice
  • creates opportunities to interrogate and question common historical beliefs and narratives
  • encourages students to develop an informed interpretation of historical events and ideas
  • makes research engaging, unique and more enjoyable to write and read

Contact for more information about using archives in the classroom. 

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Explore the Social Welfare History Archives

Digital exhibits

Explore online exhibits curated from the Social Welfare History Archives.

Subjects covered

A black and white photograph shows a female social worker with a group of children. Some of the children are riding tricycles.

Child welfare and youth work

Adoption, foster care, child development, juvenile justice, youth programs, and child protection.

A black and white photograph shows the Planned Parenthood information booth at the Minnesota State Fair circa 1955-1960. The sign on the booth reads Are you are woman? Planned Parenthood Can Help You. A woman volunteer sits behind the table.

Health and mental health

Medical social work, psychiatric social work, sexual health and sex education, persons with intellectual and physical disabilities, public health, access to healthcare, visiting nurses and community clinics, nutrition, maternal and child health.

Black and white floor plan showing four apartments with areas labled living room, kitchen, foyer, dressing alcove, and chamber.


Housing conditions, public housing, urban development, and community planning.

The photo shows displaced persons lined up at tables waiting to register. Signs over the tables give instructions in English, Polish, Dutch, and French. Civilian staff and military personnel sit and stand behind the tables.


Immigration, migration, displaced persons, and related laws and programs.

A black and white photo of prison cellblocks at Sing Sing prison in New York. A man stands to the side.

Institutions and incarceration

Orphanages, residential care and treatment centers, and juvenile correctional facilities.

Cream colored poster with black graphics and lettering. Shows a drawing of the state capitol.

Intimate partner violence and sexual assault activism

Legislation, education, and systems change.

Map of the United States showing "The number of children under 18 years of age receiving aid to dependent children per thousand children under 18 in the general population, June 1950." The map is part of the American Public Welfare Association study report "Future Citizens All: A Report on Aid to Dependent Children," that described in detail families of that had received aid to dependent children and evaluated the outcomes for these children.

Public assistance programs

Public- and private-sector assistance programs including Social Security, unemployment, Medicaid, mothers’ pensions, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, as well as theories and attitudes about assistance for the elderly, poor, unemployed, and persons with disabilities.

Gold and black report cover illustration showing a drawing of men working on a car.

Public social policy

Public social policy and public-private sector cooperation to address social issues.

A report cover showing a map and the title Older People on the Lower East Side.

Senior services

Long term care, senior citizen advocacy, healthcare, recreation programs, and housing.

The photo is an excerpt from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference brochure, "Crusade for the Vote" It shows a line of young, Black women and men in line to register to vote in Macon, GA. The line goes up down the steps and along the sidwalk.

Social justice and civil rights

Programs to prevent racism and religious prejudice, the adoptee rights and birth parent movements, civil rights and voting rights, community organizing and progressive social work, and grass roots activism by public assistance clients.

A group of social workers seated around a table at a training course. A woman is standing and using a pointer to show words on a blackboard.

Social work education and profession

Professional organizations, accreditation, licensing, and specialized practice areas.

A youth worker shows a group of boys how to string a bow. The boys are holding bows and appear to be watching the demonstration intently. The group is standing outside with a view of a city, the American flag, and utility poles in the background.

Social work with groups

Settlement houses and community centers and community-based recreation, arts, educational, and camping programs.

A male social worker wearing a suit is seated at a desk and writing notes. A male client wearing a coat and holding a cane and a dirty hat is seated in a chair next to the desk.

Social work with individuals and families

Social casework and counseling services, single parent families, family support programs, and family counseling.

Black and white illustration with an industrial font reading Women at Work.

Working conditions

Workplace safety, child labor, seasonal and migratory work.

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About the collection

The Social Welfare History Archives is part of the Migration and Social Services Collections in the Archives and Special Collections Department (ASC) at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

History of the Social Welfare History Archives

The SWHA was founded in 1964 by University of Minnesota history professor, Clarke Chambers. While researching the history of social service organizations, he realized that their records documented communities and social issues that were often overlooked by historians. He recognized the importance of these resources and worked to locate and archive them. Over time, SWHA developed into an international source of archival records on topics like social work, social issues, and reform.

Related collections

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Note: Appointments are required to visit the reading room within these hours.
More Andersen Library hours

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Give to the collection

Consider a financial donation to help continue to build and preserve the Social Welfare History Archives.

Give to the collection

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