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The Social Welfare History Archives has acquired over 300 collections, each of which—with the exception of a small number of special collections—falls into one of two main categories:
- Organizational records of national social service associations, professional social work organizations, and prominent specialized service organizations
- Personal papers of leaders and other individuals involved in the field
The collections as a whole tend to stress times of social and economic crisis. They contain a variety of materials, including minutes of board and committee meetings, programs and proceedings of conferences and conventions, annual reports, financial records, correspondence, memoranda, newsletters, research reports, and photographs, as well as the amalgamation of pamphlets, brochures, clippings, and tear sheets that often accumulate in reference files.
SWHA collections chronicle the development of a broad range of activities. Included are the classic social services offered to particularly vulnerable classes of persons, such as the economically dependent, recent immigrants, migrants and refugees, unwed mothers, abused and abandoned children, the aged, and the developmentally and physically challenged. Beyond these are causes and services aimed at the broader community, many of them not traditionally included in a narrow definition of social welfare: child-rearing advice for parents, recreation programs, community planning, arts programs, preventive health, and family planning.
Among the subject areas of particular strength is the settlement house movement, the records of which provide an intimate picture of neighborhood conditions, especially in New York City. Other well documented areas include the social work profession; sexuality-related issues, such as birth control, sterilization, illegitimacy, prostitution, and venereal disease; child welfare and family relations; community planning; recreation; and the social aspects of health and health care. There is considerable discussion and analysis of public social policy and much evidence of interaction between private- and public-sector programs, even though the Archives does not seek to collect records of government agencies. Although the collecting scope is not international, there is a significant cluster of US-based international organizations and of national organizations and individuals with strong international ties.
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To complement its manuscript holdings, the Social Welfare History Archives has developed several special collections of print materials.
The Pamphlet Collection contains annual reports, newsletters, brochures, circulars, memoranda, standards, and special study reports issued by more than 2,000 national and local voluntary organizations and welfare-related government agencies. These constitute an important source of information to supplement the unpublished archival materials on one hand and more formally published books and journals on the other.
The Gender Collection (formerly known as the Feminist Collection) is a special collection developed to gather materials pertaining to the feminist movement, especially during the 1970s; to a lesser extent, it documents the men's movement as well. It includes more than 250 periodical titles, ranging from professional journals to newsletters of local groups.
SWHA also maintains a modest reference collection of the core books and periodicals in the social work field, particularly those written or published by individuals and organizations whose papers and records are held in the Archives. It comprises more than 1,000 books and more than 100 periodical titles. This collection also includes the prohibition and temperance materials, which consist of a wide variety of published material on temperance, sobriety, the duty of the church, and social and moral issues related to the use of alcohol. The large majority of the 815 pamphlets (1786-ca. 1950) and the 110 books (1827-1960) were published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
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A limited number of oral history collections preserve the efforts of researchers to create a record of participants' recollections of events. SWHA holds the following oral history collections:
- Harry Boyte
- Henry Street Settlement
- The National Association of Social Workers
- William Van Essendelft
UMedia is the online digital resource maintained by the University of Minnesota Libraries Digital Collections Unit, which includes selected visual resources from the Libraries' archives and special collections units. At present, the Social Welfare History Archives is represented by the following:
- Social hygiene posters and other materials drawn from the American Social Health Association records
- The Addict in the Street audio recordings, a series of interviews with drug addicts conducted during the late 1950s and early 1960s by Ralph Tefferteller, associate director of the Henry Street Settlement on New York City’s Lower East Side (part of the Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller papers)
- Digital copies of the journal Social Work Yearbooks, consisting of issues between 1929 and 1960