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Leroy Allen Halbert (1875 - 1958)


Pioneering Contributions: L. A. Halbert was the director of the nation's first department of public welfare in Kansas City. A dedicated social reformer and author, his successful social work experience, publications, correspondence and presentations at meetings of the National Conference on Social Welfare (NCSW) and elsewhere contributed to the organization and proliferation of public departments of public welfare in the first part of the 20th Century. The measure of L.A. Halbert's important contributions to the field of social work can be judged as well by the number of elected positions he held in state and national social work organizations.


Career Highlights: In 1909, Leroy Halbert was appointed Secretary of the Kansas City, Missouri Board of Pardons and Paroles. In December, during an economic depression, it was learned that a parade of unemployed men were planning to go to city hall and seek help from the Mayor. Halbert and William Volker, his Board president and philanthropist, learned of the proposed parade; and they arranged to meet with the Superintendent of the Helping Hand Institute, to discuss a public works plan they wanted to present to the Mayor as a way to help the unemployed.


The Helping Hand Institute was a rescue mission for homeless men and runaway boys. During the winter months, it served as a refuge for the temporarily unemployed. With financing from board member Volker, the Institute was managing a stone quarry in the city's Penn Valley Park under the auspices of a committee representing charitable and civic groups. The Institute used its residents to quarry and break rock. The Park Board bought the rock at a dollar a yard and used it for making city streets and boulevards. The men working in the rock quarry were paid in script redeemable at the Institute for meals, groceries, lodging and clothing.


With Volker's support, Leroy Halbert went to meet the Mayor and suggested to him that the city meet the demands of the unemployed by expanding the rock quarrying operations, thereby allowing some of the men to have work for pay. The Mayor accepted the suggestion, and then appointed a committee of prominent citizens with experience in dealing with social problems to design a more permanent solution. A member of this new committee, Volker financed a study tour to be undertaken by Halbert and Charles A. Sumner. Their assignment was to visit large cities and learn what other cities were doing to cope with poverty and the unemployed. From the study findings and their own ideas about what to do, the Mayor’s committee devised a plan to create a new Kansas City organization to cope with these issues.


On April 14, 1910 the City Council passed an ordinance creating the nation's first Board of Public Welfare. L. A. Halbert was appointed General Superintendent, a position he held for eight years.  During that time, he helped formulate plans for how other cities, counties and states could organize their own Boards of Public Welfare.


At the 1913 meeting of the NCSW held in Seattle, Washington, Halbert presented a paper "Boards of Public Welfare and Good City Government.” At the 1918 meeting of the National Conference on Social Work, Halbert made another presentation entitled: "Boards of Public Welfare: A System of Government Social Work." In a July 20, 1931 letter to Mr. Guy Moffett, Director of the Laura Spellman Fund in New York City, Halbert described the various functions and duties undertaken by the newly created Department of Public Welfare.


"We established a vigorous program that covered the administration of the City Municipal Farm for Misdemeanants; the endorsement of the Private Charities of the City; the operation of the Municipal Employment  Agency; the Bureau for the Care of the Homeless Men; the establishment of a Free Legal Aid Bureau, which was the first one to be provided for by public funds; the establishment of a Research Department, which published fifteen reports on many different subjects including, Housing, the Social Evil, Recreation Facilities of the City, and so forth. The Department also established a Social Service Department, which furnished case workers to the Private Agencies in the City. A Social Service Exchange, under county auspices, was also initiated...."


Significant achievements and awards: Halbert’s leadership in the public welfare and social work fields is reflected in his service on a number of state and national organizations. In 1914, he was elected President of the Missouri State Conference for Social Work; in 1916, President, American Association of Public Officials of Charities and Corrections; in 1919, First Vice President NCSW.  Halbert also served as vice president of the National Public Welfare League and as editor of its monthly pamphlet, "Public Welfare." In 1930 he was elected the first president of the newly-formed American Association of Public Welfare Officials, later the American Public Welfare Association. In 1930 Halbert was Rhode Island1S director of state institutions.  In 1932, he became director of emergency relief in the District of Columbia and served as research director of the D.C. Board of Public Welfare from 1936 to 1948.


Biography: Halbert was born in Pontiac, Illinois, on June 23, 1875. Raised as a Congregationalist, Halbert attended the Chicago Theological Seminary and received a Bachelor's Degree of Divinity.  From 1902-1909, he managed the Bethel Mission in Kansas City, Kansas.  While in Kansas, he also studied at Washburn College, in Topeka, and earned a Bachelor's of Arts, a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Law degrees. Halbert died on March 3, 1958. Halbert's papers are archived at the University of Minnesota Social Welfare Archives.


Significant publications


Halbert was the author of "What Is Professional Social Work? (1923) and co-author of "Urban Society"(1932) and "The Task of the Cooperative  in War Relief and Reconstruction" (1943).


Source:  Social Welfare History Project:




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