NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Martha Branscombe ( -1997)
From her first employment in 1931 as an Assistant to the Speaker, Alabama House of Representatives, to her last major assignments from 1954 to 1965 as Chief of United Nations Social Services Division, Dr. Martha Branscombe has been a leader in state, national, and international social welfare activities. During the depression years, she served the Alabama Relief Administration as County Director of the Department of Social Welfare as a Regional Advisor. She moved on in 1936 to work with the Tennessee Valley Authority as Consultant on Family Relations to the Land Management Division. Having decided upon social work as her professional career, she took time out to earn both her masters and doctor of philosophy degrees at the University of Chicago. While at Chicago, she had the good fortune of serving as an Assistant to Professor Sophonisba P. Breckinridge and Dean Edith Abbott.
In 1942, the U.S. Childrens Bureau, then in the Department of Labor, took on the task of preliminary planning for post-War relief for children. Dr. Branscombe was recruited as a Consultant on International Planning. When the Childrens Bureau initiative led to planning for international relief in the Department of State, Dr. Branscombe was loaned to the Department as an assistant to the Director. This activity, in turn, resulted in the creation in 1943 of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. At the first meeting to organize the agency, she served as an assistant to the U.S. delegation. She then joined UNRRA Headquarters in Washington, DC to participate in organizing and staffing the Social Welfare Section. Early in 1944, as the European Office of UNRRA was being organized in London, she was assigned to assist in establishing the Social Service Division and became temporary head of the Child Welfare Section.
Following the end of World War II in Europe, Dr. Branscombe returned to Washington headquarters as Chief of Child Welfare. In 1946, she moved on to direct the European operations of the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children.
As Director of European Operations for the U.S. Committee, Dr. Branscombe was based in Frankfurt, Germany, and worked in close cooperation with U.S. and Allied Military Forces and UNRRA.
As a fitting capstone to her distinguished career, Dr. Branscombe joined the United Nations Secretariat in New York City as Chief of the Social Services Division in the Department of Social Affairs. In this position from 1954 to 1965, her leadership had far-reaching results, particularly in the new nations of the Third World.
After she left the United Nations, Dr. Branscombe returned to Washington to take on a series of Senior Advisory positions, first with the Head Start Program, then with the Department of State, and finally, with the Vietnam Bureau in the Agency for International Development.