discrimination (Howard 1992). Workers’ compensation laws, by contrast, were studied periodically by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Bureau of Labor Statistics but never evaluated or critiqued.
The Children’s Bureau was more than a data-gathering operation, however. Agency officials viewed numbers and studies as a resource in achieving a larger political agenda. Their most significant victory came in the 1920s, when the Sheppard-Towner program provided a variety of public health services to tens of thousands of mothers and children, especially in rural areas. In the process, Bureau officials developed close working relationships with a variety of reform groups and an insider’s understanding of the policy process in Washington (Skocpol 1992). Katherine Lenroot and Dr. Martha Eliot, both of the Children’s Bureau, were largely responsible for the section concerning Aid to Dependent Children in the final CES report to the President. Their involvement was crucial for two reasons. The first is that many of the women’s organizations that had championed mothers’ pensions in the 1910s had become less politically active and influential by the 1930s (Howard 1992). The second is that “there was little interest in Congress in aid to dependent children. It is my belief,” wrote CES director Edwin Witte, “that nothing would have been done on this subject if it had not been included” in the CES report (Witte 1962: 164). Workers’ compensation lacked such an advocate within the administration. Officials at the Labor Department were more concerned about passage of unemployment insurance, which entailed a significant expansion of the public sector and generated more controversy than any other part of the Social Security Act.
One final piece of this story remains. It was possible for a program to be largely ignored by the CES, go undefended by any branch of the national bureaucracy, and still be included in the original Social Security Act. That was the good fortune of Aid to the Blind. Like poor children, the blind seemed hard pressed to support themselves economically and were thus deserving of public aid. One difference between Aid to the Blind and workers’ compensation was that representatives from the American Foundation for the Blind and related interest groups started to lobby members of Congress when the administration’s bill was introduced. Rebuffed in the House, they managed to find a more receptive audience in the Senate. According to Witte (1962: 190-92), a turning point occurred when noted advocate for the blind Helen Keller endorsed national involvement; the program was added to the Act without discussion. Although business and labor groups were not necessarily pleased with existing workers’ compensation laws, they were accustomed to working through state legislatures to make the desired changes. They directed their political energies at the national level towards the old age and especially the unemployment insurance titles in the Social Security Act. No one came forward during legislative debate to elevate the problems of injured workers and their families after the CES issued its final report and the Roosevelt administration developed its proposed bill. 19