At the end of the 19th century a group of social reformers involved in the Hull House settlement in Chicago, began to call for a federal agency to help protect children living in poverty. Women involved in this campaign included Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, Julia Lathrop, Lillian Wald, Alzina Stevens, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Florence Kelley, Mary McDowell, Alice Hamilton and Sophonisba Breckinridge.
In 1912 President William Taft created the Children's Bureau to "investigate and report upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people." Taft appointed Julia Lathrop, a member of the Hull House settlement, as the chief of the bureau. Over the next nine years Lathrop directed research into child labour, infant mortality, mother mortality, juvenile delinquency, mothers' pensions and illegitimacy.
When Julia Lathrop resigned in 1921 she was replaced by Grace Abbott, another member of the Hull House settlement. However, her work was handicapped by the Sheppard-Towner Act being declared unconstitutional in 1922.
In 1934 Grace Abbott helped Franklin D. Roosevelt draft the Social Security Act (1935). This legislation authorized the Children's Bureau to supervise child health and welfare. The bureau was granted an annual sum of $1,500,000 to aid state public welfare agencies to help them develop adequate methods of community child welfare organization.
It is of the utmost significance that practically all the radicalism started among women in the United States centers about Hull House, Chicago, and the Children's Bureau at Washington, with a dynasty of Hull House graduates in charge of it since its creation.
It has been shown that both the legislative program and the economic program - "social-welfare" legislation and "bread and peace" propaganda for internationalism of the food, farms, and raw materials of the world for their chief expression in persons, organizations, and bureaus connected with Hull House.
And Hull House has been able to cover its tracks quite effectively under the nationally advertised reputation of Miss Jane Addams as a social worker - who has often been painted by magazine and newspaper writers as a sort of modern Saint of the Slums - that both she and Hull House can campaign for the most radical movements, with hardly a breath of public suspicion.