Welfare Board, 1928-1991

RECORD GROUP: Other County Records
RECORD SERIES #: 6000.3
SERIES: Welfare Board; Minutes and Other Records
DATES: 1928-1991
VOLUME: 14 cubic feet

History
Care of the needy has long been a concern in New Jersey, both for humanitarian reasons and in the interests of law and order.  “An Act for the Relief of the Poor” was passed by the New Jersey colonial legislature in 1709.   In Monmouth and other counties, beginning in the 18th century, overseers of the poor, appointed by the boards of freeholders, worked with local justices of the peace on poverty management.  In 1801, the Monmouth Board of Chosen Freeholders authorized the construction of a poorhouse in Shrewsbury.

Over the past two hundred years, one of the most frequent concerns about economically disadvantaged individuals, addressed in a number of state laws, was the determination of their legal residence.  Municipalities did not wish to support paupers who had recently arrived in their locality because it was felt that this would just encourage more paupers to move there.  Sometimes towns battled in Circuit Court, contesting who was responsible for the upkeep of a poor individual.  To discourage the settling of chronically unemployed individuals in the state, individuals who took paupers into their homes became legally responsible for them, even for their funeral expenses if they died.  That the system was imperfect is reflected by a curiously revealing statement in the Digest of the Laws of New Jersey (1861): “The practice of selling the poor is alike disgraceful to humanity and repugnant to the design of the laws for their support.”

A 1911 New Jersey law (Ch. 196) reassigned many of the responsibilities of the justices of the peace to the overseers of the poor, with the exception of cases involving fathers who deserted their families.  Overseers were required to keep books with records of the names of recipients of assistance and the amounts paid.  To defray government expense, they were also authorized to sell property of the pauper no earlier than one year after the assistance was provided, with any balance left over given to the pauper or the pauper’s designees.

Complementing government aid to the needy were activities in the volunteer sector.  The Monmouth County Branch of the State Charities Association, founded in 1912, was incorporated in 1918 as the Monmouth County Organization for Social Services (later known as MCOSS Nursing Services).  The leading force behind this organization was Geraldine Livingston Thompson of Brookdale Farm (now the site of Brookdale Community College).  Through the efforts of Mrs. Thompson, the office of the county adjustor was established in 1920, with responsibility to investigate old age pensions and to review admission applications to state and county institutions.  John L. Montgomery, Executive Secretary of the MCOSS, was appointed the first county adjustor.  In the same year, the Thompson Home in Allenwood became the county’s tuberculosis hospital, also under MCOSS direction.

A Welfare House for aged and helpless people, later renamed the Montgomery Home after its first director, the same John L. Montgomery, was authorized by the Board of Chosen Freeholders on September 19, 1928.  The Freeholders then created the Welfare Board on November 21 of the same year.  Mrs. Thompson’s daughter-in-law, Margaret Thompson, was one of its first employees.  These measures were put in place just in time for the Great Depression.

Note that Monmouth’s Welfare Board considerably predated the New Jersey laws passed in 1936 (Chapter 31) and 1938 (44:7-7).  These laws authorized the establishment of corporate bodies called county welfare boards, if not already appointed by boards of chosen freeholders, and mandated that these boards provide old age assistance and assistance to children without parents.  (Eventually, welfare was extended to other categories of persons in need). The laws also provided that the recipients of aid must make a reimbursement agreement with the welfare board and that a certificate of these agreements was to be filed with the county clerk.  After the death of the recipient, the welfare board could sell the recipient’s assets, provided that the real estate was not occupied by a surviving spouse.  The funds from such sale took priority over all debts except for reasonable funeral and burial expenses.

See also the following documents in the Archives Reference File:

Kearney, Thomas J.  “Monmouth County in the Great Depression,”  Paper prepared for Rutgers University history course, December 9, 1999.

McCosker, Jane.  Historical Perspectives of Social Welfare as Administered by the Monmouth County Board of Social Services.  Freehold, NJ: MCBSS, December 1986.

Description

These records were transferred in 1999 (Accession #99-3) by Kathleen A. Brady, Director, Department of Human Services, Division of Social Services.

Most of the records consist of the Monmouth County Welfare Board (MCWB) agendas and minutes (1932-1977, 1984-1990).  Minutes from July 1977 through January 1984, as well as scattered others, are missing and presumed lost.

Other records in this series include the following:  two scrapbooks presented to former Director Robert C. Wells, 1932-1985; a Fiftieth Anniversary Book, 1982; MCWB newsletters, 1968-1974; Categorical Assistance Budget Manual, 1962; financial records of assistance granted, five volumes, 1932-1939; one MCWB Seal; and Resolution #91-24 establishing the Division of Social Services within the Monmouth County Department of Human Services, 1991: and  twelve framed photographic portraits of MCWB directors, presidents, and chairpersons, 1928-1991, as follows:

Florence M.S. Cubberley, President, 1928-1934
John L. Montgomery, Director, 1929-1962
Adrian E. Moreau, President, 1934-1942
Wayne P. McMurray, Chairman, 1943-1961
Pierre D. Van Mater, Chairman, 1962-1963
Robert C. Wells, Director, 1963-1977
Ernest E. Lass, Chairman, 1964-1969
Charles W. Stephens, Chairman, 1970-1971
Dr. James Parker, Chairman, 1971-1982
Phyllis R. Marx, Chairperson, 1984-1987
Virginia W. Wenner, Chairperson, 1987-1988
Joseph M. Annecharico, Chairperson, 1989-1991

Use

The records are available for use by the public.