Wellspring Archives -- World War II Years, Parts 1 and 2

  • By Deborah Townsend
  • Posted 6/20/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10112

This People's History is based on the early records of Wellspring Family Services, a private, non-profit organization helping families and children in Seattle and King County overcome life's challenges. Founded in 1892 as the Bureau of Associated Charities, Wellspring Family Services has operated under a succession of names. At the time of the events described in this essay, it was called the Family Society of Seattle. This essay describes how the agency's services shifted and expanded during World War II. The organization's services have changed over the years, but have always centered on a commitment to a stronger, healthier community. These archival records offer glimpses into aspects of Seattle history not well documented elsewhere, examining societal attitudes toward poverty, need, illness, and addiction -- all of which have altered considerably since Wellspring's early days. These are a pair in a series entitled "Out of the Archives," and appeared in May and July 2012 in Wellspring's monthly internal newsletter, The Fiddlehead. It was written by Wellspring Family Services executive assistant Deborah Townsend.

World War II Years, Part 1

Here we journey back to the early 1940s for a look at two public-information pieces illustrating the agency's major concerns in the World War II years:

  • A newsletter titled Family Society News with the headline "War Multiplies Family Problems" -- a 10x14 inch sheet, folded twice for mailing. The address panel asks "WAR! Can the Family Take It?"
  • A small informational leaflet, titled "When Things Go Wrong" -- 10x3.5 inches, folded in half.

We don't know exactly how these publications were distributed. We know a little bit about when, though, despite the absence of a publication date on either one. One Family Society News article refers to client statistics from "the first half of 1942." The Board of Trustees minutes from September 27, 1943, mention "When Things Go Wrong" as a (presumably fairly new) pamphlet describing agency services.

Wartime Stresses on the Home Front

In their different ways, these two items convey similar themes.

Both publications reflect the extra strains families were experiencing because of the war: upheaval, separation, cross-country moves, and unfamiliar or changing roles, in addition to constant anxiety about family members on active service.

The Family Society helped with a variety of family-counseling scenarios intensified by the war. We read about "war nerves" ranging from general irritability and mild hysteria to acute mental breakdown. Marital discord was nothing new to the Family Society, but we were seeing new causes of conflict -- because of a partner working long hours or night shifts, perhaps, or because a formerly stay-at-home wife was now out building airplanes or ships.

Defense industries created thousands of jobs, so unemployment was far less a problem than it had been a few years earlier. Still, the leaflet's questions "Are you trying to adjust a peace-time salary to war-time prices?" and "Are you trying to budget your way out of debt?" hint that money remained a recurring difficulty for clients at this time. The Family Society responded by teaching budgeting, economical shopping, and general money management for clients struggling with the rising cost of living. The newsletter notes "Our counseling service of this type has been particularly helpful to families … who have never before lived in a city," reflecting the wave of people coming to Seattle from rural communities all around the country.

An age-old problem was greatly magnified by wartime circumstances. The newsletter story "Rose Must Find Paul Immediately ..." tells of a 19-year-old girl whose whirlwind romance with an Army private ended abruptly when his unit deployed. Rose now finds herself pregnant. Her mother is distraught, her father is furious. She turns to the Family Society for advice and help. Our agency had been offering programs and services for unmarried mothers for a decade or more; this caseload expanded substantially during the war years with the huge population of servicemen and temporary defense workers in the area.

Defense Work Morale and Productivity

The Family Society put considerable focus on maintaining the efficiency of the defense workforce. As the little leaflet states, "Personal efficiency is a matter of national concern. Individual problems affect efficiency." The leaflet mentions typical problems such as the strain of working under wartime conditions, the need for childcare so that mothers could work in defense industries, and difficulties in transitioning between military and civilian life. The Family Society News emphasizes programs for "families seeking help in overcoming hindrances to their most effective participation in the nation's war effort."

The client stories in the newsletter revolve around morale and productivity issues, such as the emotional difficulties of a man who sank into depression when he was rejected for active service. "'Broken' Man Becomes Valuable War Worker and Family Provider" runs the headline of one newsletter story. "'War Nerves' Nearly Wrecked This Fine Family," reads another. All these stories end with well-adjusted people gladly making their own contributions to the country's defense, reflecting the Family Society's goals during the war years.

World War II Years, Part 2

This month we look back to 1942, specifically to the Annual Report of the Family Society of Seattle (as we were called then), titled “Shall There Be Something Worth Coming Home To?” It’s a 16-page booklet, 8½ x 5½ inches, printed grayish wartime-quality paper.

The report begins solemnly with a quotation from a World War I poem and a pledge to keep faith with “the members of our armed forces ... . they are entitled to the assurance that when this war is finally over, the way of life for which they have been fighting shall exist IN REALITY for them and their families, for their neighbors and their country” (p. 3).

Like most annual reports, this one provides basic information about how many clients we served (2,112 families) and where our funding came from and went to. Total income was $105,704, about three-quarters of it in allocations from the War Chest. Expenditures totaled $103,103, with $18,923 in administration and operations (18.3 percent, a very respectable overhead rate. Wellspring’s overhead rate today is steady at about 15-16 percent).

The report stresses how social services contribute to the war effort by improving personal morale and productivity. The client stories point to wartime stress and strain, especially for married couples with the wife now working for the first time:

"Wives who had been secretly unhappy for years but had felt helpless to do anything about it now found themselves with a substantial income of their own and a new sense of independence. … Mousey little Mrs. White’s discovery that her partner on the swing shift seemed to possess qualities of strength and consideration she had longed for in her husband brought her to the Family Society to discuss questions concerning divorce" (p. 5).

The report adds that "girls and young women who had come to Seattle to be near a lover or husband in the military service, or seeking romantic adventure, added further to the work of the Family Society" (p. 5-6). This may be a cryptic reference to our services for unmarried mothers.

The 1942 Annual Report reports on the effectiveness of the new consultant psychiatrist. While noting that all Family Society of Seattle caseworkers have had graduate-level professional training, including courses in the psychiatric aspects of social work, "our case workers make no pretense of being psychiatrists" and recognize that "there are many deep-seated emotional problems with which a case worker should not attempt to deal" (p. 7). The consulting psychiatrist helped Family Society of Seattle social workers become more effective in handling complex emotional situations. Here we see evidence of our agency integrating social work and psychotherapy, a blending which still distinguishes us today.

Even in the early 1940s our agency had a focus on prevention. The Family Society of Seattle was influential in creating an Information and Counseling Service for mothers working in war industries, to "advise mothers regarding available facilities for the care of their children ..., to help them think through the family problems creating by their employment, and to assist them in making the best possible plan for care of their children" (p. 8).

Three full pages of the 1942 Annual Report are dedicated to the agency's work with the Japanese American community in the months between Pearl Harbor and the relocation to the camps. The report reprints a letter from the Wartime Civil Control Administration, the agency in charge of the internment, and two letters of gratitude from Japanese Americans -- one of them ending, with poignant understatement, "I wanted to thank you before, but the preparation for the evacuation was pretty hard."

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