James R. Dumpson papers
Language of Materials
Speeches, conference papers, correspondence, scrapbooks, and publications of James R. Dumpson (1909–2012), New York City Commissioner of Welfare (1959–1965). When appointed Dumpson was the first African American welfare commissioner in the United States, and the first social worker to oversee welfare in New York. He later served as Dean of Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Service (1967–1974), and Administrator of New York City's Human Resources Administration (1974–1976). The collection includes material from Dumpson's time as United Nations Advisor and Chief of Training in Social Welfare to the Government of Pakistan (1953–1954), and from his work in South Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s for the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees and Escapees.
Nicknamed "Little Dynamo" for the boundless enthusiasm contained by his diminutive frame, James Russell Dumpson (1909–2012) was, among his many roles, the first African American welfare commissioner in American history. Born in Philadelphia on 5 April 1909, Dumpson was the oldest of the five children of James T. Dumpson (1884–1934), a bank messenger, and Edythe (Smith) Dumpson (1892–1944), who taught public school before her marriage.
After high school, Dumpson attended State Teachers College at Cheyney, Pennsylvania (1930–1932), the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work (1937–1938), and Fordham University School of Social Service (1942–1944). He obtained bachelor's (1947) and master's (1950) degrees from the New School for Social Research before completing a Ph.D. at the University of Dacca, East Pakistan (1955). Dumpson was already working in Pakistan (1953–1954), where he had been appointed United Nations Advisor and Chief of Training in Social Welfare to the country's then newly-formed government.
Back in New York City he served as Director, Bureau of Child Welfare, in the Department of Welfare (1955–1958), and then as First Deputy Commissioner of Welfare (1958–1959). When Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. appointed Dumpson the City's Commissioner of Welfare (1959–1965), he became the first African American to hold such a position in the United States. He was also the first trained social worker to oversee welfare in New York, and, as such, took exception to a Daily News editorial which attributed the City's welfare woes to ladies having "babies by assorted gentlemen so as to keep the relief checks growing fatter each year." Dumpson responded that the "only test for public assistance was a citizen's needs, not morals. With only a few exceptions . . . people on welfare, particularly children, desperately need the support." In 1964, after Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona had similarly disparaged welfare recipients, Dumpson referred to the soon-to-be Republican nominee for president as "the wealthy cowboy," dismissing his remarks as having "no place in the kind of war on poverty I am advocating."
Leaving the municipal sphere, Dumpson was briefly (1965–1967) professor and associate dean of the Hunter College School of Social Work before assuming deanship of Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Service (1967–1974). In his honor, the school would name the "James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Services" in 1980.
Mayor Abraham Beame lured Dumpson back to public service, appointing him Administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (1974–1976).
At a time when less driven humans might have retired, Dumpson actively consulted or sat on—and often chaired—a dizzying number of charitable and philanthropic boards. In his 80s he was tapped by Mayor David Dinkins to oversee the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
James R. Dumpson died in New York City on 5 November 2012, aged 103, survived by his widow, Goldie (Brangman) Dumpson, the former director of a nurse anesthesia program New York, and his daughter, the psychotherapist Jeree Wade.
[The most detailed chronology of Dumpson's life and work appears in Alma J. Carten, Reflections on the American Social Welfare State: The Collected Papers of James R. Dumpson, PhD, 1930-1990 (Washington, D.C.: National Association of Social Workers Press, 2015), 233–236. A photocopy may be found in box 6, folder 14. See also "Friend to the Needy: James Russell Dumpson," in the New York Times, 18 July 1959, and "James R. Dumpson, a Defender of the Poor, Dies at 103," also in the New York Times, 9 November 2012.]
The James R. Dumpson Papers are organized in nine series:
Series I. Speeches, articles, papers, remarks, 1932-2005
Series II. Correspondence, 1930-2008
Series III. Memorabilia and Scrapbooks, 1928-2009
Series IV. Personal, 1950s-2012
Series V. Fordham University, 1965-1996
Series VI. International Social Welfare, 1952-2001
Series VII. Miscellaneous files, binders, and loose material, circa 1930-2015
Series VIII. Print matter, 1922-2009
Series IX. Audiovisual, 1946-1992
Scope and Contents
The James R. Dumpson Papers span Dr. Dumpson's long and busy working life—he remained active into his tenth decade—in the field of social welfare both at home and abroad. The collection includes a vast number of speeches, conference papers, and articles, not to mention the contributions Dumpson made to various publications. (See Series I and Series VIII.)
Dumpson's correspondence, while spread throughout the collection, is spotty, and grouped largely in nine folders covering the years 1930–2008. Of interest are the letters he received as New York City's Commissioner of Welfare, when social workers of his department staged a month-long strike for better pay and more manageable caseloads in January 1965. (See Series II.)
The collection includes a large amount of "memorabilia" (Dumpson's designation) that was originally stored in binders and in scrapbooks, a mixture of ephemera, correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and publications documenting Dumpson's educational, professional, and private life. (See Series III.)
Personal material is limited to a few financial papers and receipts, citations, and a folder of photographs of Dumpson, either solo portraits, or posed with New York City officials and visiting dignitaries, at casual functions and award ceremonies. (See Series IV.)
From his tenure as dean of Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Service, the collection holds a mix of correspondence, administrative memos, accreditation reports, and information on the naming of a chair in his honor in 1980—the James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Services. (See Series V.)
Dumpson's international social welfare activities are documented by material from his time during the 1950s as United Nations Advisor and Chief of Training in Social Welfare to the then newly-formed Government of Pakistan, and his work during the 1960s and 1970s for the United States Senate Sub-Committee on Refugees and Escapees in South Vietnam. (See Series VI.)
The collection contains a number of single-topic files—such as those covering Dumpson's time as administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration—and a significant amount of loose and unlabeled material that defies precise categorization, but relates broadly to the perennial issues of social welfare. (See Series VII.)
Dumpson assembled a range of printed publications—books, pamphlets, periodicals, government documents, and conference proceedings—many of which include chapters or prefatory contributions by him. While most publications in the collection center on social welfare generally, some focus on specific issues like aging, or black children in foster care. And some, such as a 1922 monograph on Renaissance art and poetry, seem to date from Dumpson's school days. (See Series VIII.)
Lastly, a small amount of phonograph and VHS recordings capture Dumpson's appearances on New York City-based radio and television broadcasts discussing, among other topics, juvenile delinquency, the AIDS crisis, and homelessness. (See Series IX.)
Researchers should be aware that the Fordham University Library Archives holds a significant collection of James R. Dumpson's papers (11 linear feet in 13 boxes). As of this writing (March 2019), Fordham's online finding aid [http://www.library.fordham.edu/archives/dumpsonpapers.html] is not functioning, but a copy saved by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine remains visible. (Paper copies may also be found in the present, New-York Historical Society, collection, in box 6, folder 14.)
Open to qualified researchers. Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use.
This collection is owned by the New-York Historical Society. The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder. Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 20 exposures of stable, unbound material per day.
Note that the audiovisual material in Series IX is restricted due to its fragility and because the New-York Historical Society lacks the necessary playback equipment.
The collection should be cited as: James R. Dumpson Papers, MS 3078, The New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Jeree Wade, daughter of James R. Dumpson, 2017.
About this Guide
Archivist Joseph Ditta arranged and described this collection in January-March 2019.