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Records Relating to Department of Social Welfar... | State Archives Catalog


PLEASE NOTE: The description of the State Archives' holdings for the Department of Social Welfare and its predecessor agencies is under development.  The current descriptions in ARCHON, therefore, do not necessarily represent complete and verified descriptions of this agency's individual programs and their associated records. Nor do they currently cover the State Archives' entire holdings for these institutions.

The Department of Social Welfare (1939-1968) was established as part of a major reorganization of state government into departments in the 1930s (Public Law 1935, ch. 2218, 2250.) Although the department was only created in 1939, it inherited most of the programs and records of its predecessors, the Department of Public Welfare (1935-1939), which succeeded the  State Public Welfare Commission (1923-1935), formerly known as the Penal and Charitable Commission (1917-1923),  and, finally, Rhode Island's first state social welfare agency, the Board of State Charities and Corrections (1869 - 1917).

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, the state's role in matters of social welfare was mainly regulatory and statutory. Responsibility for the implementation and provision of social services resided largely with the state's cities and towns. With the establishment of a Board of State Charities and Corrections in 1869, the state became more directly involved in several areas of social and correctional services. The state's network of social service programs and institutions steadily expanded and became ever more centralized in state government as Rhode Island's population grew, as the state became increasingly urban and industrialized, and also as it became internally unified and regionally connected, thanks to dramatic improvements in communication and transportation. By the time of the New Deal era and the establishment of the Department of Social Welfare (1939), the state had taken over from local jurisdictions many responsibilities for addressing the needs of the poor, the sick, and the mentally ill, and for dealing with those who had broken the law. In 1951, the department was once again reorganized so that its many social programs each fell under one of three new entities: a Division of Curative Services, a Division of Corrective Services, and a Division of Community Services. The act also established an administrative Division of Business Services.  (Public Law 1951, ch. 2724.)

By the late 1960s the state began the process of dismantling the Department of Social Welfare and parceling out its many programs and functions to newly established departments:  Its "correctional" and "community service" functions (as well as vocational rehabilitation from the Department of Education) went to a new Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, shortly after which its prison role went to a Department of Corrections (1972). The programs concerning "mental retardation”, “curative services," and "mental health law" went to the new Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals (Rhode Island. Supplement to Public Laws, 1970. January Session, 1970, "Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1970.") The Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services’ remaining responsibilities still encompassed a broad range of functions, which would eventually be distributed among several future departments, including Children, Youth and Families; Labor and Training;  Probation and Parole; Elderly Affairs, Veterans Affairs, and Human Services.

The records in this record group span the period from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century, when the Department of Social Welfare ceased to exist. Included are records from the state’s Department of Social Welfare and its predecessor agencies, the Board of State Charities and Corrections and the Public Welfare Commission, as well as records inherited from those bodies antedating the Board of State Charities and Corrections. It should be noted that most of the records are comprised of various logs and registers of patients and inmates for various purposes. Very little documentary evidence of the work of the commissioners or the managerial personnel, whether in the form of correspondence, policy documents, or minutes of meetings, is available.

Subgroups under Department of Social Welfare Records, (incl. Board of State Charities and Corrections),1789-1968

Records filed under "Department of Social Welfare Records, (incl. Board of State Charities and Corrections),1789-1968"

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