Saving the History and Heroes of Social Welfare

Nov 13, 2017

Every picture tells a story. That's why Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries and partners from across the nation are creating the Image Portal, an online collection focused on social reform and social welfare -- things like prohibition, women’s suffrage, civil rights and immigration.  Sandy Hausman has details.

The U.S. Constitution refers to promoting the general welfare – an idea that has evolved over time.  Once, for example, society thought children should work. Now, of course, everyone agrees that kids should go to school.  At VCU’s library, Alice Campbell has been preserving images of our evolving attitudes about social welfare.

VCU Libraries is creating a new home for photographs like this one of a striker's family.
Credit American Labor Museum

“We’re pulling together documents and photographs and all kinds of interesting pamphlets.”

So far, topics include temperance and prohibition, women’s suffrage, the kindergarten movement, Americanization and the national social welfare assembly comics project.

“Which was a project to put public service announcements in comic books and promote the values that were seen as good citizenship." 

From 1949 to 1967 more than 200 of those ads appeared in comic books!  The portal also includes lyrics to songs and promotions for music.”

“Here’s an advertisement from the Victrola Company where they are trying to sell schools record players and records, because they imagine that community singing will help Americanize immigrants.”

Causes like the 40-hour work week, laws against child labor and winning the vote for women involved heroic fights. VCU Libraries and its partners are sharing images of social welfare heroes online.​
Credit American Labor Museum

There’s a small notebook produced as the nation debated suffrage for women.

“And it says this little book contains every reason why women should not vote.  When you open the book, all of the pages are blank.”

And a newspaper photo snapped at the University of Mary Washington in the age of Aquarius.

“The headline – Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out, but if you look closely – if you zoom into the newspaper, you can see that there is also an advertisement for a love in that’s going to be held at high noon, and it says Bring blankets, bubbles, bananas, banjos.  It’s quite exuberant and wonderfully psychedelic.”

VCU is forming partnerships with other libraries and museums nationwide, to preserve as much of the nation’s social welfare history in pictures as possible.  

Click here to read more about the Social Welfare History Project