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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 389

Records of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau, 1919-1951


Records of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau, an organization that investigated vocational opportunities for young women who had psychological and emotional challenges in finding employment.


  • 1919-1951

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by the Vocational Adjustment Bureau is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Records may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1.25 linear feet (3 file boxes)
This collection contains administrative records; correspondence; studies, reports, printed material, and reprints about the Vocational Adjustment Bureau's work by Vocational Adjustment Bureau staff and graduate students; studies and reprints on related mental hygiene and vocational education issues, and miscellaneous reprints, clippings, and photographs.

There was no apparent order when the collection was received. The arrangement that emerges from the material is a mainly chronological one, except for a few administrative files (Series I: #1-6). The bulk of the records is in Series II: #7-47 and consists of correspondence, studies, printed material, and reprints documenting the range of activities of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau, from specific descriptions of girls' circumstances, to the tests used, reports on the development and operation of the sheltered workrooms and on mental hygiene work in public schools, analyses of various occupations, surveys of worker needs of specific companies, and plans and reports for testing and vocational guidance of veterans and 4-Fs (men considered unfit for military service).

The administrative papers are incomplete, with only nine annual reports, several gaps in the minutes (the largest from 1924 to 1936), and only sporadic financial records. Correspondence, which is probably also incomplete, has been arranged chronologically in its own folders, except that correspondence concerning a topic or project has been filed with related memos, reports, etc. Studies and reprints have been interfiled in chronological order with the correspondence and project material. Undated items were filed with similar types of material or where they seemed to fall chronologically.


The Vocational Adjustment Bureau, commonly known as the Vocational Adjustment Bureau for Girls or VAB, began operating in 1922 under the direction of Blanche (Mrs. Henry) Ittleson (1875-1975).

Earlier, in 1919, believing that social adjustment was not possible without industrial adjustment, Ittleson had started the Committee on Vocational Guidance and Employment as part of the Jewish Big Sisters. By 1922 the demand for guidance and placement services had grown so much that the committee was reorganized into the Vocational Adjustment Bureau, a city-wide, non-sectarian organization. It was incorporated in 1925 as the New York Vocational Adjustment Bureau, Inc. The records date the beginning of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau to 1919, although it was not a separate agency until 1922.

The purposes of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau as stated in the 1925 incorporation papers were: "to conduct investigations into vocational opportunities for sub-normal and maladjusted girls; to conduct a placement bureau for them; to make constructive suggestions for such changes in their education as will give this special type an equipment to fit them for a place in industry; to act as a clearing house for and cooperate with existing organizations dealing with scholarship, school, placement bureau or other civic bodies should they need such special service."

To these ends the Vocational Adjustment Bureau provided training workshops, direct employment opportunities in its own workshops, and placement services, and it conducted psychological and vocational tests for all its clients. The Vocational Adjustment Bureau conducted studies itself, involved graduate students in studies, worked with the Board of Education to provide mental hygiene classes in kindergarten and elementary grades, and worked with and advised various agencies, hospitals, and schools on testing and placement of mentally handicapped women, in the hope of making them productive members of society.

Beginning in 1923 the Vocational Adjustment Bureau organized and ran workshops to test, study, and train young women and eventually place them in suitable jobs. Studies based on the sheltered workshops were written by staff and by graduate students from Barnard, Columbia, and other schools.

By the late 1920s or early 1930s the Vocational Adjustment Bureau had a full-time psychologist as director, a director for the workshops, and an active president (Blanche Ittleson). Merchandise produced in the workshops was being sold in New York City department stores. Clients were referred from schools, social service agencies, and hospitals; about half these clients were Jewish, 40 percent Protestant, and 10 percent Catholic. In 1934 Edna W. Unger, staff psychologist, surveyed industries to determine their needs for Vocational Adjustment Bureau clients, and therefore what training the Vocational Adjustment Bureau should continue to provide. In 1936 the Vocational Adjustment Bureau began developing a proposal for an experiment "to educate teachers in mental hygiene practices in the hope that early discovery and treatment of potential problems will eliminate greater and more destructive forces later in life." This included a demonstration project, "Mental Hygiene at the Kindergarten Level," at P.S. 33, 1942-1949. The Vocational Adjustment Bureau was represented in the exhibit on mental hygiene at the 1939 World's Fair.

By 1941 the workshops had closed and the major work of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau "was mental hygiene and social service." After nearly closing its doors, the Vocational Adjustment Bureau changed course: by the fall of 1942 it was no longer working with female clients but concentrated on vocational rehabilitation for men, specifically those "rejected by and discharged from the armed forces because of mental and nervous disabilities."

The Mental Health Project continued under the supervision of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (NCMH); rehabilitation of veterans was transferred to other agencies by the fall of 1944. By the end of 1945, except for staff working at P.S. 33, the Vocational Adjustment Bureau existed only as a legal entity. Correspondence of December 1945 discusses the transfer of client files to the Community Service Society of New York. Joint minutes of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau and National Committee for Mental Hygiene continue through 1949; according to a note in #4, the last meeting of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau was held in January 1951.


The collection is arranged in three series:
  1. Series I. Administrative
  2. Series II. Programs
  3. Series III. Related material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 87-M70, 88-M118

The records of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau were given to the Schlesinger Library by the estate of Blanche (Frank) Ittleson in May 1987 and in August 1988.


  1. Box 1: 1-19
  2. Box 2: 20-32
  3. Box 3: 33-51

Processing Information

Processed: May 1989

By: Nancy Falk
Link to catalog
Vocational Adjustment Bureau. Records of the Vocational Adjustment Bureau, 1919-1953: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Processing of this collection was made possible by a grant from Clara Goldberg Schiffer.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future.

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