Papers of Katherine Brownell Oettinger, 1924-1982
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Use
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
7 linear feet ((7 cartons), plus 4 photograph folders, 1 oversize folder, 4 folio folders, 1 photograph folio folder)
The earliest material, with the exception of some papers written at Smith College, chronicles Oettinger's activities in Scranton, including her efforts to add mental health training as an integral part of nursing programs as well as her commitment to building and expanding a variety of resources to meet the needs of the community. There is a good deal of correspondence from this period, and her work with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Nursery Schools is particularly well documented. Although material relating to her work at the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and Boston University is fairly sketchy, her tenure at the Children's Bureau and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare is documented by speeches, articles, conference programs, news releases, clippings, and photographs. There is little correspondence from Oettinger's service in the federal government; much of it presumably remained with the departmental records at the National Archives. See Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Children's Bureau (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Service, 1976; Ref 027.5/U58cb). Oettinger's work as a consultant for the Council on Social Work Education, the International Association of Schools of Social Work, and the Inter-American Dialogue Center is represented largely by conference programs and reports. Other records reflecting Oettinger's role in the Council on Social Work Education and the Inernational Association of Schools of Social Work are available at the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.
The original order of the collection was chronological and this arrangement has been retained. The donor's folder headings have also been retained. Information added by the processor is in square brackets.
For the next four years she was a caseworker with the Charity Organization Society in New York City, supervising students from what came to be the Columbia University School of Social Work. In 1929, Oettinger moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to serve as mental health consultant, a pioneering position in the local Visiting Nurse Association. In 1931 she married Malcolm Oettinger, a member of a prominent Scranton family who was then in the furniture business; the couple had two sons. A consultant in development and public relations, Malcolm Oettinger died of Parkinson's disease in 1962.
In 1950 Oettinger was appointed chief of the new Division of Community Services in the Bureau of Mental Health of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, where she was responsible for administering the first National Mental Health Act funds in the state. Leaving Pennsylvania in 1954 to become the first woman dean of Boston University's School of Social Work, Oettinger used her considerable background to develop research, bring in federal money, and expand course work in a number of fields.
In 1957, she was appointed by President Eisenhower as chief of the Children's Bureau in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. For the next ten years she presided over a six-fold increase in the bureau's budget and was instrumental in focusing public attention on crucial issues in maternal and child health, including the abused child syndrome, and on programs for mentally retarded and other handicapped children, juvenile delinquents, and the development of day care. She served as secretary of the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth, and as chair of the Interdepartmental Committee on Children and Youth.
As the issue of family planning came to receive a growing amount of public attention, Oettinger in 1965 was the first public official to speak out in its favor. It was not until 1967, however, that, with the expansion of health and welfare programs for mothers and children, it became possible for welfare recipients to receive family planning information from public and private agencies. Oettinger's activity in this field continued with her appointment in 1968 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population and Family Planning in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In this newly established position Oettinger was charged with developing family planning as a priority, and she served as the focal point for departmental and interdepartmental family planning policy and program coordination. When Richard Nixon became president in January 1969, it became increasingly difficult to find common ground with many of his appointees, and in 1970 Oettinger retired from the federal government.
Oettinger was also active internationally. She was the United States representative on the executive board of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund from 1957 to 1961. She was the United States delegate to the Ninth International Conference on Social Work (1958), chair of the United States delegation to the Eleventh Inter-American Congress on Children (1959), delegate to the International Study Conference on Child Welfare in Tokyo, and leader of the United States delegation to the 1968 Congress on Population and Family Planning in Venezuela.
Since leaving government, Oettinger has served as a consultant in population and family planning for the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the Council on Social Work Education, and the Inter-American Dialogue Center in Airlie, Virginia, where she coordinated the First Inter-Hemispheric Conference on Adolescent Fertility (1976). Oettinger has also lectured at many colleges and universities, and has been the keynote speaker at meetings of health, welfare, and civic organizations. In 1980, she taught a graduate course at the University of South Florida on the emotional and social health of adolescents.
Awarded honorary doctorates from Smith College in 1957 and Dickinson College in 1966, Oettinger shared a Parents' Magazine award with John D. Rockefeller III in 1967. She is the author of numerous articles and a number of larger publications, including, with Jeffrey D. Stansbury, Population and Family Planning: Analytical Abstracts for Social Work Educators and Related Disciplines (New York: International Association of Schools of Social Work, 1972), and Social Work in Action: An International Perspective on Population and Family Planning (New York: IASSW, 1975), and, with Elizabeth C. Mooney, Not My Daughter: Facing Up to Adolescent Pregnancy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979).
For further biographical information, see the oral history with Oettinger, part of the Schlesinger Library's Women in the Federal Government Project (OH-40); Who's Who in America; and Who's Who in the World.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These papers of Katherine (Brownell) Oettinger were given to the Schlesinger Library in September 1983 and February 1984 by Katherine Brownell Oettinger.
- Carton 1: 1-32
- Carton 2: 34-56v
- Carton 3: 57v-72
- Carton 4: 73-118
- Carton 5: 119-160
- Carton 6: 161-183v
- Carton 7: 184-203
By: Anne Engelhart
Updated photograph description: June 2016
By: Lillianne Keaney
- Birth control
- Child development
- Child guidance clinics--Pennsylvania
- College administrators
- College teachers
- Day care centers
- Fertility, Human
- International cooperation
- Maternal and infant welfare
- Mental health services
- Mental retardation
- Nursery schools
- Pennsylvania--Social conditions
- Public health nursing
- Scranton (Pa.)--Social conditions
- Social work education
- Social workers
- Teenage girls
- Teenage pregnancy
- United States--Officials and employees
- Oettinger, Katherine Brownell, 1903-1997. Papers of Katherine Brownell Oettinger, 1924-1982: A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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