Our History

To help celebrate APHSA’s 90th anniversary recently, we looked back at the entirety of our history as a member association, digging into archives and pulling out some important threads and markers in our history. The following highlights commemorate just some of the work of those who have come before us—whose vision, time, and energy shaped what APHSA and human services are today. You can also read more in Looking Back to Accelerate Moving Forward: Charting Our Next Course.



1930s photo collage

The American Public Welfare Association (APWA) began as an idea at a National Conference of Social Welfare (NCSW) meeting. APWA held its first meeting in June 1930, as the effects of the Great Depression on the national economy became evident. L.A. Halbert, Director of Rhode Island’s Department of Institutions, is the first Board President.


APWA opened its first office in Chicago, IL.

APWA calls for a national conference of schools of social work, private national associations, and representatives of all levels of government. APWA develops principles and standards for establishing state and local welfare agencies out of this event.


1935 photo

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act with APWA members at the signing ceremony.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at APWA National Roundtable and became a regular attendee over the next several years.


Blanche L. LaDu, Chairwoman of the Minnesota Board of Control, becomes the first female President of APWA.


The National Council of State Public Assistance and Welfare Administrators was established.


1940 photos

Early 1940's

The National Council of Local Public Welfare Administrators was established.

APWA helped clarify the role of public welfare in emergency war times.

1941 photo



Social Security Act Amendments are passed, informed by APWA members.


1953 photo

APWA supports the establishment of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (predecessor to HHS).

1955 Anniversary and 1964 photo collage



APWA sits on the White House and Congressional task forces that lead to the Public Welfare Amendments of 1962 and Economic Opportunity of 1964.


NBC commentator and journalist David Brinkley speaks about Civil Rights at APWA’s National Round Table Conference.



APWA Board of Directors holds a critical working conference to discuss the association's future. This gathering results in a nine-point plan that, among other things, focuses on state and local agencies as the primary constituency and encourages the formation of administrative and program specialists (that leads to today’s Affinity Groups).

1974 photo collage


Moved offices from Chicago, IL, to Washington, D.C., to focus further on “social reform policy.”

1975 photo collage

1977 photo collage


Steven Minter, Program Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, serves as the first Black President of APWA.

1978 photo collage


1980 Photo

1980 photo collage

50th Anniversary photo collage


APWA celebrates 50 years at National Round Table Conference in Washington DC, focusing on the “future course of public welfare.”


APWA launches “A Matter of Commitment,” a three-year project to reassess the nation’s commitment to families with low-income. The 1986 report, One Child in Four, sparked a national policy debate around child poverty that resulted in the enactment of the Family Support Act in 1988.

1980s Photos

Late 1980's


APWA recognized then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton (D) and Delaware Governor Michael Castle (R) for their leadership in writing and advocating the National Governor’s Association welfare reform policy.


APWA established the National Commission on Child Welfare, which created guidelines and standards for agencies assessing child protective services.

1990s Photos



APWA’s publication Public Welfare celebrates 50 years as a professional journal covering public welfare policy. Public Welfare would later become our current publication, Policy & Practice.


APWA unveils a bi-partisan plan for public welfare reform, calling for expanded job training and work, improved health coverage, and streamlined program administration—sparking a robust debate on the best way forward.


APWA helps state and local human service agencies in implementing welfare reform through shared learning and training.


APWA changed its name to what it remains today, the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), recognizing the much broader human service agenda it was addressing.

1998 Photo



APHSA publishes Crossroads: New Directions in Social Policy, laying out a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to present to the Bush Administration and Congress that highlighted reforms to improve efficiency, serve with dignity, and promote independence to beneficiaries of human services. More than a dozen recommendations from this document were signed into law that year.

2000s Photos


In the Senate Finance Committee's welfare reform bill, more than 20 APHSA recommendations were signed into law. In addition, the association continued to facilitate discussion and provide services to administrators in the human service field.


Crossroads II was published to encourage additional policy reforms in human services programs, including Medicaid, child welfare, mental health, aging, long-term care, and programs for persons with disabilities.


APHSA presents its latest policy recommendations, Focal Point: Unity of Purpose, as President Obama takes office.

2010 Photos


First Harvard Human Services Summit held in conjunction with APHSA's Leadership Retreat. This event led to the introduction of the Human Service Value Curve and sparked the use of this new framework for advancing the impact of human services in communities.


Pathways: The Opportunities Ahead for Human Services developed with APHSA state, local, and Affinity Group leaders—setting a vision for transformation in the field to meet increased demand at tight budgets and heightened expectations for effective outcomes for children and families.


APHSA's National Collaborative for the Integration of Health and Human Services plays a critical role in advancing the interoperability of states' technology systems.


APHSA publishes its report, Creating a Modern and Responsive Health and Human Services System, to federal policymakers in anticipation of the Presidential transition; the report provides guiding principles, policy priorities, and helpful tools for advancing social and economic mobility for families.


APHSA unveils its Strategic Playbook, the guidebook for the association's action plan for the next five years. Informed by members, partners, and staff, the Playbook displays a collective commitment to advancing the potential of all people in all places and illuminates the shared belief of leaders across the country that health and human services are a cornerstone to building thriving communities.

2018 Photos


APHSA issues a Call to Action for Human Services to Advance Race Equity, committing to work in alignment with state and local leaders to address the root causes of racial disparities through policy and practice. At this time, APHSA also incorporates a race equity lens into the Strategic Playbook.


As the COVID-19 pandemic sends shockwaves through every facet of human services systems, APHSA steps up to the challenge to help state and local agencies weather the storm together.

2020 COVID Photo

APHSA's latest policy framework, Cornerstone for Resilient Communities and a Revitalized Economy: The Role of Human Services in Building Well-Being from the Ground Up, is released amid a Presidential transition. Setting forth why human services sit at the cornerstone for resilient communities and a revitalized economy, APHSA draws from the on-the-ground expertise of members to share how federal policymakers can help meet the most pressing needs while laying the necessary tracks for all communities to thrive.

2020 Photo


APHSA celebrates 90+ years, and the National Health and Human Services Summit meets together for the first time in Arlington, VA since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

... Our journey continues!