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Pennsylvania State Archives


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The origins of the department began with the 1869 creation of the Board of Public Charities, charged with inspection of all charitable, penal, and correctional institutions in the Commonwealth. A Committee on Lunacy, established by the Board in 1883, examined places specifically for the confinement of the insane. In 1921 the Board was abolished, and the Department of Public Welfare was created in its place to coordinate and administer welfare programs. In 1923 the name of the Department of Public Welfare was changed to the Department of Welfare.

A State Emergency Relief Board, established as part of the Department of Welfare in 1932, handled unemployment work relief as a result of the Great Depression. In 1937, the Department of Public Assistance was created to centralize relief programs. The State Emergency Relief Board was therefore abolished and its powers and duties, along with those of the Welfare Department's Bureau of Assistance, transferred to this new agency. Public Assistance also administered the State Board of Public Assistance and the County Boards of Assistance. It was also one of the first three state agencies to implement a merit system for employee hiring (the others being the Liquor Control Board and the Department of Labor and Industry). More on that process can be found among the records of the Civil Service Commission (RG-3). Supervision over penal and correctional institutions was transferred in 1953 from the Department of Welfare’s Bureau of Penal Affairs to the Department of Justice (RG-15) and later to the Department of Corrections (RG-58).

The Departments of Public Assistance and Welfare merged in 1958 to form the Department of Public Welfare. In 2014, the Department’s name changed to the Department of Human Services. As the primary state agency concerned with the social welfare and financial needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth, the Department administers a wide range of services including: public assistance, medical assistance, aid to the handicapped, mental health and retardation programs and institutions, and the licensing and inspection of nursing homes, day-care centers and hospitals. The history of individual bureaus and units of the Department can be found by clicking on the agency name.

Secretary of Public Welfare

Office of the Executive Deputy Secretary

Office of Aging

Office of Children and Youth

Office of Children, Youth and Families

Office of Communications

Office of Comptroller

Office of General and Special Hospitals

Office of Hearings and Appeals

Office of Income Maintenance

Office of Mental Health

Office of the Deputy Secretary for Mental Health

Allentown State Hospital

Clarks Summit State Hospital

Danville State Hospital

Dixmont State Hospital

Eastern State School and Hospital

Haverford State Hospital

Harrisburg State Hospital

Marcy State Hospital

Mayview State Hospital

Norristown State Hospital

Philadelphia State Hospital

Retreat State Hospital

Somerset State Hospital

Torrance State Hospital

Warren State Hospital

Woodville State Hospital

Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Office of Mental Retardation

Altoona Center

Ebensburg Center

Embreeville Center
Hamburg Center
Laurelton Center

Pennhurst Center

Polk Center
Selinsgrove Center
Western Center

White Haven Center

Office of Policy and Planning

Office of Policy, Planning and Development

Office of Public Assistance

Bureau of Community Mental Health Services

Bureau of Information Services

Bureau of Mental Health Services

Bureau of Policy and Planning Analysis

Bureau of Policy, Budget and Planning

Bureau of Public Education

Bureau of Social Research and Statistics

Bureau of Social Services

Bureau of State General Hospitals

Ashland State General Hospital

Coaldale State General Hospital

Locust Mountain State General Hospital
Nanticoke State General Hospital
Philipsburg State General Hospital
Scranton State General Hospital  

Shamokin State General Hospital

Division of Management Consulting Services

Board of Public Charities, 1869-1921

Committee on Lunacy, 1883-1921

Department of Welfare, 1923-1958

Bureau of Community Work

State Emergency Relief Board, 1932-1937

Department of Public Assistance, 1935-1970

Youth Development Centers and Forestry Camps

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records