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History of Welfare & HRA

Dept of welfare1 930s
The Department of Public Welfare, 1930s

The word "welfare" used to mean "well-being" or "prosperity". It now has the opposite meaning. The change in meaning evolved during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. This was a time period when the United States developed many programs to assist the poor and Public assistance went from being administered by charity organizations to being funded and controlled by government programs.

The Human Resources Administration (HRA) was created on August 15, 1966 by Mayor John Lindsay and integrated a number of already existing human services offices.

The history of welfare organizations in New York City can be traced back to the colony of New Amsterdam.
• 1656: The first orphanage is established.
• 1736: The New York Almshouse is built, including an infirmary, on the land where Bellevue Hospital is now located. View a photo gallery from their 275th anniversary.
• 1882: Josephine Shaw Lowell, commissioner of the State Board of Charities, establishes the New York Charity Organization Society to combine the efforts of over 500 charities in the city.
• 1985: HRA establishes one of the first agencies to help people living with HIV/AIDS, now known as HASA.

Read a more detailed history from our Library Director, Hildy Dworkin. View a list of HRA Commissioners going back to 1934.