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Guide to the James R. Dumpson Papers
circa 1922-2015
 MS 3078

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 05, 2019
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

Nicknamed "Little Dynamo" for the boundless enthusiasm contained by his diminutive frame, James Russell Dumpson (1909–2012) was, among his many roles, the first African American welfare commissioner in American history. Born in Philadelphia on 5 April 1909, Dumpson was the oldest of the five children of James T. Dumpson (1884–1934), a bank messenger, and Edythe (Smith) Dumpson (1892–1944), who taught public school before her marriage.

After high school, Dumpson attended State Teachers College at Cheyney, Pennsylvania (1930–1932), the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work (1937–1938), and Fordham University School of Social Service (1942–1944). He obtained bachelor's (1947) and master's (1950) degrees from the New School for Social Research before completing a Ph.D. at the University of Dacca, East Pakistan (1955). Dumpson was already working in Pakistan (1953–1954), where he had been appointed United Nations Advisor and Chief of Training in Social Welfare to the country's then newly-formed government.

Back in New York City he served as Director, Bureau of Child Welfare, in the Department of Welfare (1955–1958), and then as First Deputy Commissioner of Welfare (1958–1959). When Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. appointed Dumpson the City's Commissioner of Welfare (1959–1965), he became the first African American to hold such a position in the United States. He was also the first trained social worker to oversee welfare in New York, and, as such, took exception to a Daily News editorial which attributed the City's welfare woes to ladies having "babies by assorted gentlemen so as to keep the relief checks growing fatter each year." Dumpson responded that the "only test for public assistance was a citizen's needs, not morals. With only a few exceptions . . . people on welfare, particularly children, desperately need the support." In 1964, after Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona had similarly disparaged welfare recipients, Dumpson referred to the soon-to-be Republican nominee for president as "the wealthy cowboy," dismissing his remarks as having "no place in the kind of war on poverty I am advocating."

Leaving the municipal sphere, Dumpson was briefly (1965–1967) professor and associate dean of the Hunter College School of Social Work before assuming deanship of Fordham University's Graduate School of Social Service (1967–1974). In his honor, the school would name the "James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Services" in 1980.

Mayor Abraham Beame lured Dumpson back to public service, appointing him Administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (1974–1976).

At a time when less driven humans might have retired, Dumpson actively consulted or sat on—and often chaired—a dizzying number of charitable and philanthropic boards. In his 80s he was tapped by Mayor David Dinkins to oversee the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

James R. Dumpson died in New York City on 5 November 2012, aged 103, survived by his widow, Goldie (Brangman) Dumpson, the former director of a nurse anesthesia program New York, and his daughter, the psychotherapist Jeree Wade.

[The most detailed chronology of Dumpson's life and work appears in Alma J. Carten, Reflections on the American Social Welfare State: The Collected Papers of James R. Dumpson, PhD, 1930-1990 (Washington, D.C.: National Association of Social Workers Press, 2015), 233–236. A photocopy may be found in box 6, folder 14. See also "Friend to the Needy: James Russell Dumpson," in the  New York Times, 18 July 1959, and "James R. Dumpson, a Defender of the Poor, Dies at 103," also in the  New York Times, 9 November 2012.]