A Common Thread of Service . A Brief History of the Federal Security Agency

07/01/1972

The Federal Security Agency was established on July 1, 1939, under the Reorganization Act of 1939, P.L. 76-19. The objective was to bring together in one agency all Federal programs in the fields of health, education, and social security. The first Federal Security Administrator was Paul V. McNutt.

The new agency originally consisted of the following major components: the Office of the Administrator; the Public Health Service; the Civilian Conservation Corps; the Office of Education; and the Social Security Board.

The origins of these components, however, could be traced back to the early days of the Republic. On July 16, 1798, President John Adams signed an act creating the Marine Hospital Service to furnish treatment to sick and disabled American merchant seamen. On April 29, 1878, the first Federal Quarantine Act enlarged the Service's responsibilities to include prevention of epidemics from abroad. On August 14, 1912, the name was changed to the Public Health Service. On May 26, 1930, the Hygienic Laboratory of the Service was redesignated the National Institute of Health. The Public Health service was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Federal Security Agency in 1939.

Even though the first steps toward public education were taken in 1647 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and land was set aside for public schools by the Congress of the Confederation in 1785, the idea of universal, free public schools did not become firmly established until the Civil War era. Even then, only half of the States had an efficient public school system. In 1867, Congress established the Department of Education to promote the cause of education and collect and disseminate facts and statistics about education. Until it was transferred to the Federal Security Agency, the Office of Education and its predecessor organization had been part of the Department of the Interior.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, which was born during the great depression to provide employment for American youth and advance conservation of the Nation's natural resources, operated from April 5, 1933, until June 30, 1942. During that time, the CCC provided work training to 3 million men and advanced conservation by more than 25 years. It was an independent agency until it came to FSA.

The Nation's social security and public assistance programs also were born during the depression with approval of the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. The initial Act of 1935 established the Social Security Board to administer Titles I, II, III, IV, and X of the Act, and it remained an independent organization until its transfer to FSA. The Social Security Act Amendments of 1939 revised and expanded basic provisions of the program and eligibility requirements and extended protection to aged wives, dependent children and certain survivors of insured workers.

Organized in 1855 and incorporated by the Kentucky Legislature in 1858, the American Printing House for the Blind was established to produce educational materials for the blind and since 1879 has received an allocation of Federal funds to help support this activity. Federal responsibility regarding the Printing House was transferred to FSA from the Treasury Department on July 1, 1939.

Established in 1935 to provide youth with work training, the National Youth Administration later trained young people for jobs in war industries. It was supervised by the Office of the Administrator from the time FSA was created in 1939 until 1942, when it was transferred to the War Manpower Commission.