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Hoey, Jane Marguerettafree

(15 January 1892–06 October 1968)
  • June Hopkins

Jane M. Hoey.

Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1935.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G412-T-9232-002).

Hoey, Jane Margueretta (15 January 1892–06 October 1968), social worker, was born in Greeley County, Nebraska, the daughter of John Hoey and Catherine Mullen, who had immigrated to New York City from Ireland shortly after the Civil War. Twenty years later the family moved west, where John Hoey tried his hand at ranching. When this proved unsuccessful, the Hoeys returned to New York City around 1898. Hoey claimed that growing up in this urban environment she learned about poverty from her mother who “had a deep concern for people, especially those in trouble.” Although John Hoey worked as a laborer, the eight older children quickly found jobs that greatly improved the economic status of the family and ensured Jane’s education.

Hoey graduated from Wadleigh High School in 1910 and then attended Hunter College until 1912. She transferred to Trinity College in Washington, D.C., where she studied under prominent Catholic clergymen John A. Ryan and William J. Kerby. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Trinity, Hoey earned a master’s degree in political science from Columbia University and also studied at the New York School of Philanthropy under Mary Richmond, one of the foremost social workers in New York.

Her education completed in 1916, Hoey’s first job was as assistant to Harry Hopkins who was then secretary of the New York City Board of Child Welfare (BCW), an agency that administered a widows’ pension program to help needy mothers care for their children at home. Her professional relationship to Hopkins established during this time proved to be important, and their career paths took similar routes. Hoey’s older brother James served in the New York State legislature and his friends Al Smith, Robert Wagner, and Franklin D. Roosevelt also exerted an important influence on her social work career.

Hoey resigned from the BCW in late 1917 and went to work for the American Red Cross (ARC). From January 1918 to June 1921 Hoey was field director for the Atlantic Division of the ARC Civilian Relief, providing services for the families of soldiers and sailors. When the ARC ended its Civilian Relief program, Hoey returned to New York and was recruited by the National Information Bureau to make a study of the local units of national welfare organizations. As assistant director of the project, Hoey studied social services in twelve cities and two rural counties and surveyed forty-six organizations. The project report took two years to complete and was published in 1926.

In 1923 Hoey took a post with the New York Tuberculosis Association heading the Bronx Division, where from 1923 to 1926 she supervised the clinic and the children’s camps and organized public relations programs for the association. During this time Hoey also helped organize the influential Welfare Council of New York City, a clearinghouse of leading social service agencies. It was during her decade of work with the council that she made good use of her association with Smith, Wagner, and Roosevelt. In 1926 Governor Smith named Hoey to the New York State Crime Commission, which investigated the causes of crime and assisted in new legislation, and to the New York State Correction Commission, which supervised state prisons and county jails and promoted rehabilitation programs. In this work she began a lifelong interest in penology and juvenile delinquency.

In 1936 Hoey was appointed to the Social Security Board, a federal agency created to administer the Social Security Act’s programs. She served as director of the board’s Bureau of Public Assistance, where she was responsible for the welfare provisions of the act. She administered federal contributions to and supervision of the joint state-federal programs providing financial aid to the needy aged, to dependent children, and to the blind. It was the task of her bureau to determine whether individual state programs met federal standards and to allot federal funds to those approved. As director of the Bureau of Public Assistance, Hoey drew on her past experiences and brought to her work a coherent attitude toward welfare that combined fiscal responsibility and a strong commitment to social justice. She favored cash over in-kind payments to enable recipients to maintain their dignity; she advocated sound accounting methods to ensure sound financial management; and she insisted on the use of well-trained, professional social workers. Dwight D. Eisenhower removed Hoey from the board in 1953 when he replaced Democrats who held top administrative positions.

In 1940 Hoey was appointed president of the National Conference of Social Work, and she also represented the United States at several sessions of the United Nations Social and Economic Commission. Toward the end of her career she became the director of social research for the National Tuberculosis Association and vice chair of Mayor Robert Wagner’s Advisory Board of Public Welfare. She was also active in many other organizations concerned with social work, education, health, child welfare, race relations, and Catholic culture. She received the first Florina Lasker Social Work Award in 1955, the René Sand Award for her contribution to international social work in 1966, and the James J. Hoey Award for her work as an advocate of the rights of minorities from the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, which her brother had founded.

Hoey died in New York City. Never married, she died a wealthy woman, having been left an insurance business by her brother for which she had managerial responsibility. She left the bulk of her estate to Trinity College and to the Columbia University School of Social Work. Her commitment to social justice combined with her formidable administrative ability led to a varied and successful social work career. As one of the key federal executives in the New Deal, Hoey helped pave the way for women in high-level government work.