IAWP: In The Beginning

By George Strait

Our association (now known as the International Association of Workforce Professionals) was founded in 1913. Dr. William Morris Leiserson is generally credited with being our founder. Dr. Leiserson sent a two page letter (yes, I am certain it was an actual letter, probably typed on a manual upright typewriter) to 61 superintendents of public employment offices distributed over nineteen states (fifty-four of these offices were operated by state governments and seven by municipalities) on June 11, 1913. I don’t know how he reproduced these letters, but I suspect they went by U. S. Mail. He began these letters with this central question, “Would you be interested in the organization of an American association of public employment offices?” Leiserson went on to say, “Several officers in charge of such offices, with whom I have spoken, have felt that we were not getting the benefit of each other’s experience as we should,” thus began our 116 year journey. Or one might say, “Five score and sixteen years ago.”

Reaction to Leiserson’s letter was favorable and prompted a follow-up letter. After some back and forth negotiations (including calling it a Midwestern Association). it was agreed to hold a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, December 29 and 30, 1913. Twelve to fifteen delegates were in attendance. Some of them already knew each other. They were all experienced and dedicated public servants. Most were prominent in the field of labor, labor and industrial relations, and labor arbitration and mediation. They were also mostly from the midwest. They had something else in common. They were all very interested in exchanging information concerning employment and in facilitating the employment of all persons interested in working.

This small group of dedicated people met in an employment office in Chicago. They formed an organization which they called the “American Association of Public Employment Offices.” They wrote a constitution, elected officers, agreed to an annual meeting, and dues of $1 per year. Fred C. Croxton, Columbus, Ohio, was elected President. James V. Cunningham, Lansing, Michigan, was elected Vice President, and Dr. Leiserson, Wisconsin, Secretary-Treasurer. Thus began the saga of this professional association, dedicated to providing our members with the educational and training opportunities to serve our customers.

George Strait retired from the Nebraska Department of Labor in 1987.  He has been a member of IAPES/IAWP since 1962 and has been writing for the association since 1988.