Emma Puschner, director of the National Child Welfare Division for 25 years. Born in 1889, Puschner was a native of St. Louis, where she trained in child welfare and earned a bachelor’s degree in law, and had been involved with the St. Louis Board of Children’s Guardians since its inception in 1912, rising to become an agent of the board and representing it in court; and eventually becoming director, overseeing much of the city’s child welfare. She was hired by the Legion in the spring of 1925, and in August 1926 was named director of the Child Welfare Division. Previously, the Legion had taken an approach to child welfare – taking care of not just the orphaned and needy children of veterans, but of children everywhere to help them become future upstanding citizens – that mostly consisted of fundraising, thinking that simply raising enough money (such as for the Endowment Fund) would take care of all problems.
Puschner put standards, organization and figures to the division’s use. She advocated for money to keep children in the home when it was possible, and for them to be quickly adopted if it was not. She pushed for more intervention and administration by state and even local agencies and organizations, in everything from direct child welfare to education. And she mobilized thousands of local volunteers across the country, Legionnaires and Auxiliary members alike, to put these goals into practice.
Puschner, an Auxiliary member, was very active on national committees for child welfare and protection during World War II, and generated much publicity in the process – even appearing on the radio soap opera “The Guiding Light” in 1944, as herself, to talk to some of the mother characters about the problem of juvenile delinquency. She retired from the Legion in 1950, and returned to St. Louis. She died in 1964; The American Legion Magazine had as an obituary, “Her direction of many of the achievements of the Legion’s national Child Welfare program brought great credit to The American Legion.” Resolution 52, passed in October 1970, changed the National Child Welfare Commission’s name to the National Commission on Children & Youth.