Answered By: ESC Sara
Last Updated: Oct 31, 2023     Views: 845

People have difficulty searching this frequently assigned topic because, historically, this area was not called human services. 

In the 19th century in the U.S. and Western Europe, care of the sick, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly was left to volunteers. Some were middle and upper class women working within their own families, social circles, and communities.

Private charities, often affiliated with religious organizations, did a lot of work in this area. So did labor unions. There were also organizations called "benevolent societies" whose members contributed money and volunteer work and, in exchange, if they were ever in need, the benevolent society would provide for them. 

So the key to finding information sources on this topic is searching in the right databases, and using the right keywords. 


  • Historical Abstracts (history of the world, minus North America, from 1400 to present)
  • America: History and Life (history of North America, from 1400 to present)
  • SocIndex w/ Full-text (sociology and social services topics)
  • PsycArticles (psychology topics)
  • Medline (medical topics)

A note about time periods: If you are searching in Historical Abstracts or America History and life, use the Advanced Search. They have options to specify what time period you are searching. If you are searching in any other database, you will need to add keywords to your search for time period. Try this combination:

your topic AND ("19th century" OR "nineteenth century" OR 1800s)


The easiest way to identify keywords is to break down exactly what human service you're talking about. Here are some examples:

  • (orphans OR orphanages) AND  ("19th century" OR "nineteenth century" OR 1800s)
  • (poor OR poverty OR impoverished) AND (charity OR support OR alms OR workhouses) AND  ("19th century" OR "nineteenth century" OR 1800s)
  • ("mentally ill" OR insane) AND sanitariums  AND  ("19th century" OR "nineteenth century" OR 1800s)

Here is some information from our Research Skills Tutorial about how to effectively identify and combine keywords in databases:
Concept Charts

Boolean Operators

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