Loula F. Dunn, 81, a nationally known leader in public welfare work, died Tuesday at Georgetown University Hospital after a long illness.

She had served as executive director of the American Public Welfare Association from 1948 until her retirement in 1964.

During that period, the APWA headquarters were located in Chicago, then moved to Washington in 1974.

Miss Dunn, who had frequently visited the APWA branch office here during her tenure as executive director, moved here after her retirement.

Miss Dunn had been the first woman executive of APWA. She constantly preached that politics and public welfare were interwoven because both were the "tools of the peoples."

At her retirement, Wilbur J. Cohen, then assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, declared: "The trouble is that you can't replaced 'Miss Loula.' She could work with localities, states, HEW and the Congress."

Over the years, Miss Dunn maintained close associations with such public figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Born in Grove Hill, Ala., she started as a public school teacher in 1916. In the 1920s, she completed social work studies at Alabama Polytechnic Institute and the University of North Carolina.

Miss Dunn then became a case-worker with the Alabama Child Welfare Department In Montgomery. She advanced to the position of assistant director of that agency and was named director of social services for the Alabama Relief Administration in 1933.

A year later, she joined the staff of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, forerunner of the Works Progress Administration. She was based in New Orleans and was responsible for the administration of social work and employment of social work and employment programs in six southern states.

It was during this period that she became acquainted with Mrs. Roosevelt and President Johnson.

Miss Dunn was named Alabama commissioner of public welfare in 1937. In the years that followed, she gained national attention for her work in establishing child-welfare services and for her participation in international efforts to protect children up-rooted by World War II.

She was vice president of the Child Welfare League of America from 1940 to 1950, and toured Great Britain in 1945 as an official emissary of this country in connection with child welfare.

Miss Dunn, a familiar figure on Capitol Hill for many years, was considered a key figure in bringing together social welfare leaders from all over the country to help study and draft legislation establishing many of the current federally aided social programs.

She is survived by a brother, Robert H. Dunn, of Alexandria, and a sister, Minnie Dunn, of Montevallo, Ala.