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Securing and Training Social Workers: 1911

Securing and Training Social Workers


Report of the Committee, By the Chairman, Miss  Sophonisba P. Breckinridge, Director Department of Social Investigation, Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, Assistant Professor of Social Economy, The University of Chicago.

The Chairman originally selected for the committee on Securing and Training Social Workers was Professor Graham Taylor, of Chicago. In March, he found he would be unable to carry the work of the section to completion and the present chairman was therefore asked to assume the responsibilities he had to lay aside. It has been her effort to carry out the plans formulated before he withdrew.

On December 5, 1910, Professor Taylor sent, as chairman, to all the members of the section a letter of inquiry asking for suggestions with reference to the program and for special consideration of the following points:

(1) How to secure the co-operation of college professors in bringing the claims and opportunities of social work directly to the attention of their students at the time when they will be most interested in receiving such suggestions.

(2) How we may influence the choice of electives so as to best prepare college students to take graduate work in schools for social training.

(3) Whether it may not be possible for the four schools at New York, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis to combine in offering correspondence courses which may both increase the efficiency of those already at work in the field and prepare them and others the better to take the work of the schools.

(4) Whether it would pay to issue a questionnaire regarding the formation of social service groups or clubs in the smaller cities and larger towns, inquiring especially concerning the needs, initiation, conduct, results and value of the fellowship and co-operation which they promote.

From the replies, so far as possible, constructive suggestions have been embodied in the program either of the general meeting, or of the section meetings. There were, however, notable criticisms or cautions uttered by three members of the Committee, all of whom happened to be distinguished professors of Economics. Professor Doten felt concerned that especial warning might be uttered against the unskilled exploitation of the social laboratory. Professor Barnett felt it wise to consider the policy of subsidizing or of offering special inducements to prospective workers in the social field. He suggested that “the result of such a distribution of stipends would undoubtedly be to induce same persons, who would not otherwise do so, to take up social work; some of those would probably, he thought, be “less purposeful than their fellows” who have selected that line of service without the inducement of an immediate subsidy, or any other attraction than the nature of the work itself and their belief in their fitness for it. The result of such a policy Professor Barnett fears may be the lowering of the standard both of work and of remuneration in the field of social endeavor. Because, at a time when we are free both to act wisely and to blunder, it is most important to hear all friendly caution, both of these members of the committee were asked to take part in the discussion and to present their views.

A third eminent member of the committee, on the faculty of one of the great Universities, wrote in criticism of the term “Social Workers;” and in order that the Conference may have the benefit of his judgment, and that his statement may receive the consideration due any suggestion made by him, his letter is quoted somewhat at length.

“I am still considerably at a loss to know how to answer the various questions which you ask. In the first place, I am doubtful whether it is desirable that college professors should bring claims and opportunities of what is commonly called social work to the attention of students. All useful work is social work and I do not see any reason for discriminating in favor of certain highly specialized forms of useful work which are vulgarly referred to as social service. I think there is a distinct danger of wrecking useful careers in the case of young men or women who ought to go into business or professional life but whom somebody persuades to drop this work, which is of unquestionable utility, in favor of the kind of work which is at best of questionable utility.”

The following program of the meetings, if closely scrutinized, will be therefore a report of the Committee giving in outline the scope and trend of the special movement intrusted to the consideration of the section:

GENERAL MEETING: The Call of the Social Field, Miss Jane Addams; The Appeal to Young Men, Charles W. Birtwell; Training for Investigation, Miss Mary E. Richmond.

SECTION MEETINGS. I. The Professional School: Aims and Methods, Professor Roswell C. McCrea, with Discussion by Professor C. W. Doten and John M. Glenn; Co-operation with Colleges, Professor G. E. Haynes; Co-operation with Social Agencies, Mrs. John M. Glenn. II. The Educational Possibilities of Social Workers Clubs, Miss Zilpha D. Smith. III. Training for the Public Service: For State Institutional Work, Miss Julia C. Lathrop; for Probation and School Attendance Service, Roger N. Baldwin.

In addition to this, however, I shall take the opportunity of stating somewhat more in detail the factors which I believe to be the essential elements in the problem presented to this group.

Recurring to the question of terminology, we would admit that all work honestly, effectively and generously done is “social work.” No one of us sympathizes for more than a moment with the eager, ardent and zealous young people who come to us asking how they can escape from “teaching” into “social work.” Admitting this, however, we still claim the privilege of using the term in a narrower and more special sense and to designate by it services rendered to those who are in some wise peculiarly weak.

There is the weakness of childhood, of old age, of mental defect, of moral unsoundness, of poverty and of distress. Each of these groups has its peculiar needs. In order that it may be effectively served it must be handled with reference to definite and formulable principles. All of them have, however, in common the appeal of their weakness. And so with those who would serve. While for the care-taker of children, the minister to old age, the guardian of the defective, there are admittedly, special technique and special abilities, from all alike are required the common characteristics of tact, of sympathy, of revolt against injustice and a love of equality which makes it inevitable that they should endeavor to smooth out rough places. To all should be given a reasonable knowledge of the causes of the inequalities which offend them, a reasonable hope that the painful features attendant now upon the situation of these various groups may be eliminated, and a reasonable understanding of the bearing of inadequate services of any group upon the well-being of the whole community. In addition there may be demanded the determination that the ministry shall be so rendered as not to increase the weakness. Now, ministry tendered in this spirit and with this determination, merges itself in treatment; and for treatment is required the special technique to which reference has been made.

We have then before this section these very large and intricate questions:

(1) How can we find and select those who are gifted with that passion for service, that revolt against inequality, that love of fair play which will make them eager, zealous, intelligent and devoted?

(2) Granted that we can thus secure and select, by what devices and to what extent can we give to these young persons, in addition to this fundamental requirement of ability quickly to recognize weakness, while constantly demanding democratic equality, the further special training which will enable them not only to minister, but to cure.

In these meetings we are laying bare before the Conference the elementary stage at which our thought and our practice upon these points still rests. To be sure, a review of the past decade convinces the observer that real progress has been made. In 1897, fourteen years ago, at Toronto, Miss Richmond made her notable statement before the Conference regarding the desirability of establishing professional schools. In 1901, four years later, Dr. Brackett reported somewhat at length upon the establishment of the Summer School for Philanthropic Workers, established by the New York Charity Organization Society:

“Last year the twenty-four students who registered for the full course, and the six present for portions of it, included graduates from fifteen universities and colleges and workers of some experience from thirteen charitable organizations. They came from eleven states. Three weeks were given to the subject of the care and treatment of needy families in their homes; one week to the care of destitute, neglected, and delinquent children; another week to neighborhood improvements; and another week was divided between medical charities and institutional care of adults. The method of the school is practical. The speakers are leaders in their lines of work; and some of them, spending several days with the members of the class, add the personal acquaintance and opportunities for informal talks.” (Conference of Charities and Correction, 1901, p. 291.)

In 1903 Professor Graham Taylor and Miss Julia C. Lathrop, with the co-operation of President Harper of The University of Chicago, conducted in Chicago courses of lectures designed to attract workers into this field and to enable those already at work to improve their standards of workmanship. In 1904, again Dr. Brackett called the attention of the Conference to the subject by making it the theme of his presidential address, and the following year Professor Taylor reported as chairman of a committee to consider the subject.

Today the New York Summer School for Philanthropic Workers has lost itself in the New York “School of Philanthropy” conducted by the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York and affiliated with Columbia University, whose purpose is “to fit men and women for social service in either professional or volunteer work.” The Boston School for Social Workers maintained by Simmons College and Harvard University, established in 1904, has completed its seventh year of successful educational work. The Chicago Institute for Social Service has become the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, and may be reported as established on a safe pecuniary and a sound educational basis. The St. Louis School of Social Economy, affiliated with Washington University, starting in 1901-2 as a series of Round Table meetings of workers, has passed beyond the experimental stage and has just completed its sixth year of full academic quality and amount. These four institutions enjoy special grants from the Russell Sage Foundation that they may maintain departments of training in social investigation, and The University of Wisconsin has inaugurated work of the same general kind in Milwaukee. We are therefore able to point to a number of these schools as creditable institutions, and to characterize them as essentially professional schools. From them are emerging every year, a number of persons whom we believe to be reasonably prepared to enter upon a life of professional service in behalf of the weaker members of the community, before whose eyes has been uncovered some vision of the remediable and preventable suffering in the world, in whose hearts has been aroused the hope of alleviating some share of this misery, whose wills have undertaken so to serve as not to weaken; and in connection with some aspect of weakness they have been given at least the fundamental idea of treatment.

Not only have we these professional schools, but we have a common agreement as to certain aspects of their task. We know for example that the instruction offered by these schools must be of two kinds, that of the lecture or class room and that of practice under supervision. The idea is shared by all those responsible for these institutions that the candidate for social service should serve a term of apprenticeship, and then have perhaps his “year and a day” of journeyman’s work before undertaking the responsibilities of the master-craftsman. The questions which arise are with regard to the ways of securing these opportunities, not at all as to whether or not they should be secured.

With regard to the class room instruction there is substantial accord as to considerable portions of the curriculum, and, with reference to the methods of instruction it is agreed that we shall profit if we learn from our predecessors in the world of professional education, the schools of law and of medical training, to rely upon the so-called “case” method of instruction. To be sure there are as yet neither skilfully compiled “case-books” nor instructors trained in the use of them. But we can hope for an addition to our equipment in the reasonably near future, and while we wait we practice and learn how.

There is, too, reasonable unanimity as to one function which these schools may serve–that of selection. The “conscientious elimination of the incompetent and the unfit” is a task of no mean importance when the object of our service may so easily become the victim of our blunders.

But beyond these points of certainty there lie wide stretches of the problematical. Our relationship to the college and university is interesting from two points of view. Those institutions must rightly be regarded as one important source of supply. And yet what are the chances that among these selected groups of young people the interest for which we stand shall have a fair show? There is, of course, no question of our attempting or wishing to limit our numbers to those who come through collegiate channels. How we may obtain reasonable access to them at a reasonably early period is a question we do well to consider; and if access be obtained to these young people whom we would attract, how we can secure for them the desirable pre-professional training becomes, as Dr. Taylor’s letter suggested, a question of great importance.

Besides the problems connected with the regular training offered by these schools, the question suggests itself of how we can render effectual service to those already in the active work. These present themselves in at least two groups–those who, while well-meaning, are untrained and unqualified for any delicate task, such as the attendants in our public institutions for the defective, the aged and the insane in those states in which these tasks are still entrusted to the rudest and most unskilled hands; and those who are highly trained along certain lines, without having that fundamental conception to which reference has been made, of the relation of any of these groups and its service to the wellbeing of the whole. The pulling up of the standards in our institutions, without changing the personnel of the staff and the fusing with a social sense the task of the trained nurse, the sanitarian, the dietetic expert, seems to me a task well worth the interest of this section. For these tasks, such devices as the Extension Course, the Summer Session, the “Course for Attendants” given now both by the Chicago and the New York Schools, the Bulletin of the Charity Organization Department of the Russell Sage Foundation, are being worked out. Upon their success, reports may be made at some later day when the Conference finds that a section may again be devoted to the discussion of these educational problems.

Source: Proceedings of The National Conference of Charities And Correction at the Thirty-Eighth Annual Session, Held in Boston, Mass. June 7-14, 1911. pp.365-369.

Editor’s Note: In a Quarterly Issue of The Survey (1911) there was a report on the  sectional discussion of recruiting and training social workers that took place at the annual session of the National Conference of Charities and Correction held in Boston, Mass. June 7-14, 1911. Mary Wilcox Glenn was one of the participants, along with Jane Addams, Mary E. Richmond, John M. Glenn and Professor Haynes of Fisk University. Below is a section of the article assessing the comments of the presenters.

Securing and Training Social Workers

Chair, Sophonisba P. Breckinridge, Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy

On many occasions at previous conferences attention has been called to the necessity of devising new ways of calling into the field of social service the most eager and intelligent among the young persons entering professional life, and of developing institutions or agencies for their preparation and training. At the Boston conference, however, for the first time, a section coordinated with other sections was set apart for the discussion of these problems.

The general meeting of the conference under the auspices of this section was devoted to the discussion of ways in which an intelligent and eager interest could be aroused among able young men and women about to select their profession. Jane Addams, in an address upon the “Call of the Social Field,” described in her most persuasive, discriminating, and convincing manner, the groups to whom such an appeal might profitably be addressed. Charles W. Birtwell, of Boston, spoke of reasons why it might be necessary to present to men the attractions and needs of social service more seductively and persuasively than is necessary in the case of women. Prof. George E. Barnett urged that the call be allowed to make its own appeal.

The subject of training for social work was presented at this meeting by Mary E. Richmond, who discussed the universal need in social work for the ability to discover those facts upon which a well planned action must rest, and the consequent requirement that every social worker be able, to obtain and organize the data necessary for the work of treatment. The fact that treatment must be individual rather than collective was illustrated by Miss Richmond in the experience of the public schools, which have boasted of the uniform treatment of all children, only to learn of the necessity of organizing special treatment for special groups—backward, handicapped, tuberculous—and finally of devising some means by which the needs of each child might be taken into account….

A most interesting contribution to the discussion was made by John M. Glenn, who emphasized the function of these schools in supplying discipline and training rather than inspiration and stimulus, and urged in particular that stress be laid upon statistical technique. Prof. George E. Haynes of Fisk University described a plan for cooperation among the colleges for colored students, the schools of philanthropy, and those interested in the problems presented by the negro communities in northern cities, in accordance with which it is hoped to select during their college life and to give thorough pre-professional training to able negro young men and women, supply the best professional equipment possible, and let them find their opportunity in the service of their own people.

Perhaps the most interesting of the section meetings was that at which Mary Wilcox Glenn read a paper on the cooperation of social agencies with schools of philanthropy in securing an apprenticeship experience for students. Such a plan involves the undertaking by the societies of work which bears a truly educational character. It involves the sacrifice of a certain number of the societies’ activities in order that the directors may supervise and guide the students committed to their instruction; but it also means a more critical attitude on the part of each society toward its own work, a close scrutiny of its methods, and a resulting justification and assurance, or readjustment and improvement. The working out of the plan should result in a supply of young persons who are not only quick to respond to the appeal for help, and intelligent with reference to the social problem in general, but possessed of the fundamental idea of treatment, and equipped to a certain extent with the technique so desirable in ministering to the helpless and necessitous.

Source: The Survey, Vol. XXVI (April 1911 – September 1911) New York Charity Organization Society.  pp. 538-542.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Breckinridge, S.P. (1911, April). Securing and training social workers. The Survey, 26, 528-542. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=8449.

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