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Social Work Training: A 1905 Report by Graham Taylor





Note: In 1892, Graham Taylor was invited to move to Chicago to teach at the Chicago Theological Seminary and also organize a department of Christian sociology, the first of its kind in any seminary in the United States. Early on in Chicago, he began to explore the idea of starting a settlement house in the model of Jane Addams’ Hull House, and in 1894 the Chicago Commons Settlement was founded. The Taylor family moved into a large but dilapidated house located at the corner of Union Street and Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago’s 17th Ward. The neighborhood was working class, with large populations of Scandinavian, Irish, German, and Italian immigrants. Although Taylor brought in his Seminary students as residents and teachers in the Commons, he wanted the house to be non-sectarian, open to all faiths, economic levels, and ethnic groups.

Taylor’s Address: The spontaneity of nature’s provision for the needs of life characterizes and accounts for the rise of the specialized educational efforts to train for philanthropic and social service. It is the most noteworthy fact in this first record of their progress submitted to the Conference, upon which to comment. Like everything vital they are agencies which life has developed to perpetuate, economize, conserve and increase its own energy. On both its practical and academic side this development has been wholly natural, if not inevitable, at just this stage of the evolution of philanthropy. Decision committees and friendly visitors’ conferences, consultations of institutional staffs, residents’ meetings in social settlements became more and more definitely educational in exchanging values by the rehearsal of experiences of success or failure. The association of charitable and reformatory workers in child-saving conferences, professional clubs, city and state organizations became educational clearing-houses for the interchange of information, suggestion and fellowship across institutional boundaries. This Conference has grown into a great summer school which has more and more grouped the charities and corrections of the nation within its charming personal fellowships and about its inspiring programs, while its published proceedings furnish the most authoritative text-books we have upon the whole range of charitable and correctional practice and theory.

Meanwhile simultaneously, the Universities, Colleges, Theological Seminaries and other professional schools, notably at Harvard, Columbia, the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan, the University of Chicago, Wellesley, Vassar, and Simmons College for Women had been developing courses and departments of instruction in social theory and practice. To meet this demand textbooks began to appear. Some religious bodies and Chautauqua Circles had introduced reading courses on social ethics and service to wide popular use. Training schools for nurses had raised the occupation of the trained nurse to the dignity, discipline and esprit de corps of a profession. The success of these unacademic but none the less effective educational agencies, and of the academic but not wholly unpractical effort, suggested something to supplement and develop, but nothing to substitute for, their respective schoolings. The educational advantages, which although purely incidental to the practical office or field work of charity organization societies and other institutions, had been enough to train up a corps of experts, suggested themselves as indispensable in their laboratory and clinical values, The historical, comparative, scientific and philosophical research and instruction of the academic type were recognized by the field workers to be equally necessary to the success of their work. These two natural sources of supply and strength, with spontaneity as happy as it was remarkable, joined forces to furnish the most highly specialized and therefore most practical training for philanthropic, industrial and social service.

Training schools thus arose not only simultaneously, but under remarkably similar conditions. The Charity Organization Society of the City of New York was first in the field with its Summer School of Philanthropy which for eight years has succeeded in. attracting and inspiring students by its unique observational methods. Shortly after this initiative, Miss Helen Gladstone started a winter course of social training at the Woman’s University Settlement in London. Although very quietly and unpretentiously managed and announced, its graduates are already to be found in some of the most influential and responsible positions in the metropolitan and provincial cities of Great Britain. In 1903-4 announcement was made of the establishment in London at the initiative of Mr. C. S. Loch and the Charity Organisation Society of a “School of Sociology and Social Economics.” The same year the New York Charity Organization Society supplemented its summer school by winter courses arranged chiefly for charity workers employed during the day.

Encouraged by the demand for training, the existence of which was demonstrated by such partial advantages as had been offered, the “New York School of Philanthropy” was opened the same year with a curriculum extending through eight autumn and winter months and including a full rounded course of training, with many lines of specialized study. Its cooperative relations with Columbia University have been developed by the creation of a chair of Social Economy at the University, avowedly to supplement the endowment and curriculum of the school. In I904 also there successively arose “The School for Social Workers” in Boston, under the joint administration of Harvard University and Simmons College for Women; “The Institute of Social Science and Arts,” established in connection with University College of the University of Chicago; “The School for Practical Training of Charity Workers” in St. Louis; and “The School of Training for Social Work,” inaugurated by the University of Liverpool, England. There have thus grown up within two years six training schools, four in America and two in England, with a total attendance of about one hundred and fifty students.

The problems confronting these initial efforts and the ways in which they are being met, stand in the forefront of the reports received from all the schools. First among them is the question, how far can the practical and academic methods and constituencies of these schools be correlated effectively for fulfilling their purpose? How real a problem this is may be indicated by the citations from letters written by members of the committee to the chairman. Mr. Philip W. Ayres of Concord, New Hampshire, writes:

“I do not think it expedient for our universities to train men and women for philanthropic work. Great as the influence of the universities is in turning young men and women into this field, they only prepare, but do not train. For any branch of philanthropic work, whether among the poor in their homes, or in institutions, one needs for a long period the close intimate touch that comes from and with people who are rich in experience, and this can be had only in the societies and institutions (institutions in the broadest sense). If perchance a training school for philanthropic workers is supported by a University, it seems to me that there is danger, even if its teaching force is chosen from practical workers, that its courses will become either very general and therefore academic, or else dogmatic, and in order to place the unfortunate in a better way of living without having the new worker gain his experience at their expense, we must have more than generalities; and there is no room at all for dogmatism.”

Professor Charles H. Cooley of the University of Michigan pleads for both the best general and special training possible in these words:

“In my opinion a university training in theoretical and applied sociology is valuable to the professional worker chiefly in giving him sound general principles, a broad view of the various problems and of their relation to each other, and an acquaintance with the best literature. These are evidently of the utmost importance and I find that their practical value is recognized by all intelligent opinions. I recognize, however, that the special schools of philanthropy now organizing in some of the great cities can add much that is of value to the student’s training, and I recommend a short post-graduate course in such a school whenever feasible. I suggest that the committee in its report urge upon the Conference the importance to all social workers of a broad training in the universities and special schools; that it throw as much light as possible on the actual or probable demand for trained workers and that it consider what may be done to increase the efficiency of bureaus of information, such as that established by charities in New York.”

In tendering his munificent gift yielding $10,000 per year to the Charity Organization Society of New York for the endowment of The New York School of Philanthropy, Mr. John S. Kennedy wrote:

“I obtained an act of incorporation for the ‘United Charities,’ and erected the building which is now known by that name, in the hope of securing thereby greater co-operation and more effective work among the important charitable agencies of New York, many of which are now located in the building. My expectations have been fully realized, and with their realization on the side of more efficient work has come a demand, not only in the City of New York, but throughout the country at large, for trained charity helpers. There is the same need for knowledge and experience in relieving the complex disabilities of poverty that there is in relieving mere ailments of the body, and the same process of evolution that has brought into our hospital service the trained physician and the trained nurse increasingly calls for the trained charity worker.

“I have noticed with increasing interest the efforts in this direction of the School of Philanthropy, conducted for the past seven years in the United Charities Building by the Charity Organization Society, which, in its inception, was solely a summer vacation school, but in its present form constitutes a full year’s course, and I have, after careful consideration, decided to provide the means for establishing this school on a permanent basis, if the proposition contained in this letter proves to be acceptable to your society. I would wish to have Columbia University affiliated with this committee, as it is with the society, by constituting the president of the University for the time being, or some person delegated by him for that purpose, an ex-officio member of this committee. I should also wish to emphasize the relation of this school to the United Charities and to the philanthropic work of the city by constituting as ex-officio members of the committee the Presidents for the time being of the United Charities, of the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York, of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, of the United Hebrew Charities, and of the Particular Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I have also considered the possible desirability of establishing the school as a department of some university, but have decided it should preferably be connected directly with the practical charity work of the city, in analogy to training schools for nurses which are connected with the hospitals rather than to any separate university department. I should hope it would affiliate its work, however, not only with Columbia University, but with other educational institutions, and I have sought by naming as ex-officio members of the committee the presidents for the time being of the more important societies dealing directly with the poor, not only to associate them in the direction of the school, but to emphasize my desire that this school shall give a training in the practice of that broad charity which is free from any limitations of creed or nationality.”

So long as there is actually a joint control of these schools by practical and academic experts, even though the former have only advisory relations to their management, and so long as the schools must depend for their training upon the experts actually at work in the specialties on the field, the danger of becoming doctrinaire is far less than the manifest gafn both to the universities and to all lines of practical work in the alliance of the academic spirit and scientific method with the laboratory practice and the human touch.

The rise of training classes in state institutions, especially in those for the care of the defective, and the inclusion of their employees under civil service laws in some states raises the question of the relation of these schools to the institutional service of county, city and state. The state of Minnesota recognizes the need of educational advantages for those responsible for its institutions to the extent of providing for the expense of their attendance upon the State Conference of Charities. The University of Wisconsin offers special work in its department of domestic economy bearing directly upon service in public institutions. Efforts have also been initiated in Illinois to enable the state university to provide facilities for training those who would enter the service of the state institutions; and also to offer those already employed in them such advantages at the university as “teachers’ institutes” offer those who could get leave of absence to attend them, and to open extension courses at some of the institutions for the benefit of those employees whose training can be supplemented only in this way. The first of the extension courses offered by the New York School of Philanthropy was given for the benefit of the graduating class of the Nurses’ Training School of the New York City Hospital at the Nurses’ School on Blackwell’s Island. The Michigan Asylums for the Insane are reported to be in close touch with the medical department of the state university, which furnishes them with some of their assistants. But no such effective co-operation exists anywhere in America as between the medical department of German universities and the public asylums for the insane. The special schools for training social workers can render no public service so great as to open the way for direct effort to broaden and increase the efficiency of all grades of employment in public institutions.

One of the problems of the curriculum in each one of the schools is to test the present demand for training by the practical purpose involved in the instruction offered. The first response to the courses offered at some of the large centers has come from the employed staffs of private and public institutions. While this fact accentuates a permanent claim upon the schools to provide facilities for increasing the efficiency of the force at work, yet the schools already see that these students are neither numerous enough to constitute the main source of supply, nor free enough to meet the standard of exaction which the schools must maintain to be educationally effective. So the curriculum is gradually being adjusted to the full time and strength of those who can devote themselves wholly to the work of preparing to serve either professionally or as volunteers. Provision is, however, made not only for the admission of the hard worked members of institutional staffs, but special inducements are offered to enable them to take what they can get of the advantages of the schools. Experience on the field is placed on a par with academic qualifications required in others. Single courses on topics allied to their professional needs are open to their election, where others are expected to take the full curriculum. Boards of managers and superintendents are granting both the time and expense involved in the attendance of their employees upon such courses. Yet the problem still remains of how to offer such training as will create the demand for it among such as are able to profit most by at least a year’s full course.

The permanent employment and living salaries surely opening to trained persons are urged as justification thus to prepare for a legitimate profession. A correspondent in one of the central western states writes that while “in filling positions in public institutions there is little or no recognition of the value of a general philanthropic training, yet the work the universities are doing, should bear fruit in creating a demand for a higher class of trained workers.” Another writes from the East: “Thus far the indications are that the demand for trained workers scarcely needs stimulating. The demand very greatly exceeds the supply. So far as city departments and state institutions are concerned, it will seem natural that trained students will succeed in the civil service examinations and will be appointed so far as they are willing to present themselves.” This latter view of the excess of the demand over the supply is certainly the fact at western centers, especially with respect to the number of well trained men and women available for head residents in settlements, the leadership of boys’ and girls’ clubs, probation officers in the Juvenile Courts, shop secretaryships for administering employers’ betterment enterprises, and assistants to manage the developing social agencies in church work.

The duty of boards of managers to prepare themselves for their responsibilities is urged. Their appreciation of training for themselves is sure to enhance their valuation of trained helpers.

How to maintain the highest standards of both academic and practical efficiency in the instruction and training of such schools, and to exact the requirements for admission and graduation necessary thereto, is the problem involving more than any other the future of this movement for specialized education. The warning of one of the most experienced and discreet members of the committee deserves all the emphasis which this report can give and circulate. Miss Mary E. Richmond writes:

“Looking to the future rather than to the past, the question connected with training schools that immediately suggests itself is whether it is wise to encourage the organization of such schools in all our large cities. I am inclined myself to think that this is unwise. If six such schools were adequately endowed to-morrow, I fear that at least four of them would be very poor concerns for a good while to come, the chief element in the school after all being the personality and experience of the teachers. The supply of these comes slowly, and the multiplication of schools under second grade leadership, turning out half-baked workers, is a danger that we have to face. We know how the medical profession has suffered from it. Perhaps there is no possibility of our escape, but in so far as the National Conference can influence the situation, I feel inclined to urge the Conference to encourage students to go to the school rather than to have the school come to the student. A few good centers are going to do more good, I think, to the cause of charity and social reform than a large number of centers with programs and courses chiefly on paper. I am not writing this apropos of anything that has already been done. Perhaps I am unduly alarmed about what may happen in the near future.”

For this service of maintaining a high standard of practical efficiency the common cause must look to this Conference more than to any other source of help, because it has always combined in its membership and management representatives of the most thorough academic discipline and of the most practical insight that wide experience and observation can acquire. If therefore a committee of this Conference could be continued and so constituted that it would commend itself as a valuable advisory auxiliary to these schools, – its annual reports here rendered, based upon the year’s visitation of and correspondence with each of them would, by its faithful and constructive criticism and its oversight of the whole field afford perhaps a sufficient safeguard and incentive for the highest practical efficiency.

Source: National Conference on Social Welfare Proceedings On-Line — The proceedings of annual meetings of the NCSW, 1874-1983, are available on the web thanks to a digitization project undertaken by the University of Michigan Library, with assistance from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.  The web site for this resource is:




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