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Social Work and History Thread

Social Work and History (Again) [ 11 Oct 1994 ]


Dear Professor Carp:

The original question, as I recall, and the one you replied to, based in part so I gather, on your own research, was: why is social work without any history of its work? I may have understated the question or left out some of the important nuance stuff, but for the moment let me work with this.

I think there are really two questions. The first question has to do with the history of social welfare in the US. The second question is why is there so little history on social work as a profesion. My own experience is that these two questions are often conflated. For example, if one looks at the history of social work, the litle that is taught, it usually is tangled up with the history of social welfare. In other words, it seems as though no one has yet picked up the idea of writing a history of social work independent of certain major institutions, i.e. the welfare system with it many attendent sub-parts, e.g. child welfare, adoption. With respect to the former, I am not surprised that what is written is pronbably wrong, but I would be interested to know if this stuff is written by social workers, economists, historians or political scientists. I would be surprised if anything very interesting about social work as a profession shows up much in the history of social welfare as written by non-social workers. This doesn't of course mean that if social workers write a history of social welfare it is necessarily more reputable, I doubt that it is.

The other piece about social work as a profesion I find quite puzzling too. I suspect that the reason historians haven't paid much attention to social work as a profession is that it isn't very interesting and perhaps a more significant reason is that social work is still somewhat short of being a real profession at least it doesn't yet qualify in terms of folk science as having made it.

Both questions are important for a similar reason and that is the question posed as to why it isn't taught more. I think one of the reasons is that social workers have not made the distinction in their own minds as to whether they are a profession quite independent of the welfare system and also because historians simply haven't found much to offer. I think the latter is not acceptable and is perhaps borne out of ignorance. Which is to say that it has an enormous amount to offer depending on the question the historian puts forth. For example, I think there is much to learn if an analytic historian were to look at the intellectual development of the profession and perhaps draw out those parts of social work that are genuinely affected by scientific and intellectual developments and those aspects of the professions' work that are really quite political. For example, I suspect we really know little more now then we did ten years ago about the nature og homosexuality, yet social workers have entered into the political aspects of this much discussed topic and have insisted that issues of gender and orientation be included in the curiculum, i..e. essentially political issue have become a sort of intellectual dogma. I am not cheering for either side, I only offer this up as an example poiticallly inspired education and ultimately practice.

I have said quite enough, do let me hear your thoughts. Thanks for the forum. The questions raised are important and my thanks for the chance to respond.

With every good wish,

Dale Albers Social Work and History

Social Work and History (Again) [ 12 Oct 1994 ]


Date: 12 Oct 1994 13:58:58 -0500 (CDT)
From: PETERS@vaxa.cis.uwosh.edu
>social work as a profession is that it isn't very interesting and perhaps

As I understand it, when the first US sociology dept. was getting started, there were women researchers, but Albion Small, U of Chicago, would not appoint women to the faculty although they did teach (sort of the academic staff, ad hocs of the past) and they certainly did research. They applied scientific research to the study of family (which read unimportant women's stuff). Sociology of the time was very social problem driven and much of the research was done in the poverty areas of Chicago among immigrants -- Jane Addams and the Hull House. As far as a history, I think you'd have to look to the importance of women and their lives had or didn't have to the whole academic world. There is more of gender in the absence than of social work as a profession being uninteresting. By the way, the social statistics were gathered and computed by women as it was a very labor intensive process.

BARBARA PETERS            University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
                          Depts. of Sociology and Public Affairs
                          Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901
                          (414) 424-0848
Bitnet Address            peters@oshkoshw
Internet Address          peters@vaxa.cis.uwosh.edu
Social Work and History

Social Work and History (Again) [ 13 Oct 1994 ]


Date: Thu, 13 Oct 94 06:49:30 CDT
From: Charles <ATHERTON%UA1VM@UICVM.UIC.EDU>

>>social work as a profession is that it isn't very interesting and perhaps >
>As I understand it, when the first US sociology dept. was getting started, >there were women researchers, but Albion Small, U of Chicago, would not >appoint women to the faculty although they did teach (sort of the academic >staff, ad hocs of the past) and they certainly did research.

--But that is sociology and not social work. Although some early professional philanthropists were in cahoots with sociologists, they weren't realy social workers. As a profession, social work grew out of the efforts of, among others, Anna L. Dawes, Mary Richmond, Julia Lathrop, Zilpha Smith, and Grace and Edith Abbott.

They applied
>scientific research to the study of family (which read unimportant women's >stuff).

--I think this is a bit unfair, since the study of the family was a pretty important sub-field in sociology. Admittedly, the early family sociologists believed that the traditional Midwestern farm family was normative, but so did everyone else at the time. I think that it is risky to fault past figures for their failure to have the insights and wisdom of today.

Sociology of the time was very social problem driven and much of >the research was done in the poverty areas of Chicago among immigrants -- >Jane Addams and the Hull House. As far as a history, I think you'd have to >look to the importance of women and their lives had or didn't have to the >whole academic world.

--Sure, but this doesn't deal with the issue of whether or not the history of professional social work is interesting or not.

There is more of gender in the absence than of >social work as a profession being uninteresting.

--But professional social work was an exception, in that many of the early academics were women. A better argument might be that male historians may have overlooked the history of professional social work because it was largely a women's profession. But of course, there is Roy Lubove.

By the way, the social
>statistics were gathered and computed by women as it was a very labor >intensive process.
>
--Could it also be possible that women were employed to do this because they were interested in it, and perfectly capable of doing the work accurately? Can one assume that it was only because it was labor intensive?

Charles Atherton Social Work, History, and Women

social work, history, and women [ 13 Oct 1994 ]


Date: Thu, 13 Oct 94 08:36 CDT
From: Linda Gordon Univ of Wis <ILGORDON@macc.wisc.edu> On the subject of women turning to social work because of the split between social work and sociology, and the gendered nature of that split, you'll find a discussion of this in some detail in chapter 6 of my Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (Free Press, 1994).... To reassert an earlier point in this discussion: social work history has been impoverished by lack of attention to the dynamics of gender within the profession. Linda Gordon Social Work and History

Social Work and History (Again) [ 16 Oct 1994 ]


Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 10:45:45 -0500 (CDT) From: michel sonya a. <herfmich@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>

With regard to the lack of a history of social work, I would suggest that since its status as a profession has, indeed, been complicated and vexed, it would be difficult to write a straightforward history of it. One reason seems to be the fact that it has been dominated by women--and whether that is the reason it has never been fully recognized as a profession, or vice versa, is open to debate. However, several people, including myself, have written about it as it has affected clients, particularly women and children--that is, we have tried to do social histories of social work, which seems to be a more productive approach. A partial bibliography would include the following: Regina Kunzel, Fallen Women, Problem Girls (Yale, 1993) Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives and her newest book, Pitied but Not Entitled
Beverly Stadum, Poor Women and Their Families: Hard Working Charity Cases (SUNY Press, 1992)
Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Psychiatric Persuasion (Princeton, 1994) Margo Horn's book on the child guidance movement Sonya Michel, Children's Interests / Mothers' Rights: Women, Professionals, and the American Family , 1920-1945 (Ph.D. diss, Brown, 1986)

Liz Lunbeck in particular has a very interesting discussion about how turn-of-the century psychiatrists depended heavily upon social workers to do some of their "dirty work" with both patients and their families, but deliberately denied them access to any of their arcane knowledge about what they (the docs) were trying to do--thus ensuring that it would remain a "semi-profession." My dissertation is also quite critical of them; Horn is less so, at least of the social workers involved in child guidance. KUnzel points out that, despite efforts to appear scientific, social workers in the 1920s and 30s were often moralistic, a point that Lunbeck and I would both support. It is dicey to write about social work because it often was problematic in its ersatz knowledge base and often inadequate treatment of clients, but from a feminist perspective I think we also have to understand what these would-be professionals--as women--were up against.
Sonya Michel
Michel@princeton.edu Social Work and History

Social Work and History (Again) [ 16 Oct 1994 ]


Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 14:03:51 -0400 (EDT) From: Alana J. Erickson <aje4@columbia.edu> > As a profession, social work grew out > of the efforts of, among others, Anna L. Dawes, Mary Richmond, Julia > Lathrop, Zilpha Smith, and Grace and Edith Abbott.

There is a recent (1994) Columbia U. dissertation on Mary Richmond. The author is Sarah Lederman.

Alana J. Erickson
aje4@columbia.edu



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