Gender and Mission: The Legacy of Professionalism and Maternalism in the Harvard-Simmons School for Social Workers (1904-1916)

Shuhuan Ren, Peking University

The maturing of Boston's charities into social work occurred between 1870 and 1910. After gaining experience working for the Baltimore Charity Organization Society (COS), Jeffrey Brackett moved to Boston in 1904 to establish the Harvard-Simmons School for Social Workers, the first institution in the United States to offer clinical social worker training and symbolizing the emergence of social work as a profession. In 1916, Harvard University withdrew from the School for Social Workers, leaving only Simmons College, a vocationally oriented women’s college, as an affiliate. After Harvard’s withdrawal, the School for Social Workers narrowed its focus from sociology, social science, social reform and social policy to a casework-based, individualistic enterprise. In this process, a strict gender division of labor in professional social work was also codified by the Harvard-Simmons School for Social Workers. Women were confined to doing casework and practical case studies, while men were assigned to roles such as social scholars, reformers, and theorists. The orientation of the curriculum at Harvard and Simmons after 1916 reflected the institutionalization of gendered paths for male and female social workers. To some extent, the compartmentalization of the field resulting from this gender inequality allows women some space for influence and autonomy in charity organization movement and social work. In 1920, professors Sophonisba Breckinridge and Edith Abbott found the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. They trained a couple generations of women as social workers who did social research, went into government as policymakers, and shaped the world as political activists. The term "civic maternalism" or "municipal housekeeping" broadly describes some middle-class women activists' maternal experience. These women were trained as professional social workers and promoted social change and helped shape social policy in accordance with their concerns in the progressive era.

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 Presented in Session 63. Gender and the State