Origins of the Philadelphia Training School for Social Work: Founded — 1908

Introduction: Over a hundred years, the growth and development of what became today’s School of Social Policy and Practice of the University of Pennsylvania reflects the changing environment and the evolving role of charity, philanthropy and professional social work in our society.  It is therefore noteworthy to list the various names this great institution of learning has carried over time:

  • 1908 — Philadelphia Training School for Social Work
  • 1914 — The Pennsylvania School for Social Service
  • 1921 — Pennsylvania School of Social and Health Work
  • 1933 — Pennsylvania School of Social Work
  • 2005 — School of Social Policy and Practice of the University of Pennsylvania.

Note (1): Depending on the way in which “founded” is defined, the “Philadelphia Training School for Social Work” was perhaps the third, fourth or fifth in seniority among schools of social work in the United States. The New York School of Philanthropy traced its origins to 1898 and became a graduate school of Columbia University in 1940. It celebrated its centennial in 1998 and published a handsome volume of School history. The Boston School for Social Workers, known today as the Simmons School of Social Work, was established in 1904. It celebrated its centennial in 2004. The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy has set its founding date at 1908, but traces its origins to 1895. It became the School of Social Service Administration of the University of Chicago in 1920.

Note (2): Under the direction of Benjamin Franklin Pepper the Children’s Bureau of Philadelphia, inaugurated on November 2, 1908 a training program for social work professionals in Philadelphia. The purpose of the course was “…to give practical training in modern principles and methods of child-helping under the direction of experienced workers in this field. It is particularly designed for graduates of colleges, universities, schools of theology and pedagogy, or for persons actually engaged in social work who desire this training.” This was the origin of what has become today a great institution of research, teaching, and practice, the School of Social Policy & Practice of the University of Pennsylvania.  The evolution of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work from an agency training course on “child helping” in 1908 involved the contributions of significant social welfare pioneers such as Mary E. Richmond, Owen Lovejoy and Porter R. Lee as well as distinguished leaders of local social service organizations and advocacy groups such as the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children from Cruelty and the Pennsylvania Child Labor Association. This portion of the history of the school’s development is taken directly from “A Centennial History of the School of Social Policy and Practice” written by Mark Frazier Lloyd, Director of the University Archives and Records Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and published in 2008.

Origins of a School for Social Work Professionals: The modern University of Pennsylvania – an institution of research and teaching — may be traced to the early 1880s, when Provost William Pepper established the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and developed the research degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Pepper also understood the importance of practice. Under his direction the University founded the Wharton School of Finance and Economy and a Chair of Pedagogy, forerunner to the Graduate School of Education. Pepper was a leader of great energy and broad interests. Outside the University he was the foremost citizen of Philadelphia. Most famously, he was the founder of the Free Library of Philadelphia, but he also guided the first years of the University Museum and the Society for University Extension. He was a public-spirited man of the first order.

Benjamin Franklin Pepper (1879- 1918), President of the Seybert Institution for Poor Boys and Girls (1907), organizer and benefactor of the first “Course of Training in Child- Helping” (1908), and incorporator and first President of the Board of Trustees of the “Pennsylvania School for Social Service” (1915-1916). Photograph courtesy of the University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania.

William Pepper instilled in his son, Benjamin Franklin Pepper, the same commitment to public service. The younger Pepper, who earned Penn’s degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1903, quickly invested his law practice in “pro bono” work. Foremost among those works was the Adam and Maria Sarah Seybert Institution for Poor Boys and Girls of Philadelphia. Established through the will of Henry Seybert, in memory of his parents, the Institution began operations in 1907.  Seybert, a cousin of the Peppers, directed that B. Franklin Pepper be the Institution’s first President. Pepper took charge with an energy and vision reminiscent of his father. Immediately, in that first year, Pepper collaborated with two other Philadelphia social service organizations to establish the Children’s Bureau of Philadelphia, which was dedicated to receiving and investigating applications for childcare… Under the direction of Franklin Pepper, the Children’s Bureau of Philadelphia, on November 2, 1908, inaugurated a training program for social work professionals in Philadelphia. The purpose of the course was “…to give practical training in modern principles and methods of child-helping under the direction of experienced workers in this field. It is particularly designed for graduates of colleges, universities, schools of theology and pedagogy, or for persons actually engaged in social work who desire this training.” Here was the origin of what has become today a great institution of research, teaching, and practice, the School of Social Policy & Practice of the University of Pennsylvania.

The founding of the Seybert Institution, the establishment of the Children’s Bureau, and the announcement of “A Course of Training in Child-Helping” coincided with the arrival of the Progressive Era in Philadelphia, and born in the midst of great optimism for a better Philadelphia.  Franklin Pepper selected a talented, experienced, well-connected and public-spirited group of men to provide direction to the training program. The “Committee on Training of Workers” consisted of William Bradford Buck, superintendent of the Children’s Village; J. Percy Keating, a prominent Philadelphia attorney, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children from Cruelty (PSPCC), and a founding member of the Committee of Seventy; William H.A. Mills, Secretary of the PSPCC; Edwin D. Solenberger, Secretary of the Children’s Aid Society; George Woodward, a physician, founder of the Child Labor Association of Pennsylvania, and a founding member of the Committee of Seventy; and Pepper himself. John Prentice Murphy, General Secretary of the Children’s Bureau, was named director of the training course, while Carl Kelsey, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed consulting director. These eight men, Progressive reformers all, were the founders of the Philadelphia Training School for Social Work.

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The first year’s curriculum of the “Course of Training in Child-Helping” sought to provide both a broad overview of the profession of social work and an in-depth study of its several areas of expertise. It was divided into four sessions and led by the social work professionals of the three cooperating agencies: the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children from Cruelty, and the Seybert Institution. The inaugural lectures were given by Mary E. Richmond, director of the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity and one of the most prominent social workers of her generation.  The intellectual origins of the “Course of Training in Child-Helping” were very similar to the other early schools of social work. As Roy Lubove has written. Philadelphia’s school “…was not viewed merely as a substitute or alternative to apprenticeship but as a concrete demonstration of the ‘scientific’ character of social work and a turning point in the transition from vocational to professional status.” Like the others, however, the Philadelphia school did not emphasize academics, research, and reform, but rather a pragmatic education in casework and treatment. Quoting again from Lubove, “…these early schools were established and controlled by social workers [which] virtually guaranteed a conflict between the ideal of the school as a scientific laboratory, offering a broad professional education while expanding the boundaries of social work theory and research, and the need to satisfy agency demands for trained workers.”  (Roy Lubove, The Professional Altruist: The Emergence of Social Work as a Career, 1880 – 1930. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965, at page 140.

An extraordinary description of the School’s first three years was found in the correspondence of Porter R. Lee and transcribed for Penn’s University Archives:

We have always had at the Society for Organizing Charity a training course for new workers and some of the other agencies in the city, notably the Children’s Aid Society, have had      similar courses. Three years ago the Children’s Bureau, which is maintained by the Children’s Aid Society, the Society to Protect Children from Cruelty, and the Seybert Institution, conducted a series of lectures twice a week by notable out-of-town leaders in social work, charging $5 for the course and requiring nothing of those who enrolled for the course except attendance. The Training School for Social Work this year has been in a way an outgrowth of these lectures. It has also been an outgrowth of the various training classes conducted by the different societies. That is to say, we felt that the lecture courses lacked the practical field work which ought to go with them, and that no one society was able to give its new workers a broad enough training through a single class session of an hour a week. Our school this year, therefore, has been rather a merging of the various training classes of the different societies and the Children’s Bureau class work.

Porter R. Lee, 13 March 1911, Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity

In the years following 1910 the School enjoyed a burst of intellectual innovation, as the faculty and administration worked together to experiment with, revise and strengthen the curriculum and indeed, the entire program. Admissions and graduation requirements were codified; tuition was set high enough to support a major portion of the School’s budget; the structure of instruction moved to the semester system; and the faculty grew in number to nearly two dozen. The “Announcement for 1911 – 1912” articulated “Qualifications for Enrollment” which restricted admission to those who were college graduates or those who were high school graduates with at least a year’s experience in social work. A prerequisite was study between the time of admission and the beginning of the academic year:  Warner’s American Charities; Devine’s Misery and Its Causes; Jane Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull House and Allen’s Efficient Democracy.

The requirements for graduation were defined as one day a week in class work (272 hours per year) and three days a week in field work (640 hours). The faculty also required a written report or thesis “on some subject related to [the student’s] field work which has been approved by the leader of the field work conference to which [the student] has been assigned.” The School year was divided into two terms of sixteen weeks each…In 1912 the School revised its curriculum, formalized its field work, and offered working fellowships at a total of fifteen social work agencies. In order to manage this enlarged program, the School moved to new quarters in the “Charities Building,” at 419 South Fifteenth Street and hired two new administrators to assist the Director…

Beginning in 1912 the faculty organized the curriculum on themes or sections. In 1912- 13, there were two: family care and community programs. The family care group was provided “for workers in agencies having the relief and care of families and individuals as their main problems.” The community programs group was provided “for workers having preventive and constructive efforts in social work as their main problems.” The first group performed its field work in the traditional social service agencies: the Society for Organizing Charity, the Children’s Aid Society, the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children from Cruelty, the Seybert Institution, the social service departments in the city hospitals, and others. The second group worked in newer, Progressive Era organizations:  the Bureau of Municipal Research, the Consumers’ League of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Association of Women Workers, the Pennsylvania Child Labor Committee, the Philadelphia Housing Commission, and others.

The following year the faculty broadened the group approach to extend to seven headings: (1) fundamental social institutions, including the family, the church, the school, industry, and government; (2) social problems, including immigration, race relations, and criminology; (3) “practical aspects of social work,” including case work, placing-out work,institutional care, juvenile offenders, and “mental hygiene;” (4) occupational problems, including women and children in the work place and dangerous occupations for men; (5) neighborhood social agencies, including methods of organization, recreation, schools, and settlement houses; (6) community health, including the child hygiene, the health of the adult, housing and sanitation, and hospital social service; and (7) the organization and management of social agencies, including advertising, financing, standards, and social legislation.

In 1914, in recognition of the impressive range of its offerings, the School changed its name to “The Pennsylvania School for Social Service.” 1915 was an important year in the history of the Philadelphia School for Social Service…Beginning in May of that year Pepper moved forward with plans to incorporate the School… In late March 1916, the incorporators of the “Pennsylvania School for Social Service” met for the first time. Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas had granted a corporate charter to the School on March the second…On 12 October 1916 Franklin Pepper submitted his resignation as President of the Board and as a member of the Board. “On motion the resignation was accepted with sincere regrets, and with the thanks of the Board for what Mr. Pepper had done to help establish the School.”  With this action the School ended the first chapter of its history. A Philadelphia school of social work had been built from the ground up and its architect had completed his work. The organizational structure established would remain in place until the merger of the School with the University of Pennsylvania in 1948.

Source: “A Centennial History of the School of Social Policy and Practice” written by Mark Frazier Lloyd, Director of the University Archives and Records Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and published in 2008.

 

7 Responses to Philadelphia Training School for Social Work – 1908

  1. sadia says:

    I would like to become a social worker for kids that is in Foster care

    Please contact me by email or by mail at 886 e Sanger street Philadelphia pa 19124 with all of the information that I need to apply thanks sadia hill

    • jhansan says:

      I cannot remember if I replied to your comment on the SWH Web site. My advice to you is to visit the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice or visit the nearest Child Welfare office in Philadelphia. Good luck. Jack Hansan

    • jhansan says:

      I cannot remember if I responded to your comment earlier. There are plenty of resources in Philadelphia re: social work. On the web, go to http://www.naswdc.org
      In Philly, write or call the School of Social Policy & Practice: http://www.sp2.upenn.edu

      Good luck. Jack Hansan

  2. […] vision for a better Philadelphia in the early 20th century culminated in the founding of the Philadelphia Training School for Social Work in 1908. In fact, the present day School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of […]

  3. Kervens M Paul says:

    I had a hard time choosing a major that I like in college but I love helping people. I was thinking that social work will be a good idea for me. I would love to know more information about it!

    • jhansan says:

      Dear Kervens Paul: The best source for more information will be found on the web site of the National Association of Social Workers (http://www.socialworkers.org). Also, there is a state association everywhere in the U.S. Another great source would be a School of Social Work in a university near you. Good luck. Jack Hansan

  4. […] Aid Society began offering career training to its employees, which eventually grew into the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work (later the School of Social Policy and Practice). The society itself also became more professional, […]

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