Gertrude Wilson ( 1895-1984)

 

A Social Work Professor and Pivotal Figure in the Development of the

Theory and Practice of Social Group Work

 

Introduction: Gertrude Wilson was a social group worker and educator. After working in group practice at YWCA’s in various cities (1922-1935), she began teaching group work. In 1935 Gertrude Wilson became an Assistant Professor at Western Reserve University’s School of Applied Social Sciences. In 1938 she became a Professor and later an Associate Dean in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh (1938-1950). In 1951, she accepted a position as Professor and head of the Social Welfare Extension program at the University of California at Berkeley (1951-1963). She also served as a visiting faculty member at schools around the United States and in Canada. After her retirement, she continued to consult with the Social Services Department of the City and County of San Francisco and wrote papers on the topic of group practice within both psychiatric and community settings.  Between 1936 and 1956, Gertrude Wilson made six presentations about group work at annual meetings of the National Conference on Social Welfare. (Note: A list of those presentations is below.  A complete copy of her presentation “Social Group Work Theory and Practice” at the 1956 annual meeting is located under the Tab for PROGRAMS/SOCIAL WORK)

Career: Gertrude Wilson was born in 1895 to David and Nora (nee Dundy) Wilson in Dana, Illinois, in a rural area southwest of Chicago. In 1914 she attended Illinois (Women’s) College, a small denominational institution in Jacksonville, Illinois, and earned her A.B. in 1918. She later entered the University of Chicago and earned a Ph.B. in 1920. After teaching high school for a couple of years, In 1922 Wilson joined the staff of the Young Women’s Christian Association, occupying increasingly more responsible positions over the years. Beginning in Allentown (Pennsylvania) as secretary, she went to Buffalo (New York) as program director, and lastly to the Chicago branch as administrator of its program for young women in industry. The YWCA experience shaped her ideas regarding the potentials of the group milieu for problem solving. She became active in the American Association for the Study of Group Work, whose members were trying to formulate the distinctive character and theoretical basis of the emerging practice of social-group work. While working, Wilson continued to pursue further education. She enrolled first in Columbia University’s Sociology Department and later in the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, where she obtained an M.A. in 1938.  In 1935 Gertrude Wilson became an Assistant Professor at Western Reserve University’s School of Applied Social Sciences to teach social group work. In 1938 she became a Professor and later an Associate Dean. While there she wrote two of her most important publications: Case Work and Group Work (1942) and in 1949 Social Group Work Practice, co-authored with Gladys Ryland. In 1937 Wilson gave a presentation at the annual meeting of the National Conference on Social Work in which she attempted to distinguish the differences and similarities of case workers and group workers.  Wilson recounted the fact that several committees of social workers had been formed to discuss the matter and also that she had been keeping notes of what she heard and learned from her experiences teaching as a Field Instructor in Group Work at the School of Applied Social Sciences, Western Reserve University.  In her presentation she said:

“…During these recent years of mutual exploration certain barriers to understanding have stood out rather prominently. Vocabulary differences, difference in conceptual knowledge and prejudices, even differences in fundamental philosophies, have frequently blocked progress toward complete and easy cooperation.

“One committee attempted to meet the vocabulary difference by making a glossary of terms used by each group. It seems somewhat doubtful how helpful this may be in view of the tendency of each member to interpret what he hears in light of the meaning, to him, of the vocabulary of his own field. Back of this difference in vocabulary and meaning of words lies a difference in actual concepts. For example, “the group as an entity”‘ has a particular meaning to group workers which is not shared by most case workers. The group worker does work with the individual and is concerned with his growth and development, but also with the group, which, while composed of individuals, is in itself an entity and as such is an essential to the development of the individual. The individual not only uses the group to meet his personal need but also to obtain objectives which he could not have reached alone. The realism of the concept of the group as an entity is difficult to maintain except through the medium of experience-and then words are unnecessary, for the feeling of “belonging to a group” carries its own reality. To the inexperienced this may sound mystical or at best on a deeper level than objective definition; it is doubtful however, whether any phenomenon which involves human experience can be adequately described without the help of the empirical. …” (p. 153)

Even while working, Wilson continued to pursue further education. She enrolled first in Columbia University’s Sociology Department and later in the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, where she obtained an M.A. in 1938. During her career, Wilson wrote numerous conference papers, journal articles, chapters in books, and monographs. Professor Wilson described the evolution and acceptance of  group work as a method of  professional social work in a presentation at the National Conference Of Social Work Conference in May,1956 titled Social Group Work Theory and Practice. A portion of the presentation:

“…During the second quarter of this century, about half of the schools of social work introduced a curriculum for this specialization. It was not, however, until the establishment of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (October, 1955) that social group work came to be fully identified as a social work specialization within the social work profession as a whole. Although there have been many differences of opinion as to the professional identification and education of workers for the practice of group work, there has been little disagreement in the literature about its basic assumptions: (1) that a sense of belonging is essential to the happiness of all human beings; (2) that certain life experiences and social situations interfere with, or deny to many individuals, the opportunity to have this sense of well-being; (3) that principles and techniques for helping people to develop a sense of belonging through participation in a group can be developed from concepts drawn from the social and biological sciences, and on the basis of our thinking about our experience in practice; (4) that these concepts, principles, and techniques can be learned by people who have the qualifications for helping others make the necessary social adjustments to participate creatively in groups; and (5) that the welfare of society is dependent on the constructive nature of the interacting processes of its many small groups.…”

After a five-year struggle, Gertrude Wilson succumbed to cancer on December 5, 1984. A List of the Six Presentations by Professor Gertrude Wilson at Annual Meetings of the National Conference on Social Welfare:

1) Methods Of Record-Keeping Of Group Behavior And Individual Contacts By Gertrude Wilson, Field Instructor, Group-Work Course, School of Applied Social Sciences Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio: A Presentation At The Sixty-Third Annual Session Held In Atlantic City New Jersey  May 18-23, 1936

2) Interplay Of The Insights Of Case Work And Group Work By Gertrude Wilson, Field Instructor in Group Work, School of Applied Social Sciences, Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio: A Presentation At The Sixty-Fourth Annual Session Held In Indianapolis Indiana * May 23-29, 1937

3) Human Needs Pertinent to Group Work Services: A Presentation at the Sixty-Ninth Annual Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, May 10-16, 1942

4) Measurement And Evaluation Of Social Group Work Practice By Gertrude Wilson A Pioneer Study of the Practice of Social Group Work in Process at the Educational Alliance in New York City: A Presentation at the 79th Annual Meeting National Conference Of Social Work Chicago, Illinois, May 25-30, 1952

5) Social Classes: Implications For Social Group Work By Gertrude Wilson And Gladys Ryland: A Presentation at the 81st Annual Forum National Conference Of Social Work Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 9-14, 1954

6) Social Group Work Theory and Practice by Gertrude Wilson: A Presentation at the 83rd Annual Forum of the National Conference Of Social Work, St. Louis, Missouri, May 20-25, 1956

Sources:

Gertrude Wilson Group Work Papers. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha

University of Michigan Digital Library of the Proceedings of the National Conference on Social Welfare: http://www.hti.umich.edu/n/ncosw/

University of California Digital Library: content.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb4d5nb20m&doc.view…0

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2013). Wilson, Gertrude. Retrieved [date accessed] from /?p=8366.

 

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