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Miss Bailey Says

“Miss Bailey Says…” – Practical Advice for Relief Workers in the 1930s

In the depth of the Great Depression, the March 1933 issue of Survey Midmonthly carried the first in a series of columns that would continue for a decade. The subject of the columns — Amelia Bailey — “Miss Bailey” to most people — was a 1930s-style virtual-reality public relief supervisor. She existed on paper only, created at the typewriter of Gertrude Springer, an associate editor at the Survey magazine in New York City. In what became a popular monthly column, Miss Bailey listened to and advised the inexperienced social workers faced with coping with the Depression’s desperate unemployed relief applicants. When the 1935 Social Security Act created new state/federal public assistance programs, Springer began to consult with county workers and other pioneers in administering the new public welfare programs.

“Miss Bailey Says…” columns dealt with issues such as “When Your Client Has a Car,” “Are Relief Workers Policemen?,” “How We Behave in Other People’s Houses.” She gave common-sense advice to questions such as what to do when the relief worker observes situations such as bootlegging, clients with a bank account, a family on relief seen attending a movie, the daughter of a family on relief sporting a new permanent wave.

For ten years, Springer created conversations in which Miss Bailey helped others get quickly to the nub of some problem in dealing with poverty and bureaucracy. Infusing the knowledge of social workers she knew with her own humor, practicality, and sense of justice, Springer gave Miss Bailey an unfailingly calm nature as she stood by people’s right to public assistance, accepted human complexity, and smiled at the idiosyncrasies of both social workers and clients. Miss Bailey was creative and assertive in suggesting how workers could move beyond small thinking and around bad policy.

Survey readers who themselves were supervisors or social work educators appreciated Miss Bailey’s wisdom and inundated the Survey magazine with requests for reprints. In turn, the magazine began to distribute them in pamphlet collections titled “Miss Bailey Says” for use in social work training across the country. The series ended when Miss Bailey retired in 1943 along with Gertrude Springer. A selection of ten issues of  “Miss Bailey Says…” are included in the Great Depression category under the ERAS tab.

Source: Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota: