A Century of Concern
Clarke A. Chambers, Editor
Introduction – Clarke A. Chambers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Economic Independence – Walter Trattner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Problems of Effective Functioning- James K. Whittaker ……………… 21
Social Aspects of Health- Ralph E. Pumphrey ………………………… 31
Leisure Time Needs- Guichard Parris ………………………………. 43
Provision and Management of Social Services- James Leiby ……………… 53
Societal Problems – Tamara K. Haraven …………………………….. 66
Published by: National Conference on Social Welfare
by Clarke A. Chambers
Chairman, Department of History, Director, Social Welfare History Archives Center
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
It is a rare thing – for a person or an organization – to celebrate a hundredth birthday. But the National Conference on Social Welfare, a century old this year, 1973, exhibits qualities that make for both longevity and vitality. Since its founding it has been tough in spiritual fiber, quick to respond to new concerns, flexible in strategy, and devoted to the renewal of life for all sorts and conditions of men.
The Centennial will be marked in many ways, among them the publication of these critical historical essays which examine the traditions of the serving professions during a “Century of Concern.” The key word is “critical” – for these essays, as the reader will quickly learn, are meant to contribute not an official, “in-house” celebration of social work and the Conference but rather an analysis, both strict and sympathetic, of what social welfare has been, where it is today, and where next it might go. Apart from inspiring” the volume and providing encouragement and financial support, Conference officers exerted no editorial guidance or supervision. As editor of the volume, I offered suggestions and criticisms to each of the contributors, but the final judgment was theirs; there are continuities of analysis from essay to essay, but divergence and even contra diction in evaluation as well. The chapters, then, exhibit no single point of view; each is the reflection of an expert in the field. Each author was invited to set forth his remarks in whatever fashion and with whatever interpretations seemed accurate and valid. The essays, in preliminary rough draft, were used by the Program Committee of the National Conference in the fall of 1972 in planning the Atlantic City convention for May, 1973. With that original use in mind, each essay was directed toward a program section of the Conference – Economic Independence, Problems of Effective Functioning, Social Aspects of Health, Leisure-time Needs, Provision and Management of Social Services, and Societal Problems. Footnotes have not been used, but readers may consult the selective list of historical readings at the end of the book. The authors believed that they could best honor practitioners and shapers of social welfare with candid and critical accounts of social service in its several major fields. The volume is neither nostalgic nor sentimental; it proposes neither eulogy nor obituary, but rather a hard look- with the long view of history — at present perils and opportunities. We hope it may provoke a careful re-examination of national priorities in the welfare fields.
* * * *
Abraham Lincoln once observed of the study of history: “If we can first know where we have been and whither we are tending, we may better know what to do and how to do it.” In a general way, of course, that is surely the case, but too often, perhaps, extravagant claims are made for the usefulness of historical studies. We are all too easily inclined to declare — “History proves …,” or “human experience indicates …,” or “the evidence before us we have gleaned from the past suggests that ….” These essays do not, even implicitly, proceed from such crudely pragmatic assumptions about the uses of the past. Yet their authors are not unaware that even if the past does not provide easy and clear lessons, its study can enrich our understanding of our own age and inform our present circumstance.
Historical study may, for example, remind us of experiments in social welfare or in the delivery of social services which we have forgotten or never truly understood. It may provide educators, administrators, and practitioners with professional models drawn from the past. Apprentice social workers especially, I imagine, need to know that social concern did not begin with themselves. Such studies will not serve a directly pragmatic function so much as an indirect, but nevertheless profoundly important philosophical function. A study of pioneer social workers two or three generations ago – many of whose lives and careers appear in these essays – will hardly inspire social workers today to go and do exactly likewise; social conditions and options in the last third of the 20th century are not what they were a century ago. But it is important to sense in both heart and mind that others have gone before, that one stands in a long and honorable tradition of both social service and social prophecy, for many early social workers labored to serve those in need while, at the same time, they moved to elaborate public policies which might alleviate and perhaps even resolve the complex social problems which were the source of human need.
The study of history may also offer one way (among others) to transport ourselves out of our own immediate frames of reference – the only ones, after all, we can experience directly – and get inside other minds and cultures, to appreciate other values, to experience vicariously the hopes and anxieties, the joys and fears of other peoples in other times. Through history we can confront what some have called the “radical other.” History affords an opportunity to live with others in affection, judging not, according neither superficial praise nor condemnation. Florence Hollis, noted social work educator, once observed that one mark of a good social worker was the “capacity to understand and respect others as they are.” Social workers have many times declared their commitment to variety and self-determination, to the virtues that inhere in a pluralistic society. These essays, then, may nurture all those cherished goals; they may be an effective antidote to parochialism; they may demonstrate the great variety of contributions which different segments of social service, in different eras, have made; they may dissolve dogmas of all sorts. By so doing they may also open our eyes to the persisting influence of social class in the elaboration of social policies.
Social workers – especially those engaged in community action, administration, and public policy – need also to know about social process. How better to learn about the processes of social change than through the study of history? This is not to declare that the past may provide a “blueprint” for the present. Continuity of human experience may be one tendency the past exhibits, but history never repeats itself. The combination of factors that made possible the enactment of social security in the United States in 1935, for example, will never occur again; in all likelihood the nation will not suffer another depression of that order, and no new Franklin Roosevelt is likely to appear again. But social workers concerned with the initiation of a national health insurance program might consult with profit the long-run historical conditions and forces that frustrated earlier schemes for workmen’s compensation, unemployment insurance, old age and survivors insurance, and medicare. Among them one would certainly have to number the national ethos of individualism together with the deep and all but irrevocable national commitment to work, and thrift, and self-reliance as presumed sources of the peculiar American way of life. One would need to consider as well the unprecedented (although unevenly shared) material success of the American economy, the relative lack of class-consciousness in this country, the heterogeneity of the population, the openness of economic opportunity, the richness of natural resources, the peculiar quality of a two-party system that put a high premium on the politics of compromise and accommodation and tended to blur the programmatic and philosophical differences between the parties. A profound concern for the full historical context within which social services and social action developed over the past century is a central consideration in each of these essays.
Perhaps, as Karl de Schweinitz has suggested, the social worker may gain that all-important sense of timing, which dictates that one “must know when, as well as what, to do.” And unless one appreciates the fundamental “givens” of a situation, the long-run conditions that continue to carry momentum (or hold inertia), he will be unable to work with the whats and the whys and the whens and the haws of constructive social change. History may tell us as much of process as pathology, and both are important. If this volume of essays can begin to fulfill these criteria, the contributors will feel justified in their efforts.
* * * *
No single essay, or series of essays, can begin to encompass the complex events that composed three or four generations of historical developments. Appended to this book is a selected bibliography of diverse works in the field which are still in print and available, therefore, to those who wish to pursue the subjects further. The topics pursued there, and in these essays, are as diverse as the field of social welfare itself and comprehend policies and programs as varied as the concerns summarized in the title of the modern Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. To developments of such complexity, these essays could be no more than a quick survey introduction of major trends and tendencies.
However prefatory and preliminary they may be, there are a certain number of themes that weave in and out of the separate essays, and there would be some virtue, perhaps, in attempting to identify some of those major and recurring themes.
One such theme has been the progression from what was essentially, a century ago, an enterprise dominated by amateur and voluntary service to the delivery of social services by highly-trained, professional technicians working in a steadily proliferating number of specialties. However experienced, intelligent, or well -meaning leaders and delegates to early conventions of what was then known as the National Conference of Charities and Correction may have been – and in fact they were often inexperienced, cautious, and unable to transcend class bias – the ranks of social servants were drawn from citizens who had no special training to prepare them for careers in these fields. Indeed, the very organization of the Conference was intended to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas and to promote the mobilization of resources for the more efficient and humane alleviation of human suffering. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the new, in social service, as in so many other aspects of American life, the need for professional education and procedures had become clear if some rational control were to be asserted over the drift of life. The complex of problems associated with rapid industrialization and urbanization, with the swarming of immigrants from the far reaches of southern and eastern Europe as from the farms and towns of America itself, with the crowding together of citizens in sprawling and ugly centers of population – all these demanded social responses and the creation of social experts trained to alleviate (and perhaps to resolve) the social grievances that arose from these conditions and circumstances.
The emergence of a profession of social work, then, related to what one historian has called “the search for order” in American life. Ghettos and slums, the plague of tuberculosis, rising rates of crime, juvenile delinquency, the lack of provision for sanitation and public health, the social and economic dependency that arose from uncertain employment, industrial accidents, premature old age – these constituted problems that good intentions could never dispel. Social research and the creation of special schools for the training of social servants constituted one response, and during the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s a large number of professional schools, most of them associated with universities, were founded. Of equal importance, perhaps, although through more informal means, was the initiation of specialized magazines and journals, most notably the Survey and Survey Graphic, which provided technical information for an emerging profession together with guidance for concerned citizens in broad policy fields. The organization of a National Social Workers’ Exchange in 1917 which, four years later, was transformed into the American Association of Social Workers, a group whose primary objective was to define and secure professional standards for social work, was another indication of the deepening concern for professionalization. (So, too, was the decision in 1917 to shift the name of the old National Conference of Charities and Correction to the National Conference of Social Work.)
These movements to improve the technical competence of social workers were assuredly legitimate, and that higher standards of performance and the more efficient delivery of services took place is unquestioned. But there were social costs to pay. In so far as social workers focused upon new methods and techniques, especially in casework and in the new and exciting field of psychiatry, their attention came to concentrate on procedure and on the adjustment of the individual to his environment, rather than on the trans formation of the social environment within which the individual lived. Where professionalization demanded specialization, the field of vision was invariably narrowed for all but the most discerning and most broadly concerned workers. Specialization required objective and scientific attitudes toward the problem areas and the maintenance of “social distance” between worker and client. The costs were evident in sterility, flatness, and social disdain, in the growing alienation between those who stood, for whatever reason, in need and those professional practitioners who presumed to serve those needs.
The progression from amateur to professional services rendered by trained experts, paid for either by private agencies or public bureaus, was not simply linear, of course. During .the past decade the move to involve the maximum participation of groups being served in the elaboration and execution of new social programs, the move to recruit social workers from among traditionally disadvantaged segments of society, and the move to employ persons uncertified by professional schools of social work in positions of leader0ship and responsibility combined to give a new thrust to social service and promised a more salutary mix of leadership and design. If the use of welfare programs as a means of social control over the lives of those who did not traditionally count constituted one major flaw, the relatively recent recognition of the authentic and legitimate nature of cultures and life-styles which do not fit traditional stereotypes of what it was to be an “American” began to open real options for self-determination which had not previously been possible.
Another related and parallel theme that can be traced throughout the past century has been the gradual tendency of welfare services to move from provision of simple charity, to assistance and care, to preventive measures, and finally to the promotion, by positive means, of a more abundant life. This is not to suggest that each level in its turn has been supplanted by the next. Care of the individual client remains a central and legitimate function of social work. To provide assistance so that the client and his family could move away from dependency and need toward independence and self-direction is as legitimate a service now as it was a half-century ago. Care and the removal of the causes of dependency may require financial support, provision of health or recreational services, vocational guidance and rehabilitation, family counseling, financial supplements, a lead to a new job, an insight into the sources of marital conflict, two weeks at a vacation camp, the placement of an illegitimate child, prolonged psychiatric sessions, or a new set of teeth. In any case the focus of such work is upon helping others to help themselves, seeing them through a time of crisis when their own resources, financial or psychological, are inadequate to the demands made upon them, liberating them from dependency, enriching their lives, or helping them to make satisfactory adjustments to their environment or to reconstruct it as far as possible. But over the years, added to these persisting concerns, there gradually evolved the elaboration of social policies aimed at rooting out the causes of dependency and discrimination. Social security, medicare, urban planning, the campaign to establish a guaranteed annual income, and all the statutes aimed at softening or eliminating discrimination based on race, religion, and sex are counted as attempts to create social conditions in which traditional sources of human problems would be weakened. In that sense, the participation of many social workers in anti-war agitation the past decade might appropriately be considered to be an integral part of their expressed concern for a reconstruction of social policies in the welfare fields.
Traditionally, then, professional social work has exhibited a responsibility to society and to public welfare as well as to the individual in need. Even those workers whose daily routine necessarily forced a nearly exclusive concentration upon the adjustment of an individual to the “givens” of his environment have rarely been unaware of the direct and overwhelming influence of the health of society upon the health of the individual. Grace L. Coyle summed it up in her presidential address before the National Conference at the end of the depression decade of the 1930s: “There is no reasonable doubt,” she declared, “that poverty itself is responsible for increased illness, that unemployment breeds unemployability, that crowded housing undermines family life, that undernourished children will grow into incompetent workers.”
So much is the common sense of the matter; and yet painful tensions persist between social service, on the one hand, and social action on the other, between social work and social welfare, between the efficient delivery of services and the reconstruction of social institutions, between what Porter Lee identified as the “function” and the “cause” of social work. Open suspicion and hostility, or at the best uneasy alliance, have most often characterized the relations between the main body of the profession, cautious and conservative, interested in the immediate case at hand, and those who insist that radical strategies are required to overcome drastic social problems. One can recall Grace L. Coyle’s complaint, in 1937, against those who continued “to pick up the pieces without ever attempting to stop the breakage … The real situation which faces us as social workers,” she continued, “includes a society, potentially rich but actually poor, wasteful of its material and human resources, torn by class and racial conflicts, its cultural life on the whole meager, vulgar and disintegrated.” Or we can remember the tone of Harry L. Lurie’s protest against the failure of social work militantly to seek social reconstruction in the depression era. The habit of impartiality, the conservative influence of agency board members, the fear that change would disrupt familiar ways – all these contributed to a peculiar passivity. “As a professional group,” he wrote, “we are in general tied up with the reactionary rather than the advancing forces of social change.” And, more recently, a social work leader observed that for all the talk of a “welfare state,” if the country provided truly for the welfare of its citizens, many of what we classify as welfare services would no longer be necessary.
In emphasis, the Conference – like the serving professions themselves who constituted its membership – has swung between the pleas of social action and social service. Its presidents have been selected from among those who can best be understood as social prophets – Jane Addams and Whitney Young, for example – and from among those who had made technical contributions of surpassing importance to the better service of health, education, and welfare – Homer Folks, for example, and Dr. Richard Cabot. Its leaders Conference Presidents and Conference Secretaries alike, and all that great host of program committee members, panel participants, and executive officers – have most often, however, combined a concern for the reform of social evils with a commitment to more effective service. Such persons engaged in attempts to create a synthesis between the two phases on the grounds that they were not, ultimately, mutually exclusive or contradictory, but mutually supportive and complementary.
Paul U. Kellogg, editor of the Survey magazine in the years of its greatness, 1909-1952, and Conference President in 1939, summed up in his own life and career the best of both strategies. He knew that the sick demanded the best care that society could afford; he knew also that a sick society frustrated all efforts toward effective amelioration. He had lived with the division between practitioners and reformers his entire life and had come to feel that, in a sense, each strategy taken in isolation was insufficient and therefore wrong. Although he appreciated how central casework services were to the whole profession of social work, too often, he felt, caseworkers saw their function only in relation to their clients without sufficient appreciation of their connection with and responsibility to the larger community. The relationship of the social worker and the client, he wrote in the mid-twenties, was “not that of an intruder-not that of a friend not that of a doctor to his patient-but that, frankly and openly, of the agent of the community dealing with one of its members-on the ground that a person cannot be as deep in distress as he pleases any more than he can be sick as he pleases; the welfare of one being the concern of all.” It followed that these relationships were not to be cut and dried, but organically interrelated; the caseworker had an obligation not only to provide the best services he could with the resources at his command but also, as an “observer and explorer of human needs,” to educate the community and help lead it to recognize the need for wholesale measures of prevention and constructive action to balance the retail provision of services. This “organic process” which combined “individual treatment with social action” was, it seemed to Kellogg, “the real alternative to an ingrowing, short sighted retailing on the one hand, or a highfalutin’ wholesaling on the other.”
Of larger importance, perhaps, was Paul Kellogg’s commitment to the self-determination of all persons and social groups. He believed that social work would have to dedicate itself to making real the promise for all human beings-the right of each individual to develop his own latent powers and talents in accord with his own desires and will. Most especially he had sought ways for others to break out of the ruts which society assigned to persons and to groups and from which they were powerless, alone and by themselves, to escape or transcend. “We are all of us working in a web of circumstances not of our own contriving-trying to make it possible for life to come up through its meshes with greater freedom and joy.”
The means might encompass both the service and the action impulses of social work, but the goal was self-determination. Early in his life he had been moved by a motto he had seen in a settlement house at the turn of the century -“We are not our brothers’ keepers; we are our brothers’ brothers.” It is better, as he saw it, to stand with the disinherited, the needful, and the oppressed and to work with them in the process of enabling, than to do things for them, or to them.
It is this democratic spirit that has characterized social work and the Conference when they have been most true to their central dedication: the right of every person and every group to remain true to their own value systems and to their own styles of life. That is what Florence Kelley and her allies sought in the 1912 National Conference – the rights of working people to decent employment, to fair wages, to security of income in hard times and in old age, and recognition of the right of labor to organize free of external restraint. That is what the pioneer generation of settlement house leaders sought for their neighbors, the working class poor whether native born Americans or recent immigrants recognition of the cultural integrity of diverse social and ethnic groups, and the elaboration of means by which the disadvantaged could gain the advantage of being able to achieve some larger measure of control over their own lives. And that is what so many other groups in American society and within the social serving professions have been seeking in recent years – the right to a decent existence, yes; equal access to economic, political, and social opportunity, yes; and most importantly, the right to organize, free of artificial restrictions, and to move toward a larger capacity to determine for themselves the direction and quality of their common lives
The task, of course, was never easy. The sponsors of social welfare programs were usually solid, middle-class, native Americans who enjoyed a secure and comfortable existence and who thought and acted within the framework of middle-class proprieties. The “uplift” of other classes and races tended most often to be their chief motivation; and in the process of “helping” they tended to impose the standards and style of their own class upon those who they perceived were not as “fortunate” as themselves. Such providers of social services rarely considered that persons of other races, or ethnic back grounds, or cultural and religious traditions, or classes might wish to adhere to their own value systems which were to them of equal validity to those of the majority culture.
Ethnic and racial minorities, then, confronted enormous difficulties in seeking to overcome the burdens of poverty and second-class citizenship. What Jorge Lara-Braud said of Mexican-Americans before the National Conference in 1971 might well apply, in different ways and in different degrees, to other Spanish-speaking minorities, to American Indians, to Blacks, and to Asian-Americans – they all suffered “less education, less employment, less money, less food, less housing, less health, less justice, and less dignity than others who called themselves “American.” It was all the more difficult to win the right to be self-determined because of the forces of cultural imperialism.
The rights of the individual might require, as Rabbi Levi Olan pointed out before the Conference in 1971, “full acceptance into the larger society without any discrimination”; but strength of personal identity , and cultural richness demanded the “structural separation” of these groups in order that a diversity of values and styles might endure and thus continue to give meaning and direction to the lives of millions of citizens. All the minorities, he said, “share a conscious thrust toward civil rights, freedom and equality for the individual regardless of color, creed, or national origin. They also disclose a common interest in the preservation of their group identity.” These two aspects of self-determination continue to live in uneasy tension, and the serving professions (to say nothing of the American electorate generally) have not yet fully and candidly confronted the dilemmas which have arisen from these considerations.
So, in 1973, social work, with the nation, faced a condition loaded both with problems and opportunities. The world’s work is to be done, no shortage of challenges: an affluent society as rich in troubles as in material plenty; urban congestion and sprawl; pockets of poverty and a hard , seemingly irreducible core of unemployment; tension between races and classes; crowded schools and an educational system many places in shambles; asphalt jungles; mayhem on the highway; murder on the playground; national parks turned into littered tent slums; polluted lakes and rivers; smog-palled cities; costs of health care rising faster than the meager resources of the aged and the poor could afford; a vast disparity between wealthy nations and deprived nations, the latter advancing faster in population than in the production of necessities; an imperial war in which Americans have all but ceased to die but not to kill.
Essential to these points, perhaps, has been the broadening sense of self-determination from individual to family, neighborhood, social group, community, and nation. And essential is the engagement of all citizens in affairs that directly affect them, including finally the relations of peoples throughout the world, for survival is threatened as surely by the growing disparity in income and competence between the rich nations and the poor as it is by the deepening chasm between advantaged and disadvantaged races and classes within American society.
* * * *
These essays, of course, provide no blueprint for the future; they are not calls to action or social platforms. The hope was more modest: to survey the past in order that we might, together, better understand ourselves and others, and that we might, thereby, go better armed to a consideration of this present moment of challenge and opportunity. If, taken together, they do not “prove” anything, they may provide enriched understanding of the tradition in which we stand.
* * * *
Clarke A. Chambers, Director of the Social Welfare History Archives Center, is also currently Chairman of the Department of History at the University of Minnesota. His graduate degrees in History were earned at the University of California, Berkeley; he has taught at the University of Minnesota since 1951. He is the author of many articles bearing on the history of social welfare and the history of social reform in 20th century America. Among his major books are: Seedtime of Reform: American Social Service and Social Action, 1918-1933 (University of Minnesota Press, 1963), and Paul U. Kellogg and the Survey: Voices for Social Welfare and Social Justice (University of Minnesota Press, 1971).