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Tefferteller, Ruth S.

in: People


Ruth S. Tefferteller (August 28, 1917 – May 1989) – Social Group Worker, Author, American Red Cross Worker, Program Director Henry Street Settlement

Introduction: In 1942, Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller began coordinating their respective concerns and careers. From 1942 until 1946, both served in the Army. Ruth was an army hospital recreation worker with the American Red Cross and Ralph was an Army Air Force officer with Rehabilitation Command. In 1946, both joined the Henry Street Settlement, Ralph as associate director and Ruth as project director and special assistant to Helen Hall, the executive director. It was to Henry Street that the Teffertellers devoted twenty-one years of their lives. They remained at the settlement until 1967, setting up educational programs, providing counseling services and recreational alternatives to urban youth and fighting drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

Early Years: Ruth Sinovoy Tefferteller was born on August 28, 1917 in Albany, New York. Displaying an early interest in public service, she graduated from New York State College for Teachers in 1939 with a B.A. in Social Sciences and English and in 1955 from Columbia University School of Social Work with a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Her early professional career started during WW II when she served as a social worker with the American Red Cross from 1942 to 1946.

At Henry Street Settlement, Ruth Tefferteller worked in various capacities as Director of Children’s Division, Director of Echo Hill Farm (for girls 8-14), Director of Group Work and Recreation, and, after 1955, Program Director and Assistant to the Executive and Associate Executive Directors.

Tefferteller devoted twenty-one years as practitioner, supervisor and administrator of a broad variety of settlement house activities and programs affecting children youth, adults and families.  She initiated, planned, developed and supervised neighborhood services as befitted settlement auspices, utilizing disciplines of informal education, performing arts, visual arts, social group work, casework, recreation and community organization in degrees appropriate to the programs being offered and within budgetary limitations.

The settlement house constituency (enrolled and non-enrolled) represented family members from a broad spectrum of ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and educational levels and backgrounds (Jewish, Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican, Negro)–but, after 1955, heavily Puerto Rican and Negro of very low income.  Most of the families lived in old law slum tenements or low-income public housing projects.  A small percentage of the membership came from “low-middle” cooperative housing developments in adjacent blocks.  During the last twelve years of her career at Henry Street, she concentrated on developing services which were geared to reach new families and especially to relieve and correct mounting problems of juvenile delinquency, narcotics, alienation and insecurities of newcomers, educational deficiencies and youth unrest.

Tefferteller directly supervised supervisors of various divisional units:   Early Childhood Division (Nursery School and Play School); Junior Division (Children age 8-12);  Youth Division (Teens 13-18);  Adult and Family Division (Adult Education and Parent Education);  Family Day Camp;  Personal Service and General Family Casework;  and special projects over the years in delinquency prevention, training Junior high school girls in child care, performing arts for the educationally unmotivated, tutoring, and family programming.  In addition to hiring and supervising professional personnel for various divisions and projects, she also interviewed and placed volunteers, Vista Volunteers and residents of the settlement house who contributed to the programs.

In all aspects of her work, Tefferteller also assumed responsibility for direct handling of administrative details with colleges, universities, OEO representatives, school principals, teachers, guidance counselors, juvenile court judges, probation officers, welfare personnel, public housing managers, hospital and clinic personnel, representatives of other social agencies and city, state, national and international officials, the latter frequently in connection with their research and visitations to the settlement.  Likewise, there were numerous demands for working closely with representatives of mass media such as newspaper writers, radio, television and movie production specialists.  Along with the Executives, she handled public speaking requests to describe and interpret the work and philosophy of the Henry Street Settlement House.

Following their tenure at Henry Street, the Teffertellers became involved in the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) mission to Saigon, Vietnam. Ralph arrived in Saigon in 1968, where he served as the UUSC social welfare administrator. Ruth, delayed due to illness, followed in January of 1969, becoming the UUSC senior social welfare adviser. Their mission in Vietnam was to create an all-purpose social welfare center that was very similar to the settlement house on Henry Street, yet designed to accommodate the unique needs of the war-ravaged area. Echoing the rhetoric of the American government at the time, the UUSC mission determined to “Vietnamize” the social welfare center. The mission pursued this goal by training Vietnamese social workers to replace the UUSC American workers by 1972. Recognizing the ever-diminishing need for their services, the Teffertellers themselves left Vietnam around 1971. Back in the United States, Ralph Tefferteller officially retired, but continued to involve himself actively in various social welfare related campaigns and programs, including, but not limited to, the Marblehead Nuclear Freeze Committee and the North Shore Health Planning Council, of which he was president. Ruth Tefferteller remained officially employed, becoming the Area Director for the Massachusetts Salem-Danvers Department of Health. She held this post from 1971 until 1986.  Ruth Tefferteller died in May of 1989.

Note:  Below is a resume prepared by Ruth Tefferteller, the date unknown.


Ruth S.  Tefferteller

Date of Birth:  August 28, 1917

Place of Birth:  New York State


New York State College for Teachers          B.A.            1939

University of Iowa, Dept of Speech and Drama      1939-1940

Columbia University School of Social Work          MSW          1955


January 1969 to Present  Senior Social Welfare Advisor Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Saigon, Vietnam

1968 (April-December)   Director North Area Health and Welfare Planning Division United Community Services, Boston, Massachusetts

1946-1967    Program Director Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York

1942-1946   Social Worker American Red Cross

  1. Fort Bragg, North Carolina
  2. St.  Louis, Missouri
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. Roswell, New Mexico

1961-1962  CONSULTANT – Pre-Teen Delinquency Prevention Program, United Neighborhood Houses, New York, New York

AUTHOR The Pre-Delinquent Gang Project of Henry Street Settlement — Reports of a three-year demonstration (1957-1960) Distributed by Henry Street Settlement

Delinquency Prevention Through Revitalizing Parent-Child Relationships — Annals of Academy of Political and Social Sciences, December, 1959

Strengthening Family Life Through Recreation (1965) — Included in collection of National Conference on Social Welfare papers on the urban family.

How A Camp Contributes to Emotional Health and Children — Included as a Chapter in “Emotional Problems of Children” by Dr.  Harry Josephs  (about 1955)


Member- ACSW, NASW, NCSW, U.S.  Committees, International Council on Social Welfare

Listed- Who’s Who of American Women

SourceUniversity of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: