Harriett M. Bartlett (1897-1987) — Medical Social Worker and Author of “The Common Base of Social Work Practice”

Note: Available for download is this Word Document that contains a pamphlet on Harriett M. Bartlett.

Harriett Bartlett
Photo: NASW Foundation


Harriett M. Bartlett was a medical social worker, educator, and author. She worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, was director of the medical social work curriculum at Simmons College, and was a leader in the American Association of Medical Social Workers. Her book, ” The Common Base of Social Work Practice,” embodies her leadership in the National Association of Social Workers’ Division of Practice and Knowledge and its efforts to define the methods shared by social workers in all specialties. To understand the social work profession as a whole was the goal of Harriett Bartlett. With singleness of purpose, she applied her considerable abilities of analysis and conceptualization to this endeavor throughout her career of practice, teaching, and consultation. Her own practice experience and writing was focused in the area of medical social work. However, her vision was one of finding the commonalities of the various specialties through research and through deeper understanding of practice. The culmination of her efforts is seen in The Common Base of Social Work Practice, published in 1970. It is a theoretical work which is utilized by social workers to the present time.

Bartlett received her BA from Vassar in 1918; a Certificate in Social Science Administration from the London School of Economics in 1920; and an MA in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1927. She worked as a caseworker, supervisor, and consultant at the Massachusetts General Hospital between 1921 and 1940. She taught at the University of Southern California and engaged in a series of special projects and studies. In 1943, Bartlett worked as a medical social work consultant at the U.S. Children’s Bureau in Washington. She did several surveys of hospitals in the east and mid-west for the American Association of Social Workers in 1945-46. Bartlett was professor of social economy at the Simmons College School of Social Work from 1947-1957. She developed the curriculum and led the medical practice sequence. During this period, she also served on the Council of Social Work Education and chaired the inception of the Hollis-Taylor Report. Bartlett retired to an active life of writing and to committee service to NASW and other organizations. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston University in 1969. During her 30 years of active retirement, Harriett Bartlett’s seminal thinking, her publications, and her ongoing work with organizations continued to benefit the social work profession.

Source: NASW Foundation (1995). Harriett Bartlett (1897-1987). Retrieved from http://www.naswfoundation.org/pioneers/b/bartlett_h.htm.

An Addendum From the Files of the Social Welfare Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries

Harriett M. Bartlett was a moving force in the continued development of the fields of medical social work and social work education. Born July 18, 1897, in Lowell, Massachusetts to Henry and Alice Moulten Bartlett, she graduated from Vassar in 1918, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1920, she earned a Social Service Certificate from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was awarded an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1927 and, in 1969, received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Boston University.

Between the years of 1921 and 1945, Bartlett was employed in various capacities by the Social Service Department of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. For the academic year 1940-1941, she was an associate professor for the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. She served as president of the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) from 1942 to 1944, and as executive secretary of the Joint Committee on Teaching of Social and Environmental Factors in Medicine from 1943 to 1945.

From 1947 to 1957, Bartlett was a professor and director of Medical Social Work at Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. Bartlett was active in AAMSW and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). While at NASW, she served on the Commission on Social Work Practice, which became the Division of Practice and Knowledge. Her work on these committees led to her major study on social work practice, conducted during the 1960s. The study resulted in the publication, The Common Base of Social Work Practice. Bartlett also served as a member of the Committee on Medical Social Work Practice, earlier called the Committee on Functions, from the early 1930s until its dissolution in 1963. She chaired the committee from 1935 to 1939 and also served on various subcommittees throughout her years of membership. Several of her major publications resulted from studies she conducted under the auspices of the committee, including Medical Social Work: A Study of Current Aims and Methods in Medical Social Case Work, 1934; Some Aspects of Social Casework in a Medical Setting , 1940; and Social Work Practice in the Health Field and Analyzing Social Work Practice by Fields, 1961. She also published several articles as a result of these studies.

As President of AAMSW (1942-1944), Bartlett served on the War time Committee on Personnel, chairing the committee through 1944. She rejoined the committee in October of 1945 as a representative of the American Association of Social Workers and served until the committee disbanded in 1946.

During her years as Executive Secretary of the Joint Committee on Teaching of Social and Environmental Factors in Medicine, a committee composed of medical social workers and physicians, Bartlett was joint author of surveys of thirteen major medical schools. The final report of the committee, “Widening Horizons in Medical Education,” was published in 1948.

Bartlett also published an article, coauthored by William W. Beckman, M.D., “Teaching of Social and Environmental Factors in Medicine: Some Unsolved Problems,” which centered on areas they felt were not adequately dealt with in the committee’s final report.

In 1944, Bartlett was authorized to establish a committee concerned with the development of an organization to deal with overall planning and coordination in social work. The Interim Committee for Joint Planning in Social Work was the result. She chaired the committee until it was dissolved in 1946.

Throughout her career, Bartlett was also actively involved in several other organizations. During the 1940s and early 1950s she served on several committees of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, notably the Advisory Committee on Maternal and Child Health Care Services. From 1952 to 1954, she chaired the Committee on Inter Agency Relationships sponsored by the United Community Services of Boston Council of Social Work in Medical Care. She also participated in the Research Commission of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) from 1952 to 1958.

Source: Harriet M. Bartlett Papers, Box 1. “Inventory.” University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives, Minneapolis, MN




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