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Daniel Coit Gilman’s Role in Building the Profession
of Social Work and its Education
By: Harris Chaiklin, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland School of
“The lack of a sense of history is the damnation of the modern world.”
Robert Penn Warren
Introduction: Daniel Coit Gilman is best known for his contributions to American university and medical education. Much less well known are his activities in contributing to the foundation for American professional social work education and his personal social welfare activities. This paper reviews his history in these areas and argues that greater attention should be given to his social welfare educational and practice accomplishments.
Daniel Coit Gilman’s Role in Building the Profession and its Education.
Past, present, and future are logically distinct categories. But to a historian they are porous and their content is ever changing. History is continually being written because new artifacts are found, new research adjusts “truth” and shifting social and cultural conditions lead to reinterpreting the past. This paper presents information to show that Daniel Coit Gilman should be included in future social work histories. Currently his name is never included in the list of important figures that helped create the profession and its education.
He was born July 6, 1831 and died October 13, 1908. During his 77 years he had many noteworthy accomplishments but is chiefly known for his contributions to higher education. I shall briefly review these since I want to concentrate on his contributions to social welfare. From 1856 to 1865 he was librarian of Yale College. He played a major role in improving the public schools in New Haven. He helped found Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School and in 1863 became professor of geography there. In 1872 he became the third president of the University of California. In 1875 he became the first president of Johns Hopkins University. In 1889 he had a major role in founding Johns Hopkins Hospital and in 1893 Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1897 he helped create a preparatory school on campus ‘The Country School for Boys’ and also served on a commission to draft a new city charter. When the prep school moved in 1910 it became known as the Gilman School. He retired from Hopkins in 1901. He then served from 1902-1904 as president of the new Carnegie Institution in Washington. He was not done yet. From 1903-1908 he was president of the American Bible Society.
Despite his noteworthy career there is no good recent biography about him. His social welfare activities are either mentioned incidentally or in sources that are difficult to locate. Gilman’s approach to education is related to understanding his social welfare initiatives. When Johns Hopkins died in 1873 he left $7 million to be split equally between the creation of a university and a hospital. At the time it was the largest educational bequest in American history. Gilman was 44 when he was appointed president. He was not formally installed until 1876 because he spent a year consulting with eminent educators and studying the model of education he wanted to bring to Hopkins. He picked the brightest and most promising professors and students. Many of the professors were still in their twenties. Making younger people professors was a real departure for his times. His eye was unerring. He held to the standard that faculty had to teach, research, and write and believed one could not be a good teacher unless they did this. Within a few years “Baltimore was becoming a Mecca to young scholars and scientists; the University was rapidly making history (Flexner 1946, p. 82).”
The trustees gave him freedom and did not interfere in running the school. Gilman set the standards. There were no religious restrictions or requirements for faculty affiliations. This was a major innovation. Up to that time major schools such as Yale and Harvard were fairly weak colleges dominated by faculty who were members of the clergy. Under Gilman all subjects were to be developed. This included the emerging science of biology which was influenced by Darwin’s theory. Resistance to Darwin was pronounced especially in the country’s educational and religious institutions.
Hopkins was to be a university graduate school, the first true university in the country. Public pressure made Gilman decide to accept some undergraduates. Gilman considered good relations with the community to be important to the university. But in accepting undergraduates he broke new educational ground. Students had to complete requirements in one of seven areas but they could progress as rapidly as they wanted. Many finished in two years, most in three, and a few took four years. For the first twenty years graduate students outnumbered undergraduates more than two to one. Hopkins granted the first research PhD in this country. One biographer says, “The great achievement with which the name of President Gilman will always chiefly be associated is having naturalized in America the idea of a true university (Franklin 1910, p. 183).”
Gilman was an activist but he did not engage in party politics. What he did was develop relationships with appropriate institutions and governmental bodies. Reforms were pushed in Baltimore’s sanitation and water purification. Public school teachers were given classes at the University. A wide variety of philanthropic and charitable activities were undertaken. He wanted to have the people of Baltimore see the University as useful and public spirited and at the same time to be recognized for setting the standard for quality education.
He was exact, precise, organized, a prodigious worker, and a humanitarian. He was not a great or prolific scholar; rather, he was a master educational planner and administrator who always held himself and others to the highest standards. When took over setting up the hospital because no one else could get it organized he went to New York to see how a first class hotel handled linens and towels since he thought clean linen was essential for patient comfort. He instituted Sunday visiting so working people wouldn’t miss a day’s pay during the week and had mail delivered on Sunday since this was a lonely day. No detail was too small to escape his attention. He brought these qualities to his social welfare endeavors.
Before turning to his specific social welfare endeavors I would like to present some material about Levering Hall and Eugene Levering since they played a significant role in Gilman’s welfare endeavors. The original Johns Hopkins campus was located in downtown Baltimore. Levering Hall was the campus YMCA. It got its start in 1889 from an initial $20,000 donation by Levering. It was a “modern” building, “…heated by hot air and illuminated by electrically-ignited gas jets (French 1946, p. 326),” The YMCA and its membership provided a base for the social welfare activities Gilman initiated from the University. “It was part of the plan of the Association to encourage its members … to take part in the religious and social work going on in the City. A number of Hopkins men shared in the welfare work of Lawrence House at 816 West Lombard St (French 1946, p. 327).” This was Baltimore’s first settlement house and was founded in 1893. Students were placed through Levering Hall to work with people who lived in the crowded and poor housing. The big industries in the area were the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad repair shops and Hayward’s Iron Foundry. The population was mainly Irish and German but Poles, Italians, and Jews were moving in. Students produced reports such as, “A study of 50 Italian Families Living Near Lexington Market” and “A Study in Standards of Living.”
When the campus moved to Homewood in 1916 Levering Hall was without a home. The empty original building burned. Later with insurance money, another donation by Levering, and fund raising a building was built in 1928-29. It was accessible and had a wide appeal to students who did not join out of religious affiliation. This made it different than the usual YMCA whose members were from the business community. “The college boys and girls of the nineteen-thirties were interested in social and economic problems and their discussion groups were more likely to ask questions about submerged classes of the population and racial minorities than about missionary effort in China (French 1946, pp. 330-331).” This brought the Hopkins YMCA into conflict with the City YMCA who feared the students were turning in the direction of socialism. The Hopkins group persevered, Levering Hall’s tradition of activism has continued to this day. It wasn’t until 1969 that the University purchased the building from the YMCA. The YMCA had not usually looked at as a wealthy organization but when Hopkins was starting it had considerably more resources than the University.
Levering was known for his strong prohibitionist views. He was also very active in working to improve Baltimore social conditions. For example, the Rev. Beadenkopf, and Henry Walters led a movement to get public baths in Baltimore. In 1894 the first Bath Commission was created and he was president.
Baltimore was reluctant to establish these baths. Even though reformers were in control in the city government there were many problems. The school system was one of the worst in the country. The city had no sewer system. Less than 10% of the poor had bathroom facilities. Establishing the baths was a signal public health achievement.
Among other things Levering was a Baptist church deacon. He was a director of the Charity Organization Society and president of the Baltimore Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor and a founder of the American Red Cross on its board of directors. He was a Hopkins trustee from 1898-1948. It is a measure of Gilman that he involved people like Levering in Hopkins humanitarian endeavors. He could recruit powerful people and create conditions where they worked cooperatively without a hint of jealousy.
The stage is now set to look at Gilman’s role in providing many of the underpinnings for social work and its education. He started early. In 1870 while still in New Haven he gave a speech at the opening of an industrial school. It was on the history of charitable and penal institutions. It ended with three principles to be followed by those engaged in charitable and philanthropic work:
… First, that all who are personally concerned in such work should make it a duty to keep thoroughly informed in respect to what is doing elsewhere, in order to know what to avoid and what to abandon, and what to test and adopt; second that women should be employed in charitable undertakings and trained especially for such work, so that they should be ready to more responsible positions in various institutions; and that in all charitable and reformatory institutions there should be full publicity as to income and expenditure and that the entire management should be open to public inspection (Franklin 1910, p. 89).
As principles for working with people there is nothing new or startling here. Welfare work requires that one knows what is going on, that women doing this should be well-trained and that agencies should operate with what we today call transparency. But in New Haven, Connecticut in 1870 this was a progressive, even radical statement. Darwin and evolution were threatening to upset established ways of viewing human history and development. One of its core beliefs was that it was up to people to help themselves without aid from the government. In this form resistance to evolution became known as Social Darwinism. William Graham Sumner stands as an exemplar of this tradition. He was first appointed to Yale as a tutor in 1866. He also became an Episcopal priest and left Yale to take a congregation. In 1872 he returned to play a large role in creating American sociology. He never accepted evolution and often is pictured as the quintessential social Darwinist.
It is important to distinguish Sumner’s brand of Social Darwinism from the more extreme eugenicists who often were totalitarians. His goals lay more in the direction of supporting the business practices of his day. He never accepted the idea of evolution and did not believe you could influence society with welfare programs (Sumner 1883) . To him the idea of intervening in the social system to help people was absurd. “… it is the greatest folly of which a man can be capable, to sit down with a slate and pencil to plan out a new social world (Sumner 1911). p. 210).”
These attitudes did not prevent him from being helpful to individuals, especially students. For example, George Edmund Haynes was a student of his at a time when almost no African Americans were in Ivy League schools. Haynes was a founder of the Urban League and created the first African American social work program at Fisk University.
For Gilman to make such a speech in the face of the social climate that prevailed speaks to his courage and his steadfast belief in principle. That he saw women in more than the stereotyped role that was the standard in this time is worthy of further comment. On the one hand it was a sign that he valued women’s ability to have responsible jobs in social welfare. The idea of middle class women working and not volunteering was not widely accepted, especially if they were or wanted to get married. Most women who worked outside the home came from a background of little schooling and were domestics or factory workers.
But Gilman was a man of his times and shared its values. He later opposed admitting women to Hopkins and the Medical School. This changed because of an extraordinary Baltimorean named Mary Elizabeth Garrett. Her family owned the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. She was independently wealthy, perhaps the richest woman in the country. She had made one attempt to get women admitted to Hopkins by offering money but had been turned down. Hopkins was about to open the medical school when the University ran into financial trouble since the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad stock which constituted the bulk of its endowment suspended paying dividends because of its own difficulties.
Garrett and her “Friday Evening” social group formed a Women’s Medical School Fund Committee and began trying to raise $100,000. When this and other fund raising was not enough Garrett offered to complete the $500,000 needed to get it under way. The group made one demand which was that women be admitted to the medical school under the same conditions as men. Garrett added additional stipulations most of which were accepted after some intense negotiation. These were that men and women be admitted under the same conditions, that the medical school be a graduate school, that a bachelor’s degree be required for admission, and knowledge of basic pre-medical courses be required. Under pressure of financial need he accepted admitting women. While Gilman agreed with the educational criteria he made clear that it was he and the University that determined educational standards and that it would not be dictated to by outsiders. When the medical school opened in October of 1893 it was not only set off on a new path of high standards that shaped American medicine but it also for the first time provided for educating women medical students on an equal footing with men.
One of those early students was Gertrude Stein. She dropped out in the middle of her final year because she didn’t like working with patients. She liked and was much better at research and published a couple of respectable experimental studies. Such was the beginning of this medical school dropout who went to Paris to write. She was not of Nobel Prize quality but did meet Alice B. Toklas who became her lifetime companion. In between Alice’s “funny brownies” she established a respectable reputation as a writer and hosted a famous expatriate avant-garde artistic salon
Gilman later expanded the principles of charity he had enunciated earlier. In 1893 he chaired and edited the report of the sixth section of the International Conference of Charities, Corrections and Philanthropy. What follows are his words, with a lot of ellipses from his Conference overview paper: (Gilman, 1894 pp.viii-vi)
“First, the nature and influence of charitable works and the comparative value of different modes of procedure, are as worthy of exact study, as the facts and laws of political economy. … Organized charity proceeds upon the assumption of the unity of human nature, so that although laws, religions, traditions and usages differ in different lands, like causes everywhere tend to produce the like effects. … As it makes these studies, charity organization is not at all alarmed if it is called in a sneering tone ‘scientific,’ for history is full of examples of the taunts that have been thrown since the beginning of science. …In social as in bodily ailments the art of healing must be based upon ascertained facts and on accumulated experience….
“Secondly. It is another principle of charity organization that there shall be no needless expenditure of force, no dissipation of energy. Four agencies, which are at work in almost every community — civil, ecclesiastical, associated and individual beneficence—must be brought into such harmonious relations, that there will be no overlapping or duplication of charitable effort. …There are two dangers ever hovering over a charitable community,— that the expenses of administration will be disproportionate to the good accomplished; and that for the lack of adjustment and co-operation, the recipient of aid will be so amply supplied that he becomes permanently dependent or pauperized.…Cooperation in charity is of prime importance….
“Thirdly, Charity to be really and permanently efficacious must always (except in emergencies …) be guided by personal acquaintance with the wants that are to be relieved. Indiscriminate almsgiving at the door or on the street; the free bestowal of food ‘no questions being asked;’ spasmodic liberality one day and crisp parsimony the next; the avoidance of particular inquiries in respect to the conditions of those who seek assistance, may satisfy the conscience of a tender-hearted person, but his alms will probably aggravate in his beneficiaries the distresses that ought to be healed…
“Fourthly. The best of all charities s not that which gives something for nothing ; but that which gives something in return for industry, labor, economy, self-sacrifice and self-help. Work, for the strong and healthy, is better far than a dole. Useful labor, fairly requited, uplifts the needy man by perpetuating the consciousness that he does not belong to an impoverished class; bounties carelessly bestowed, without any return, tend to place the recipient in the ranks of the pauper. This principle does not prevent generous treatment of those who are dependent…”
In short, Education, Registration, Co-operation, Visitation, and the Provision of Employment, are the five-fold agencies upon which the leaders in charities are united.”
While these principles would not all be accepted today they can be said to constitute one of the foundations on which modern practice and its education is built. At a time when there was still question about whether giving services could be a professional endeavor he was saying that it should be a practice based on science, facts and accumulated wisdom and that scoffers should be disregarded. He held the advanced thought that while cultural differences were important that for essential needs a common human nature meant that “like causes produce like outcomes.” He wanted agency efficiency, coordination, and cooperation. Good practice meant you had to know who you were helping and deal with important issues directly. And he recognized that employment was a key issue and said that those who were helped could give back if they were helped to finds jobs that paid them fairly.
He seemed never to turn down a request for help in the community. And he brought the same quality of effort to everything he undertook. In the midst of building Hopkins Gilman was appointed to the Baltimore City School Board. Flexner cites H.L. Mencken as saying: “The general belief was that he was too busy to give the public schools any serious attention and that his appointment was hardly more than an effort to augment the dignity of the administration. At the very first meeting he attended he ‘horned’ into the minutest details of the Board’s work and within a couple of weeks he was the real boss of the whole system. … He was the sort of man who couldn’t leave anything to chance. Everything that came under his purview had to be arranged precisely and he never forgot a detail (Flexner 1946, p. 13).” Out of this he was able to get a non-political school board appointed. He also found time to do things which ranged from being a trustee of the Peabody Institute and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, a presidential appointee on the Venezuela Boundary Commission, president of the National Civil Service Reform League, and he helped start the Nation magazine.
In 1881 he called several prominent people to his office and founded one of the earliest Charity Organization Societies in America. He was the COS president from 1891-1901.Gilman did all he could to have the university play a role in community social welfare. “…recognizing that intelligent and scientific method in dealing with the unfortunate and the vicious is an element in any scheme for social betterment. And that the university is one of the strongest agencies for raising the standards of the people of a community in dealing with their fellow men. He opened the halls of the University to the use of the Charity Organization Society and other bodies devoted to social improvement, and he instituted lectures on charity work in the Department of Economics of the University (Franklin 1910, p. 275).”
Gilman and his collaborators brought into the COS such future social welfare notables as Amos G. Warner, Jeffrey Brackett, and Mary Richmond. This group had a great influence on social welfare in America. Gilman’s aim was to apply scientific principles to practice. He recruited people who would replace the uncoordinated almsgiving that had characterized charity up to that point. Decisions were to be based on good data. Later he picked Amos Warner, a graduate student in economics to head it. Through Levering Hall they helped provide practical learning experiences for students.
Another way Gilman’s social welfare interests were manifested was in the University’s division of History, Political Economy, and Political Science. They concentrated on the application of social science methods to social problems. Between 1884 and 1896 Herbert Baxter Adams, James Bryce, Richard Ely, Albert Shaw, and Woodrow Wilson developed a program in local government public administration. Ely and Baxter, in particular, provided access to doctoral students to work on social problems. Ely avoided political parties while advocating for tax reform, government ownership of necessary monopolies, and social reform.
While the mechanics of state and local government are not a social work specialty, the social commitment of these professors led them and their students into many activities familiar to social workers. Between Gilman and these faculty members the Baltimore Charity Organization Society became a vehicle for faculty and student involvement in social problems. Students became COS workers with this being looked at as an application of the theory they were learning. There was an increase in this activity when, in 1885, John Glenn, a real estate man, joined the COS. That he was so successful and effective was remarkable in his time, for he was blind. He believed in and implemented Gilman’s ideas about the use of social science principles in providing poor relief. Prevention was the emphasis. Glenn was a doer. By 1890 he had 236 volunteer visitors and 310 by 1893. Many of these were Hopkins students.
Based on his membership in the City Charter Commission Gilman took recommendations from the special Commission on Charities and got them into the City Charter. “The consequence was a fundamental change in the system, or lack of system, which had previously existed. Instead of almost random contributions to charitable institutions privately managed, city appropriations to these agencies were required to be made on the basis of services actually rendered and duly certified, and proper inspection of all institutions receiving subventions from the city was required (Franklin 1910, p. 276).”
What Gilman inspired extended across the nation. The people who were either on the faculty or graduates contributed significantly to social work’s initial educational endeavors and establishment as a profession . Ely’s later career is one example. He was skilled in using field research so that it could be used in policy formulation. In 1892 he was the first economist hired at the University of Wisconsin. He brought one of his Hopkins students John R. Commons to Wisconsin. While Commons did not finish at Hopkins when in Baltimore he did research and worked with people. Ely had him visit savings and loan associations and help a tubercular veteran get a needed pension. This experience convinced Commons to become a minister of the gospel. The Wisconsin department became a foremost center for labor economics. The students and faculty associated with the department became a major source for the development of the Progressive Movement in the United State. Among them was Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr.
The writing of the Social Security act was associated with the department. Commons’ students Edwin E. Witte and Arthur J. Altmeyer were closely tied to the bill and its implementation. It has been said that the initial bill was written in the department. Witte helped pass the bill in Congress and Altmeyer became chairman of the Social Security Board. Wilbur J. Cohen was a student in this department. On graduation he went to Washington to work for Witte on the Social Security Act. After a distinguished government career, among other things being secretary of HEW, his subsequent appointment at the University of Michigan School of Social Work was as a professor of public administration. Cohen was not a social worker but the profession claims him for its own.
Amos Warner and Jeffrey Brackett were students of Ely who got their PhDs in history. Amos Warner gave the first lectures on welfare. Warner was executive secretary of the Baltimore COS from 1887-1889. He was considered the first college educated man to work in COS. He went from there to chair the economics department at the University of Nebraska. In 1891 President William Henry Harrison asked Warner to become the first Superintendent of Charities for the District of Columbia. Warner left two years later to become professor of economics and social science at Stanford University. His masterwork was American Charities.
Brackett was an active volunteer in the COS. He was a believer in the scientific approach. Brackett became head of the Boston School for Training Social Workers which later became the Simmons College School of Social Work. Another student, John M. Glenn became the first director of the Russell Sage Foundation.
E.A. Ross, the sociologist, was another noted scholar who received his Ph.D. from Hopkins in political economy. He had a stormy academic career and was forced from Stanford over objecting to exploitation of immigrant labor. Later he started the sociology department at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1896-1897 Philip A. Ayres, another student gave a course on the problems of the poor in cities. In the Baltimore COS he headed its executive committee and was president of the Baltimore City Department of Charities and Corrections. He headed the Associated Charities in Cincinnati and Chicago and was assistant Secretary of the New York Charity Organization Society. He established a summer School in New York for the Charity Organization Society in 1898. This became the New York School of Social Work and he was its first head.
Mary Richmond’s contribution to social work is well known. In 1889 she went to work for the Baltimore COS as assistant treasurer. In 1891 she became the General Secretary and stayed until 1899. In 1900 she became general secretary of the Philadelphia COS and in 1909 became head of the Charity Organization Department of the Russell Sage Foundation. Along the way this high school graduate wrote books which have become classics in the field. These included Social Diagnosis, Friendly Visiting Among the Poor, and What is Social Casework? To her we owe a great part of the social in social work for she was concerned with the conditions that led an individual to be poor, not his emotional state.
So what does this all mean? One thing which stands out is that Gilman’s role in developing basic social welfare practice principles which became the underpinnings for professional social work education and practice is little known and underappreciated. These are based on the work standards and principles he brought to his role as University president. Professors had to teach, research and publish. Academic freedom, rare in his time, was important to him. This requires trusting that the judgment of trained professionals is superior to those who do not have the same education. Gilman did all he could do to create this condition of trust. He did not consider worthy of faculty membership those whose only qualification is the desire to reform. This struggle has never been fully resolved. Any examination of university actions and activities in the last twenty years will show that there have been continued attempts to make agitation a university activity. Abraham Flexner (Flexner 1946, p. 8) said he was “The most effective educational advocate that our country has produced.”
Gilman was not a utopian. He pushed no grand schemes for remaking the nation or its social policy. As he built the university he involved it in solving local problems. The cooperative structures he developed became the standard for the rational efficient conduct of educational and social welfare activities. While the University and its professors and students worked on real issues and pushed for change, often against resistance, they did not engage in activities connected to political parties. They stuck to the issues.
The principles for social work practice and education he laid down continue to be valid today. Within the profession there is a tendency to continually say we need to develop new standards. Perhaps what is necessary is to remember and hold to what they once were. As George Santyana said, “A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” Gilman has left a legacy which influenced social work education, the profession and the nation.
Flexner, A. (1946). Daniel Coit Gilman: creator of the American type of university. New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Franklin, F. (1910). The life of Daniel Coit Gilman. New York, Dodd, Mead and Company.
French, J. C. (1946). A history of the university founded by Johns Hopkins. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press.
Gilman, D. C. (1894). A panorama of charitable work in many lands: being a review of the papers submitted to the International Congress in Chicago, June, 1893. Being a report of the Sixth Section of the International Conference of Charities, Corrections and Philanthropy, June 1893. D. C. Gilman. Baltmore, The Johns Jopkins Press: viii-xviii.
Sumner, W. G. (1883). What social classes owe to each other. New York, Harper & Row.
Sumner, W. G. (1911). The absurd effort to make the world over. War and other essays. A. G. Keller. New Haven, Yale University Press: 195-210.
Jim Stimpert the archivist at the Johns Hopkins Library and Tim Wisniewski the archivist at the Welch Medical Library were extremely helpful in locating the available material in their institutions.