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Richmond School of Social Economy – Beginnings. October 1916 – July 1917

Richmond School of Social Economy – Beginnings. October 1916 – July 1917

Alice W. Campbell, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries


The Richmond School of Social Economy was a training school for social workers established in Richmond, Virginia. The school changed its name and character over time, and in 1968 merged with the Medical College of Virginia to form Virginia Commonwealth University. The following are transcriptions of articles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that document the process of organizing and fundraising that created the school. Of particular note are the presence of Orie Latham Hatcher and Virginia McKenney. Hatcher, founder and president of The Bureau of Vocations for Women, initiated the idea of having a school of social work. (Richardson, 1930, 216). The Bureau of Vocations sought to expand the range of educational opportunities and professional work available to Virginia women, including the establishment of a co-ordinate college for women at the University of Virginia.

The first planning meeting for a Richmond School of Social Economy was held October 20, 1916 under the auspices of The Bureau of Vocations and chaired by Virginia McKenney (later, Virginia Claiborne, director of The Valentine). A committee of fifteen men and women, appointed by McKenney, were then charged with making plans for the training of social workers in Richmond. A board of directors for the new school was chosen by December 1916 with the hopes of opening in March of 1917. The board soon decided that the scope and complexity of the project would necessitate delaying that optimistic date, and the date of the first term was set for October 1917.  Professors from the Women’s College at Westhampton and the Medical College of Virginia indicated their willingness to teach in the school. The newspaper noted, “An expert also will probably be secured from one of the Northern universities.” Faculty were, indeed, named by April 1917, and an expert, Henry H. Hibbs, began his duties as director on July 18, 1917.




Committee to Draw Up Plans for Study of Local Institutions


   With a view of establishing a school for the training of social workers, a committee will be appointed shortly by Miss McKenney, chairman of an assembly of representatives of Richmond social organizations which met yesterday to discuss the advisability of such a move, to draw up plans for the institution and submit them at a later date to the larger body.

   The idea met with the hearty approval of all the workers present, who included Father Hanningan of the St. Joseph’s Mission for Negroes; Miss Grange, of the Travelers’ Aid Society; Miss Minor, of the Instructive Visiting Nurses’ Association: Dr. Smith and Mr. Rudd, of the Medical College of Virginia; Miss Petersen, of Kilbourne Farm; Justice J. Hoge Ricks, of the Juvenile Court; Dr. Buchanan of the Associated Charities; Miss Keller, of Westhampton College for Women; Rev. J.T. Mastin, of the State Board of Charities and Corrections; R.W. Miles Jr.. of the city playgrounds; and Miss Hatcher, of the Bureau of Vocations.


Source: (1916, October 22). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 4.




Many Organizations Unite in Effort to Educate Workers for Increased Usefulness to Profession.


   As the result of an interesting conference held ten days ago under the auspices of the Virginia Bureau of Vocations, a committee has been appointed to make plans for providing training in social work in Richmond. The committee consists of fifteen men and women closely in touch with various phases of social work in Richmond and the State at large. They are: Mayor George Ainslie, Dr. J.T. Mastin, State Board of Charities; J. Hoge Ricks, Juvenile Court; Dr. James Buchanan, Associated Charities; Dr. Davidson, department of economies, Richmond College; Father Charles Hannigan, Travelers’ Aid Society; R.E. Magill, Presbyterian Committee of Publication; W.F. Rudd, Medical College of Virginia; Miss Orie L. Hatcher, Virginia Bureau of Vocations: Dean May L. Keller, Westhampton College; Miss Anna Peterson, Kilbourne Farm; Miss Nannie Minor, Nurses’ Settlement and I.V.N.A; Miss Sarah Roller, Juvenile Court; Miss Agnes Randolph, State Board of Health; Mrs. W.S.McNeill, Home for Colored Girls.

   A meeting of this committee has been called for Thursday, November 2, at 4 o’clock. At that time a chairman will be elected and plans made to put the undertaking on a working basis.

   The events leading up to the formation of this committee are as follows:

   Ever since it began its work, more than two years ago, the Virginia Bureau of Vocations has found itself continuously hampered by the lack of opportunity for training in social work in Virginia. Desirable positions requiring such training in social work came continually to its notice, but there were practically no trained applicants and no opportunity for untrained applicants to secure training in Virginia. The result was that positions in Virginia had to be filled by applicants from the North and West, while Virginia girls were left without positions and without opportunity for training. 

   This need for training within the State for its own home material had also been keenly felt by the various organizations in Richmond and other parts of Virginia engaged in activities more or less closely related to social work. To crystalize thought upon the subject, the Bureau of Vocations called a conference of representatives of the above- mentioned organizations to consider the advisability of making plans to provide training in social work in Richmond. The conference was held October 20, and was very largely attended. The opinion was unanimous that there was a crying need for such training and the meeting was enthusiastic in authorizing the chair to appoint the committee.

   It was agreed by all present that the training should be along two lines- theoretical and practical. Richmond College conveyed through Dean Keller, of Westhampton College, its desire to be of service, and expressed its willingness to aid in furnishing theoretical training. Each and all of the organizations represented gave ample assurance that they could provide practical work through a system of supervised volunteer work in their organizations. 

   The committee is to consider ways and means of using these offers of help and to lay the foundation of an adequate system of training in social work in Richmond. The undertaking has power to be of tremendous value in social endeavors of all kinds, both public and private. 



(1916, October 29). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 10.




Committee on Invitation Then Named to Secure Services of Those Desired as Members.


With its board of directors named by the committee on nominations and another committee appointed to extend invitations to the persons selected to serve as the directing body of the institution, an important step was taken yesterday by the conference of social workers in organizing the Richmond School of Social Economy, which will be opened here on March 1.

The conference which held its session at the bureau of Vocations, appointed Miss O. L. Hatcher, Rev. H. C. D. Maclachlan, D. D., Dr. J. H. Smith, Rev. W. Russell Bowie, D. D., Miss Agnes D. Randolph, Miss Katherine H. Hawes, and Rev. J. J. Scherer, Jr.  [?] committee to extend the invitation to the board decided upon and to arrange for it to meet at the earliest possible date. Miss Hatcher is chairman of this committee.

As soon as the board meets, specific committees will be appointed, and plans pushed forward for the opening of the school. It is planned to give a two-year course for social workers in this school and to have the work done here credited y collegiate institutions in the country. Professors in the Women’s College at Westhampton and in the Medical College of Virginia have indicated their willingness to teach in the school. An expert also will probably be secured from one of the Northern universities.


Source: (1916, December 20). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 1.



detail of typed meeting minutes
Minutes from the January 4, 1917 meeting of the Board of Directors, Richmond School of Social Economy.
Image: Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries



Enlarged Plan of Operation Makes Necessary More Careful Provision for Opening Next Session.


The board of directors of the Richmond School of Social Economy has decided to omit the spring term formerly arranged to open on March 5, and will proceed directly with its preparations for the regular two-year curriculum to be begun in October. It was originally designed to use a preliminary spring term for the provision of a few fundamental courses useful in any phase of social work, and at the same time for a few phases of experimentation before the more permanent curriculum went into effect. The generous amount of co-operation offered by city and State experts in public health and social work, as well as by members of college faculties, has, however, already equipped the school with a corps of instructors equal in numbers and professional rank to that of a college, and constitutes an obligation for preparedness as regards school organization, equipment and publicity which the short time remaining makes it impossible, in the view of those in charge, to meet adequately. Moreover, the increasing signs of interest in the school, both in Virginia and outside, make the preparation for next year already press heavily upon the board of directors.

The prospectus, or announcement, of next year’s courses is soon to be issued, and, through the courtesy of the Presbyterian Committee of Publication, and office is already provided for the school. It is in operation throughout the day. It is situated immediately adjoining the offices of the Bureau of Vocations.



(1917, January 29). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 2.



Will Speak on Organized Charity. 

   Miss Margaret Byington, associate secretary of the American Association of Societies for Organizing Charities, will speak at 4 o’clock this afernoon in the parish house of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church before the Council of Social Workers. She is in Richmond at the invitation of the Richmond School of Social Economy, the Council of Social Workers and the Associated Charities. She spoke yesterday afternoon in the office of the Bureau of Vocations for Women at a meeting of the board of directors of the school of social economy.



(1917, March 9). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 4.

Note:  Byington was the author of the best-selling What Social Workers Should Know About Their Communities.




Instructors Will Be Drawn From Local Health Official and Some Service Workers.

   Officers of instruction of the Richmond School of Social Economy, as announced yesterday, will be Ennion G. Williams, M. D., State Commissioner of Health; D. R. Anderson, Ph. D., secretary of Richmond Civic Association, and head of department of political science, Richmond College; Roy K. Flannagan, M. D., Chief Health Officer of Richmond; Rev. H. D. C. Maclachlan, D. D., pastor of Seventh Street Christian Church; Miss Anna M. Petersen, superintendent Virginia Home and Industrial School for Girls; Walter Jorgensen Young, Ph. D., head of department of philosophy, Richmond College; Leroy Hodges, secretary of Virginia Commission on Economy and Efficiency; Miss Nannie J. Minor, superintendent, Visiting Nurses Association; Mrs. Jane R. Ranson, State Supervisor Public Health Nursing; J. Hoge Ricks, Justice of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Richmond; James H. Smith, M.D., dispensary and social service department of Medical College of Virginia; Miss Agnes D. Randolph, executive secretary of the Anti-Tuberculosis Association of Virginia; Ernest Lee Ackiss, assistant professor of English Bible, Richmond College; Miss Loomis Logan, assistant secretary of the Children’s Home Society; William H. Higgins, M.D. , psychological examiner city public schools, Richmond; McGuire Newton, M. D., professor of pediatrics, Medical College of Virginia; Miss Lucy Coleman, director of training school for kindergartners; Miss Mary Lancaster Smith, director domestic science of Young Women’s Christian Association, Richmond; Aubrey Straus, assistant professor of bacteriology, Medical College of Virginia.

Special lecturers: Dr. James Buchanan, head of Associated Charities; William A. Brumfield, M. D., district health officer, State Board of Health; N. Thomas Ennett, medical director of Richmond Public Schools: J. O. Fitzgerald, State Bacteriologist; Richard Messer, sanitary engineer State Board of Health; W. A. Plecker, M. D. State Registrar of Vital Statistics, former medical inspector of Richmond. Instructors in recreation courses: J. Tucker Jones, director of physical education city schools, Richmond; Mrs. May Leman Jones, former assistant director physical training, city schools, Richmond; Miss Lucy Coleman, director Richmond Training School for Kindergartners; Miss Martha J. Hyde, director for athletics Young Women’s Christian Association, Richmond; Miss Ruth L. Peet, assistant director of athletics Young Women’s Christian Association, Richmond, and Miss Hattie Belle Gresham, kindergartner, lecturer and story teller.



(1917, April 24). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 4.



Subscriptions Amounting to $1,249 Toward $5,000 Guarantee Fund Are Reported at Luncheon.

   Thirty-five people attended the third of the luncheons given by the Richmond School of Social Economy yesterday at 1 o’clock. Reports turned in by the canvassers for the $5,000 fund showed cash and subscriptions amounting to $1,249.

Rev. J. J. Scherer, Jr. who presided said: “I find that not a single person who has listened to the preposition has turned it down. They all gave something. Some people seem to think our plans too good to be true, but they were willing to gamble on the dream.”

All the pastors will be given an opportunity to help the school through their churches by recommending that each society take a $50 scholarship which entitles them to name a suitable person to take a course of their own selection in the school. A committee was named to take up this matter at the next meeting of the Ministerial Union. Dr. Ennion G. Williams, speaking for the Medical College, said: “We have been interested in this effort from the beginning, and will certainly do everything in our power to make the school a credit to Virginia and the South.”

Dr. Margaret Kuyk, president of St. Paul’s Church Home, said: “It only remains for us to present the ideas of the school in a convincing way, and we will get all the money we need in a very short time.”

W. F. Rudd of the Medical College and A. H. Hill, of the City School Board, both spoke in commendation of the effort. Canvassers will report again Monday at 5 o’clock.



(1917, May 11). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 12.



Accepts Directorship of Richmond Institute of Social Economy. 


In a letter received at headquarters of the Richmond School of Social Economy yesterday, Dr. Henry H. Hibbs, of New York, announced his acceptance of the directorship of the school to open here on October 6. Dr. Hibbs resigned a position in the statistical department of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to come to Richmond, and will begin his duties here on July 18. He comes highly recommended by leaders in social service work throughout the country. His name was first brought to the attention of the board of directors by Dr. Hastings Hart of the Russell Sage Foundation.

Dr. Hibbs is a Southern man with a broad education and experience, both in the North and South. He is a Ph. D. of Columbia, a master of arts of Brown University, and a special student of sociology at Harvard in 1911-1912. While at Harvard he became a fellow in the research department and was connected with the Associated Charities, where he was highly complimented on his work, which was taken in connection with the course at the university. In 1914-1915 he was with the University of Illinois as lecturer on sociology, criminology, and social statistics. In the summer of of [sic] 1915 he lectured at Vanderbilt University and in 1916 was the director of the summer school for training social workers at Nashville conducted by the Interchurch College and Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Hibbs is also an author of some note, having written a valuable paper on “Infant Mortality–Its Relation to Social and Industrial Conditions,” which has been used by the Russell Sage Foundation in the child-helping department. He is also a contributor to magazines and journals of political economy.



(1917 July 12). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 7.


Will Become Director of New School of Social Economy to Open in Fall. 


Of wide experience, both in teaching and in practical training, is Dr. Henry H. Hibbs, of New York, who has accepted the directorship of the School of Social Economy which will open here October 1. Dr. Hibbs is a Southern man by birth. By education he is a Ph. D. of Columbia, a master of arts of Brown University, and was a special student of sociology of Harvard in 1911-1912.

In 1914-1915 he was with the University of Illinois as lectureer on sociology, criminology and social statistics. In the summer of 1915 he lectured at Vanderbilt University and in 1916 was the director of the summer school for training social workers at Nashville conducted by the Interchurch College and Vanderbilt University.



(1917 July 18). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. 4.



Ad for the Richmond School of Social Economy July 22 1917
Advertisement for the Richmond School of Social Economy
Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 22, 1917, p. 32.


For further reading:

Richmond School of Social Economy, First Annual Announcement, 1917-1918. Bulletin No. 1. Social Welfare History Image Portal

Bureau of Vocations for Women, September 1915. (Woman’s Occupational Bureau). Social Welfare History Project

Bush, E. N. (2020). Virginia Home and Industrial School for Girls, Social Welfare History Project

Green, E. (2005). Gendering the City, Gendering the Welfare State: The Nurses’ Settlement of Richmond, 1900-1930. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 113(3), 276-311. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from

Nurses Settlement, Richmond, Va. Social Welfare History Project

Richardson, E. R. (1930 February). Liberals in Richmond. Plain Talk, VI, 213-219.

Shepherd, S. C. (2001). Avenues of faith. Shaping the urban religious culture of Richmond, Virginia, 1900-1929. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.

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