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Schiff, Philip: 1958 Memorial



Philip Schiff, Distinguished Social Worker
Philip Schiff, Distinguished Social Worker

(Editor’s Note: The Metropolitan Washington Chapter of NASW held a special memorial meeting for Philip Schiff on September 25, 1958, at which Dean Inabel Lindsay of the School of Social Work of Howard University presented this paper.)

Inabel Burns Lindsay
Inabel Burns Lindsay
Photo: NASW Foundation

“With humility and a frustrating sense of inadequacy. I have accepted the great privilege and tremendous responsibility of representing my colleagues in this tribute to a great social statesman: Philip Schiff. It was impossible to select only a few outstanding traits among the many possessed by our rarely gifted and generously endowed friend and fellow worker. In an attempt to formulate a composite of what he meant to us personally and to the profession to which he and we are dedicated, I solicited from a few of the leaders in this chapter some of their memories of him. In making this request, I called upon people of diverse religious, racial, national and political backgrounds and different areas of practice, knowing that his varied identifications would have elicited some response of oneness with each. You told me your impressions of him as an individual —  humble, gentle, kind, wise, understanding and generous — you remarked upon his professional competence – his conviction, his courage, his capacity to work effectively even with those with whose philosophy he disagreed; his exceptional. skill. his emphasis upon cooperation with others having similar concerns. Although I asked for only a single, indelible impression, 1 should have known that so many faceted a person as Phil would always evoke multiple reactions . You spoke of his rugged vital appearance; his sympathetic but dynamic: use of his great capacity for relating. to people in all walks of life; the inspiration which he always offered; as one of you put it: “He  made you better than you were; achieve greater things than you thought possible; see greater goals.” He was never too busy to give of himself for a friend or for one who needed something he could offer.

“His unusual leadership ability was acknowledged. One of you commented on his skill in helping to get any worthwhile project started, including the finding of funds; his actively manifested concern and help with securing adequate resources for health and welfare budgets in the District of Columbia . His concern was even more forcibly expressed for a high quality of services in the community. Most of us recall with profound respect and admiration his contributions to secure for the Juvenile Court, those qualities in a Judge that would ensure the best of treatment for all children within its jurisdiction.. Our chairman noted with appreciation. Phil’s contribution to welding together our different prior organizational entities into a unified single group, his skilled handling of our financial- problems; his effectiveness in getting people to take on different assignments: his farsightedness in relation to convictions and a love of people . It was the love of the other person that shone in Phil in his working relationships on committees. He never lost sight of a committee’s objectives but at the same time he transmitted to his fellow committee members the sweet joy he felt in sharing with them in achieving the committee’s purpose.

“These many and varied concerns upon which he worked with us in Washington, DC these sixteen years were but a continuation and extension of his life-long interests. (I am indebted to his devoted wife for help in exploring these). Born and brought up on the lower east side of New York City, he had a first hand knowledge of deprivations and disadvantage that might have resulted in bitterness, frustration and social unproductivity in lesser mortals. He, however, used his personal knowledge to advance the cause of his friends and neighbors.

“Twenty-two years ago, he, as head worker of Madison  House in New York City, was pleading before a Senate committee for passage of a Youth Act to aid  “…the despairing, bitter and disillusioned youth of America.” As he said that day:  “…The young men and women cannot, like pigs or wheat, be considered as surplus, they cannot be held in reserve or put in cold storage, and they cannot remain idle forever.  The morale of the United States of America is in for a good trimming unless we do something for them….”

“In 1938, Schiff helped focus attention on the need for vocational training and jobs for the millions of unemployed youth.  He saw and pointed out the devastating effects of unwholesome environment as he pled for the life of a young man sentenced  to death for participation in a small robbery.  His warm personal humanity was never more vividly portrayed than in his weekly visits to this boy waiting in the “Death House” at Sing Sing while his wife and children waited in the car outside.

“Ever mindful that many of the needs and hostile attitudes with which he worked, stemmed from an unfriendly environment, Phil – with characteristic vigor – set about to create a more favorable social climate. He led a fight on the artificially inflated price of milk and was successful in eliminating the middleman’s profit by offering the Madison House as the middleman. He introduced effective health services, in the form of venereal disease and tuberculosis control programs; he pioneered in the creation of day care centers. he spear·headed drives for better educational, vocational and political outlets for those whom he served so devotedly and sincerely — In all of these efforts, he employed the concept of self-help and total community cooperation. He recognized that in working with people to achieve their greatest potentialities the giver also was strengthened.

“The New York Times of June 22, 1939 reported the tributes paid him as he left Madison House; and his response, so characteristic of this great spirit — the vision he got from it he tried to leave with these people who were described in his brief response to the eulogies, as “the real America….Nobody can do as much for you as you can do for yourself,” he told them, half-pleadingly, half-proudly. “Down deep in my heart at this time, I can assure you, is only gratitude for what you have done for me. In the old days social workers used to work for you. Now they work with you.”

“But I am sure that to stop with eulogy at this point would be the most distasteful thing in the world to Phil. He would be proud and gratified if he felt that we, his colleagues, could use his life to help us identify remaining unmet needs and to chart a course of attack upon them.  His unflagging ambition for the attainment of the democratic objectives of our nation were reflected in the breadth of his interests. His concern for the total public welfare, civil liberties, youth, religious life, community social planning, political integrity and leadership, the United Nations, social work as a profession and education for it, the removal of barriers between people – were all expressed in his many activities on the local, national and international scenes. His ambition for his social work colleagues was expressed in speeches in preparation for the time of his leaving us.  In commenting on the Social Action Workshop held last year in Washington he said:  “…I believe it is fair to say that while each participant experienced a tremendous personal satisfaction and gained considerably in knowledge about the why and wherefore of public social policy, every last one of them left for his home dedicated to the proposition that his chapter must from here out bear its full share of responsibility towards achieving the goals enunciated in the statement of ‘Goals and Objectives ‘ of NASW.”

“As a practical though understanding and skillful professional, he pointed out our deficiencies in the failure to develop the necessary machinery to “aid the constituent elements of State conferences (and other similar bodies) in a dynamic approach to local and state problems, and went on to suggest standards for a social action program. To play an effective role in pushing forward the frontiers of economic and social progress, he urged that we utilize our tremendous knowledge of people; our motivation for service; extend our awareness of public social policy as seen in our neighborhoods and communities to encompass a broader view which would include such functions as social insurance, rehabilitation services, housing, health, immigration and international social welfare; study and organize the facts as we find them; and energetically utilize cooperative endeavor with those of like interests.

“He “concretized” these by referral to the lists of “priorities” and “alerts” agreed upon in the Social Action Workshop. Perhaps to repeat these might provide stimulus for an “action memorial” which would be befitting his memory. As “Priorities” he listed: 1) . The Forand Bill (to include Social Security amendments providing use of trust funds for rehabilitation purposes); 2) Research training and grants; 3) Grants-In-aid for public assistance; 4) Increased appropriations for child welfare; 5) International social welfare (with special attention to support for mutual security programs, reciprocal trade and social welfare attache’ programs); 6) Civil Rights; 7) Federal Aid to Education; 8) Housing and Urban Renewal; and 9) Immigration.  Schiff added as “alerts:” 1) Mental Health; 2) Migratory Workers; 3) 1960 White House Conference on Children and youth; and 4) Juvenile Delinquency.

“In one of his final presentations, Phil Schiff shared his vision of what social workers needed to do to create a more perfect  union here and abroad:”

“The challenge for 1958 in our country and its meaning for social workers is clear, despite the confusing array of forces lined up on both sides of great domestic and international issues. Debates presently raging in and out of congressional halls indicate a pressing need for those concerned with social welfare programs to realize that their interests are intertwined with those who believe there is nothing sacrosanct about debt ceilings, who believe our economy 1s capable of providing both for defense and improved social services and who are concerned with a dynamic, realistic foreign policy that would recognize the imperatives of a disarmament program – one that demands of us a realization that the world has shrunk and that peoples throughout the world need to learn how to live in a world of clashing ideologies without resorting to armed warfare. In short, this shrinking world demands of us recognition of the fact that the passion and excitement of building a better world is greater than that of planning for its destruction.”

Source: Inabel B. Lindsay, Dean, School of Social Work, Howard Univers1ty Washington, D. C. – September 25, 1958,