September 2014 Features

Celebrating 100

The GSSWSR looks back on a century of accomplishment—and forward to 100 more years at the forefront of social work education.

By Nancy Brokaw

“The upcoming year is an exciting one for the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research,” says Dean Darlyne Bailey.

Exciting, and Bailey might have added, historic.

In 2014, the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR) begins its centennial year and also undergoes its reaccreditation process with the national Council on Social Work Education. “The centennial and the reaccreditation process give us the opportunity to reclaim both our purpose and value,” says Bailey, who has served as the GSSWSR dean since 2009.

The School got its start in 1915 as a department of the College—the legacy of an idealistic young alumna, New York heiress, and social activist by the name of Carola Woerishoffer, Class of 1907. At Bryn Mawr, Woerishoffer had taken advanced classes in economics, philosophy, politics, and psychology—a curriculum that President M. Carey Thomas called “the very course I would recommend above all others for social workers.”

After graduating, Woerishoffer threw herself into social causes, signing on for a four-month stint on the factory floor to get a firsthand view of conditions there, bankrolling the bail of the women arrested during the Shirtwaist Strike of 1909, and finally becoming a special investigator for the State of New York’s Bureau of Industries and Immigration.

For that job, she was called on to inspect factories and immigrant labor camps across the state and make policy recommendations to improve the lot of workers. By all accounts, she was indefatigable. But, in September 1911, as she was returning from a site visit in Cannonsville, her car slid off the road and she was killed.

Woerishoffer died tragically young but left behind an enduring legacy, for, in her senior year at Bryn Mawr, she had written a will that bequeathed $750,000 to the College, the largest gift in Bryn Mawr history at that time. She directed that it be used by the trustees “so that others may be prepared for social work as I have been.” Her legacy took shape as the Carola Woerishoffer Graduate Department of Social Economy and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College.

Over the years, as the department turned into the school in 1970, the GSSWSR has built proudly on Woerishoffer’s vision, awarding the first social work doctoral degrees in the country, becoming one of the charter members of the Association of Training Schools of Professional Social Work (the predecessor of the Council on Social Work Education), and convening the first regional meeting of schools of social work.

Since those early days, the GSSWSR has continued expanding its reach. In 1976, the Master of Law and Social Policy program was introduced—the first of its kind at a graduate school of social work. 1987 saw the arrival of the Continuing Education Program for social workers and allied human professionals, and 2000 brought the pre-application course for career-changers. In 2002, the Center for Child and Family Well-Being was initiated to prepare students to work with children and families across the life cycle, and just last year, the Center began its Junior Fellows Program, which provides an in-depth education in a specific area confronting children and families. In 2011, the School announced its partnership with Jefferson University to provide students the opportunity to gain a dual degree in public health. Perhaps not surprising, in 2013 the School further expanded its financial support to students whose passion focused more deeply on the aged.

Now almost 100 years after its founding, the GSSWSR remains at the forefront of social work education, providing the kind of education essential to meet today’s increasingly complex challenges. In a globalized world, social workers must be able to think beyond their own world views to best serve multiple clients—individuals, families, organizations, or communities—from diverse cultures. To overcome these challenges, the GSSWSR infuses its curriculum with classes and agency field placements while it partners with other schools of social work and organizations to provide students with study abroad and other global opportunities.

Closer to home, Bryn Mawr social workers are drawing on skills to address needs across the life span and within multiple contexts, as the School’s innovative curriculum addresses the challenges facing both America’s youngest citizens and its aging population.

As Dean Bailey puts it, “Our GSSWSR looks forward to 100 more years of ensuring that our students are being prepared for both the known and anticipated psychosocial challenges facing the social sector. Through the guidance of our accomplished faculty who bring knowledge and skills through an innovative curriculum that integrates rigorous coursework with hands-on field placements, we believe Carola Woerishoffer would be proud.”