November 10, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 4

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    SSA looks back to its beginnings, forward to future contributions

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The Mies van der Rohe-designed building of the School of Social Service Administration was dedicated Sunday, Jan. 17, 1965. It recently underwent a renovation amid SSAís centennial anniversary.

    The School of Social Service Administration has for 100 years prepared professionals to handle society’s most difficult problems by developing new knowledge and promoting a deeper understanding of the causes and human costs of social inequities. SSA, the nation’s oldest graduate school of social work research, will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a series of receptions and lectures that will kick off Friday, Nov. 14.

    President Zimmer and Jeanne Marsh, Dean of SSA and the George Herbert Jones Distinguished Service Professor, will preside over the “SSA Centennial Opening Celebration: Relive History and Welcome the Future,” from 5 to 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14, at the school. University faculty are invited to attend.

    “The SSA Centennial marks 100 years of field-shaping research and service,” said Marsh. “We invite people to join our human service pioneers, philanthropists, social service leaders and distinguished SSA alumni and friends in a celebration of our rich past and a renewal of our commitment to enriching the discipline and illuminating solutions for society.

    “We will relive moments that advanced social justice and equality through ‘Scholarship and Service in a Changing World,’ a presentation highlighting the people, achievements and impact made possible by the mission of the School of Social Service Administration,” she said.

    Social work scholars will participate in a conference, “Into the Second Century: Continuing SSA’s Tradition of Improving Urban Education,” which will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 15 at SSA.

    Members of the SSA faculty—Michael Woolley, Assistant Professor; Melissa Roderick, the Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor; and Charles Payne, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor—will speak at the conference, which also will be open to the University community. Registration may be completed at http://ssacentennial.uchicago.edu/events/symposium-woolley.shtml.

    The conference sessions will look at topics such as SSA’s Community Schools Program, the preparation of the next generation of school social workers as well as scholarship on school improvement.

    Additional events and symposia in Chicago and around the country will be held in observance of the centennial. More information on these events is available at the SSA Centennial Web site, http://ssacentennial.uchicago.edu/.

    SSA was founded in 1908 as the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, but its beginnings trace back more than a decade earlier to Chicago Commons, a settlement house established by minister and social work educator Graham Taylor.

    Chicago Commons began offering social work lectures through its School of Social Economics in 1894. Among those who taught at the school were Jane Addams, a local social reformer; John Dewey, educator; and Charles Henderson, a social reformer and sociologist.

    Taylor’s aspirations to develop the lectures into a full training program dovetailed with President William Rainey Harper’s visions for the growing University of Chicago. In 1903, the two created the Social Science Center for Practical Training in Philanthropy and Social Work.

    In 1904, the center became the first yearlong, social work educational program in the nation. An official part of the University, it was renamed the Institute of Social Science and Arts: Training for Philanthropic and Social Work.

    After a period of independence, the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy became part of the University in 1920. Throughout its history, SSA has maintained a commitment to the tradition of social work education, emphasizing social research and applying the insights of social science to solving human problems.

    In 1927, scholars at SSA founded The Social Service Review with the aim of opening “scientific discussions of problems arising in connection with the various aspects of social work.” Like SSA, The Social Service Review has not only reflected the social welfare field, but also has helped shape it. It remains the premier journal in its field.

    Under the leadership of Dean Edith Abbott, SSA began in the 1920s offering courses in community organization, and medical and school social work. It also was one of the few schools offering courses in psychiatric social work.

    As the 1930s brought Americans the challenges of the Great Depression, those years also elevated the profession of social work and lifted SSA to national prominence.

    During this period, SSA was deeply involved with national policy, helping to erect the scaffolding for the American welfare system. For example, SSA research on mothers and children laid the foundation for the child-related provisions of the nation’s Social Security system.

    As the needs of the nation changed in the following years, SSA scholars responded by bringing new insights to ways in which problems could be studied and social workers trained. Faculty developed a casework curriculum, which became a model for social work education.

    To meet the need for better facilities, the University hired architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design the current SSA building, which was built at 969 E. 60th St. The new SSA building was dedicated in 1965.

    SSA scholars continue to strengthen the connections between the social and behavioral sciences, research and the real world of policy and practice.

    In addition to its work with urban education, other SSA projects investigate social work interventions with such groups as teen mothers, impaired elderly clients and adolescent street gang members; examine comparative treatments of depression; evaluate child welfare services; explore the social cognitive development of children in deprived environments; and analyze family supportive policies in the workplace.