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A. GENERAL SESSIONS
SOME SIGNIFICANT TRENDS SINCE CLEVELAND, 1912
Gertrude Vaile, Denver
I am sure I speak for the whole Conference when I say that it is a great pleasure to meet again in Cleveland. Cleveland is the only place in the country where the Conference has ever met for a third time. This city is well known in the country for its interest in social work. That it should invite the Conference for a third time is further evidence of it. And certainly the Conference must have enjoyed being here before to accept again so heartily. I, for one, can speak of the pleasure of the last Conference here when we were so hospitably and interestingly entertained in this city. That was one of my first Conferences, and I would now heartily welcome especially our younger members and hope they may find a zest as great in this Conference.
Times have changed so rapidly that a whole revolution of thought in social work has taken place since the first meeting in 1880 and even since the second in 1912. As Judge Mack pointed out in his presidential address in 1912, the emphasis in 1880 was upon alleviation of distress, correction of wrongdoing. In 1912 it was upon prevention. The social conditions that make for poverty, inefficiency, and crime must be removed. That note of social justice, so clearly sounded by Miss Addams in 1910, was gathering a mighty volume. The demand for more equal opportunity for a right and wholesome life for all people rang through every section of the Conference.
And yet another note was beginning to be heard. President Mack said: "For some years we have been passing beyond the age of mere preventive work. The eradication of evil is not enough-constructive philanthropy demands that it be replaced by the positive good."
The most outstanding developments since President Mack spoke seem to me to be: first, the clarifying and widening of that ideal of positive good as our goal; second, the gathering together of our resources and efforts toward our goal in ever larger and more far-reaching organizations; third, the realization, still a recent one, that large-scale organization has brought with it important new problems of organization and leadership. To certain of these and their relation to the future of social work I shall later refer.
I have said that positive good is our goal. For the past dozen years the
vital dominating thought in our social program, which even the destructive confusion of the Great War never blurred, but rather sharpened, has been this of raising life to its highest value. A more abundant life-the individual to become the best he can be the community to become the finest and fullest expression of social life that it can be, with no one left behind: such is the goal that grows more clear before us. We see it concretely expressed in the changing emphasis in many lines of social work.
The public health program has passed noticeably through those stages of cure and prevention into that which seeks no less than positive radiant health. Without diminishing careful work for cure and prevention, the interest of the health movement has turned increasingly to well baby clinics, health teaching in the schools, periodic examinations of adults, and health insurance.
This spirit that would increase positive well-being has, of course, always marked the settlement movement in all its dynamic efforts. In the past dozen years it has found greatly increased expression in other organizations for education and recreation, such as Boy and Girl Scouts and interesting new efforts for continuing education for adults, both foreign and native-born.
Social case work in dealing with the troubles of individuals is more and more definitely seeking to raise life to its highest level. When Miss Richmond, in her little book, What is Social Case Work?, declared that the task of social case work is the development of personality through right adjustments between the individual and his environment, she gave clear expression and therefore renewed and better directed impetus to the thought which had long been in the minds and demonstrated in the work of the best case workers. For years they had been saying that the giving of relief, the securing of medical aid, the finding of employment-all these and other enormously useful practical services to people in trouble were merely instruments in the real task of building character under difficulties and helping people to get into a right adjustment with life and fulfil their own highest possibilities.
And so with all other kinds of social work. The positive good, including as it does the earlier efforts mercifully to relieve and righteously to prevent evil, is our goal.
As our ideal of that objective has grown wider and clearer and we have worked toward it in more concrete detail, the lines of class and other superficial distinctions have broken down. We find that the children of the well-to-do, even as those of the poor, call for the attention of the visiting teacher or get into the juvenile court, that the paying patient may be just as much in need of medical or psychiatric social service as the free patient, that the child of the very rich may even be malnourished no less than the child of the very poor.
Thus the daily findings of social work reinforce the age-long teaching of religion and philosophy about the brotherhood of man. The practical program and the reach of social work expands—and the breadth of fellowship and the democratic spirit with which we carry it on.
We need to beware, however, lest in the enthusiasm with which we feel the wider call of social work, especially its release from that economic point of view which has made it seem to many people to pertain only to the poor and mainly to their poverty, there should be a dimming of our realization of how hideously poverty, just sheer poverty, does increase all the ills with which we are dealing. If the children of the rich are malnourished, it is a matter of understanding and self-control. If the children of the poor are malnourished, it is a matter of understanding and self-control plus the precarious opportunity of commanding the things and conditions needed for proper nourishment. If some children reach the juvenile court from well-to-do homes, far more reach it through the consequences of homes too crowded for decency: mothers who have to neglect their children in order to earn their living; lack of any playground but the street; too little schooling; too early work. We dare not forget the grewsome fact shown us by the federal Children's Bureau that infant mortality increases as the father's income diminishes.
Our wider aims have always to include the former ones. We must still seek to relieve suffering with ever greater compassion as our understanding grows; and that cry for social justice, so clear in 1912, demanding social and industrial conditions that shall insure to all people the opportunity for a right and wholesome life, needs to ring no less insistently today if we are to advance substantially toward that positive good in human life for all of us which is our aim.
Such are our goals. Turning now to my second point, we are trying to reach those goals through ever larger, more compact, more far-reaching organizations. Great organization is the order of the day in every field of human endeavor— business, politics, education, religion as well as in social work. Great organization indeed is an inevitable tendency of our age, because the miracles of transportation and communication have brought all people into one closely knit web of interdependent life.
We cannot escape, and we absolutely need, large organization in social work. We need it because our program is so widely inclusive of our whole community and because it is made up of so many highly specialized parts that must be related to each other, and because the success of our efforts depends so largely upon wide community understanding and support. By means of organization weakness may be supplemented by strength, the contribution of every kind of work and every individual may take its place corrected, perfected, and shared by all to the increased power of all.
The growing interest of the Conference in this subject is evidenced by the large attendance at the meetings of the division on The Organization of Social Forces, which had not been created when we met here in 1912. While the subject of large intricate organization may seem especially pressing in great cities, particularly those which have established community federations, a glance at this year's program will show it applying also to counties and to small local communities in their affiliation with state-wide and nation-wide activities.
But with all the advantages of large organization, there are also admittedly great dangers. In Mr. Woods' presidential address in Kansas City he quoted the poet, Tagore, as saying, "Man is reducing himself to a minimum to make amplest room for his organizations." Yet here we are developing great organization for the very purpose of raising man to his highest possibilities. Can we do it?
American thought has developed with consummate genius vast organization to deal with material things. Has it ability as great in developing organization of ever larger dimensions for the creation of human personality and conditions under which personality may function at its best? It is indeed a task for the highest genius and the greatest capacity for fellowship. I believe that America with all its democratic traditions is capable of it.
I come now to my third thought about social work development since 1912, the looming up into our consciousness of certain problems inherent in large-scale organization. I shall speak of only two of them. These and others are receiving earnest attention from thoughtful persons who are guiding social organization.
One problem that quickly confronts us is the fact that direct efforts to secure the widespread community understanding and support that is needed for any social work organization are not in themselves sufficient to insure its continuing strength without the development also of a very strong inner group within the organization.
Certainly it is necessary to develop our organizations as widely as we can. The fundamental task of any social work organization is to create, as universally as possible in the community, strong impelling convictions about the social values for which the organization is working. Such convictions are the only basis of enduring vitality and power of growth in the organization. In creating such convictions one essential is, of course, a widespread presentation of the issues as clearly and truly and impressively as possible. The importance of this matter is attested by a new division of the Conference, appearing for the first time this year, on Social Interpretation.
Yet, important as it is to carry our message to a wide constituency, I believe it is even more important to develop a strong inner group of people who are so close to the work and so devoted to the cause that they think about it, talk about it, labor for it, in season and out. It is the lack of sufficient sustaining strength in that inner group that has caused the breakdown of much good social work even when there seemed a wide general interest in it. This has been the case with many a fine nursing service established in counties by the Red Cross after the war, then transferred to public funds and auspices, perhaps with quite a stir of enthusiasm as a general recognition of public responsibility; and yet the first wave of economy swept it away because there was not sufficient strength of conviction in the community and active devotion among its friends to hold it. As a field for a national association I have known communities where an organization, either a federation or a single society, attained a large contribut
ing constituency and general recognition in a community and yet slowly thinned out. The support became more and more perfunctory; the organization lost its prestige and effectiveness and its power of growth. In every instance the difficulty seemed to be due to waning activity on the part of boards and other persons in close touch with the work itself. The dynamic inner groups must always remain a necessity for any sound organization.
In this connection I am reminded of a discussion in a little group of social workers who had just seen a certain popular play that dealt with that ever fascinating theme, how Jesus would live in twentieth-century America. The playwright's interpretation seemed to them, among other inadequacies, to leave the hero's life too unrelated to have lasting effect. One member of the group commented that Jesus himself was an organizer, a statement that was sharply challenged. But she insisted that "for what he set out to do he was a masterly organizer." He did not simply spread his message broadcast upon the multitude and let it go at that. If he had, it would probably soon have vanished from the earth. He personally selected twelve men and for three years trained them intensively to carry on his work. Moreover, he gathered around him out of the multitude a considerable company of people, seventy or more, who were filled with the spirit of his mission, and sent them out, two by two, to carry the message. Probably most of them would always have needed to work together in small groups rather than to stand out as leaders. But their labors, along with those of the great leaders, kept the message constantly fresh and convincing to a larger and larger multitude. It seems to me there is an analogy here for social work if we are going to hold and deepen the conviction of our multitudes and rally them more widely.
This brings me to another of the problems of big organization that is looming before us, the question of leadership. In the past we have had great leaders, outstanding individual pioneers. They have been inspiring figures in this Conference and have had profound influence upon the thought of the country and the trend of social work. Such people as Jane Addams, Graham Taylor, Robert Woods, Mary Richmond, Julia Lathrop, Amos Butler, Owen Lovejoy, Florence Kelley-to name a few who are still with us, or have been till very recentlyhave deeply affected the beginnings of different kinds of social work in this country. Not all of these leaders were great executives. They were great seers and crusaders. They stood out in the public mind identified with their cause and inspired a host of followers who carried it forward.
Whether more such leaders will rise up to follow these I am rather doubtful. Perhaps our present form of organization calls for a different type of leadership. The whole host of social work has now, through organization and the labor of many, moved forward to occupy positions to which the great leaders heroically blazed the way. In the new order social leadership does not stand in the same way. Indeed, we find in positions of organization leadership persons of executive powers who may or may not have powers of social insight and leadership. We