Interview no.1: Robina Scott Addis
Robina Addis (1900-1986) was one of the earliest professionally trained psychiatric social workers in Great Britain, qualifying in 1933. She went on to have a varied career, first in child guidance and then with the National Association for Mental Health from which she retired as a staff member in 1965 after eleven years of service. As the interview reveals, she continued to take a keen interest in the work of NAMH and the causes it supported.
She also had a concern for the development of the social work profession as a whole; this would undoubtedly be the reason she was invited to serve on the Working Party on social workers in the local authority health and welfare services, the ‘Younghusband Working Party’.
Alan Cohen’s interview draws out her wide range of interests and commitments: in relieving the suffering caused by war and famine; in social work and child guidance in support of families and children; in comparative international approaches to mental health questions; and in writing and teaching. The interview also conveys her sense of humour as she comments on some of the incidents in her life. Readers interested in researching her life and work in depth should consult her papers, donated by her nephew David Addis, at the National Archives held at the Wellcome Library.
Interview no.2: Geraldine Aves
Geraldine Aves (1898-1986) was born into a socially committed family that had traditions of social inquiry on her father’s side and suffragist activism on her grandmother’s. She graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1920 and during her time there became president of the Women’s University Settlement (in South London) and that, she said, had a determining influence on her choice of career. The Settlement, founded in 1887, was directly linked to six women’s colleges within the universities of London, Cambridge and Oxford and its work was focused on the welfare of women and children “in the poorer districts of London.”
Her first major job was as an assistant organiser for the care committee service of the London County Council 1924. In 1938 she was heavily involved in the planning for the evacuation of children from London in the event of war; and she was seconded to the Ministry of Health as chief welfare officer with responsibilities that included the recruitment of social workers. In 1946 she was appointed by the Ministry to the permanent position of Chief Welfare Officer and made key contributions to post-war reforms of welfare services and the development of personal social services and social work training.
Her wide experience and personal strengths gave her the platform for a second career at senior levels (often as chair or board member) in the voluntary and professional sectors. One of her many influential projects was chairing an independent inquiry into the roles of volunteers in the social services and her report in 1969 led to the foundation of the Volunteer Centre and its successor organisations. [Source: Oxford DNB entry written by Phyllis Willmott.]
Interview no.3: Ursula Behr
Ursula Behr (1912-?2001) emerges from the Cohen interview as an interesting but somewhat self-effacing personality, given the outstanding and pioneering contribution she made to the development of social work in the field of child care. Luckily we have first hand testimonies about her qualities that counterbalance the innate modesty. In interview no 24 Clare Winnicott remarks on the frequent movement by Children’s Officers from authority to authority and “Nobody stayed. Ursula Behr is quite exceptional, stayed in her job all the way. The rest moved.”
Professor Olive Stevenson recalls (in her Reflections on a Life in Social Work) the painful occasion when, as a student on Clare Winnicott’s child care course at LSE, during her field work placement an unnamed unqualified worker in Surrey opined that she would not make a good social worker. “Clare…cleverly placed me instead with a most unusual qualified worker who also had a PhD. Her name was Ursula Behr, a German Jewish refugee. She was comfortable with my urgent and powerful interest in the role and I was comfortable working with her. She was not threatened by my challenging (or rather cheeky) behaviour, which included, I seem to recall, teasing her that she took her hands off the steering wheel when she was talking. (She did.) As with so much in my life, the fact that Ursula was Jewish was a strand in my long- term interest in Jewish people and their history. Not that Ursula talked of it but I had by then seen films of Auschwitz and was well aware of the Holocaust. When I met her mother I made these connections. I greatly respected Ursula Behr. Best of all, she respected me as I was; that freed me to be myself.”
Interview no.4: Rose Mary Braithwaite
Rose Mary Braithwaite (1914–2012) came from a socially concerned family. Her father resided for a time at Toynbee Hall and was a major figure in community enterprises and a leading member of the Lloyd George team that created the National Insurance scheme prior to the first world war. Her mother was an early member of the London County Council’s care committee staff - a vital influence on many of the pioneers interviewed by Alan Cohen. It was therefore no surprise that she became a student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and, once there, switched from the study of economics to take the two-year Social Science Certificate. Her first job, in 1939, was as a probation officer at a juvenile court in the east end of London and thus began a distinguished career in the probation service and in social work more generally. In common with other Cohen interviewees, she had a period (1948) of training at the New York School of Social Work. And her abilities as a supervisor were recognised by LSE in 1954 when she was appointed to the staff of the first Applied Social Studies (“Carnegie”) course. Her hands-on probation practice continued for several years and she was given senior training responsibilities by the London probation service; and this was followed by a teaching post on the first social work post-graduate course at Bedford College and later to an advisory post in the early 1970’s at the newly formed CCETSW. She wrote a number of articles, including The Probation Officer, His Training and Skills for the Probation Journal in 1959.
Interview no.5: Molly Bree
There is relatively little in public records about Molly (Hettie) Bree (1900-1994) and the Cohen interview captures a career history that might have otherwise been lost. There is uncertainty as to what the diminutive ‘Molly’ stood for with one source giving ‘Mary’ and another offering ‘Muriel’. However the interview clearly records her professional interests and her progress from junior cashier in an insurance office to training in Birmingham and then a place on the LSE Mental Health course in 1937-38. From then on as a psychiatric social worker (PSW) she clearly gained the confidence of eminent mental health specialists such as Sybil Clement Brown, Margaret Ashdown and Sir Aubrey Lewis.
The interview has many vivid and telling anecdotes - lunchtimes at the Canonbury Child Guidance Clinic saw the ten students crammed into a hut at the end of the garden while the two tutors ate more graciously in the house. And she was obviously not impressed by the LCC’s Asylum Committee who would travel down to Epsom on a certain day, have lunch, rubberstamp the medical superintendent’s recommendations about patients and then go home. It was in the long stay large mental health hospitals that she did her best work after an uncertain reception: “I do remember going and complaining to Janet Jackson that life as a PSW wasn't quite what I thought it might be and that there didn't seem to be any point in what I was doing. She reminded me we were pioneers. I hadn't thought of myself as a pioneer, nor much liked it. If you are a pioneer, you can't have a structured, clear position, but that's not the same as being unrecognised as a pioneer or even existing among thousand, who all had their proper places.”
Interview no.6: George Chesters
George Chesters was one of the six interviewees who never worked in London, having probation officer experience in Manchester, Leeds, Stoke and Hull. He was drawn to it through the Scouts but when he approached the Manchester office in 1933 to do voluntary work he was told he was “the kind of chap that the Home Office were looking for” (an intriguing method of selection!) and he became an “approved candidate”. His early experiences were interesting as he joined the service at the tail end of the domination by the police court missionaries. The overt religious influence was still strong: Protestant and Catholic staff sat separately and didn’t supervise the others’ clients; the new approved candidates were seen as “soulless and godless”; probation officers ran “tin missions” which boys on probation would be expected to attend.
But Chesters was at pains in the interview to stress that one “mustn’t underrate the old police court missionaries”. They were seen as “friends of the delinquent” and they paved the way for the new probation officers and made them acceptable to the community. It is a view similar to Francesca Ward’s (interviewee no 20) who was keen to point out the importance of the old style almoners, the “grand old girls” as she called them. The past paves the way.
Training was often “just watching” with visits frequently a learning experience. There were no “concise rules about interviewing”. But he became aware of a social worker hierarchy, with the psychiatric social workers thinking themselves “very superior” and the “almoners really a cut above us all in their estimation”. Yet the probation officer thought he was the “cat’s whiskers” as he had the authority of the court behind him. Certainly the perceptions of a hierarchy featured in many of the Cohen interviews.
As more probation officers came back from the Home Office training courses in the late 1940s, Chesters found that the acquired jargon had added little and that some staff had become “disturbed” by the apparent psychoanalytic emphasis. For him it all came down to “care and concern”, the hallmark of the old missionaries, which for him “really did work”.
Interview no.7: Sybil Clement Brown
Sybil Clement Brown (1899-1993) is one of Alan Cohen’s very well known interviewees and there is ready access to many of her own writings and to others commenting on her life and work. For example, ten years before the Cohen interview she published (in the final 1970 commemorative issue of the BJPSW) her Looking Backwards: Reminiscences 1922 -1946. She mentions her chapter on social casework in the 1939 book edited by F. C. Bartlett, The Study of Society and there is an impressive list of published articles and books in the 1930’s and 40’s, followed by Social Services and Mental Health with Margaret Ashdown in 1953. Much more can be found about her in R.G. Walton’s Women in Social Work (1975) and Margaret Yelloly’s Social Work Theory and Psychoanalysis (1980).
Walton gives two illuminating SCB quotations: she wishes to emphasise the social rather than the psychiatric in the psychiatric social worker job title and stresses that the essence of social work is “that its function shifts with social change and its disciplines must be constantly developing”. Having been a leader of the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers for many years she was well placed to make that observation. Her summary of the greatest gain made by the profession in the 1930’s was “perhaps the realisation that the process of bringing about any sort of growth in individuals, and harmonising of human relationships is the highest sort of art, learned only through disciplined experience, through a constant stirring of the imagination, and not just through the simple application of knowledge”.
Interview no.8: Cecil French
A few of the interviewees mention Relieving Officers, for example Mary Sherlock (interviewee no 16) comments on how as an almoner it was very helpful in terms of obtaining resources to be “on very good terms with the Relieving Officer”. Cecil French who qualified as a Relieving Officer in 1936 gives us considerable insight into just what the role could entail.
Although French was working at the tail end of the Poor Law system it was still as he saw it judgemental and unjust. There was a vast hierarchy of people to be chased when trying to obtain information about paying for someone who was chargeable on the rates. Making sure the right authority paid was also essential, hence French and a colleague escorting a person from Bedfordshire to Scotland as the latter was his original home. It was important to distinguish between “lunatic” and “defective” as the latter had better support from the local authority.
The workloads were astonishing. French when newly qualified, aged 21, had 90 cases to be seen each week and this rose to 250 with promotion. You had to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 50 weeks a year. French remembers being called out from the cinema for work. With the 1948 reorganisation it was at last possible to work in depth though still not seeing himself as a social worker. He moved then into the Health Department, under the Chief Medical Officer, to deal with mental illness and mental deficiency.
His subsequent career, entirely spent in Bedfordshire, was marked by his psychiatric social worker training in Edinburgh, his work with colleagues commenting on the drafts of the 1959 Mental Health Act and his development of what he described as “one of the best mental health services in the country”. French worked with three professional associations in submitting evidence to the Royal Commission (the Percy Commission) which led to the 1959 Mental Health Act and felt that this and other work did influence the final outcome. It was the absence of financial provision which was to be the Achilles heel of the new system.
The development of mental health services in the county was what French felt most proud of when interviewed by Alan. In 1971 the Bedfordshire County Council published French’s report to its Health Committee: A History of the development of the mental health service in Bedfordshire 1948-1970. Earlier in 1966 Cecil French had written a report entitled An attempt to evaluate some aspects of a community mental health service for 1949-1964. This was a report for the council but it was published in Public Health 80 (3), March 1966. French argued that with an adequate strength of officers and a training programme the admissions to hospital under compulsory powers could be reduced.
Interview no.9: Elizabeth Gloyne
Successful career choices can have unexpected starting points. Elizabeth Gloyne decided against medicine as her father was a doctor and mother a nurse - but social work seemed possible and medical social work was chosen as her father said they were “the best dressed”. By her mid-twenties she was qualified and thereafter handled a range of challenges which were a far cry from what was probably a comfortable upbringing in Buckinghamshire, though no doubt she had heard many medical tales. She speaks highly of her training as being “very rigorous”, though she highlights how little was written in case records and how much was learnt from “hearing other people’s skills in practice”.
During her training she was visiting clients in tenement houses, a client in a large lodging house and on one placement was asked to read and comment on the case histories of five patients who had had operations to change sex because of physical problems. When qualified, the second world war saw her as an on-call registering officer for casualties of the blitz, as were other of the Cohen interviewees.
She experienced jobs one of which at Redhill County Hospital she viewed as “the most wasted two years of my professional life” and others where she made a great difference. Appointed to the post at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, being the only applicant, and working single handed for a year, she stayed for four years until 1950 leaving a stronger department and having bedded it in for the new Health Service. It is worth remembering she was still only in her thirties.
As practitioner and trainer (tutor at the Institute of Medical Social Workers) she clearly had a lot to offer but found, for example, after two years in America (1956-8) that “nobody was interested in my splendid experience” and in this she was certainly not alone. She wrote very little and simply talks of maybe finding things scattered around “with my initials on”.
Interview no.10: Jack Hanson
In common with several of the Cohen interviewees, the remarkable nature of Jack Hanson’s personal story is partly disguised by the modesty of its narrator. But his progress from teenage clerical assistant to Relieving Officer and eventually into the ranks of the post-Seebohm cohort of Directors of Social Services (and to the Presidency of their Association) is very interesting. Fortunately Alan’s final question about lifetime achievements draws out two revealing comments from Hanson. After the closure of the long-stay hospitals he sees that more is required from society: “my message is that we still underestimate the potential of the mentally handicapped.” And on the rigours of launching a new era in social work he comments, “I had to build Bromley from nothing.”
Apart from the invaluable Cohen interview, we suspect that most of the evidence of Jack Hanson’s achievements are buried deep in the archives of the local authorities he worked for. We could find only one publication to his name: a 1972 NISW booklet on residential care. And there is the archived record of his efforts, as Honorary General Secretary, on behalf of the Institute of Social Welfare.
Fortunately we have the recollections of two eminent people. Firstly, Lady Gillian Wagner was the Chair of the Independent Review into Residential Child Care in the 1980’s and she recalls that as a member of the review body he held certain very strong views that compelled him to resign at one stage. However, he rejoined and was a full signatory in 1988 to the final report, A Positive Choice. Sir William Utting wrote to the Editors to say “I knew Jack Hanson as the DSS for Dorset when I was DSS for Kensington and Chelsea and later as Chief Social Work Officer of the DHSS. He was one of the ablest of the former Chief Welfare Officers and highly thought of by his colleagues –as his Presidency of the ADSS suggests – and I share that view. He was wise and experienced, hard-headed but committed to the welfare of service users whose needs he sensibly and forcibly advocated at national level. He was also a great champion of local government. I am sure his dry sense of humour helped maintain his balance during difficult years for social services and local government.”
Interview no.11: Lettice Harford
The work and reputation of Lettice Harford was clearly well known to a number of the 26 interviewees and indeed to Alan Cohen but in the interview with her she really fails to do justice to her own career. This is almost certainly due to her age at the time and her failing memory, allied to an innate modesty.
During the 1930s and 1940s there were various committees of which Miss M.L. Harford was a member but to which she makes no mention in the interview. For example in 1943 the government appointed a Social Welfare Advisory Committee of “metropolitan experts” to advise on “social welfare in urban and rural communities in the colonies”. Miss Harford was a member and listed as the Chief Woman Officer of the National Council of Social Service. She does talk about her work on the Our Towns report when at the NCSS but makes no reference to her own paper towards that report on Personal Hygiene and Sanitary Habits. By 1943 she was able to announce that 5000 copies of the report had been sold. In fact she wrote very little which makes tracing her career in any detail that much more difficult.
However there is little doubting her practical contribution. She was described as a "dynamic warden" of the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement where she was from 1935-39 and where she was actively involved in the British Association of Residential Settlements (BARS) of which she was then to become President. The second world war saw settlements concerned about their financial future but with grants from charitable trusts and other sources a grants committee to assist them was set up in 1940 of which Lettice Harford was one of three members along with Sir Wyndham Deedes and Miss H Escreet. She shows quiet pride about her membership of the Curtis Committee in 1946 which came after an active social work career starting in 1919.
One slight mystery remains about her name which appears as Laetitia in one source, nowhere as Lettice and invariably as Miss M L Harford. It would have been satisfying to have had the interview solve that but, in the light of all she achieved, not that important.
Interview no.12: Noel Hunnybun
Noel Kathleen Hunnybun (1889-1984) was an early trained psychiatric social worker: one of a group of five selected for a Commonwealth Fund scholarship in 1927 for training in the USA at the new York School of Social Work. Like some other Cohen interviewees, she had gained valuable experience working as an assistant for the London County Council’s School Care Committees and then had a fortuitous conversation on Mile End tube station about the available scholarships. And like some others she experienced some resentment on her return from the USA.
The interview gives an absorbing picture of a full and challenging career -- and of a woman willing to tackle almost anything. For example, pre-war she was very active in the child guidance movement and in the development of her professional association, the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers. She gives a frank account of her work on evacuation of children from London during the second world war followed by an unsatisfactory spell placing European children in American homes. The many war time privations are taken in her stride. Then post-war she was engaged by John Bowlby as his senior social worker at the Tavistock Clinic and this led to her being a major force in academic and practice teaching. When money is needed to launch a new course she simply writes to “a millionaire I met in America”.
She is one of the Cohen interviewees who wrote about her work and regularly submitted material for publication. There is an impressive list of pamphlets and articles to her credit in the 1940’s and 50’s and her co-authored The Caseworker’s Use of Relationships, first published in 1962 and then re-issued, was read by at least two generations of students. Nevertheless Hunnybun tells Alan that “it was not a very good book” though her co-author Margaret Ferard “had a good head on her”. Several interviewees comment on the importance of the Social Casework in Britain book edited by Cherry Morris and published in 1950 and it is interesting to note, in terms of Hunnybun’s influence and powers of persuasion, that she claims to have “instigated” the book: a very believable claim in that she had published a chapter on Psychiatric Social Work in Great Britain in a collection edited by J. R. Rees the previous year.
Interview no.13: Elizabeth Irvine
Elizabeth Irvine gives Alan Cohen a glimpse of how she almost accidentally slipped into social work through the bankruptcy of two schools. She was a graduate of Cambridge University in modern and medieval languages and teaching may, at the end of the 1920s, have seemed an obvious career choice. Fortunately some friends knew about child guidance and steered her towards the LSE social science course: we hear of the practice placements, chasing up money owed for dentures and begging letters seen as an art form. Following the completion of the LSE Mental Health course she was launched on a career as a psychiatric social worker, principally in child guidance. As a young woman she must have had much independence of mind: no one else in her group seemed willing to clash with the formidable Aubrey Lewis. In the central part of the interview we hear about her pre-war service in several child guidance clinics and a mental hospital, some of it rewarding and some distressing, and then her post-war work in Israel with Gerald Caplan until 1952.
Thanks to Caplan’s recommendation she was then appointed to the staff of the Tavistock Clinic where she worked for 14 years and, as Senior Tutor, set up the Advanced Casework course. In 1966 Irvine became Reader in Social Work at the University of York where she initiated the first British Masters course in social work. Following that, in 1973, she was a consultant to the Open University on the Social Work, Community Work and Society course. An important service to the profession was her chairing of the working party that produced BASW’s original Code of Ethics.
Interview no.14: Kay McDougall
Kay McDougall (nee Long) (1910—1999) was a psychiatric social worker, author, teacher, editor and diplomat in the field of social work politics. Alan Cohen encourages her to speak about all of these aspects of an outstanding career. She was remarkably successful in all of the projects she took on. For example, the launching of the Case Conference journal provided a platform for describing what social workers were doing, debating the ideas underpinning the work and examining the social policy implications. And her patient diplomatic skills were much needed over the long years of bringing the various professional bodies together into a unified British Association of Social Workers: she certainly earned membership card no 1.
With some of his interviewees Alan is keen to explore their networks of influence and their important family and professional contacts. With Kay McDougall what strongly emerges is that her influence was based on her progressive personal values, particularly in the field of mental health, and her ability to connect social policies (or the lack of them) with their impact on people. The Editors had the privilege of working with her on a national committee of Family Service Units in the1970’s and have clear memories of her personal concern for parents and children who were coping with awful life experiences, and of her ability to resolve issues through sheer common sense. She seemed unfazed by heated organisational blow-ups and, having read the Cohen interview, we now understand why Joan Baraclough has written Kay’s entry in the Oxford DNB and cites one of her many value statements that bear repetition. “We cannot make our professional life a nine to five persona…the need for other interests and for not taking client problems home with us are important, but a profession is a way of life and not a job of work. We are judged in the end by how we are seen to behave towards clients and towards each other.”
Interview no.15: Edgar Myers
Edgar Myers had a long and varied career including many years work in the field of alcoholism and with alcoholics. In 1956 he, with David Lewis and Michael Shepherd, published, in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, a two-year follow-up of fifty alcoholics, together with an analysis of prognostic factors. In the field of post-war alcohol research this paper was a turning point. It discussed “outcome” as a concept.
He served as a member of the editorial board of the British Journal of Psychiatric Social Work and two examples of his own contributions were The Caseworker’s Problems in Meeting the Inner and Outer Needs of Clients (1954) and ‘The Royal Commission and the Psychopath (1958).
Professor Herschel Prins wrote in his autobiographical reflections “I also renewed my acquaintance with the late Edgar Myers. I had first met him when he accompanied a very difficult client of his to an appearance Biggleswade Magistrates Court. He was a very perceptive and well informed psychiatric social worker with a considerable interest in psychopathy. He subsequently joined the academic staff of LSE and later became our external examiner on the PSW Course at Leeds University.” In correspondence with the Editors Professor Prins went on to describe him as ‘a lovely and very erudite man’.
Interview no.16: Mary Sherlock
Mary Sherlock wanted to do medicine but finances would not permit. Coming from a “sheltered background” she found an early Charity Organisation Society placement in Liverpool a daunting experience, running for her life on one occasion down Scotland Road. By 1942 she had qualified after a great deal of “sitting by Nellie” training and six weeks of lectures. Some of the former was listening to interviews behind a partition, so with no opportunity to observe any interactions. As with all the interviews there are memorable vignettes as when Mary Sherlock describes trying to conduct an interview during gas mask drill but needing to wear glasses without which she could not see the patient.
In her early twenties she was, like many of the other interviewees, coping with major challenges during the blitz and found this gave her valuable experience that “oiled the wheels for other things”. An even greater challenge was to be appointed after two years of war work, as the sole almoner at Doncaster Hospital. It was difficult not least because she was “very isolated”, had no colleagues and hence no one to discuss anything with. The contrast between this job and a later one in 1946 in the skin department at Leeds Infirmary was stark and this often huge variation is a feature of the experiences of all the medical social workers interviewed. But for Mary Sherlock the Leeds experience was to be followed in 1953 by a job in a London Hospital which was “highly unsuitable “ and which no London social worker would have applied for. She stayed six months which was longer than the one day that Ilse Westheimer (interviewee no 22) stayed after an equally dire appointment.
Fortunately a number of locums in major London hospitals restored her confidence and nine years at Hammersmith Hospital followed with opportunities for staff and student supervision. The years in which as she said “social work was nothing if not practical” must have seemed a very different world. Yet she was rooted in the practitioner role finding much of the social work literature “unreadable” and drawing on classic literature, such as George Eliot’s novels, for insights. Above all as she said “the patients taught you”. After Alan Cohen’s 1959 cut-off date Mary Sherlock had five years with the Council for Training in Social Work which she relished and it enabled her to realise how much she knew. The interview gives us just a glimpse, but an invaluable one, of that knowledge and experience.
Interview no.17: Margaret Simey
Margaret Simey (1906–2004) was born in Scotland and had periods of study and work in London and the Caribbean. But her main stamping ground as a social activist, writer and local politician was in the city of Liverpool. In 1928 she became the first woman social science graduate at the University and, under the influence of Eleanor Rathbone, became involved with the city’s less conservative voluntary organisations. This commitment was exemplified by her 1951 book Charitable Effort in Liverpool.
She married the social scientist Tom Simey in 1935 and they later collaborated on overseas development work, academic studies and the writing of a biography of Charles Booth. She was elected as a Labour councillor in 1963 and remained an active local politician until 1986. Formidably outspoken, she continued to be involved in local organisations and radical causes. Among her later publications were Democracy Rediscovered (1988) and The Disinherited Society (1996).
Interview no.18: Jean Snelling
Alan Cohen's interview with Jean Snelling (b. 1915), medical social worker and author, was brisk and well-informed about the events of her time, and she gives an interesting account of her career, beginning with the positive role model of the beautifully named Marion Perfect. After graduation from Oxford University and the LSE, she obtained the Institute of Almoners Certificate with practical training at the Brompton Hospital. Her reference from a Lady Almoner at the time said she “…had a critical approach to her work, inspires confidence in patients and fellow workers…has the makings of a very capable Almoner”. And so it proved to be, though Snelling and many contemporaries could not wait to get rid of the ‘Lady’ part of their job title. During the second world war she held posts in Hemel Hempstead and at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and her talents were further recognised in 1946 when she became head almoner at Churchill Hospital, Oxford and a tutor on the Institute of Almoners 1947 emergency training courses. She gives an informative and entertaining account of the post-war gathering that took place in Tring, Hertfordshire where the eminent authors of Social Case Work in Britainwere saved from starvation by a supply of oatmeal biscuits from the village shop.
She was keen to have a year’s study and practice in the USA, returned to a lecturership at the Social Studies Department of Edinburgh University and in 1958 she was appointed Director of Studies at the Institute of Medical Social Workers where she worked until 1970.
Interview no.19: Thomas Tinto
Thomas Tinto is remembered as a very important figure in the field of social care in Scotland. His career in Glasgow spanned the period between two great reforms - the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1929 and the Social Work (Scotland) Act of 1968 - and therefore also embraced the radical health and welfare reforms of 1948. His areas of interest and responsibilities expanded during this period and included public assistance, care of the elderly, health and welfare, residential care, community care and voluntary organisations supporting families in need.
Mr. Bob Winter - later to become Director of Social Work for Strathclyde Region and also Lord Provost of Glasgow - recalls a long and rigorous interview conducted by Tom Tinto when applying at the age of 17 for his first job as a trainee welfare officer. Thereafter, in a long social work career, he developed admiration for this man who represented the best values of the profession and who was widely respected as a role model for the younger generation of social workers (all this despite his bowler hat and pinstripe suit). Given his dedication to the cause of good quality training for front line social workers, he was the natural choice to represent Scotland on the Younghusband Committee from 1955-59.
He is also remembered as a compassionate man, ever willing to support those in need of help, and probably driven by a deep personal faith. Given his long connection with the Iona Community and the Church of Scotland, it is reasonable to assume that he was of a Christian socialist persuasion, though he avoided attaching labels to himself.
Interview no.20: Francesca Ward
Although early in the interview Francesca Ward says Alan is taxing her “aged memory” she was probably only in her sixties at the time (1980), though as in many of the interviews the timelines are not always easy to follow. She is however clear that the early hospital social work was a “medley of routine work” and essentially “fringe social work”. But her training at the LSE was of “absorbing interest” and the practical placements integrated theory and practice, though she admits she was lucky and not all such placements were good.
She was far from dismissive about the first generation of almoners whom she described as “grand old girls who had the intellectual grasp as well as the social background and authority”. The latter was crucial as they had to hold their own in a rather class conscious medical world, though Francesca Ward did see in the late 1940s a time when “impeccable accents” were no longer an absolute requirement.
Francesca did not endure some of the dreadful jobs that others unwittingly applied for and in fact spent virtually all her career in Oxford, first for three years in the local authority Treasurers Department chasing up money owed by patients and by tenants, which was ultimately recognised as not an almoner’s role, but it brought her into contact with “real poverty”. Then in 1943 she moved to the Radcliffe Infirmary where she remained until her retirement. From her account and others his seems to have been a department that you would have fought to join. She admits it was a “pretty cosy set up”, though that applies to the team spirit and intellectual stimulus rather than the work itself.
It was common to see up to 50 patients in a morning and having to assess in five minutes who needed social work help. They worked all hours as they had the liberty to do so because above all they wanted to “demonstrate our point” – their role and value. The war experience came when they received D-day casualties which was a “sort of chaos” but very much had to be fitted in to the normal parts of the job. Stress was encountered when she moved to the paediatric department and came into contact with the battered baby problem which had not yet surfaced to any extent in this country. But here team work and an outstanding head almoner (Helen Rees) greatly helped.
She ways up carefully the pros and cons of staying so long in one place, perhaps recognising that someone needs to but obviously not everyone. The “norm bearer” is an important role. In her time she witnessed the “fast development” of social work and the value of the new ideas, as on a practical level you needed to understand why people behaved as they did and why they responded or didn’t. Her “first love” remained “the huge rewards of the individual work with patients” and the cases she recounts are a testimony to the value of some staff at least staying put.
Interview no.21: Enid Warren
Enid Charis Warren (1903-1980) was highly regarded as a medical social worker and as a person by her contemporaries and by the generation that followed in her footsteps. It was very fortunate that Alan Cohen contacted her towards the end of her life and as a result we can hear her clear personal recollections of people and events. There are many gems in this interview, including her account of the almoners’ organisations that she served so well and also her frank assessments of a number of men who later rose to the highest political ranks: Clement Attlee, Hugh Dalton and Harold Laski. And she was obviously unimpressed by Barbara Wootton’s comments on social work.
Her achievements and character have been described by Joan Baraclough and others in the 1981 A Portrait of a Social Worker. “Tall, erect and angular in build, she moved with an air of dignity and freedom. The direct and searching gaze of her blue eyes could, and usually did, express a steadiness and calm that was immediately reassuring.” The authors stress that her philosophy and practice were always based on the central importance of the patient. Her people skills were greatly appreciated in the establishment of the British Association of Social Workers. Her career is summarised in an Oxford DNB entry written by Joan Baraclough.
Interview no.22: Ilse Westheimer
Ilse Westheimer (1921-2004) lived a personal and professional life capable of inspiring anyone at any time in history. All of her immediate family relatives in Germany were killed by the Nazi regime and she was the sole member to survive because her mother obtained an exit visa for her. Alan Cohen directly asks questions about the circumstances which brought her alone as 17 year old to the UK - and we may assume with much empathy. In the interview she gives a very full picture of how determined she was to have a professional training and of her time studying and working in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This in turn opened academic doors and sheer ability qualified her for scholarships and further professional training.
People who knew her well said she could be very outspoken - and this side of her temperament no doubt explains why, as a student at LSE, she preferred the pyrotechnics of Harold Laski to those tutors who specialised in “long silences”. In her obituary in The Independent (5th June 2004) a former student Jean Robertson-Molloy wrote “I vividly remember my first meeting with her, a petite dark-haired, vivacious woman, with a big, captivating smile. As a supervisor she was meticulous but also relaxed; she had the knack of bringing out the best in people.” Professional staff supervision is a topic that runs through this interview and Westheimer can be forgiven for losing patience with the “We do not need supervision because we are qualified” argument she encountered many times. Part of her legacy is her The Practice of Supervision in Social Work: a guide for staff, published in 1977 and dedicated to her mother. It repays reading today. Towards the end of her life she endowed a charitable trust for refugees in the UK to assist with their education.
Interview no.23: Mary Wilkinson
The interview with Mary Wilkinson is the shortest of the 26 and in many ways the most difficult to categorise as the interviewee represents an older style of working, within the probation service, rather than the more pioneering and reflective approaches of the other 25 interviewees. Mary Wilkinson’s voice is however clear and forthright and offers valuable points to consider when reflecting on the history of social work development.
She stayed in one area, Bedfordshire, all her working life (1939-1972) and placed great emphasis on the importance of having roots in the community and being widely known in the area. She saw this as enabling her to do a better job and was critical of those who perhaps only stayed for two years. She had a direct and down to earth approach which she strongly believed was of benefit to the clients, being as far from jargon as it was possible to be.
Mary Wilkinson acknowledged that she was a “lone wolf” and was probably an uncomfortable colleague, representing a way of working that the courses, discussed by many of the other interviewees, were intended to put an end to. Alan had found a fascinating counterpoint to the background and social work philosophy of the other people he interviewed. When Mary Wilkinson says that the clients remember her and that they stop to talk to her as she walks round the town after her retirement one senses a deep satisfaction in a job well done for all that she went against so much of the newer approaches so enthusiastically taken up elsewhere. She is certainly a lively reminder of the other side of the pioneering coin.
Interview no.24: Clare Winnicott (nee Britton)
Clare Winnicott (née Britton) (1906–1984), social worker and psychoanalyst, was one of the first psychiatric social workers to be trained in England, completing the London School of Economics (LSE) Social Science course in 1937 and the Mental Health course in 1940. She created the first Child Care Course in the UK, which she ran at the LSE from 1947-1958. This was an intensive programme of integrated theory and practice that prepared staff for local authority departments set up under the Children Act of 1948. The Curtis Committee had recommended refresher courses and training for senior staff as well as basic training for heads of homes, but her framework extended training to all staff and provided a graduated scheme of training. The course covered child development, paediatrics, legal issues in child welfare, and sociology. She speaks touchingly of the impact on her of the LSE’s decision to amalgamate the course with another.
Fom 1964-1971 she was Director of Child Care Studies at the Home Office and then assumed a new position as Head of the Social Work Department at the LSE, responsible for training the new profession of social workers. With her husband Donald Winnicott, she founded the Association of Child Care Officers which was the main professional body for social workers involved in the welfare of children in the United Kingdom from 1949 to 1970. They were appointed as the only life members.
Clare Winnicott’s positive influence was profound and diffuse. Several eminent social work practitioners and academics - for example Professors Olive Stevenson and June Thoburn – have a recorded their indebtedness to her and Bob Holman’s book Champions for Children and the Joel Kanter edited collection Face to Face with Children place her centre stage.
Interview no.25: Reg Wright
Part 1 of the interview provides an interesting narrative of Reg Wright’s early career: Army service including the Medical Corps and working alongside psychiatrists; discharge in 1948 followed by the social administration course with Barbara Rodgers at Manchester University. Then the critical decision to take the LSE Mental Health course - an action which his contemporaries in Manchester thought was “mad” - which in turn shaped the middle section of his career and introduced him to new ideas, new people and new organisations such as the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, which he chaired at the end of the 1950s. Despite his better judgement, he served as a psychiatric social worker for a local authority before taking a lecturer post at LSE on the Mental Health course in the early 1960’s and had Alan Cohen as one of his students.
In 1963 he was appointed as Chief Professional Adviser to the Council for Training in Social Work (CTSW) and a curious feature of both parts of his interview is the absence of any reference to his specific work there or at the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) where he was for many years an Assistant Director. He had a very long standing commitment to social work education and perhaps the reason for his presence in these two organisations was taken for granted.
Interview no.26: Eileen Younghusband
Eileen Louise Younghusband (1902-1981) is described in the AIM25 archivesLink opens in a new window as a “social work pioneer” despite her comment in the interview with Alan Cohen “I’ve never been a kosher social worker”, by which she meant that none of her qualifications were from a recognised course of study for social work. There is considerable irony in this - often remarked on by her qualified contemporaries - given how much she did in her career to establish recognised training courses for social workers.
Her cv is longer than any other Cohen interviewees and after her time as a student at the LSE she operated at a high level among ‘the great and the good.’ In the fields of social work, probation, family welfare, penal reform, youth justice and international bodies she was very active and respected.
She gives Alan a very lucid account of her involvement in major events including the famous Reports that bear her name and there is no need to rehearse these here. However, anyone wishing to study the Younghusband contribution in depth is referred to Karen Lyons extended essay in Social Work and Society where all aspects of EY’s life and work are discussed and key biographical documents are referenced. This includes the special 1982 edition of International Social Work edited by Kathleen Kendall and containing a dozen tributes to Dame Eileen. Researchers may also consult an extensive collection of her papers archived at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick.
Biographical details provided by Tim Cook and Harry Marsh (for some interviewees, additional biographical information is included at the start of the transcripts of interviews).
Transcripts of the interviews were provided by volunteers at the WISEArchive: Gemma Williams, Suzy Seed, Louise Knight, Sarah Houghton, Harriet Hale, Margaret Martin, Olwen Gotts, Dianne Honey, Beverley Easter, Josephine Green and Samantha Podmore. If you are unable to access the transcripts in pdf format, please contact us.