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Social workers confer at Bryn Mawr in 1981. Photo courtesy Bryn Mawr College Library

Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research celebrates 90 years of leadership in social work education and the extraordinary achievements of its alumnae/i.


Margaret Collins, MA ’40, a fair housing advocate, helped integrate the Main Line in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1970, Hobart Jackson, MSS ’68, founded the ad-hoc National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, the only national organization whose major focus is improving life for African Americans and low-income minority elderly. Ellen Freeman, MSS ’73, PhD ’76, directs the premenstrual syndrome (PMS) research program at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. These graduates’ achievements reflect the significant contributions made by alumnae/i of Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research as leaders in responding to and shaping events during the past nine decades of social struggle and change in America. The School, which offered the first PhD program in social work in the country, celebrated its 90th anniversary on September 24, 2005, with a conference and reunion luncheon focusing on Bryn Mawr’s leadership in social work education.

Visionary founders

The history of Bryn Mawr’s role as a leader in social work education begins with two women: Emma Carola Woerishoffer, AB 1907, and M. Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr’s second president (from 1894-1922). Woerishoffer’s extraordinarily generous bequest of $750,000 (more than $14 million in today’s dollars) provided the resources with which Thomas could realize her vision of providing graduate social work education at Bryn Mawr.

Woerishoffer, a wealthy young woman from New York, came to the College as an undergraduate in 1903 and in her four years on campus took all of the advanced classes in economics, philosophy, politics, and psychology. After graduating, she involved herself in social causes, especially on behalf of women laborers and the Women’s Trade Union League in New York. In 1909, she became a factory worker for four months to understand better the problems and needs of women workers. In the same year she played a key role in the “shirtwaist strike,” providing bail for hundreds of garment workers who had been arrested for protesting their working conditions. When the Bureau of Industries and Immigration was established in 1910, Woerishoffer went to work on its behalf, inspecting conditions in the camps of foreign workers and recommending improvements. In 1911, while she was returning home from an inspection tour of immigrant labor camps undertaken for the New York Department of Labor, her car skidded on a muddy curve and plunged over an embankment. She was badly injured and died the next day. In her will, which she had made her senior year, Woerishoffer left $750,000 to the College, the largest gift in Bryn Mawr history at that time, and asked that it be used by the trustees “so that others may be prepared for social work as I have been.”

At the urging of President Thomas, $250,000 of Woerishoffer’s bequest was used to establish the Carola Woerishoffer Department of Social Economy and Social Research. Although some alumnae at the time thought that a professional graduate school would taint the College, Thomas had no doubt that such a school belonged at Bryn Mawr. She felt that it well reflected the College’s mission and continued commitment to better education for women and argued in the 1915 Bryn Mawr Alumnae Quarterly that 90 percent of Bryn Mawr graduates who took up professional work were either teaching or engaged in “social betterment, paid or unpaid.” She concluded therefore, that “these are the two purely vocational university schools that Bryn Mawr should maintain.”

Thomas was also quite certain that Bryn Mawr could do a better job of teaching social work than other colleges could. Writing to the board of trustees about her choice for first professor and department director, Thomas noted: “She [Susan Kingsbury] is doing in connection with Simmons College and a philanthropic organization in Boston just the work we wish to do here, only it can be done a great deal better in connection with a college like Bryn Mawr.”

In 1919, Bryn Mawr became one of the six founding members of the American Association of Schools of Social Work. Curricular changes and expansions occurred with regularity through the Depression, World War II, the late 1950s, early 1960s, the 1970s, and through the past 30 years, as the School both responded to and anticipated changes in professional training needed to deal with the vicissitudes of America’s social, economic, and political landscape. In 1970, the Department became the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. In 1976, the Master of Law and Social Policy program was started; it is still the first and only master’s degree program of its kind at a graduate school of social work, preparing students to examine legal processes, their relationship to the delivery of human services and their role in shaping policy. In 2002, a multidisciplinary Center and specialization in Child and Family Well-Being was initiated to prepare students to work with children and families across the life cycle.

Graduate students during the 1960s (above) before the School moved from the current English House to 300 Airdale Road, on the steps of the new building in the ‘80s; current students (below), and a protest in the ‘70s.  Photo by Paola Nogueras ’84. Archival photos courtesy Bryn Mawr College Library.

Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work & Social Research Timeline


The Bryn Mawr College Board of Trustees established the Carola Woerishoffer Graduate Department of Social Economy and Social Research, using $250,000 of Carola Woerishoffer’s $750,000 bequest (more than $14 million in 2005 dollars).

Susan Kingsbury was the first director, serving from 1915 to 1936.


The Graduate Department became a charter member of the Association of Training Schools of Professional Social Work, the predecessor of the Council on Social Work Education.


Bryn Mawr awarded the first social work doctoral degree in the country to Agnes Mary Hadden Byrnes and Gwendolyn Hughes. From its inception, the social work program included doctoral, as well as masters level training, making Bryn Mawr the first institution of higher education in the county to offer a Ph.D. in social work.


Susan Kingsbury organized and convened the first regional meeting of schools of social work at Bryn Mawr College.


Mildred Fairchild Woodbury became the second director of the Graduate Department. A protégé of Susan Kingsbury, Miss Woodbury received her Ph.D and taught at Bryn Mawr College for eleven years before being appointed director. She was director during a period of substantial expansion and oversaw the development of community organization as part of the curriculum.


Men were admitted to the Graduate Department for the first time.


Under the leadership of Professor Hertha Krauss, the Department conducted the first Summer Institute in International Relief Administration.


The Graduate Department awarded the Master of Social Service (MSS) instead of the two-year professional certificate.


Florence Peterson was the Graduate Department’s director.



Marion Hathaway led the Graduate Department. She came to Bryn Mawr with a background in education and social services. As an active member of the Progressive Party, she was considered politically controversial.



Katherine D. K. Lower was the Graduate Department’s director. Before coming to Bryn Mawr, Mrs. Lower had a distinguished career in public service in several New Deal programs. During her tenure, she expanded the department’s financial base through funding from state and federal governments as well as local and national foundations. She also increased the size of the faculty and strengthened the social science offerings.


The Graduate Department became the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR) with Bernard Ross as first dean (1970-78). During his tenure, the Graduate School experienced rapid increase in outside funding and in enrollment in the MSS and PhD programs.


The Master of Law and Social Policy program was created. It was the only program of this type in the country until 1983 and is still one of the few.


Robert Mayer was the second GSSWSR dean. He fostered a community of scholarship and service at the Graduate School and enhanced collaboration between the Graduate School and social service agencies in the greater Delaware Valley.


Richard Gaskins was dean, after teaching as a faculty member for seven years.


The School’s Continuing Education Program for social workers and allied human professionals began.


Ruth Mayden, MSS ’70, served as dean.


School introduces a pre-application course for potential career changers, “Introduction to Social Work Education,” a first-of-its-kind program, which allows potential students to learn about the field before making the decision to pursue a graduate social work degree.


Co-deans Marcia Martin and Raymond Albert were appointed and continue to serve. Both were faculty members for many years prior to their appointments.

Board of Advisors was established by College President Nancy J. Vickers, with Trustee Juliet Goodfriend ’63 as Chair



The Center for Child and Family Well-being was launched.


Initiation of the Certificate Program in Conflict Resolution for practitioners who want to deepen their understanding of conflict resolution theory and techniques.


The Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute (NELI) was founded in direct response to social and human service leaders in the community who called for a high-level, specialized leadership training program tailored to meet their individual and agency needs.


The GSSWSR’s 90th anniversary is celebrated.

Extraordinary Achievements

The success of the School can be measured in part by some of the extraordinary achievements of its alumnae/i. This sampling of graduates and their accomplishments in fields as disparate as housing, aging, women’s health, social work education, and social work practice provides glimpses into the wide range of causes for which Bryn Mawr social workers have provided leadership. Each of these individuals, like so many of their alumnae/i colleagues, has made a tremendous difference in their field of practice.

The commitment of fair housing advocate Margaret Collins, MA ’40, to opening all-white neighborhoods to African-Americans wishing to purchase homes on the Main Line of Philadelphia made her both a reviled and revered figure in the 1950s and 1960s. Collins founded a real estate agency in 1956 specifically to integrate suburban neighborhoods and doggedly pursued listings from the all-white Main Line Board of Realtors in order to make that dream a reality. Ultimately she prevailed upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the board was required to make all listings available to all realtors, a victory for Collins and African-Americans.

In 1998, Helen Northen, PhD ’53, emerita professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, was named a Social Work Pioneer by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation for her central role in developing group work in social work practice. She has provided guidance to generations of students through her classic textbooks Social Work with Groups and Clinical Social Work: Knowledge and Skills.

In 2005, L. Diane Bernard, PhD ’67, received the Council on Social Work Education’s Presidential Award in recognition of her profound influence across generations of social work educators, researchers, students, and practitioners, in particular by championing the causes of women and by bringing women’s and feminist issues to the forefront of social work education.

Dolores G. Norton, MSS ’60, PhD ’69, a Samuel Deutsch Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, has conducted longitudinal research for almost two decades with a group of low-income urban African-Americans, focusing on—among other things—the influence of parental language patterns on preschool children of various ages and the effect of parent-child interactions in these early years on the child’s later school and literacy achievements. Norton’s research will eventually help identify the characteristics that describe optimal parent-child interaction and help us to understand how these interactions may vary by socioeconomic status and ethnicity. In 1997, Norton received the School of Social Service Administration’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Hobart Jackson, MSS ’68, was a champion of the African-American elderly. For many years the executive director of the Stephen Smith Nursing Home in Philadelphia, Jackson founded the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged (NCBA) just two years after receiving his master’s degree. Today, NCBA is one of the largest minority-focused organizations in the country and is the national leader in housing, employment, wellness promotion and advocacy on behalf of African-American aged.

A leading researcher in the area of women’s health, Ellen Freeman, MSS ’73, PhD ’76, directs the premenstrual syndrome (PMS) research program at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Freeman has been associated with HUP since receiving her doctorate from Bryn Mawr and is currently research professor and co-director of the Human Behavior and Reproduction Unit in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She has received many federal grants to conduct her research and has authored numerous scientific articles, book chapters and reviews related to PMS, adolescent pregnancy and emotional factors in infertility.

A priceless legacy

Carola Woerishoffer’s remarkable gift to Bryn Mawr continues to make her mark upon the world, through the School, almost 100 years after her death. As President Nancy J. Vickers observes, “Her story is an extraordinary example of how one woman’s deep commitment and generosity provided the seed from which so much has grown. Out of Carola’s concern for the world around her came a program and eventually a professional school that has focused and acted on her concerns long after she was gone. In a sense, this is the very essence of socially responsible work—an engagement in and dedication to actions that may have limited effect in isolation but which in concert with others produce a movement toward understanding and improvement of the conditions in which people live.”

Susan Messina ’86, MSS ’90, MLSP ’91, a freelance writer in Washington, DC, collected the information for this article.


Khary Musadeen Atif, MSS ’97, MLSP ’98

Every 12 weeks, in his role as social work supervisor and staff trainer, Khary Musadeen Atif, MSS ’97, MLSP ’98, teaches 25 social workers new to the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) how to conduct child abuse and neglect investigations. Atif explains that he uses the knowledge gained in the MLSP program virtually every day: “I have to teach my students that we’re social workers, but we also represent the government. We have certain parameters in which we have to operate when we intrude into the parent-child relationship. People have to be protected against the power of the government in a democratic society. So to do our work here at DHS, we have to know statute law, administrative law, and case law. Bryn Mawr taught me all that.”

While Atif enjoys his supervisory role at DHS, he still craves contact with clients. Therefore, in addition to his work at DHS, Atif maintains a small private clinical practice. Atif is a Senior Candidate at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis (PSP) where he has been studying Modern Psychoanalysis since 1999 and where his clinical practice is supervised by Certified Psychoanalysts. He is the student representative to PSP’s Psychoanalytic Studies Committee and he is an associate member of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (NAAP). 

Atif has served as a Social Work Field Instructor for Bryn Mawr College, Temple University, Widener University, Chestnut Hill College, Alvernia University, and the University of Pennsylvania and currently serves on the GSSWSR’s Board of Advisors. He is an Imam in the Islamic Community of Philadelphia, where he identifies with the leadership of Imam W. D. Mohammed. Atif explains, “As a young person, what I learned from Imam Mohammed was the need to embrace not only my faith but the goodness in all human beings. I have an obligation to connect with whoever is trying to establish good in the environment. For me, social work is the way to do that. Bryn Mawr helped fine-tune my commitment and pointed me in a definitive direction.”


Gloria Guard MSS ’78, MLSP ‘80

Gloria Guard MSS ’78, MLSP ‘80, received the prestigious 2004 Philadelphia Award in recognition of her visionary leadership of the People’s Emergency Center and its Community Development Corporation as wellasfor her lifelong devotion to social justice causes.  The Philadelphia award is given to just one individual each year and is among the most cherished, meaningful, and important awards conferred in, by and for the Philadelphia community.

Guard is recognized for her ability to build partnerships, share resources and provide leadership and encouragement toa wide range of individuals and groups, including students and young people, who will embody the principles of equity, opportunity and social justice well beyond her lifetime.

Under Guard’s leadership as president, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), Pennsylvania's oldest and most comprehensive social service agency for homeless women, teenagers, and their children, has amassed a history of innovation reflecting Guard’s pioneering spirit. PEC boasts the first on-site case managementand first parent child programin a shelter; the firsto successfully transition homeless families to homeownership;the first “one-stop” service centerwhich moveshomelessfrom welfare to work; and the firstE-Assist program which allowswomen on welfare to conduct businesselectronically with thegovernment.

Guard also established PEC’s Community Development Corporation (PECCDC) in 1992, as a catalyst for change in PEC’s West Philadelphia neighborhood.  PECCDCis transforming its neighborhoodinto a “Community of Choice.” Guard attracted over $22 million in capital investments to help revitalize the neighborhood—converting 80 vacant properties into over 100 units of housing,playgrounds and service centers, as well as attracting new businesses andprivate investment.

Guard attributes much of the success of her organization to the principles and skills she learned at Bryn Mawr. Guard observes, “I have my Bryn Mawr degrees hung where I can see them in my office. They (and I) may be aging, but the education that I received has bloomed and blossomed into a body of work that I could never have imagined. The community where I work today was built on the belief system fed byBryn Mawr’s social work education.”

Deborah Spungen MSS ’89, MLSP ‘90

At a White House ceremony in April, 1995 Deborah Spungen, MSS ’89, MLSP ’90, was awarded the Presidential Crime Victims Service Award by President Clinton and Attorney General Reno. The honor recognized her extraordinary commitment to families of murder victims and to her dedication to anti-violence work.

Spungen founded Families of Murder Victims (FMV), a nonprofit victim advocate agency housed in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. This model program grew out of a support group for parents of murdered children established by Spungen and her husband, Frank, in 1980, in the aftermath of the murder of their daughter, Nancy, in 1978. In 1991, Spungen helped develop and introduce the Student Anti-Violence Education Program (SAVE) under the auspices of FMV. This program provides a violence prevention curriculum to children in inner-city schools in Philadelphia.

In 1993, the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia (AVP) was formed to encompass FMV and SAVE in order to better represent FMV’s expanded mission of addressing—and interrupting—the cycle of violence. Spungen served as AVP’s first executive director and then in 1994 became the special projects director. In that role, she serves as project direct on numerous grants funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. She also sits on AVP’s board of directors.

Spungen has authored two books: And I Don’t Want to Live This Life (1983), a memoir, and HOMICIDE: The Hidden Victims: A Guide for Professionals (1997), a textbook. She has appeared on more than 400 radio and TV shows throughout the United States dealing with victims and related issues and has taught courses at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR) and other colleges.

Spungen says, “Going to Bryn Mawr was a very special time for me. I loved being in such a wonderful environment for learning and for expanding my outlook of the world. The MSS and MSLP are a worthwhile combination of degrees. I have always had a deep interest in the law, and the MLSP allowed me to build on that interest and to use my degree to make a difference with my work.”  



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