Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Professionalism and Social Change - From the Settlement House Movement to the Neighborhood Centers, 1886 to the Present (1987) by Judith Ann Trolander

Professionalism and Social Change: From the Settlement House Movement to the Neighborhood Centers, 1886 to the Present (1987), by Judith Ann Trolander, is a historical research study on the controversies and decline of the American settlement house movement (1886-1986). The post-WWII settlement houses experienced rapid professionalization and change: black male staff replaced white female staff, and neighborhoods changed with urban renewal and and black migration to the cities.
Settlement houses historically fulfilled their purposes in two ways: it provided immediate educational and recreational services and brought about social reform (and thus alleviated social problems) in their respective communities. In the 1980s, the social work profession was transitioning from social reform and political action of the 1960s to psychotherapy and direct services delivery. This change corresponded to the growing conservative political climate at the time. In some ways, the timing and publication of Trolander's book encouraged further discussion about the future of settlement houses (and community social work in general) when its influence was diminishing in the new era of privatization and devolution.

Settlement houses participated in three major reform periods in the 20th century: the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s), the New Deal (1930s-1940s), and the Great Society (1960s-1970s). In my opinion, the settlement house movement was shaped by social, external forces rather than its influence on the community. In return, settlement houses adapted to new clienteles in order to influence social change. Settlement houses played a significant role in formulating the current social welfare structure as well as experimenting with social services. Professionalism and Social Change is an excellent book to read if you are interested in urban social welfare history.

Judith Ann Trolander is Professor Emerita of History at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She received her Ph.D. in American History and M.S. in Library Science from Case Western Reserve University.



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