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November 21: A Mother of German Social Work

November 21, 2015

220px-Jeannette_SchwerinJeannette Schwerin, a founder of the German Society for Ethical Culture and a pioneer of social work in Berlin, was born on this date in 1852. She was active in the Woman Welfare Club, which sought reform of the educational and prison systems, and of the German Central Institute for Social Issues, a project of Ethical Culture that sought to unite and accelerate charitable projects. Schwerin was one of numerous middle-class Jewish women “active in the moderate wing of the German Women’s movement,” according to Sharon Gillerman at the Jewish Women’s Archive, “whereas working-class and east European women tended to join unions or the socialist women’s movement. Within the bourgeois women’s movement, Jewish women assumed significant leadership roles... It has been estimated that approximately one third of the leading German women’s rights activists were of Jewish ancestry.” Schwerin’s accomplishments included bringing women factory inspectors into service in Germany and establishing a training course for social workers. She died at 46 in 1899.

“One of the promising new employment opportunities for Jewish and non-Jewish women at the turn of the century was social work. Formulated by women themselves as an extension of the domestic sphere, social work involved, in the words of Alice Salomon, one of the Jewish founders of modern social work in Germany, ‘an assumption of duties for a wider circle than are usually performed by the mother in the home’ (Taylor Allen, 213–214). Jewish women seemed to flock to the profession, evident in their overrepresentation within social work training colleges. Particularly during the Weimar Republic, social work stood out as a field generally free from the mounting antisemitism increasingly being felt in other professions.” —Sharon Gillerman