Abstract: Community as the Antipode of War for Mary Parker Follett and Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12745 Community as the Antipode of War for Mary Parker Follett and Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch

Friday, January 15, 2010: 2:30 PM
Seacliff C (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Barbara L. Simon , Columbia University, Associate Professor, New York, NY
I. Background and Purpose

Description of the Problem

Residential and work communities were the focus of much research among Progressive-era social workers in the United States. Factors that threatened communities and those that fostered them were topics of fascination among early social work scholars.

Historians have explained the first social workers' preoccupation with community by pointing to three elements: 1) nostalgia for village life known in childhood by many who became urban social workers from 1885 - 1910; 2) immersion in cities transformed by effects of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration; and 3) bourgeois bias against social change anchored in class conflict.

All three explanations have been ably documented. However, publications and archival materials of key Progressive-era social work researchers among them, Mary Parker Follett and Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch reveal that another factor also directed their attention to community life in neighborhoods and workplaces their horror at war's carnage.

Study Objectives

1. To expand understanding of the multiple reasons why community became a focus of research for two leading researchers in the first generation of social work.

2. To deepen historical knowledge of the familial influences on two children who became leading researchers in the first generation of social work.

Research Questions

1. Regarding Follett and Simkhovitch, what factors explain their consuming interest in community within neighborhoods and workplaces?

2. To what did these women attribute their passion for studying communities?

II. Methods

Study Design

The study employs historians' methods that involve reading: a) secondary sources on Progressive-era social work researchers; b) all publications of Follett and Simkhovitch; and c) archival materials extant for Follett and Simkhovitch.


Follett and Simkhovitch were chosen because of their prolific publications, teaching and lecturing, and widespread influence on peers and subsequent scholars.


Both Follett and Simkhovitch had a parent who had fought and been seriously injured during the Civil War. Their early intimacy with the personal damage caused by war left each researcher, I argue, with an aversion to conflict and a strong penchant for seeking cooperation across many social lines. They each understood community to be an outgrowth of sustained cooperation.


The war maimed Follett's father. He became depressed and alcoholic. Simkhovitch's father was also seriously injured as a Union soldier. Each woman entered adulthood loathing violent conflict and seeking to contribute to the opposite of war cooperative communities.


Researchers design studies for many reasons -- some conscious, others not. For Follett and Simkhovitch, studying communities was empiricism springing directly from their work in settlements in Boston and New York City, respectively. They were correct, but only partly so.

Researchers in an emergent profession were part of a generation raised by adults who had survived a bloody war. Indeed, the generation who constituted the first social work cohort grew up in the aftermath of the national community's disintegration. Grasping the research priorities of any individual or cohort is necessarily an intergenerational excavation.