by Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer
Bertha Capen Reynolds (1885-1978) was born and raised in Massachusetts. She graduated from Smith College with a Bachelors of Social Work degree in 1908. Over the course of her career Reynolds would play a part in developing strengths based practice, critical social work, and-the perspective she is most associated with- radical social work.
Radical Social Work (AKA progressive social work) is defined in the 5th edition of The Social Work Dictionary as:
An orientation in social work that focuses on the injustices in institutions, culture, and social practices that cause further disadvantage to the poorest and most vulnerable groups. (Barker, R.L., (2003). The Social Work Dictionary. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.)
Furthermore Radical Social Work
Seek to change oppressive institutions and practices primarily through social and political activism and organizing communities rather than through case-by-case interventions. (Barker, R.L., (2003). The Social Work Dictionary. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.)
Reynolds went on the become an Associate Dean at Smith College where she taught Social Work students. She also wrote extensively about the emerging profession. She would go on to establish the PhD program at Smith (known as Plan D) and write for and sit on the advisory committee of Social Work Today. As Rachel A. Levine, Literary Executor at Smith College, wrote:
“She believed that catastrophes like war, cyclic economic depression, chronic poverty, hunger, and a host of others, and their effects upon the human condition, and on a global scale, are but the symptoms of underlying causes which are rooted in societal values and systems; therefore, the searchlight should be beamed on, and work directed to, the elimination of the causes.” ( Rachel A. Levine (1985). Biographical Note. [ONLINE] Available at: http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss58.html. [Last Accessed 10/26/2012].)
Reynolds was a strong supporter of labor unions and a Marxist, both these facts would lead to her being blacklisted by the Social Work Profession. It was not until the 1960’s that the profession began to honor Reynolds work. After being forced out of the profession because of her political beliefs, Reynolds would spend much of her time continuing to write about social work. In 1985, six years after her death and on what would have been her 100th birthday, the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society was established (the organization would later change its name to the Social Welfare Action Alliance).
SWAA serves as a professional organization for progressive human service workers. They focus on social justice, peace, and coalition building; all causes important to Bertha Capen Reynolds.
Learn More About Bertha Capen Reynolds
Learn More About Radical Social Work
On Being A radical Social Worker, Melinda K. Lewis’ blog post on radical social work.
Radical Social Work this a blog with info on radical social work.
Rachel A. Levine (1985). Biographical Note. [ONLINE] Available at: http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss58.html. [Last Accessed 10/26/2012].
Unknown (2012). Bertha Reynolds. [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertha_Reynolds. [Last Accessed 10/26/2012].
Unknown (2004). Bertha Capen Reynolds (1885-1978). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.naswfoundation.org/pioneers/r/reynolds.htm. [Last Accessed 10/26/2012].
Michel Coconis (2005-2006). Our Roots. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.socialwelfareactionalliance.org/roots.html. [Last Accessed 10/26/2012].
Barker, R.L., (2003). The Social Work Dictionary. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.
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