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Timeline :: London School of Sociology and Social Economics set up

Silhouette for no photo

Macadam (1945) tells us that social study training began as a voluntary enterprise independent of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), which was founded in 1895, but was closely aligned with it. The first classes in social study began early in the 1890s and were initiated by Miss Margaret Sewell, Warden of the Women’s University Settlement in Blackfriars, London, building on Octavia Hill’s training for housing workers. Then in 1896, lectures were established for Charity Organisation Society volunteers. These classes were expanded in 1897 under a joint committee consisting of representatives of the Settlement, the Charity Organisation Society and the National Union of Women Workers (to become the National Council of Women). In 1901, this committee became the London School of Sociology and Economics (see Macadam 1945); the school began teaching for the first time in the autumn of 1902. 16 students were registered in 1904-05; 21 the following year. The school was divided into 3 departments: social theory and administration; sociology; practical instruction (with separate training for Poor Law administrators). Practical experience was offered in various societies and agencies and most of the students spent a few months in a Charity Organization Society office. Some lectures were open to the public but classes were restricted to 20. Founders of the school believed that social knowledge needed to be disseminated to the general public (see Smith, 1952).

Two of the key COS leaders were Helen Bosanquet and Charles Loch. The quotations below demonstrate their views on the importance of education for social work:

‘Perhaps the greatest public obstacle to getting a sound public opinion on matters of social policy lies in the general ignoring of the fact that scientific principles are as much involved in them as chemistry or architecture, or any other of the arts of life’ (Helen Bosanquet of COS in 1902, quoted in Jones 1979: 76).

‘..just as doctors have to be educated methodically, registered and certificated, [so] charity is the work of the social physician. It is in the interests of the community that it should not be entrusted to novices, or to dilettanti, or to quacks’ (Charles Loch of COS in 1906, quoted in Jones 1979: 76).

The new school, although it managed to attract students over its first 10 years, had financial difficulties (Lyons, 1999) and so in 1912, the London School of Economics and Political Science took over the committee and with it, responsibility for the education of social workers. A generous grant from the Ratan Tata Foundation secured the shift (Pinker, 1989). It became incorporated into LSE as the Department of Social Science and Administration under the leadership of Professor Edward Johns Urwick, a social philosopher who had been Director of the School of Sociology since 1903 (Smith 1952, p. 18). Urwick continued as head of the new department until 1919; he then headed off to Canada to develop social work education there. Oakley notes a ‘direct line of descent’ from Urwick’s writings to Titmuss many years later – both were committed to altruism and the spirit of community, and both (in print at least) protested about the divorce of social work from social action, and argued for social reformers acting on sound evidence (2014: 111). Urwick recruited the social historian R.H. Tawney to join himself and L.T. Hobhouse (Britain’s first academic sociologist, says Oakley) in 1913; Clement Atlee arrived in 1912, after a spell based at Toynbee Hall. Atlee published The Social Worker, in 1920.

Smith reports that following the take-over, the Charity Organisation Society went on to expand its own training; she acknowledges that while there was an increasing emphasis on academic and theoretical education in the universities in the years ahead, so agencies did more of their own practical training too (1952: 64). But the split wasn’t just about theory and practice – it was ideological too - the academic teaching at LSE led by Beatrice and Sidney Webb was strongly Fabian and socialist in orientation, while the COS was much more influenced by individualistic, laissez faire principles, and the Webbs had fallen out with the COS supporters over the earlier review of the Poor Law (says Harris, 1989). So the COS started its own 12-month training course in 1915, with some lectures held at Bedford College, another of the University of London’s colleges, which had been founded in 1849 to promote the higher education of women. (Bedford College subsequently merged with yet another University of London college, Royal Holloway College, in 1985). 

In his review of the foundations of social work education,  Jones (1976) points out that the COS used education as part of a deliberate tactic to regain its (middle-class, bourgeois) influence and power in the administration of relief policies and achieve its particular vision of society.

During the First World War, the Ministry of Munitions (later the Home Office) selected candidates for welfare work in factories for intensive courses of training at LSE.

Macadam (1945) notes the penetration of the Child Guidance movement from the US with generous funding from the American Commonwealth Fund – a Child Guidance Council and Clinic were established in 1927. This led to the institution in 1929 of a mental health course at LSE, paid for at this stage by the Commonwealth Fund. Sibyl Clement Brown headed up the mental health course; she had qualified under the Commonwealth Fund to become the first British psychiatric social worker.

Training for probation workers first offered at LSE and in Liverpool and Birmingham, paid for by the Ministry of Munitions (later the Home Office); outlined in the report of the Departmental Committee on the Social Services in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction in 1936.

In 1940, during the Second World War, the Ministry of Labour and later the Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Aircraft Production asked four universities to provide a succession of short emergency courses of academic instruction for what is now ‘personnel management (human resources) with an intermediary month spent in a factory (see Macadam 1945, p.29).

In 1950, Richard Titmuss became Professor of Social Administration. As his daughter, Ann Oakley, writes, his only formal educational qualification was in commercial book- keeping, and he became head of a department devoted mainly to social work training and staffed mainly by women. ‘Over the course of the next decade or so, he transformed it into a centre of social policy expertise populated mainly by men’ – what Pinker called in 1995, ‘the leading centre of its kind in the world’ (2014: 107-8). ‘It’s a story about a decade that was bad for women and good for social policy’ (2014: 108). But it was more than this, because Titmuss took the LSE away from sociology and into social administration; these had originally been two departments but run as one, with one head.

In 1953, a pilot Applied Social Studies (ASS) course was initiated, financed by the Carnegie Trust, following a trip to the United States by Eileen Younghusband, where she met Charlotte Towle at the University of Chicago. Students had to be holders of social science qualifications. Lewis (1996) states that the course began in 1954, founded on casework as its unifying feature; Younghusband brought Towle to London at this time. Younghusband’s approach was totally at odds with that of Titmuss. Both he and another professor of social administration, his friend Tom Simey at Liverpool, he condemned the ‘cult of supervision’ so prominent in the psychodynamic tradition, and of ‘the mystique’ in social work training. By focusing on inner worlds of clients, it was felt that they were ignoring social problems and administrative realities. This also became the basis for Baroness Wootton’s infamous attack on social work, published in 1959 (Lewis, 1996).

Sources: Macadam (1945)

Also Oakley, A. (2014) Father and Daughter, Policy Press, Bristol.  Ann Oakley describes growing up with Richard Titmuss as a father; there are lots of inside stories about his relationship with the ‘terrible women’ of the LSE social work.

Jones, C. (1976) The Foundations of Social Work Education, Working Papers in Sociology No 11, University of Durham.