Annals Of Social Work


The attitude of today’s social workers toward welfare clients is sometimes criticized as callous or patronizing, but compared with their turn-of-the-century counterparts, our current caseworkers are parafions of tact.

Consider, for instance, these comments from case reports of the 1900s: “Woman voted unworthy of help, as she was flashily dressed.” “Man to office for trousers, unappreciative when given shoes.” “A fine, meek family.”

These severe judgments show the attitudes of “friendly visitors,” as the social workers at the beginning of the century were called. The comments come from old casework records of a Connecticut social agency, which was cleaning out its files. The social worker in charge of the job, appalled and amused, asked permission to copy comments from the reports she was reading. These quotations are too old to violate anyone’s privacy, but old enough to reveal attitudes from an alien era.


“Visitor called on girl at the restaurant where she was working but she was rude and refused to discuss her illegitimate baby.”

“Mrs. B is an appreciative person with a good knowledge of how to use canned beef.”

“Woman may have mental defect. For example, she cannot line a coat.”

“Girl has not fallen but is on the brink.”

“Doctor reported woman very ill with TB and should be placed in sanitorium. Worker explained that woman had run gamut of misconduct and if cured would surely return to immoral life. Conference had voted, in view of record, not to recommend treatment.”

“Man signed pledge [not to drink]. Worker flabbergasted to see him entering saloon next day.”

“Man reported living over saloon on Main Street. Main Street very long but went to every saloon but couldn’t locate him.”

“Suggested that Mrs. P make it so uncomfortable for Mr. P at home that he would have to go to work.”


“Mrs. G is always appreciative of the things that are given her but the children would like to be dressed like other children and their attitude is not admirable.”

“Foster mother made [child] beg visitor’s pardon on her knees and then removed pockets on all her bloomers to prevent her stealing again. Next day R stole 10¢ but foster mother was clever enough to find it concealed in the heel of her shoe. Bad traits were born in R.”

“Boy has been unpopular because of his acts but his unpopularity, surprisingly, did not improve his behavior.”

“Boy reported to sleep all day and fool around all night, washing his blue handkerchief over and over and making his bed as many as twenty times. Very queer child or may be bluffing.”

“Doctor advises giving boy sound thrashing, if this doesn’t work have him tested mentally.”

“Child did not cry—probably because he did not know he was leaving permanently.”

“Visitor does not approve of mother’s spending money to telephone hospital after S’s operation. She learned merely that he is all right.”

“No sign of boy being defective, but child will have to lead a very quiet and noble life to ward off inherited tendency of insanity.”


“Found job in service for K. Instructed employer to read all her letters and report to visitor.”

“Visitor absolutely disgusted and tells him for all she cares they can starve if unwilling to follow good advice.”

“Treatment plan—get Mrs. C to be more moral.”

“Rang bell 3 times but Mr. R refused to open door. Walked around and went in back door. Mr. R furious.”

“No one home. Door tied with string, that being only means of locking, but sufficient room for visitor to see awful condition of rooms.”

“Visited Mrs. D very early in the morning to surprise her. She was busy washing but house had not been cleaned. Noticed two cups on the table and over the sink two toothbrushes. Looked in the bedroom and pillows on the bed looked as if two people had slept there, but Mrs. D maintained it was not a man.”

“Interviewed relatives, neighbors, mail man, garbage man and landlord. Reports satisfactory so gave clothes for children.”

“Family reported starving but discovered bread and coffee in house.”