Bertha Reynolds

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Bertha Capen Reynolds (December 11, 1887 in Brockton, Massachusetts – October 29, 1978 at her home at 760 Pleasant Street, Stoughton, Massachusetts[1]) was an American Social Worker who was influential in the creation of Strength Based Practice, Radical social work and Critical social work, among others.


Reynolds' father died while she was a young child, and she moved with her mother to Boston to work as a teacher. Her aunt paid for her to attend Smith College, where she graduated in 1908 with a Bachelor of Social Work. She suffered from an unknown illness during this time, and later attended Simmons College for two years, graduating in 1914 with a second Social Work degree. At this time, she described her professional goals as "...a desire to help poor people and the Negro and to be able to earn her living".[1] After her graduation, she worked for a short time at the North End Health Clinic. In 1917 Smith College began running a psychiatric social work degree, and she enrolled. After graduating, she stayed on and taught the subject, working as an Associate Dean between 1925 and 1938. During this period she used Marxist analysis as an element of the course, and attempted to unionise college employees. This was not well received by the Dean, who terminated her position in 1938. She then worked for a time with the Maritime Union but funding was scarce. She retired and became a full-time writer. A later biographer described her three guiding philosophies as Marxism, Christianity and Freudian/psychodynamic theories. This was not well received by many American social workers and for decades her writings were sidelined in favour of more psychoanalytic approaches.

A docudrama based on her letters, performed by Margaret Draper was written and produced at Smith College for the Bertha Capen Reynolds Centennial Conference in June 1985.[2] At that conference, an organizing meeting of progressive social workers was convened, resulting in the founding of the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society in Chicago in October, 1985. The name of the BCRS was later changed to the Social Welfare Action Alliance.[3]

She was buried with her parents, and siblings at the Avon Cemetery in Avon, Massachusetts (formerly the town of East Stoughton).

Published works[edit]

  • An Experiment in Short-contact Interviewing - 1932
  • Learning and Teaching in the Practice of Social Work - 1942
  • Re-thinking Social Case Work - 1943
  • Social Work and Social Living: Explorations in Philosophy and Practice - 1951
  • An Uncharted Journey: Fifty Years of Growth in Social Work - 1963
  • Between Client and Community: A Study in Responsibility in Social Case Work - 1973


  1. ^ a b National Association of Social Workers. "NASW Social Work Pioneers - Bertha Reynolds". Retrieved 2008-04-29. ...a progressive educator, creative and original thinker, clinician and community worker who strove to broaden and deepen social work practice 
  2. ^ Somewhere a Door Blew Shut: Letters from Exile. By David Drucker and Shura Saul. Dir. Robert Hyde Wilson. Theatre 14, Smith College, Northampton, MA. 21 July 1988
  3. ^ Social Welfare Action Alliance