University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration

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The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
University of Chicago Modern Etched Seal 1.svg
Type Academic unit of the University of Chicago
Established 1920
Dean Neil B. Guterman (term began on July 1, 2010)
Location Chicago, IL, US
Campus Urban

The School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago is one of the world's leading schools for the training of social workers and researchers in social welfare scholarship, ranking number 1 (The Gourman Report).[1] SSA was founded in 1903 by esteemed minister and social work educator Graham Taylor as the “Social Science Center for Practical Training in Philanthropic and Social Work.” By 1920, through the efforts of founding mothers Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge, and such notable trustees as social worker Jane Addams and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the school merged with the University of Chicago as one of its graduate schools. It became known from that point forward as the School of Social Service Administration.

SSA gives its graduates a broad grounding in the social sciences. The School offers both a Master’s level program and a Doctoral level program. The Master’s program lasts two years and can be pursued either full or part-time. It awards graduates with an A.M. degree in social work. The Doctoral program awards graduating candidates with a Ph.D.


SSA is one of a handful of institutions that helped create and define the social work profession and the social welfare field. The School of Social Service Administration’s first leaders were activists in the Chicago settlement house movement, one of the main strands in what eventually became social work. Graham Taylor, who organized SSA's predecessor, the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, was a social gospel minister and founder of the settlement house, Chicago Commons. Similarly, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Grace and Edith Abbott, and Julia Lathrop, the women who shaped SSA into an institution of national importance, had lived and worked at Jane Addams' Hull House.

While most early schools of social work concentrated on practical training for caseworkers, SSA's leaders immediately insisted on the need for a solid foundation in social science and social research as well. In its first decade, the faculty and students of The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy were investigating such issues as juvenile delinquency, truancy, vocational training, and housing in the rapidly growing city of Chicago. The decision in 1920 to merge the Chicago School and the University of Chicago opened students to contact with the social sciences. It was from this union that the SSA was created. SSA's first requirement both in 1920 and today is that a student demonstrates a "good foundation in the social sciences." [2]

SSA Luminaries[edit]

Throughout its history, SSA has been the home to various people that were critical to the development of the social work profession. Many were alumni, faculty members, and researchers, but the following figures are some of SSA’s most distinguished luminaries.

Edith Abbott[edit]

After receiving her Economics Ph.D. in 1905, Edith Abbott was recruited to the School in 1908, just prior to its incarnation as the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Having worked with Jane Addams at Hull House, Edith Abbott was well-prepared for her social work career. Her work paved the way for the School's merger into the University of Chicago, and in 1924, she became its Dean—the first female dean of any graduate school in the United States. Abbott served as dean until 1942. During this time, she and the School emphasized the importance of formal education in social work and the need to include field experience as part of that training. Abbott guaranteed that SSA was deeply involved with national policy in such areas as immigration, labor, and child welfare. Her book, Public Assistance - American Principles and Policies, was the product of many years of research and teaching.[3]

Grace Abbott[edit]

In 1907, Grace Abbott entered graduate study in political science and constitutional history at the University of Chicago, earning her Ph.M. in 1909. Her growing interest in social work led her to take up residency at Jane Addams' Hull House in 1908. That same year, she became director of the Immigrants' Protective League, organized to protect immigrants from exploitation and to help them adjust to American life. She held positions in the Industrial Division of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Illinois State Immigrants Commission, and the Illinois State Children’s Commission before taking on the role of chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1921.

Miss Abbott pioneered the process of collecting and incorporating sociological data relating to child labor, juvenile delinquency, and dependency and on the work of local and private agencies into the lawmaking process. Her leadership helped fund over 100 social research investigations, many of which were conducted by the School of Social Service Administration. Her numerous accomplishments include the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act into law, providing for the first federal grants-in-aid for social welfare purposes and authorized government cooperation with the states in promoting maternal and child health. In addition to her responsibilities at the Children’s Bureau, from 1922 to 1934 Abbott was the official representative of the U.S. on the League of Nations' advisory committees on trafficking of women and on child welfare. She also served as President of the National Conference of Social Work and on the committee organizing the first Conference on Social Work, held in Paris in 1928.

From 1934 until her death in 1939, Grace held a professorship at SSA and served as editor of the Social Service Review. She remained active during these years, serving on President Roosevelt's council on economic security and helping to draft the child welfare provisions in the Social Security Act. Her 1936 involvement in the process was instrumental in the passing of this historic legislation.[4] She continued to chair international labor conferences and state committees dealing with child labor, and to serve in many efforts including the peace movement and women's rights.[5]

Sophonisba Breckinridge[edit]

Born in Kentucky in 1866, Breckinridge became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in political science from the University just as the institution was preparing to open its new law school. She then enrolled in the inaugural entering class and became the first woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School in 1904. After graduation, Breckinridge was appointed a professor at the University in what was then known as the Department of Household Administration. She embraced the role as an opportunity to effect change, introducing courses on public institutional management and public institutions for children.

Driven by her desire to make a truly useful contribution, she shifted her focus to what she regarded as “the great social issues of the day” and became involved with Jane Addams’ Hull House. She also helped found the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League and the Chicago Chapter of the NAACP.

Within a few years, Miss Breckenridge was tapped to head the research department at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, while continuing in her role at the University. It was under her leadership and guidance that the Chicago School eventually merged with the University of Chicago to become the University’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA). Until her retirement in 1942, Miss Breckenridge remained a devoted teacher, all the while continuing to shape SSA, define the profession of social work, and accomplish more “firsts.” Influenced by her experience at the Law School, SSA became the first school of social service to implement the “case method.” The University appointed her the Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration in 1929, making her the first female professor granted a named professorship. She was also the first woman ever chosen to represent the United States at an international conference.

In memory of extraordinary career and far-reaching impact, the University of Chicago named Breckinridge Hall in her honor.


SSA’s approach is interdisciplinary and intellectually pluralistic. SSA’s full-time faculty researchers come from a variety of fields including: social work, psychology, sociology, political science, public policy, public health, economics, geography, and anthropology.


Social Service Review[edit]

Founded in 1927, Social Service Review is devoted to the publication of thought-provoking, original research on social welfare policy, organization, and practice. Articles in the Review analyze issues from the points of view of various disciplines, theories, and methodological traditions, view critical problems in context, and carefully consider long-range solutions.

The Review features balanced, scholarly contributions from social work and social welfare scholars, as well as from members of the various allied disciplines engaged in research on human behavior, social systems, history, public policy, and social services. The journal welcomes contributions on a wide range of topics, such as child welfare, poverty, homelessness, community intervention, race and ethnicity, clinical practice, and mental health. The Review also features discerning essays and substantive, critical book reviews.

Social Service Review is edited by Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor Michael R. Sosin and the faculty of The School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.[6]

SSA Magazine[edit]

SSA Magazine is printed twice every year for alumni and friends of the School of Social Service Administration. The Magazine features articles about SSA faculty and their research, alumni, students, SSA’s community involvement, publications, events, and other matters of importance to the social work community.

Advocates’ Forum[edit]

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration Advocates’ Forum is one of only a small number of student-run social work journals in the country. It provides SSA master’s students with an opportunity to express their scholarly interests in the field and to published prior to graduation.

Community Involvement[edit]

From its beginning, the School of Social Service Administration has always seen its mission to do more than study the issues faced by distressed individuals, families and neighborhoods. By explicitly linking research to action, teaching generations of practitioners and leaders, and working with service providers through field education, SSA is a partner and resource for communities, and nowhere is that more true than in the School’s home, the South Side of Chicago.[7]

Below is a sample of the many ways in which SSA and the University of Chicago are actively involved nationally and locally to address social change. Partners and projects are organized alphabetically.

The Center for Health Administrative Studies (CHAS)[edit]

The Center for Health Administration Studies is an endowed affiliate of the School for Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. It has been a leader for over 75 years in research and education in health policy and services. CHAS engages an interdisciplinary and international group of health policy and services researchers on topics of health policy innovation and reform, health and social service integration, health access, cost and quality, behavioral health, global health, and preventive intervention. Its leadership and fellows are the experts in health policy and service effectiveness for the disadvantaged.

An intentionally interdisciplinary center located in a graduate school of social work is a unique institutional form that both exploits and enriches the values and orientation of the University of Chicago. CHAS has explored new questions, identified knowledge gaps, sought to enhance the translation of research-to-practice, and identified opportunities for collaborations within and outside the University of Chicago. Its programs support faculty research, research dissemination and translation, student learning, and engage researchers, scholars, policy makers, and practitioners.[8]

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago[edit]

Established in 1985, Chapin Hall is an independent policy research center whose mission is to build knowledge that improves policies and programs for children and youth, families, and their communities. SSA Faculty Partners and doctoral students collaborate closely with researchers at Chapin Hall.[9]

Consortium on Chicago School Research[edit]

The Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) was created in 1990 after the passage of the Chicago School Reform Act that decentralized governance of the city's public schools. Researchers at the University of Chicago joined with researchers from the school district and other organizations to form CCSR with the imperative to study this landmark restructuring and its long-term effects. Since then CCSR has undertaken research on many of Chicago's school reform efforts, some of which have been embraced by other cities as well. Thus CCSR studies have also informed broader national movements in public education.

A number of features distinguish CCSR from other, more typical research organizations: their comprehensive data archive, a focus on one place—Chicago, their engagement with a diverse group of stakeholders, a wide range of methods and multiple investigators, and their commitment to sharing research findings with diverse publics.[10]

Crime Lab[edit]

The University of Chicago Crime Lab seeks to improve our understanding of how to reduce crime and violence by helping government agencies and non-profit organizations rigorously evaluate new pilot programs. Among the Crime Lab’s ongoing projects is the Chicago Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence Among School Age Youth. Crime Lab is currently evaluating a project, “Becoming a Man” (BAM), for its potential to reduce youth gun violence in Chicago. This initiative is being conducted in partnership with the Chicago agencies Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago.[11]

BAM seeks to help youth develop coping skills for managing situations that might otherwise lead to violence and other negative outcomes including school failure. It aims to help adolescent boys learn to navigate real-world conflicts, and to overcome faulty assumptions brought about by their environment that violence can resolve their problems. The initiative is currently being implemented in schools around Chicago. BAM offers sports opportunities for participating students to help youth learn to compete within the strict confines and techniques of a sport, and to give them an experience of self-control and accomplishment. By doing all of this within a realistic social context, particularly the one-on-one sports, World Sport Chicago seeks to help participants learn “soft skills” that will help them avoid criminal behavior, succeed in school and in the labor market.[12]

The Crime Lab’s focus is not exclusive to Chicago or the problem of gun violence. Ongoing or recently completed projects by Crime Lab members include studies of adult re-entry programs in Chicago and Milwaukee, targeted “hot spot” policing programs in Massachusetts, and a “coerced abstinence” drug testing and sanctions program for probationers in Hawaii.

South Side Health and Vitality Studies[edit]

The South Side Health and Vitality Studies (SSHVS) are a component of the University of Chicago Medical Center's Urban Health Initiative. It is a family of research studies that involve a large group of health researchers from the university, including SSA, in partnership with community members who are working to generate knowledge about health and the impact of interventions to create and maintain good health on the South Side of Chicago.[13]

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • Proposed the philosophy that social work demands a firm intellectual base in the social sciences.
  • Pioneered an orientation toward public agencies as well as private charities.
  • Offered psychiatric course work as early as 1912.
  • Began publishing Social Service Review, the first scholarly journal in the field of social work, in 1927.
  • Laid the foundation for the child-related provisions of the nation’s Social Security system through research on the status of mothers and children in the 1930s.[14]
  • Developed the generic casework curriculum that became a model for social work education.
  • Professor Charlotte Towle published Common Human Needs, the classic manual for public assistance workers that linked psychiatric theories to social work practice (1945).[15]
  • Developed the first social policy sequence in the country (1968).
  • Applied behavior modification to casework.
  • Under the supervision of Helen Harris Perlman, SSA developed the task-centered approach to practice.


External links[edit]