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Social Work for Girls, c.1912

Date: c.1912

Type: Manuscript

Categories: ,


This paper outlines some of Emmerton’s views on social work, specifically, programs to help girls grow into what she considered to be a well-adjusted life. It is problematic, to say the least. While Emmerton was considered very progressive for her time, her views on women’s independence and mental health are shocking to today’s reader. They are shared here to demonstrate the evolution of thought within the social work movement and do not represent the Gable’s point-of-view. The manuscript has been transcribed below exactly as it appears on the page.


“Social Work for Girls”
Transcription by W.H. Demick


Social work for girls, as I see it, seems to fall into
three divisions. Each division
having its own method of dealing with the problem.
These three divisions I will call General Preventive
work with girls. 2nd Individual Preventive work
3 Reformatory work.
General preventive work with girls is carried
on by the settlements, girl scouts, Y.W.C.A’s etc.
My personal knowledge of it is mostly from the
two settlements in Salem The House of Seven Gables
Settlement and The Broad St [   ] Class
The settlement stars its work with girls when they
are babies. Both the settlements in Salem have
well babies conferences where the nurse weighs
the babies and instructs the mothers and tries to
give the children a good start so far as health
goes. Then comes the kindergarten from that the
little girls enter homemaking classes, beginning with
the care of a dolls house and graduating from
that into cooking classes and from cutting out pictures
and pasting them in books they graduate into cutting out
dresses for themselves and making them, [   ]
hats etc.
Athletic games and dancing lessons begin when
they are quite young, also simple forms of dramatic
expression. As the children grow older these activities
are suited to their years and when they reach sixteen
or seventeen they are ready for quite grown up pastries
[Page Two]
or to enter into dramatic competitions with Boston
It may seem strange that in speaking of work with
girls that I should go back to the Kindergarten but
surely the training they receive there in kindness
and self centre[sic] mean a great deal as they grow
It must be confessed that as the girls grow older
and self supporting that they tend to seek their pleasure
outside the settlement. Then they generally warry
and very often as young matrons they come back to the settlement for
help in their problems of homemaking or for recreation
in the settlement clubs.
In addition to all the club and class worker the
headworker has many individual problems on
her hands and probably as much of her time is
taken up in straightening them on as in planning
for and running the Settlement activities. How-
ever as a whole the settlement belongs in the
general preventive class.
When we look for individual preventive work
with girls it seems to me that we find it in the
work of the Associated Charities.
The Salem Associated Charities has done a
great deal of probation with girls sent to the society
by the court. A few years ago the society had so many
bad girls on its hands that it was found necessary
to start a special committee with an especially
trained girl’s worker to handle the problem. This
worker not only cared for the girls placed in
probation by the court. But she frequented the
dance halls and street corners and so gathered
[Page Three]
in some of the ringleaders who were sent to Lancastor
or Sherborn and so effective was her work than
when in a year or two she resigned to be married
the committee did not feel it necessary to supply
her place for the girl problem was for the time
at least in hand.
The associated Charities has lately had a
great many cases of mental defectives. Girls
with a woman’s body but a child’s mind. When
this societyis suspectsed this to be the case we have
the girl examined at the psychopathic house
in Boston and the advice of the experts there
is generally helpful as indicating the treatment
that ought to be pursued.
The case of Lizzie illustrates the help that ex-
perts can give.
Lizzie came of miserable parentage. She came
easily into the hands of the Associated Charities and was
placed by them in a hospitals where her crippled
condition was cured. Then she was placed in a
Children’s Home. When she was about sixteen
the Home asked the Associated Charities to
relieve them of her as she was quite troublesome.
Lizzie herself had the idea that she would like
to be a school teacher. Her school record did not
give promise that she would make a success of
such a calling but the Associated Charities decided
to let her continue her work in the High School and
see what she could do. An easy place was formed
for her where by a few hours light work she could earn
her board. The family where she was placed soon
declared her impossible. Lizzie was then given a
[Page Four]
vacation in the country and at the end of two months
another home was found her. It seemed an ideal
one but Lizzie would not make good. She had app[   ]
no sense of responsibility. She was heedless, never on
time and slovenly in her habits. She was treated with
great kindness and patience but she did not improve
and in less than a year was back in the hands of
the Associated Charities.
Then she was taken to the Psychopathic and her
mind was analyzed and the verdict given that she was
a high grade moron and should live in an institution
as she had not brain enough to meet the strain of
ordinary life.
Following the advice of experts the Associated Charities
found Lizzie a position in a hospital where she
could work under supervision and this venture
as proved to be a very happy one. For she is happy
and is developing under the guidance of the kind
sisters. She has improved but it is doubtful whether
she will ever be able to make her way in the world
probably she will never wish to leave the niche that
seems to fit her so well.
Another case of individual preventive work
with girls might have turned out as well as Lizzie’s
if the Associated Charities had not been thwarted
in their plan. This girl whom I will call Clara was
brought up in a sheltered home by an aunt. But when
the aunt died there was no money so Clara had to
earn her living which she was not fitted to do. She
obtained work in a boarding home where one of the
boarder took advantage of her simplicity with the result
that she became diseased.
She applied to the Associated Charities for work.
[Page Five]
They prevailed on her to let herself be taken to the
Psychopathic House. Where the verdict was that she was
a high grade moron and should live in an institution
for mental defections.  The girl was frightened by
her pitiful attempt to take care of herself and was
quite willing to do anything that was suggested. While
the Associated Charities were trying to get her into
Wrentham she was boarded in a family in Salme
that seemed an ideal home for her. It would have been
if the family had not been ardent admirers of the
Salvation Army. Clara was taken to Salvation Army
services and all that was emotional in her nature
came to the surface. A Salvation Army drive for
funds was on and Clara was pressed into ser-
vice. She donned a [   ] at a becoming
angle and every day stood on the street soliciting
alms for the cause. Her begging was a great success
her life had suddenly become very exciting and
very happy. The Associated Charities begged the
Salvation Army to cooperate with them in trying to
get her into Wrentham and meanwhile to take
her off the streets. The Salvation Army at first did
not think that she needed to be put away but finally
they discerned that she making appointments
with men so they made no further difficulties and the
girl was sent to Wrentham. But as I have tried to in-
dicate the whole situation has changed the girl was
rebellious and unhappy and so fear her stay there has
seemed to profit her very little.
In connection with this case I visited the state
school at Wrentham. It is a very pleasantly situated
institution comprising many buildings scattered
[Page Six]
through the pine woods – with their inmates carefully
classified. The girls are taught different occupations
cookery, laundry work, sewing and the like. They
have games and outdoor experience, singing, and
the [   ] once a week. Every effort is made to
fit the girls to reenter the world and in many
cases this has been successfully done.
I cannot go into further details about reform work
I know even less about it than I do about the prevention
                With this glimpse
The social work done at Wrentham is reformatory only in
some case. In many cases it is just a home and
school for abnormal girls.