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Wisdom, Justice and Charity

Wisdom, Justice and Charity: Canadian Social Welfare through the Life of Jane B. Wisdom, 1884-1975

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
  • Book Info
    Wisdom, Justice and Charity
    Book Description:

    One of Canada's first social workers, Jane B. Wisdom had an active career in social welfare that spanned almost the first half of the twentieth century. Competent, thoughtful, and trusted, she had a knack for being in important places at pivotal moments. Wisdom's transnational career took her from Saint John to Montreal, New York City, Halifax, and Glace Bay, as well as into almost every field of social work. Her story offers a remarkable opportunity to uncover what life was like for front-line social workers in the profession's early years.

    InWisdom, Justice, and Charity, historian Suzanne Morton uses Wisdom's professional life to explore how the welfare state was built from the ground up by thousands of pragmatic and action-oriented social workers. Wisdom's career illustrates the impact of professionalization, gender, and changing notions of the state - not just on those in the emergent profession of social work but also on those in need. Her life and career stand as a potent allegory for the limits and possibilities of individual action.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6645-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    The story of the Canadian welfare state can – indeed, must – be told through biography. The ordinary but poignant life and career of Jane B. Wisdom, one of Canada’s first professional social workers, stands as a potent allegory for the limits and possibilities of individual action. Jane Wisdom lived from 1884 to 1975. Born a year before the completion of a railway across Canada, she died during the crest of second-wave feminism. Between these years, the world changed almost beyond recognition. The field of social work, barely nascent at the start of the century, had professionalized, becoming a massive,...

  6. Chapter One Saint John: Religion, Philanthropy, and the Poor Law, 1884–1909
    (pp. 14-37)

    Jane Barnes Wisdom was born on 1 March 1884 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The city she grew up in had been devastated by an 1877 fire that destroyed sixteen kilometres of downtown streets and cost an estimated $27 million in damages.¹ In the fire’s aftermath, Saint John was rebuilt as a commercial and industrial centre with impressive mercantile and domestic Victorian architecture, a large number of solid and elaborate public buildings, and magnificent new churches. While the aesthetic appeal of Saint John today may be its worn, weather-beaten patina, the city of Wisdom’s childhood was largely new and modern....

  7. Chapter Two McGill: The Ethos of Female Service, 1903–1911
    (pp. 38-58)

    In September 1903, Jennie Wisdom left Saint John for Royal Victoria College and McGill University. At the Royal Victoria College (RVC), she found herself firmly in the midst of a culture that emphasized British female civic service, and, in her courses at McGill, she encountered questions of poverty and philanthropy at a philosophical rather than emotional or religious level. These two streams – intellectual and civic-minded – came together in the settlement house movement, where, for Wisdom, the experience of communal living in a women’s college was replaced by residency among the city’s immigrant poor. Wisdom’s experience in Montreal was...

  8. Chapter Three Montreal: Charity, Philanthropy, and Social Service, 1903–1912
    (pp. 59-79)

    Until after the Second World War, Montreal was Canada’s largest city and its commercial and financial centre. At the turn of the twentieth century, it attracted tens of thousands of immigrants – primarily British – to jobs in its vibrant industrial and transportation sectors. Montreal historian William Atherton boasted that between 1901 and 1911, Montreal moved from being the ninety-sixth to the twenty-sixth largest city in the world, achieving a place between Boston and Brussels in terms of population size. It held the honour of being the largest metropolis among the self-governing Dominions of the Empire and the largest French-speaking...

  9. Chapter Four New York City: Private Agency Work, 1910–1916
    (pp. 80-106)

    New York City, 1910. Was there any place in the world that both symbolized and generated more excitement? The largest city in the United States, New York was undergoing dramatic population and spatial growth, technological change, and immigration. While the vast majority of contemporary immigrants to Montreal were British, New York City immigration was much more diverse, although still European. The post-First World War mass migration of African Americans north and the large influx of Spanish-speaking people from Latin America had yet to occur. Still, the population of metropolitan New York City in 1910 was more than 4.7 million, with...

  10. Chapter Five Halifax: Bureaucratization, Emergencies, and the Progressive State, 1916–1921
    (pp. 107-131)

    If New York City was the heart of the philanthropic world and the home of the emergent profession of social work, Halifax could easily be dismissed as both a geographic and cultural periphery. Certainly, Halifax had become geographically marginal by the second decade of the twentieth century. Like Saint John, the development of a continentally based industrial economy demoted the resource-extraction industries of “wood, wind, and sail.” Halifax found itself no longer at the centre of a vibrant North Atlantic maritime economy, but at the terminus of railway lines. This geographical isolation was temporarily altered during the First World War,...

  11. Chapter Six Montreal and Cape Breton: Social Work Training and Professionalization, 1921–1939
    (pp. 132-162)

    The ideal of apolitical professionalization was one of the core tenets Jane Wisdom held as she entered the interwar period. Although she had arrived somewhat late to progressivism, a commitment to apolitical expertise sat along with her other core beliefs such as social harmony, individualism tempered by strong social bonds, and the necessary coexistence of voluntary associations and an active neutral state. Her unwavering commitment to professionalism drew her into debates during her graduate studies at the McGill School for Social Workers and its successor, the nascent Canadian Association of Social Workers. Issues of professional identity, accreditation, claims of expertise,...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter Seven The Women’s Directory of Montreal and Private Agency Work, 1923–1939
    (pp. 163-189)

    In March 1923, while Wisdom was still in the hospital recovering from surgery, a former college classmate approached her to become the executive secretary at a private welfare agency for Protestant, first-time, single mothers. The discreetly named Women’s Directory of Montreal (WDM) would be the focus of her life over the next fifteen years. It would draw her into specialized casework, private-agency culture and politics, and the larger question of female citizenship and its meaning for unmarried mothers, agency volunteers, and board members. Wisdom was both an employee of the agency and someone with power and responsibility over agency cases....

  14. Chapter Eight Glace Bay: Exploring Public Welfare, 1940–1952
    (pp. 190-218)

    Jane Wisdom’s departure from Montreal in June 1939 could not have been better timed for an historian interested in the intersection of an individual life and the history of Canadian social welfare. Her relocation east coincided with the most dramatic shift in twentieth-century social welfare. Canada’s entry into the Second World War that September both transformed the role of the state and fundamentally altered attitudes towards welfare and citizenship rights. Wisdom’s return to Nova Scotia also offers the opportunity to focus on a particular provincial jurisdiction struggling with the modernization of an antiquated welfare regime. Everywhere in Canada, war facilitated...

  15. Conclusion: Sutherland’s River, 1952–1975
    (pp. 219-226)

    In August 1952, Jane Wisdom noted with ironic emphasis that she had “officially” retired, well aware that certain aspects of her professional life would continue, although she was no longer being paid. In retirement, she returned “home” to Sutherland’s River, a place where she had never permanently resided, to live the remainder of her life among family. According to one of her great-nephews, Jane and her sisters Katherine and Bess played “musical houses,” living in various combinations in various family households. Bess and her husband Dwight Burns had a farm about half a kilometre up the road. Katherine had retired...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-284)
  17. Index
    (pp. 285-296)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-299)