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Bertha Capen Reynolds papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00128

Scope and Contents

The Bertha C. Reynolds Papers consist of correspondence, writings, printed materials, memorabilia, and miscellaneous papers. They are concentrated in the period following Reynolds's appointment as associate director of the Smith College School for Social Work in 1925 and are strongest for her final decades in Stoughton.

The most outstanding segment of the papers is Reynolds's correspondence with her friends and former students. The letters addressed to her are mainly from the 1960s and 1970s, but her own letters include sequences from the 1930s and 1940s (saved by those who received them). This correspondence is distinguished by its long and thoughtful discussions of professional, political, and religious topics as well as by reports on personal activities. The political and religious interests also appear in printed material gathered over the years and in unpublished writings.

Direct documentation of Reynolds's social work teaching and writing is excellent for some kinds of activities and significant for all others. Her work as associate director of the Smith College School for Social Work is represented by correspondence with Director Everett Kimball spanning the entire period and by notes for an alumnae seminar. Many of her lectures and her contributions to institutes, conferences, and seminars are documented by unpublished texts as well as by correspondence and printed materials. The items related to her published writings consist mainly of correspondence and copies of the publications, but there are also a few manuscripts and typescripts. Her work at the National Maritime Union is represented by staff minutes and position papers, printed material, and correspondence following the termination of the program; this section provides the best documentation of her approach to clinical practice. Her independent consultations are documented in such materials as speeches, correspondence, and brochures, but there are no immediate records of this professional work. Many of these activities are also treated in letters to friends and in autobiographical writings.

Other papers document Reynolds's earlier and later years. Her youth is represented by a diary she compiled retrospectively from family letters, by an unpublished autobiography, and by a few of her undergraduate papers. Aside from her retrospective writings, there is nothing for the period between her graduation from Smith in 1908 and her return in 1918. Her final years in Stoughton are well documented in correspondence, writings, and printed materials about her work on behalf of the Stoughton Fair Housing and Human Rights Association, the Stoughton Historical Society, and the Methodist Church; in correspondence and printed material concerning the honors that she received in the 1960s and 1970s; and also in the aforementioned correspondence with friends.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1907-1994
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1925-1979


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research with the following restrictions on access:

Pages 61-63 of unpublished autobiography are closed pending review

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

by Rachel A. Levine Literary Executor

It is thanks to the Centennial Committee of a small core of professional colleagues convened by Jack Kamaiko; to Vida S. Grayson, oral historian, Smith College School for Social Work; and to Dorothy Green, research associate, and Susan Grigg, director, Sophia Smith Collection, that Bertha Capen Reynolds and her writings are being resurrected from virtual oblivion. The centennial programs are to commemorate her birth and her achievements as scholar, teacher, and writer like no other; and to introduce recent generations of students and practitioners, and those to follow, to her rich, thought-provoking, trail? blazing contributions to the social work literature and to the teaching and practice of social work. It would be logical for these people to ask, as some have, why they had not known about so eminent a person during the course of their education and training.

In historical perspective, reasons tend to become obscured or rationalized; but stripped to raw essence, it is for the reason that for the later period of her productive years a conspiracy of silent ostracism, not unlike a gentlemen's agreement, prevailed among the established leadership in the profession and among the prestigious schools of social work and social agencies; and her writings were omitted from the reading lists of schools of social work. The consequences were two-fold: the loss to students of original and stimulating learning materials; and the loss to Bertha C. Reynolds of her lifeline to all levels of contacts that she characterized as "nourishing," as well as the loss of the means of earning a livelihood.

Because such a phenomenon had not occurred in the profession before Bertha C. Reynolds's time and has not occurred since, as far as I know, an explanation is in order. Her writings trace the historical events and the process which brought her to self-liberation from the constraints of time-honored doctrine.

She believed that catastrophes like war, cyclic economic depression, chronic poverty, hunger, and a host of others, and their effects upon the human condition, and on a global scale, are but the symptoms of underlying causes which are rooted in societal values and systems; therefore, the searchlight should be beamed on, and work directed to, the elimination of the causes. Moreover, social work, the profession most intimately knowledgeable about the tolls of such disasters in human misery, and deeply involved in its alleviation, has a role in helping to change value systems in a society which tolerates the degradation of body and spirit of masses of humanity. These principles were (and still are) in sharp contrast to those held acceptable by individuals and groups in power. But what "cooked her goose," to quote a phrase, was that she used Marxist ideology as a frame of reference for her beliefs and its science of society as the key to the solution of such widespread socio-economic-political disasters. And, she dared to present her views in public! Yet paradoxical as it may seem, her abiding faith in her beloved America, and in its people, and in the profession, to show the way to the changes needed for a better world for all peoples, never wavered. "This book is dedicated to an unbreakable tie with the interests of humanity" is the dedication in her book, Social Work and Social Living.

The legacy of the writings of Bertha C. Reynolds to her profession contains searching questions and insightful, incisive answers which are as relevant, if not more so, to today's world as when they were written. Is this legacy worth her sacrifices of creature comforts and of the acclaim which undoubtedly would have been hers had she made compromises to conformity; will it enlighten and inspire others to creative thinking, and to the courage to speak out for infusion of new ideas, without which a profession remains static? I asked her several months before her death, what message would she send to young people entering the profession today? Her response was, "Do not get locked into traditional molds."

Bertha C. Reynolds's writings attest to the wisdom in the Confucian saying, in paraphrase: to understand the present and the future, one must study and know the past. The inference is that the past is a harbinger of the present and the future, the three being linked in a continuum. Judgments as to the veracity of this linkage and its manifestations (as her writings indicate) will no doubt vary when examined in the light of the contemporary American and world scene. But beyond doubt is the rare treat which is in store for those who study her writings for the first time.

February 1985

Biographical / Historical

Bertha C. Reynolds was a pioneer educator and practitioner in the field of social work and an innovative writer on broader social subjects. These are some principal events in her personal and professional life:

Bertha C. Reynolds died at home in Stoughton on October 29, 1978.

born in Brockton, Massachusetts, on December 11 to Mary (Capen) Reynolds (1853-1947) and Franklin Stewart Reynolds (1853-1887).
moved to the Capen family farm in Stoughton, Massachusetts, after her father's death.
entered school for the first time after home tutoring by her mother.
attended Smith College with support of her aunt, Bessie T. Capen, principal of the Capen (later Burnham) School in Northampton; graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
taught in the high school department of Atlanta University; left because of ill health.
had brief psychotherapy with James J. Putnam, M.D.
enrolled in the Boston School for Social Workers (later the Simmons College School of Social Work).
employed as caseworker for the Boston Children's Aid Society.
received B.S. degree from Simmons at the end of one year's employment as a social worker.
participated in the first course in psychiatric social work at Boston Psychopathic Hospital under Elmer E. Southard and Mary C. Jarrett.
completed the first Smith College summer session for social workers, the Training School for Psychiatric Social Work (which later became the Smith College School for Social Work), established to train workers to rehabilitate shell-shocked soldiers.
publication of a monograph, The Selection of Foster Homes for Children, with Mary S. Doran.
worked as director of social services at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.
worked in new clinics for behavioral training of pre-school children in the Division of Mental Hygiene in Boston.
served as associate director of the Smith College School for Social Work, teaching courses in the summer term and supervising students' field placements during the rest of the year; conducted research and had clinical assignments at the Child Guidance Clinic in Philadelphia and at the Institute for Child Guidance and the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York.
began an intensive psychoanalysis with Frankwood E. Williams, M.D.
presented her first major paper, "The Role of the Psychiatric Social Worker in Therapy," at the First International Congress on Mental Hygiene.
traveled around the country giving speeches and conducting in-service institutes for social workers.
publication of many articles in The Family on casework and the relationship of social work to society.
resumed psychoanalysis with Dr. Williams after five-year interval.
was a member of the Milford Conference study group and served as committee secretary.
became a member of the advisory council and an important contributor to Social Work Today, a journal of the rank-and-file movement made up mainly of public relief workers who advocated unionization of social workers.
publication of Between Client and Community: A Study in Responsibility in Social Case Work.
changed positions at the School for Social Work to become associate director in charge of advanced courses; established and taught the first advanced course, Plan D, for the training of supervisors and teachers of social work.
offered her resignation to Everett Kimball, director of the School for Social Work, due to their disagreement over the direction of the program, her political activities, and the termination of Plan D.
left the School for Social Work after teaching the last group in the Plan D program.
publication of "Re-Thinking Social Case Work."
self-employed as a consultant in staff development for social work agencies.
publication of her major work for social work educators, Learning and Teaching in the Practice of Social Work, describing the contributions of psychology and the social sciences to the problems of practice and teaching in social work.
appointed by the United Seamen's Service to the Personal Service Department of the National Maritime Union, where she became case supervisor.
taught a seminar at the William Alanson White Institute in New York on the relationship between social work and psychiatry.
retired to the family home in Stoughton, where she studied Marxist works, corresponded with friends and former students, had a small clinical practice, and worked as a volunteer on community projects, for the Methodist Church, and the Stoughton Historical Society.
publication of Social Work and Social Living, drawing on her National Maritime Union experience.
publication of her autobiography, An Uncharted Journey.
publication of "The Social Casework of an Uncharted Journey" in Social Work.
was honored by Boston University; the Adelphi, Columbia, Fordham, Hunter, New York University, and Yeshiva schools of social work; the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; and the alumni of the Smith College School for Social Work.
was honored by the town of Stoughton for participation in community affairs.


8.833 linear feet (24 containers)

Language of Materials



Social worker and professor. Reynolds' professional career is well documented, including her years as associate director of the Smith College School for Social Work; as case supervisor at National Maritime Union; and as a teacher of social work. She also published numerous texts on the practice of social work. Material includes correspondence, published and unpublished writings, lectures, oral histories, and memorabilia.


This collection is organized as follows:


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The greater part of the Bertha C. Reynolds Papers was bequeathed to the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, by Bertha C. Reynolds in her will written in 1969. Reynolds transferred some items in 1968; the rest were received after her death, in part through the efforts of Vida S. Grayson, Rachel A. Levine, and Orrin Hansen. These materials have been augmented by gifts of Reynolds's letters and other papers and photographs from Rachel A. Levine, Jack Kamaiko, Eleanor Flexner and Helen Terry, Charlotte and Ray Koch, Ruth Middleman, Clara Rabinowitz, Constance Kyle Lamb, Rose Noble, Tomannie Walker, Ruth Newman Schwarz, Norma and Wesley Stinson, Vivian Pataki, Ruth Harper, Tessie Berkman (via Devora Schwebel), Fay Goleman, the Stoughton Historical Society, and David E. Brown.

Related Material

Related materials can be found in the Smith College Archives. Oral histories of social workers conducted by Bertha C. Reynolds are in the Social Work Archive, Sophia Smith Collection. The American Institute of Marxist Studies in New York has Reynolds's bequest of her unpublished writings on Marxist themes. The Stoughton Historical Society has Reynolds and Capen family papers, photographs, and memorabilia.

Processing Information

Processed by Dorothy Green and Susan Grigg, 1985. Finding aid revised 2007.

Bertha Capen Reynolds papers
Finding Aid
Dorothy Green and Susan Grigg
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss58 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063