NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Elizabeth McCord DeSchweinitz, like her husband, Karl DeSchweinitz, devoted her life to social welfare. She was involved in social casework, conducted in-service training sessions, and held supervisory positions. She was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. She graduated from Oberlin College with a BA in 1917. Between 1926 and 1927 she was a Commonwealth Fellow at the New York School of Social Work. She received a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work in 1937. On August 29 of that year, she married Karl DeSchweinitz. She died in Washington, D.C. on September 7, 1978.
She began her career as a psychiatric and children's caseworker, first as a parole officer at Sleighton Farm in Pennsylvania, 1917-1920, and then, until 1926 as a caseworker in various agencies for teenage girls in Rochester, New York. From 1927 to the end of her career, Beth DeSchweinitz became very involved in the teaching aspect of social work, utilizing her in-service training skills. As a supervisor in the Children's Aid Society of Pennsylvania (1927-1930), one of her major responsibilities was the training of social work students. Her duties as a staff member of the Community Council of Philadelphia from 1931-1935 included teaching not only regular courses but also special institutes for new personnel engaged in unemployment relief.
In 1936, she joined the Social Security Board of the Federal Bureau of Public Assistance. She was one of its first region representatives and as such had the job of interpreting the new public assistance program of state officials. She later was a staff member of the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic for a short time and in 1939 became a consultant on supervision and in-service training with three Baltimore agencies: the State Department of Welfare, the Jewish Family Society, and the Family and Children's Society.
For a brief period during World war II (1943-44), she was recruitment consultant to the Women's Army Corps, planning psychiatric screening for WAC applicants and developing policy and written material for recruiting officers. After completing that assignment she conducted in-service training for the American Red Cross and in 1946 she joined the Board of Public Health in Washington, D.C., as an in-service training consultant.
From 1949 until her retirement in 1960 she was associated with training programs for public welfare workers in a number of states, undertook studies of psychiatric facilities for children and referral services offered by the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance (BOASI, 1955). She also advised the BOASI on interviewing techniques.
In addition to collaborating with Karl on several projects, Elizabeth DeSchweinitz was an author in her own right. She wrote The Emergency Worker in Unemployment Relief for the Family Service Association of America in 1932, summarizing what caseworkers had learned about adapting their methods to the administration of unemployment relief. The Board of Public Health published Courtesy: A Requirement for the Social Worker (1949).
In 1951 Elizabeth served as Karl's assistant on the Point IV Mission to Egypt. She received a Fulbright Grant to accompany him to England as his research assistant for The Dilemma of Need. She drew on her work with BOSI to co-author, with Karl, Interviewing in Social Security (1961) for which the Bureau awarded them a Director's Citation. In 1962, they were joint recipients of the Florina Lasker award for "distinction nationally and internationally as professional social workers, teachers, authors, and researchers."