NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Sylvia Rubin Dilman Firestone (1915 - 2009)
Sylvia Firestone was a leader in social work clinical services to children, families, veterans, and the sick from the time she received her social work diploma from the New York School of Social Work. Her dedication to the profession is reflected in the range of commitments she made to the Veterans Administration, the American Red Cross and the Jewish Family Service Society.
Beginning in the mid1940s, she worked as a caseworker and supervisor at the then Jewish Family Service Society. She later joined the Arthur Lehman Counseling Service (ALCS) as one of its clinicians, where she often debated the meaning of the fee-for-social work services and its validity.
Sylvia, along with Ruth Fizdale, developed an experimental program at ALCS which defined social work as a Profession to serve anyone in need, irrespective of class. The field had long been lodged in the philosophy of serving only low-income, the sick poor and those others who fell into the charity or public service context of social work services. Sylvia helped to demonstrate that counseling was a professional service available to any person, family or community in need. The ALCS proved that individuals did seek clinical counseling, utilized them and were prepared to pay for it. This experimental program substantiated the validity of social work as a Profession irrespective of class and as a major clinical entity within a not-for-profit structure.
In her 20’s at the outbreak of World War II, Sylvia and some close social worker friends resigned their positions and joined the Red Cross to serve alongside the soldiers. En route to Africa with the troops, they were intercepted by a U-boat that sank several of the ships in her convoy carrying troops and supplies. Sylvia was spared but witnessed ships to the portside that were sunk. She continued to serve as the director of a mobile medical unit receiving and treating freshly wounded service members. Following the war, she worked in the Midwest - developing services for returning veterans.
Sylvia migrated to California, where she eventually married Mose Firestone. In California she promoted comprehensive social services for those in need, which included a clientele on a fee-for-service sliding scale.
In all of her clinical experience, she managed to promote the clinical values and ethics of social work into an agency's orientation. She served as a consultant to agencies and schools of social work. During the last twenty years of her work, she facilitated and enhanced professionalization of the Reiss Davis Child Study Center and became its Director and Chief of Clinical Services.
Sylvia Firestone passed away on September 29, 2009. She was 94 years old.