NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Mary Cromwell Jarrett's pioneering accomplishments had a major effect on social
work. She was the founder of psychiatric social work, a major researcher in the area of chronic illness, and founder of the Psychiatric Social Workers' Club (later the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers). She was also one of the first to work with soldiers who suffered from what is now called post traumatic stress syndrome. Jarrett also helped to define the role of the social worker in relation to the treatment of mental illness. After completing her bachelor's degree at Goucher College in 1900, Jarrett taught school. She then worked for the Boston Children's Aid Society from 1903 to 1913. While in Boston, Jarrett's work caught the attention of, and impressed, social psychiatrist Elmer Ernest Southard. In 1913, at Southard's request, Jarrett joined the staff of Boston Psychopathic Hospital. For the next several years, Jarrett and Southard were instrumental in changing social work from a psychiatric standpoint.
Jarrett developed an 8-week course to help prepare social workers to meet the emergency psychiatric needs of patients. The goal of the program was to train social workers who could secure social history essential to medical diagnosis; assist the physician in psychotherapy by such means as encouragement, reeducation, and explanation; and promote the social adjustment of patients upon discharge. This course led to the establishment of the Smith College Training School for Psychiatric Social Work with Mary Jarret as associate director. In her classic and influential paper, "The Psychiatric Thread Running Through All Social Case Work," delivered at the National Conference of Social Work in 1919, Jarrett stated that psychiatry not only provided a thread but was the warp of the fabric of all social casework.
After Southard left Boston Hospital, Jarrett also resigned from her position to work with him on a research project involving the relationship of mental disorder to employee's functioning on the job and the practical application of mental hygiene to industry. Their research findings appeared in the book Kingdom of Evils which was published in 1922. After Southard's death, Jarrett continued her efforts in the areas of psychiatric social work. In 1920, Jarrett founded the organization which later became the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers. After being eased out of her position at Smith, Jarrett changed career fields and concentrated her work in the area of chronic illness. Jarrett joined the U.S. Public Health Service and the Veterans Administration in 1923 as a researcher and program and policy analyst.
In 1927 she moved to New York and began an extensive study of chronic illness after learning that Manhattan had the highest infant mortality rate of the five boroughs. Her significant study resulted in the publishing of the book, Chronic Illness in 1933. Jarrett's work also led to the development of the Committee on Chronic Illness, the construction of a hospital (later known as Goldwater Memorial Hospital) for chronic disease, and development of the programs for the chronically ill in the Social Security Act of 1935. Jarrett's pioneering efforts continued in her work with the Works Progress Administration. She was director of a project which demonstrated the use of home care for the chronically ill, which like her many other projects, was well ahead of their time.
Mary Jarrett's papers and correspondence are in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The development of Jarrett's thinking about psychiatric social work, however, can be found in her published papers, especially those in the Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work, 1919-1922.