NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Fern Lowry (1896 - 1983)
Fern Lowry was one of the earliest social workers to broaden the process of social diagnosis into what is now called the psychosocial approach to treatment. Her writings in the 1930’s and 40’s reflected the importance of viewing clients within the larger environment, including culture, and that advocacy was an important element of working with clients in their communities.
Her writing and advocacy encompassed cultural, ethnic, and racial minorities and those who were economically disadvantaged and focused on what is now known as empowerment. She wrote that the setting, situational needs, and the competence of the social worker all affect casework practice. Also noteworthy for that time was her discussion of the importance of the client’s attitudes toward his or her needs being a part of the process. She was also a proponent of the importance of blending theory and practice to ensure best practices.
Lowry taught at Columbia University’s School of Social Work from 1931-1949. Her tenure began with the New York School of Social Work, prior to its merging with Columbia University. Her writings and theory influenced another NASW Pioneer, Charlotte Towle.*
She retired from teaching to work as a consultant for the New York City Department of Health. During the 1950’s, she also served as a psychiatric social worker at the New Jersey State Reformatory for Women.
Fern Lowry received her master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration in 1940. She earned her B.S. from Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical in 1916 and her A.B. from Cornell University in 1918.
Lowry, F. (ed.) (1939). Readings in social case work, 1920 – 1938. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Lowry, F. (1938). Current concepts in social case-work practice. The Social Service Review, XII(3 &4), 365-373; 571-597.
*Cited in Martha Morrison Dore, Clinical practice, pgs. 117-145. The Columbia School of Social Work Centennial Celebration (Ronald A. Feldman and Barbara Kamerman, Eds.) (2001). Retrieved from Google Books