NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Porter Raymond Lee (1879-1939)
In 1903, upon graduation from Cornell, Porter Lee enrolled in the New York School of Philanthropy, which at that time was the only formal program for social work in the United States. Upon completing the six week course, he began his social work career as Assistant Secretary of the Charity Organization Society of Buffalo. In 1909 he succeeded Mary Richmond as General Secretary for the Society for Organized Charity remaining there until 1912 when he joined the faculty of the New York School of Philanthropy, becoming the Director in 1917 and continuing in that capacity until his retirement in 1938.
In 1919 Lee founded the Association of Schools of Social Work, a forerunner of the Council on Social Work Education, responsible for the development of accreditation standards for graduate social work education.
A pioneer in social work education, Lee is credited with being the creator of the "case method" of instruction, the primary social work teaching tool. As the editor of the Milford Conference Report Social Case Work, Generic and Specific (1929), he established a generic theory base for the practice of social case work.
His landmark book, Social Work Cause and Function (1937) explored the tension between broad social problems and the delivery of social work services, concluding that both are the goals of the social work profession.
His warmth, his outgoing personality and genuine interest in people contributed to his being recognized as an outstanding classroom teacher. He served as an inspiration for his students and colleagues, encouraging their development and increased productivity. Lee co-authored two books, Mental Hygiene and Social Work (1929) with Marion Kenworthy, and Social Salvage (1924) with Walter Pettit. His collected speeches and papers on charity organizations are available in the Whitney Young Jr. Memorial Library of Social Work at Columbia University in New York.