NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Virginia P. Robinson (1883-1977)
Virginia Pollard Robinson was an early proponent of professionalization who championed higher standards, conceptualized approaches and content for professionally controlled graduate work, and practiced professional social work education from her positions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work and as an officer of the Association of Schools of Professional Social Work. Starting in 1918 and until her retirement in 1952 she served as Associate Director and then professor at the school. Along with Jesse Taft, Robinson was a colleague and proponent of the work of Otto Rank, and established the theoretical framework of "functional casework" that characterized the curriculum at the school for many years. Her distinguished work as teacher, administrator, writer and student of social work processes was largely responsible for the School’s unique development, both in size and in distinctive contribution to social work and social work education.
Virginia Robinson joined the staff of the Philadelphia Training School for Social Work in 1918 (an earlier name for the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work). From 1918 until her retirement in 1952 Miss Robinson held successively positions as Associate Director, Associate Dean, Assistant Director and Vice Dean. In the winter of 1936, due to Depression Era public service appointments made by the Governor of Pennsylvania, the School of Social Work lost the services of both its Director, Kenneth L. M. Pray, and the Dean of faculty Karl de Schweinitz. The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work elected Robinson to the post of Acting Director in 1936. She had served the School as Associate Director since 1919 and had worked her way through seven years in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1931.. Robinson's teaching and writing encompassed many fields of practice, but she had a particular interest in child welfare and was an early proponent of therapeutic child placement and adoption. Her extensive writings on supervision and casework process were influential and widely used texts. “Supervision in Social Casework: A Problem in Professional Education” was published in 1936. This definitive book lifted supervision in social work out of its neglected position as a casually undertaken side-line of casework, and established it as an area of teaching and learning. After retiring, in 1965 Robinson founded the Otto Rank Association and served as president and editor of its journal. The goal was to foster interest in the exploration and application of Rank's ideas to diverse areas of endeavor, including art and literature. The Association continued until 1983.
Virginia Pollard Robinson was born September 6, 1883 to Walter Landon and Hallie (Thomas) Robinson in Louisville, Kentucky. She was an outstanding high school student and then enrolled in Bryn Mawr College where she earned both a B.A. (1906), and an M.A. (1907). After leaving Bryn-Mawr she taught high school English in the Louisville area for four years. Not convinced of a career teaching high school, she enrolled in summer school at the University of Chicago where she met Jessie Taft, who would become her lifelong partner. Together they adopted and raised two children, living in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, in a close-knit community of professional women. Jessie Taft died in 1960. Robinson's biography “Jessie Taft: Therapist and Social Work Educator" was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1962. Virginia Robinson died June 28, 1977 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania at the age of 93.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work established and awards annually the Virginia P. Robinson Prize for an outstanding student essay. Robinson's papers are archived at Columbia University.