NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Gertrude Vaile was a public welfare reformer who was able to demonstrate that it was feasible and productive to apply casework principles to the field of public welfare and to change an archaic county agent's office into a legitimate social service department. She used the same concepts of casework practice and public welfare policy in her role as a social work educator.
Vaile was born in Indiana and when she was about five her family moved to Denver where they became very prominent, socially and politically. She graduated from Vassar College, and moved to Chicago in 1909 to attend the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. While in Chicago, she was a resident at Chicago Commons, a settlement house founded by Graham Taylor. In 1913, she was asked by the Mayor of Denver to take a position on the City Board of Charities and Corrections and a year later became the executive director of the board It was in that context that she began to apply casework principles to a politically-run agency. This public social service department was the first of its kind in the United States. The Denver office used casework, case conferences, and friendly visitors. She also introduced the use of interagency case conferences at which representatives of all public and private social agencies met to marshal and coordinate community resources for clients she also made extensive use of volunteers.
During World War II, Vaile served as director of Civilian Relief for the Mountain Division of the American Red Cross and again found ways of applying casework principles. After the war, Vaile joined the field staff of the Family Service Association of America where she was associate field director until 1923. She left this position to
In 1926, Vaile was elected president of the National Conference of Social Work. . In her presidential address before the conference she spoke of the decline of the kind of crusading social work leadership which had been so evident in the days of the progressive movement. She went on to identify the emergence of a new type of leadership in a field more concerned with day to day administration than with broad ideals in social vision. While lamenting the passing of the reform movement, Vaile stated that the present needs seemed to be for decentralized, diffused learning.
At Minnesota, she worked to strengthen the Association of Schools of Social Work which became the Council of Social Work Education, believing that the potential of social work education could be realized only if the various schools united and worked together. One of the principles she advocated in her administration of welfare programs and her teaching, was that government should assume the responsibility for the welfare of its people. One of her main accomplishments was to show that government could efficiently and effectively develop and maintain a rational system designed to meet human needs.