NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Martha Gorovitz Waldstein
(1902 - 2000)
The unifying principle of Waldstein's productive career has been to bring the depth of psychological understanding, and thus more meaningful help, to all clients in all the situations they confront. She has demonstrated the validity of this approach in practice and education, both at an early point in time and in settings which may not have appeared to be fertile ground.
Waldstein came the US when she was six, speaking only Russian. In 1925, she was graduated from Radcliffe College with honors, majoring in French and with a minor in psychology. A career counselor directed her to a position at Boston Psychopathic Hospital where she encountered Maida Solomon, another social work pioneer. She had her introduction to social work, beginning her life-long training in psychological approaches to ill people.
She obtained a scholarship from the Association of Federated Jewish Charities to attend Smith College School of Social Work. Upon graduation in 1927, she was hired by AFJC to introduce psychological principles into their department of mental hygiene and to become consultant to their staff. Her next position was a Chief of Psychiatric Social Work in the Rhode Island Clinic where she worked until her marriage.
After the birth of her first son, she volunteered for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, testing the law which remained in only two states (Massachusetts and Connecticut) against giving women information about birth control. One evening, the entire staff, including Waldstein, was arrested. When the case reached the Massachusetts Supreme Court on appeal four years later, Waldstein appeared in court, seven months pregnant with her second son. She continued her advocacy to change the law concerning birth control information.
Waldstein worked for the First Service Command of the Army in Boston as the only woman in their Information Service in the Department of Neuropsychiatry. She viewed this as a wonderful position for crisis intervention in a difficult transition period for the young men who were drafted in World War II. She continued after the war to help the men coming back.
In 1948 she accepted a position at the Judge Baker Guidance Center and later joined the faculty of Simmons College School of Social Work. At Simmons, she was assigned to head a training grant at the Beth Israel Hospital to help students focus on the psychological elements in illness and to work with the "whole human being who is ill". During the eight years she was at Beth Israel, she also became the Chief Psychiatric Social Worker at the Children's Psychiatric Clinic.
Waldstein contributed to every facet of the school and community, teaching in the Human Behavior sequence, the psychiatric casework sequence, to women returning to school and to supervisors. She headed the Field Work Department for many years after the school became "generic" so that every student could benefit from psychological principles and a unified approach to clients. She retired from Simmons in 1970.
After her retirement, she worked for many years at the Massachusetts Mental Health Clinic and volunteered to head a Supervision Service offered to members of NASW in Massachusetts.