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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
(1980)

Wood, Vivian
Chapter 11: Helen Clarke and social work,   pp. 67-71 ff.


Page 67


11. Helen Clarke and Social Work
by Vivian Wood
No one would describe Helen Clarke at eighty-two as "a nice docile old
lady." Most people who have known her would laugh at that description.
So
would Helen Clarke.
Professor Clarke, who was known for twenty-five years as the University
of Wisconsin's "one-woman department of social work," is proud
of her role
in helping social work become a professional, public-accepted field. She
is a
woman who had great influence on the form that the School of Social Work
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has taken. Much of its national
reputation can be traced to its strong foundations in the social sciences.
Helen Clarke, in 1977, after a dozen years of retirement, is still the feisty,
forthright woman she was in the forty-five years she taught social work in
Wisconsin. Her directness may have made enemies on occasion; it also won
her respect and admiration. On the occasion of her retirement from the
university in 1965, a former colleague observed, "Your capacity to look
at
yourself as unflinchingly as you looked at others was much admired by me."
Clarke is a woman who knows herself well - both her strengths and her
weaknesses, and she has never tried to hide either. She set rigorous standards
for her students - and for herself. The good students remember and appreci-
ate that rigor. And some of them have made it a part of their own profes-
sional lives.
An early student remembers Clarke's courses as ones which "separated
the adults from the children." "You have a gift," she wrote,
"which is fortu-
nate to encounter in a teacher - idealism which is also practical and realistic,
and thus genuinely inspiring forever."
One former student wrote on the occasion of Clarke's retirement: "I
have
been given the high privilege of influencing another generation of our profes-
sion - and hope that I may in some small measure contribute to my students
as you have given to me." Another wrote: "The most vital lesson
you taught
me was one you practiced rather than preached. You are a perfect example
that learning must never cease, that the traditional way is not necessarily
the
best way."
Clarke was persuaded to come to the University of Wisconsin in 1920 by
sociology professor John L. Gillin to take part in a two-year demonstration
project on the teaching of social work. Gillin, an authority on poverty crimi-
nology and an advocate of more skill in handling social problems, persuaded
the Red Cross which had conducted emergency social work training during
World War I to fund the two-year demonstration project at the University
of
Wisconsin.
Clarke left her job in community planning at the Division Office of the
American Red Cross in Chicago to come to Madison to teach the first dis-
tinctly social work courses at the university. Gillin, a reformer concerned
about social problems, had taught sociology courses with a social work slant
and was anxious to expand social work education at the university. Clarke
was the first of the social workers he brought to the university to implement
these plans.
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