BPD Update Online, Fall 2003
The Pittsburgh Survey
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Meryl Nadel, DSW
Iona College


When the BPD Conference met in Pittsburgh last fall, its attendees walked – literally – in the footsteps of such social work and social reform pioneers as Florence Kelley, Edward T. Devine, Paul U. Kellogg, Robert A. Woods, Elizabeth Beardsley Butler, Margaret F. Byington, Florence L. Lattimore, and others. These Progressive Era experts, along with many colleagues, were responsible for the fieldwork and publication of the Pittsburgh Survey. The physical environment of the 2002 conference, with its lovely park at the confluence of Pittsburgh's three rivers, replaced what was - in the early 20th century - the grimy, industrial, crowded, disease-ridden, and impoverished neighborhood known as The Point. Now, as then, an important part of the Pittsburgh landscape, it offers a visual reference and symbol for the city.

The Pittsburgh Survey of 1907-08 serves as the exemplar for the social survey movement in social work, a now dimly-remembered contribution to social work research and social reform. Probably influenced by Charles Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London (1902-1904) and Jane Addams et al’s Hull House Maps and Papers (1895), the Survey was a project of the journal Charities and The Commons and was directed by Paul Underwood Kellogg (Zimbalist, 1977). Following an earlier “social investigation” of Washington, DC published in the journal; its staff was invited to Pittsburgh to study social conditions. When minimal initial funding was generously supplemented by the Russell Sage Foundation, a massive undertaking was organized.

In 1907, Pittsburgh was the fifth largest city in the country and had experienced rapid industrial growth and massive immigration. The city was particularly interesting to the researchers because of the perception that industrialization had been so rapid that living and working conditions could not keep pace. Progressive reforms taking place in other American cities were hindered in Pittsburgh by the oppressive power of both the industrialists and the political machine.

The goals of the study were three: investigation, publicity, and reform. Typical of the Progressive Era approach to problem solving, the researchers’ plan involved ascertaining and exposing the facts, educating the public and those in positions of power, and endeavoring to implement lasting reforms. This was research with an attitude: its intention was to improve life in Pittsburgh as well as to provide a model for intervention in other urban centers.

The yearlong study’s breadth and depth were truly impressive. About 50 researchers spent varying amounts of time on the work, some living in local settlement houses, others with the working poor. In addition to four lengthy monographs dealing with women’s work, work-accidents, steel workers, and the steel mill town of Homestead; other issues investigated included the following: housing laws, typhoid, the court system, child labor, sanitation, foster care and orphanages, various immigrant groups, schools, the transit system, libraries, playgrounds, factory inspection, etc. Numerous articles, six books, educational exhibits, and talks to a range of civic and professional groups conveyed the findings to a broad audience. The study quickly produced reforms in the areas of city government, public education, public health, city planning, and taxes. The Survey idea spread rapidly to other cities, but the concept soon proved too broad and expensive. More focused surveys were performed, but the movement died out entirely by the end of the 1920s.

Research approaches employed by the investigators were multi-faceted and produced rich data. Quantitative and qualitative methods were combined; exhibits and publications included charts and tables, graphs, maps, individual and family narratives, photography, sketches, as well as straightforward and engaging descriptions of working and living conditions, economic and health issues, political and social concerns. On the cover of this Update and the pages that follow, you will see a small sample of the art and graphics of the Pittsburgh Survey. In Kellogg's words, "We wanted to make the town real to itself; not in goody-goody preachment of what it ought to be; not in sensational discoloration; not merely in a formidable array of rigid facts. . . . This is why we tried to tell our findings through the eye as well as through the written word." (Kellogg, 1914a, p. 510).

*The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Diana Breen, Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at Iona College (CELTIC), for her help in reproducing the original artwork and graphics.

Resources and Sources

Butler, E. B. (1911). Women and the trades. New York: Charities Publication Committee.

Byington, M. F. (1910). Homestead: the households of a mill town. New York: Charities
Publication Committee.

Chambers, C. (1971). Paul Kellogg and the Survey: Voices for social welfare and social
Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Eastman, C. (1910). Work-accidents and the law. New York: Charities Publication

Fitch, J. A. (1910). The steel workers. New York: Charities Publication Committee.

Gutman, J. M. (1967). Lewis W. Hine and the American social conscience. New York:

Huff, D. D. (1998). Every picture tells a story. Social Work, 43, 576-583.

Kellogg, P. U. (Ed.). (1914a). The Pittsburgh district: civic frontage. New York: Survey

Kellogg, P. U. (Ed.). (1914b). Wage-earning Pittsburgh. New York: Survey Associates.


Zimbalist, S. E. (1977). Historic themes and landmarks in social welfare research. New
York: Harper & Row.

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 25, No. 3, Fall 2003

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