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
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.