BPD Update Online, Fall 2003
African American Pioneers: Isabel Burns Lindsay
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One of the first to write about the contributions of African Americans to social welfare was Inabel Burns Lindsay (1900-1983). Lindsay received her MSW from the University of Chicago, School of Social Administration in 1937 and her DSW from the University of Pittsburgh in 1952. Urged to join the faculty at Howard University by social worker and sociologist E. Franklin Frazier who was her classmate as a Urban League Fellow, she taught social work classes to undergraduate students in the sociology department in the late 1930s. Despite being warned of its impossibility, Lindsay envisioned creating a graduate school of social work to meet the demand for professionally trained African American social workers. Segregation limited admittance of African Americans to most schools of social work. At the time Atlanta University's School of Social Work was the only other institution that catered to African Americans.

Lindsay worked to establish the school and became its first dean in 1945. She served in this capacity for 22 years. She was a champion for social work, civil rights and social work education for all people. She did not tolerate racial discrimination by agencies or the profession. Lindsay was the first to speak out against the practice of schools of social work assigning African American students to only public welfare agencies. Students were seldom placed in the more coveted hospitals or mental health settings. As a result of her advocacy, the American Association of Schools of Social Work (former name for the Council on Social Work Education) investigated and found discriminatory practices did exist. Hawkins and Daniels (1985) go on to describe her activist stance with local agencies:

Locally, she organized a boycott with the social work staff at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to protest the policy that Blacks, including students, could not eat in the hospital cafeteria. In situations, where she could not change racist policies, she removed her students from the agency. She did this with agencies that would not permit students to use the restroom facilities as white students and clients, and agencies that trained students to call Black clients by first names and white clients by last names prefaced with courtesy titles.

Lindsay retired as Dean in 1967 but remained active in numerous social work and civic organizations until her death in 1983. In her later years, she was active in the field of gerontology, advocating for quality care and services for Black elders.

More African American Pioneers are on the next page...

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

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