As administrator of the Arthur Lehman Counseling Services in New York City, Ruth Fizdale developed a new kind of social agency—a not-for-profit, fee-for-service agency for a private clientele. That program lifted the aura of charity from social work services. Fizdale is credited for making modern social work a profession. The fees were set at a market rate for counseling services. She developed a fair salary scale along with incentive pay and a contingency fund to cover special program or personnel needs. The three dimensions fostered the professional status of social work in a successful program. The model was adopted by social agencies across the country. Fizdale also set national standards for the quality of services. She was mentor and educator to thousands of social workers.
She was born in Chicago on January 6, 1908, to Jewish immigrant parents. She had an older brother, Tom. Both parents came from czarist Russia. Her father, a grain elevator operator, moved the family to Dauphin, Manitoba, where she spent her early years in a rural community with little companionship with other children except in school. School was hiking distance away.
The family returned to Chicago. She attended the University of Chicago, where she took her bachelor’s degree. She claimed she was the only graduate of the university who was excused from learning to swim: she was unusually buoyant and could not put her feet down to touch bottom. She received a master’s degree from Smith College School of Social Work and an advanced study certificate from the University of Pennsylvania.
As chief of social services staff development for the Veterans Administration, she consulted with schools of social work and VA hospitals throughout the country, enhancing the schools’ curricula and the quality of social work health care services. As part of that effort, she helped create competitive stipends for students who would enter VA and other health care social services.
She also was a psychiatric caseworker at the Mandel Clinic of the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, and assistant executive director at the Jewish Family Service in Brooklyn and at the New York Association for New Americans. At NYANA, Fizdale used counseling and job training to help immigrants become self-sustaining within a year after entering the country.
To many, Fizdale perhaps is best known for her nineteen years as executive director of the Arthur Lehman Counseling Service (ALCS), where she helped pioneer and develop the fee-for-services system in not-for-profit agencies, removing the “charitable institution” aura from voluntary organizations. She chronicled ALCS’s first decade and a half in the book Social Agency Structure and Accountability, which was used in graduate schools, agencies, and private practice to standardize quality fee-paid social work services. ALCS, created to serve middle- and upper-income clients, was noted for charging reasonable fees and paying attractive salaries.
Fizdale was an adjunct associate professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She was a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and active on various committees from its inception in 1955, as well as a member of a predecessor organization starting in 1948. She was a founding member of the Competence Certification Board, which oversees the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She was a nine-year executive board member of NASW’s New York City chapter and an active member of the Council on Social Work Education, the National Conference on Social Welfare, and the New York State Conference on Social Welfare.
Fizdale was named the New York Social Worker of the Year in 1970, and received a recognition award in 1983 from the University of Pennsylvania for the advancement of social work practice. She was designated a fellow of the Brookdale Center on Aging of Hunter College for her service to the elderly.
Her major efforts were directed toward achieving quality in social work performance. She believed education was primary and continuing education was essential. In her will she created scholarships at four schools: the University of Chicago, Smith College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Hunter College, where she was a major contributor to both the design and implementation of the Hunter–Mount Sinai Academic–Practice model for the education of social workers in health care.
Ruth E. Fizdale died in New York City on October 25, 1994.
Obituary. NYTimes, November 2, 1994.
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Rehr, Helen. "Ruth E. Fizdale." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fizdale-ruth-e>.