Helen HarrisPerlman

Helen Harris Perlman pioneered the “Chicago School” of social work, arguing that many people in crisis needed short-term therapy and solutions rather than long-term Freudian analysis. Perlman earned a BA from the University of Minnesota in 1926 and won several undergraduate prizes for her writing, but writing and teaching jobs for Jewish women were scarce. Instead she began working as a counselor for the Jewish Social Service and was increasingly compelled by the stories of those she helped, spending eighteen years as a caseworker in settings ranging from family services to psychiatric clinics. She went on to earn a master’s in social work from Columbia in 1943 and begin teaching at the University of Chicago in 1945. In 1957 Perlman published Social Casework: A Problem-Solving Process, which argued that society’s pressures and values affected which solutions work in different cases, and focused on flexible responses to people in crisis. Perlman served on the editorial boards of the Journal of American Orthopsychiatry and Social Work. She continued to teach graduate courses at the University of Chicago long after her official retirement, and was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Council on Social Work Education in 1992.

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A pioneering figure in social work education, Helen Harris Perlman developed the "Chicago School" of social work theory, an approach that has influenced social work education and practice around the world. For more than seventy years, till her death at the age of ninety-nine, she remained a respected expert in the field to which she had devoted a lifetime.

Institution: University of Chicago

Date of Birth

St. Paul, MN
United States

Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Hellen Harris Perlman." (Viewed on May 13, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/perlman-helen>.


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