Perlman, Helen Harris 1905-2004

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PERLMAN, Helen Harris 1905-2004

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born December 20, 1905, in St. Paul, MN; died of heart failure September 18, 2004, in Hyde Park, IL. Sociologist, educator, and author. Perlman, a pioneer sociologist, was considered the founder of the social service practice known as the "Chicago School." Originally a student of English literature who earned her B.A. in 1926 from the University of Minnesota, Perlman fell into social work after taking a summer job at the Chicago Jewish Social Service Bureau. At the time, social work was considered a nascent discipline, a kind of offshoot of psychology, and she found this new science fascinating. After holding a job as an administrator for New York City during the late 1930s, she enrolled at Columbia University, where she earned her master's degree in psychiatric social work in 1943 while also lecturing there through 1945. She then accepted a teaching post at the University of Chicago, where she became Samuel Deutsch Distinguished Service Professor before retiring in 1969. Through her practical, hands-on work and her academic work, Perlman began to fuse the two schools of thought that were popular in the early years of sociology. One approach was dominated by theories of Freudian psychology, and the other was a more functional approach that emphasized the relationship between social worker and the person being helped. To this mix, Perlman added knowledge that came from her own experience, and the result was the "Chicago School" of sociology that has since become general practice by all those in the profession. Her theories first came out in her seminal work, Social Casework: A Problem-solving Process (1957). Many more books would follow, including Persona: Social Role and Personality (1968), Relationship: The Heart of Helping People (1979), and Looking Back to See Ahead (1989). Despite her emphasis on sociology texts, Perlman remained in love with literature and writing, publishing short fiction and poetry in such magazines as the New Yorker.



Chicago Tribune, September 21, 2004, section 3, p. 11.


Chicago Chronicle, (October 7, 2004).