Alice Salomon (April 19, 1872 – August 30, 1948) was a German social activist, reformer, feminist, and founder of one of the first schools of social work, Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences, in Berlin, Germany. She initiated and conducted important research in the area of social work, which contributed to social work itself being recognized as a scientific discipline.
One of the first women to earn a doctorate degree in Germany, Salomon was a pioneer in women's movements and became an example to other women who wished, as she did, to received an advanced education and pursue a career path beyond that traditionally considered women's work. She lived in service to others, spending her life advancing opportunities for all women and in improving conditions of life for those in need.
Alice Salomon was born on April 19, 1872, in Berlin, Germany, the second daughter of five children born to Albert Salomon (1834-1886) and his wife, Anna Potocky (1838-1914). She completed nine years of basic education, typical for girls of her time. Her Jewish background mixed with a rather liberal upbringing, however, probably contributed to her dream to continue studies and pursue a career. Even though she converted to Protestantism in 1914, the Protestant "work ethic" also contributed to her desire to accomplish much in her life. As that time, however, the most that she could hope to achieve was to become a teacher.
In 1893, Salomon engaged in social work within "Girls' and Women's Groups for Social Service Work," an organization of middle-class women dedicated to overcoming different social problems. She worked in various institutions for girls and homes for working women, becoming the chairman of the organization in 1899. By the age of 27, she already had a reputation for being a dedicated social activist, standing firmly by her beliefs.
In 1900, Salomon became a member on the board of the Federation of German Women's Associations, an organization she stayed with for almost twenty years. The chairman of the association was Gertrud Bäumer, a famous feminist leader of the time. Salomon also worked in various commissions that dealt with protection of women workers, and took an active part in the International Council of Women. She became secretary of the organization in 1909, and a vice president in 1920.
Salomon enrolled in the Berlin University in 1902, in guest status, for she did not have sufficient qualifications for formal admittance. After publishing two articles on the German women's movement, she was recognized as a qualified student and was admitted to the university in full status. She received her doctorate degree in 1906. Her dissertation dealt with unequal pay for men and women, a rather controversial topic in the women's movement at the time.
In 1908, Salomon founded the Social School for Women (Soziale Frauenschule) in Berlin, which had as its goal the training of women as future social activists. It admitted only women applicants until 1945. The school was one of the first schools of social work that trained women. Since social work was not regarded as a profession at the time, no textbooks existed in the field. Thus, Salomon and her colleagues had to construct their own theories of social work. Salomon believed that social work theory needed to be rooted in both theory and practice, which would deal with a wide range of social problems. She regarded the existing tendency toward overall specialization as damaging to the field.
Solomon’s approach to social work became further improved after she founded the German Academy for Social and Educational Women's Work, which offered university level courses. In 1926, she and Gertrud Bäumer, among others, established the Research Division, which did extensive research in the field of social work, effectively combining theory with practice.
In 1916-1917, Salomon established the Conference of German Schools for Social Work, which she chaired until 1933, and in 1929, she helped found the International Association of Schools for Social Work (IASSW).
In 1932, she received the Prussian State’s Medal and an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty of the Berlin University for her contributions to the area of public welfare.
In 1932, the Social School for Women was renamed the "Alice Salomon School," in commemoration of Alice Salomon's 60th birthday. In 1933, after the Nazis came to power in Germany, Alice Salomon, along with her Jewish colleagues, were banned from the school. In 1937, she was expelled from Germany and emigrated to the United States. She lost her German citizenship in 1939.
Alice Salomon died on August 30, 1948, in New York City.
Alice Salomon was one of the most distinguished social activists in the beginning of the twentieth century, and one of the early pioneers in the international women’s movement. Throughout her career, she kept in touch with other women’s leaders, mostly from the U.S. and Great Britain, including Jane Addams.
Through her dedication, she helped social work proliferate into a distinct scientific discipline, based on solid theory and empirical research. As an instructor and director of the Social School for Women, she shaped social service education that was taught for decades. Being one the first women to earn a doctorate degree in Germany, she became an example to numerous women who followed in her footsteps.
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