In April we celebrate both Women’s History Month and national Social Work Month. So it is fitting that we highlight a woman at Mount Sinai who was also a pioneer in social work, Miss Doris Siegel (1914-1971). Mount Sinai’s Department of Social Services (later Social Work) was created in 1907 and, since it was still a new field of service, the Department was initially managed by a series of nurses. By the mid-20th century, this was no longer the case, and in 1954, Doris Siegel was named Director of the Department. During her tenure, she updated and expanded the services of the Department, and spent time on broadening educational efforts in social work.
When Mount Sinai School of Medicine was forming in the 1960s, a new entity was created called the Department of Community Medicine (today’s Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health). In 1968 the Social Services was moved into Community Medicine as the Division of Social Work. In this new role, the mission of Social Work was to support the School through innovative community service programs, research, and participation in medical student education. (They had been training nursing students from the beginning.) These were all activities that staff in Social Work had been doing for many years, and being an official part of the School supported and encouraged them to continue.
In 1969, social work at Mount Sinai as an academic enterprise was recognized with the creation of the Edith J. Baerwald Professor of Community Medicine (Social Work), the first endowed chair in social work in an American school of medicine. (It was a gift of Jane B. Aron, a Trustee at Mount Sinai and a long-time supporter of Mount Sinai’s Department of Social Work.) Doris Siegel was installed in the chair at a special convocation ceremony in 1969, making her the first woman named to an endowed chair at Mount Sinai. She died two short years later, but is still remembered today as a “Pioneer in Social Work.”
The Baerwald Chair remained in the Division of Social Work through the tenure of two more Directors, Helen Rehr and Gary Rosenberg. Meanwhile, the broader Department had evolved and changed its named several times. In 2017, the Baerwald Chair in Social Work became the Baerwald Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health.