Wellspring Archives: June J. Joslyn, Our Agency's First Psychiatric Social Worker

  • By Deborah Townsend
  • Posted 5/07/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10080
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This People's History is based on the early records of Wellspring Family Services, a private, non-profit organization helping families and children in Seattle and King County overcome life’s challenges. Founded in 1892 as the Bureau of Associated Charities, Wellspring Family Services has operated under a succession of names. At the time of the events described in this essay, it was called the Seattle Social Welfare League. This essay describes the work of June J. Joslyn, the organization's first psychiatric social worker. The organization's services have changed over the years, but have always centered on a commitment to a stronger, healthier community. Wellspring’s archives illuminate the development of social work as a profession, the growth of the non-profit sector, and the relationship between private non-profits and governmental agencies.  This is one of a series enttitled "Out of the Archives," and appeared in February 2012 in Wellspring's monthly internal newsletter, The Fiddlehead. It was written by Wellspring Family Services executive assistant Deborah Townsend.

June J. Joslyn: Our Agency's First Psychiatric Social Worker

In the early 1920s, Board and staff members of the Seattle Social Welfare League, as our agency was then called, were increasingly interested in the "mental hygiene" movement and its value in social service work. "Mental hygiene" was an interdisciplinary approach applying psychiatry and psychology to public health and social work, often with focus on children and youth. One early factor was the effort to rehabilitate delinquents brought to the Juvenile Courts. The movement soon expanded to emphasize what we would call preventive intervention for at-risk children, and then to improving mental and emotional health for all children.

In 1926, the Social Welfare League brought a Mental Hygiene Expert -- we'd say psychiatric social worker -- into the staff in a pilot project, with special funding raised by the agency's Child Welfare Committee. Our Wellspring archives include a draft contract with a June J. Joslyn for this project, as well as her summary report of activities from October 1, 1926 to July 1, 1927, with suggestions for next steps.

Joslyn had started her career as a teacher for children with developmental delays. She graduated from the New York School of Social Work in 1920, and immediately joined the teaching staff there as Supervisor of Social Case Work in Mental Hygiene. Her particular expertise was in child guidance and delinquency prevention. The New York School of Social Work was affiliated with Columbia University and operated by the Charity Organization Society of New York, so she would have been quite familiar with agencies and programs like ours when she arrived in Seattle.

Joslyn's contract at the Social Welfare League split her time between "demonstration" and "education." Demonstration involved building a case for further mental hygiene services. She was to spend half her time reviewing the League's case files, calling out those where a "constructive mental hygiene" approach could be most beneficial. The data would prove "the necessity and value of a clinic and of mental hygiene work in general."

The educational aspect of her contract had three themes. First, Joslyn was expected to consult with Friendly Visitors (volunteer caseworkers) about specific cases. Second, she would give a class or lecture series for staff members about applying constructive mental hygiene methods in family case work. Third, she would spend time "working up interest in a Mental Health Clinic" in Seattle, for example by giving lectures at women's clubs or other public venues.

In summer 1927, June Joslyn reported to the Board of Directors that she had taught a 27-hour class for staff and a 36-hour class for the University of Washington Extension. She gave 27 lectures for a wide range of audiences, such as Parent-Teacher Associations at local schools, the University of Washington Sociology Club, and the Senior Nurses and Ladies Auxiliary of the Everett Hospital. She found a high level of interest in the subject of mental hygiene and desire for a clinic of some sort, particularly a child guidance clinic.

Concerning her clinical consultations, Joslyn expressed some dismay that case workers "have not referred the type of cases which would profit most by special psychiatric treatment ... to a large extent [because] they do not recognize symptoms early enough." On the other hand, 20 staff members had referred 44 cases to her "and several have had repeated conferences regarding their cases and have definitely profited thereby. Two workers in particular have shown a decided interest in and ability for this type of work." June Joslyn also consulted at other agencies -- including Traveler's Aid, the YWCA, and the High School Girl's Advisers Group -- regarding psychiatric problems in their work.

Joslyn reiterated the level of need and the level of interest in mental hygiene at the Social Welfare League and throughout the social service community, but in conclusion she recommended an independent Mental Hygiene Clinic. "Mental Hygiene work is primarily medical; it must have a medical backing, and this could probably be secured for a State Committee of Mental Hygiene where it could not thru [sic] any social or charitable agency." A footnote to the report clarifies that she means a state-wide organization of mental-hygiene professionals, not a state government department. She proposes creating such an organization with some initial financial and organizational backing from the Social Welfare League, to become a fully independent organization within the next year.

With support from our agency, June J. Joslyn went on to become the founding Executive Secretary of the new Washington State Mental Hygiene Society. She later held similar positions in Wisconsin and Oregon.

Mental health for children and families remained a focus for the Social Welfare League in the 1920s and 1930s -- and remains so for Wellspring Family Services today.

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