Martha Chickering

1886 – 1988

Respected advocate for the importance of social work accreditation

Martha Chickering made unique and significant contributions to the emergence of social work education in the state of California, resulting in the establishment of the State’s first professional school of social work education. Her dedicated background in social economics gave the developing field the academic legitimacy necessary for it to attain University sanction as an independent unit.

Martha graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1910 and began her life-long dedicated work in the social sciences. She attended the YWCA Training School in New York from 1911 to 1913 and used those skills to begin organizing activities for working girls. Later she expanded her outreach to immigrants in California, Nevada and Arizona. From 1918-1920 she headed the YWCA in the new nation of Poland, working with the American Relief Association, founded by Herbert Hoover, to assist in post-war reconstruction.

She continued her social work in the 1920’s becoming the District Secretary of the Associated Charities of Oakland and then for five years an executive of the local Red Cross. In 1928 she enrolled in the newly accredited social services certificate program in the Department of Economics at Berkeley and was soon hired by her professors to supervise social work field training. In 1932 she became the program’s director.

Returning to school, Chickering received her Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley in 1936. She was appointed Assistant Professor in Berkeley’s Curriculum in Social Service the same year, and was soon at work developing a fully-accredited school of social work offering the MSW degree. Toward this end she helped persuade the University that social work was an appropriate academic unit for research and training. With true spirit, Chickering became director of the California State Board of Social Welfare in 1939 and worked there diligently for six years.

Living a full life of public service, Chickering retired in 1945 and moved to the Mojave Desert, near Victorville, California. When she could no longer live alone, she moved to Pasadena to be close to friends. She died in 1988, at the age of 102.

Martha Chickering’s impact on the education of social workers, and her contributions to social work practice in the Bay Area as well as social policy at the State level were exemplary. Today, the Martha Chickering Fellowship at Cal Berkeley awards $3,000 to a master’s degree student preparing for a career in the public social services.

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