Comments by Ian and Peter Jenkins
We begin these comments, which are intented to reflect on the personal side of our mother, Shirley Jenkins, by expressing heart-felt thanks and deep gratitude to the Columbia University Trustees and the staff of JBFCS, the Columbia University School of Social Work, and the Center for the Study of Social Work Practice. The thanks and gratitude are first for supporting the establishment of the Center. Although the Center could not have been planned for as a life's ambition, in many ways Shirley's personal life was a preparation for it. It certainly was the culmination of her professional life. Secondly, we would like to thank all of the JBFCS and CUSSW personnel who were so supportive and understanding during her illness. The acts of kindness and grace bestowed upon her during that time were reflective of individuals who have special, soulful qualities.
Shirley's early years were often traumatic. She was born in New York in 1919, as the country was about to be swept up in the roaring 1920's. To her father the lure of its risk and promotionalism was a temptation that could not be be resisted. In effect, her mother was a single mother at that time when it was not glorified by sitcoms or verified by political leaders. Rather, the time was a harsh combination of financial and personal uncertainty and struggle. The extended family or grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was often the only protection Shirley and her mother felt they had from hunger and homelessness. The values that Shirley seemed to have most incorporated into her life from this period were those of hard and precise work, education, social awareness, and the worth of family. Shirley was devoted to her grandchildren and organizing relationship building activities within our extended family. Her professional work, e.g. the series of studies and writings on the foster care system during the 1960's and 1970's, also reflected her concern for family.
As a child and adult, Shirley directed much of her energy to education. She never waivered, despite hardship, from academic pursuit, at which Shirley excelled. She skipped several elementary and middle school grades, and as family folklore has it, she graduated from Brooklyn College at age of 19. This demanding academic vigor was no doubt the eventual bane of many students in the Master's and Doctoral programs at the Columbia School of Social Work.
Shirley's social awareness was acutely honed in New York City during the Depression years. Injustice was an anathema to her. The brief period during World War II that she and our father David lived in South Carolina (while he was teaching at Clemson) exposed her to other racial and economic injustices. After the war, Shirley and David both became active in international affairs. She researched economic and social conditions and worked for the then developing United Nations. He was employed as an economist for the Treasury and State Department.
The wave of repression and the McCarthy hearing beginning in the late 1940's sent the message that social awareness was not desired or even tolerated. The 1950's then became a period of redirection. Adapting to this new reality, Shirley became even more devoted to research as a form of advocary. As others in this newsletter well describe, Shirley applied her many talents to the field of social work, and in particular, social research. Columbia University became a cherished and special place for her. She strove to contribute to the University's stature and future and drew a great measure of satisfaction in return.
As Shirley retired from direct service to the University, she undertook the founding of the Center for the Study of Social Work Practice. This unique environment allowed her to deploy her research skill and experience in direct support of agency activities that would impact people's lives. The tightening of the feedback cycle between research and practice held for her the potential to substantially advance both. Although she was not able to see the full realization of this vision, she did witness several of the Center's success that gave her great joy. She had the utmost faith in those who would follow her and who will, we are sure, continue to strive to fulfill that vision.
Ian and Peter Jenkins