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Ruth Cooper (1898-1984)

Professor Emerita

Ruth Cooper contributed importantly to the development of the School of Social Welfare on the Berkeley campus during her quarter century's association with it. The period was filled with events of great import for the School: World War II; the return of the ex-soldiers to higher education; the plenitude of stipends from the National Institutes of Mental Health; the loyalty oath controversy in the University; the expansion of the social work profession; curricular changes in social work education; and the Free Speech Movement. It is against this background that we review Dr. Cooper's contributions.

Ruth was a native Californian, born in Red Bluff, the youngest of eight children, seven of whom lived to maturity. All the Coopers were educated for the professions, and four, including Ruth, became teachers. Most of them were University of California graduates. Ruth herself received the Bachelor's degree, with honors, from UCB in 1920, having majored in Social Economics. Graduation was followed by several decades of professional social-work practice with three interruptions for the pursuit of graduate education; namely, a year at the New York (now Columbia University) School of Social Work to study medical social work (1930-31); a Master's degree in psychiatric social work from the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago (1939); and a doctorate in social work from the University of Pittsburgh (1953).

During the 1920s and 1930s, Cooper was among the pioneers who developed the field of medical social work. In that specialty she occupied a series of supervisory and administrative positions in the social-service departments of the Camp Kearny (California) U.S. Veterans Hospital, the Los Angeles County Hospital, and Detroit's Harper Hospital, in that order. It was an already nationally recognized expert in the field who was invited to the Berkeley Campus in 1940 to develop a medical social-work specialization for students in a newly authorized Master's degree program in social welfare. This assignment called for designing classroom courses and for locating agencies that could provide proper field training on a graduate level. At that time there was a woeful scarcity of such facilities in the Bay Area. Accordingly, while still serving on our faculty, Ruth assumed a halftime appointment at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco in order to establish therein a social-service department, which she then headed for the next six years. This effort drew upon skills in relating to physicians and hospital administrators, which not many persons possess.

Initially appointed as Lecturer, Cooper advanced to Assistant Professor (1949) and then to Associate Professor (1953), lastly becoming Professor Emerita in 1965. Her primary teaching responsibility revolved around courses related to medical social work. She was a competent pedagogue. Her courses were thoroughly prepared and well organized. While her relationship with students was cordial and helpful, she never sought to nurture a cult of admirers. She performed importantly in the creation of the basic course in “human growth and change” required of all Master's level students in social welfare. She was a member of the committee that drafted the doctoral program for the School of Social Welfare and worked with the School of Public Health toward developing a joint program between the two schools. She served on many, and chaired a number, of the most important intra-mural committees dealing with such policy matters as admission requirements, curriculum advising, class-field relations, and faculty recruitment. For a time she was foreign-student advisor and also served briefly as Associate Dean in the School of Social Welfare.

Cooper's literary output, though quantitatively small, was nonetheless influential. Her doctoral dissertation, entitled, Determination of Eligibility for Medical Services in California Counties, was published and distributed by the California Hospital Association. In consequence of her writings, her rich practice experience, and her professional leadership, local and national bodies frequently called on her as an expert in medical social work. At various times she served as consultant to the U.S. Children's Bureau, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Veterans Administration. In 1956-57 she was honored as a Fulbright Research Scholar at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine of the University of London.

In line with her family's tradition, Ruth was a loyal alumna of the University of California throughout her life. She continued her close ties with the University community after retirement. She attended the periodic functions of the School of Social Welfare, the Women's Faculty Club, the Emeriti Association, and College Women's Club.

Cooper was a reserved and dignified woman with a strong sense of privacy. Although a quiet person, she never hesitated to speak out on matters she deemed important. In her daily work she wasted no energy in complaining and temporizing. Her efficiency enabled her to accomplish much in fulfilling responsibilities. She performed assigned tasks with dispatch and yet with conscientious attention to issues. During her academic tenure at Berkeley, the University in general and specifically the School of Social Welfare, experienced difficult, fast-changing, turbulent events. The many vexing dilemmas thereby generated called for wise decisions. To these decisions, Ruth Cooper, with her characteristic calm and good sense, contributed fully. A woman of broad interests, her reading was wide-ranging. During her vigorous years she traveled much both for personal pleasure and in response to professional demands. Her closest friends enjoyed her flashes of wit. She gave generously to charities without publicizing the fact. During her final years, she never complained about the discomforts of her failing health.

It seems characteristic of this well bred woman that when, on one of her travels, she checked in at an elegant hotel in Athens, Greece, the management sent to her room a vase of red roses addressed to “Lady Cooper.” She did not protest the title and graciously accepted the tribute. When she returned to Berkeley, she recounted this story with great amusement. It is not at all surprising to those who knew her that Ruth Cooper might be addressed as “Your Ladyship.”