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Walter Friedlander (1891-1984)

Professor Emeritus

On December 20, 1984, a heart attack ended the life of Professor Walter Friedlander, who, over a long career, achieved international distinction. He is survived by his daughter, Dr. Dorothee (Friedlander) Mindlin, a psychologist, and two grandchildren, Marcel and Melanie Mindlin. Friedlander's wife, Li, predeceased him in 1977.

Friedlander was born on September 20, 1891, in Berlin, Germany, to Hugo and Ernestine (Lichtenstein) Friedlander. The father, an accountant by profession, would take his son to meetings of the German Pacifist Society, of which he was a founder. He was a Quaker, whence originated Friedlander's own lifelong association with the Friends. Another influence was an uncle, Hugo Haase, who was an attorney, a public defender of the poor, a leader in the Independent Socialist Party, and eventually a Reichstag deputy. He inspired the young Friedlander to study law and generated in him an enduring concern for the socially and economically deprived.

After graduating from Berlin's Falk Real Gymnasium, Friedlander entered the University of Berlin and in 1913 was awarded the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B). World War I interrupted further studies. Friedlander was conscripted and served on the administrative staff of a Prisoner of War Camp in Germany. Released from military service, he married Li Bergman of Berlin in 1919 and resumed studies, soon earning the Ph.D. (1920).

In 1921, on passing the law examinations, Friedlander was admitted to the Berlin Bar. He practiced law briefly, when he was appointed to a post in the Potsdam Juvenile Court. Soon thereafter he was elected to the Berlin City Council from one of the city's largest and poorest districts. Accordingly, he was assigned supervision over child welfare. In that capacity he instituted innovative programs serving the needs of unemployed youth, juvenile delinquents, and children of employed and incapacitated mothers. Some of the programs attracted social workers from other countries, who came to observe them. Simultaneously he also served on the faculty of the Berlin School of Social Work, first as Lecturer and later as Associate Professor.

In 1933, with the advent to power of Hitler's National Socialist Party, Friedlander's career as a public servant ended. As a member of the Weimar government, he was persona non grata in the Third Reich. As his daughter describes it, when the Nazi police came to his office to arrest him, he was attending a meeting elsewhere. His co-workers managed to get word to him on his way back not to return to the office. He turned around and never did go back. Soon thereafter he managed to travel with his wife and daughter to Switzerland. Then he went to France where he became Executive Director of the Paris-based Social and Legal Services to German Refugees.

When Friedlander had been in Berlin, among the visitors coming to observe his programs were Grace Abbott, head of the U.S. Children's Bureau, and Sophonisba Breckenridge, Professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration (SSA). They called his work to the attention of Edith Abbott, Dean of SSA. Through the Chicago School's sponsorship, Friedlander obtained a lectureship at the University of Chicago, enabling him to enter the United States with his family in 1936.

In 1943 Professor Harry Cassidy, Chairman of our Department of Social Welfare, invited Friedlander to the Berkeley Campus. His initial appointment was as Lecturer, from which he progressed to Associate Professor (1948), Professor (1955), and Emeritus Professor (1959).

Among Friedlander's courses at Berkeley was an undergraduate survey course covering the broad field of social welfare. It was the origin of his popular book, Introduction to Social Welfare (Prentice-Hall, 1955). His publications in the form of books, monographs, articles, and book reviews, number just short of 200. Among them the Introduction is the best known and has been republished in five editions, the last in 1980 (with Dr. Robert Apte as co-author). It has been translated into 10 foreign languages and is probably the most widely adopted introductory text in undergraduate colleges and professional schools in this and other countries.

Friedlander will be remembered for his efforts to counteract parochialism in social-work education. As a teacher, writer, practitioner, and community leader he stressed that social welfare is an international phenomenon. For years he offered a seminar on international social welfare. He was a founder of the International Conference of Social Welfare and a member of the International Association of Schools of Social Work. He chaired the Commission on International Social Work of the local chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which met regularly in his home.

Friedlander enjoyed a long retirement, during which he produced two books, Individualism and Social Welfare (Free Press, 1962) and International Social Welfare (Prentice-Hall, 1975). He continued his teaching as Visiting Professor, first at Michigan State University (1959-60), and then at the University of Minnesota (1963-64). And he continued his voluminous world-wide professional correspondence. He worked till the end. In the morning of the day he died, he came, as he did each Thursday, to Haviland Hall to read the incoming letters and dictate his responses.

Honors came to our colleague in his lifetime. Among these were: a Fullbright Teaching Fellowship at the Free University of West Berlin (1956); the Great Cross of Merit and the Marie Juchacz Medal (1976), both from the German Federal Republic, for his contributions to the development of German social services; “Social Worker of the Year Award” of the National Association of Social Workers, Golden Gate Chapter (1971); and “Outstanding Social Worker” Citation of the Oakland (California) City Council (1978). In 1984 his friends and colleagues created “The Walter Friedlander Fund to Promote Education in International Social Welfare.” The Fund sponsors, among other projects, an annual lecture at Berkeley by someone who has contributed significantly to international social welfare.

With his numerous international contacts, Friedlander was for social workers a link to their fellow professionals abroad. His articles written for American and European journals described and interpreted developments in social welfare on one continent for readers living on the other. Foreign social workers traveling on the West Coast of the United States invariably found their way to the home of Walter and Li Friedlander, who hosted them and introduced them to their American counterparts. All who participated will long remember those soirées of enlightening discussion.