NASW Social Work Pioneer® Elaine Brody, who died on July 9 at age 91, is being remembered as one of the first social work practitioners to simultaneously conduct research of clients. Her efforts helped launch the specialization of aging studies.
Brody’s research at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center in the 1950s eventually led to one of her most popular books, called “Women in the Middle: Their Parent Care Years,” in 1990, which brought to light the challenges women faced in building their careers while simultaneously caring for their children and aging parents.
She explained that her in-house study of aging clients at the center led her from practice to research and back again into policy and practice.
At the time in the late 1950s, “almost nothing existed to benefit older people, but the curve was in the right direction,” she noted in her paper, “On Being Very, Very, Old: An Insider’s Perspective,” which was published in “The Gerontologist” in 2010. “It was an amazing few decades.”
Brody worked at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center for more than 35 years, as director of the department of human resources, associate director of research and as a senior research consultant.
Allen Glicksman, director of Research and Evaluation at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, worked with Brody at the center for several years.
Glicksman said Brody’s legacy on the study of the aging population as well as identifying the role of women in caregiving set in motion a whole new field of research.
“She looked at things as they relate to social work,” he said, noting that she highlighted the fact that social aspects of human life can affect health outcomes.
Brody should also be remembered for her important role in validating social workers as researchers, Glicksman said.
“She was a path-breaker in showing that social work matters,” he said. “She demonstrated this and — through research — made colleagues pay attention. She made a difference at the research level and also the policy level. She set the pattern.”
Brody, who received an MSW in 1945, was not afraid to make her case alongside medical and mental health professionals with higher degrees, Glicksman said.
“She was not intimidated,” he said. “She could be as tough as nails.”
The NASW Foundation says Brody’s many achievements included being named Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine in 1986 and receiving an honorary doctorate from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1987.
She was elected as a distinguished Scholar of the National Academies of Practice and served as president of the Gerontological Society of America. She served on the Congressional Advisory Panel on Alzheimer’s disease from 1987 to 1992.
Brody also served on the editorial boards of professional journals and on review committees at the National Institute of Mental Health, the Administration on Aging and a number of foundations.