Jessie Taft: Biography of this symbolic interactionism reference

Jessie Taft (1882-1960) was pioneer philosopher and sociologist of symbolic interactionism, The Women’s Movement and the Discipline of Social Work. However, these contributions are often dismissed as being best known for making important translations of the work of psychoanalysts Otto Rank and Sigmund Freud.

In addition, Taft belongs to a generation of women scientists who have been confronted with multiple forms of professional exclusion and segregation, among other things due to the strong rejection of the assimilation of feminine values ​​in the public sphere, reserved exclusively for men. .

She was also one of the women who joined the Chicago School of Women and approached the waters of the women’s movement from a social conscience perspective, highlighting the psychological conflicts that women scientists went through at the time.

In this article, we will follow the work of García Dauder (2004; 2009) through get closer to the life and work of Jessie Taft through a brief biography, By paying attention to their theoretical contributions and to the social context in which they were developed.

    Biography of Jessie Taft: a pioneer of social work

    Jessie Taft was born on January 24, 1882 in Iowa, United States. She was the oldest of three sisters, daughters of a businessman and a housewife mother. After attending high school at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa; he studied higher education at the University of Chicago.

    In the latter, he trained with George Mead, a sociologist known to have laid the foundations of symbolic interactionism and who participated as thesis supervisor. the same he was educated in the pragmatist tradition of the Chicago School.

    In the same context, Taft met Virginia Robinson, a woman with whom he adopted two children and who had been his life partner for over 40 years. Among the many subversive phrases she provided, Jessie Taft said that in America, where business mutinies for culture, it was not uncommon to find single women seeking companionship and refuge in another woman with whom establish links of criteria and similar values, which are difficult to find. with a husband (Taft, 1916).

    On the other hand, Jessie Taft’s doctoral thesis work in the same context was called “The Women’s Movement from a Social Consciousness Perspective”. Of social conscience), where he problematized the tensions between the private and the publicPay attention to how political, economic and social transformations have shaped the ‘self’, especially in relation to the conflicts women face at home and at work.

      The Hull house and the beginnings of social work

      Founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gate Starr, the Hull House Community Center has become a meeting place for many women (several reformers and social scientists from the University of Chicago). They quickly generated an important network of contacts and collaboration.

      This network has succeeded qualitative and quantitative research work recognized as the Chicago School of Women Sociology, And that, among other things, it has had a significant impact not only on American sociology, but also on the social and legislative situation, for example on the question of social and racial inequalities, immigration, health, child labor and exploitation.

      At the same time, it was a context of important social transformations generated by industrial capitalism. Chicago schoolgirls, as well as some well-known sociologists such as Mead, Dewey, William Isaac Thomas and others, questioned the strong androcentrism that marked the discipline and recognized the need to expand both participation of women and the presence of feminine values ​​in the public space.

      Meanwhile, and on the opposite side, management and access to higher education have been marked by gender and disciplinary segregation, Which means that there were “junior” colleges intended only for women, the objective was to curb the growing feminization of female students.

      Likewise, and in the disciplinary realm, sociology transferred some of its content to a new school, in which much of the reform and political content work done by the Chicago Women’s School also failed. This school was that of “Social Work”. And it was precisely in this context that Jessie Taft was moved from sociology to social work, and subsequently inaugurated a school known as “clinical sociology.”

      Among other things, this resulted in the shift of women’s values ​​towards activities related to the new, later underestimated discipline, social work; and the masculine values ​​towards the academic institution and sociology that have developed here. As a result, Jessie Taft and many other women scientists encountered serious difficulties in accessing teaching or research positions at different universities.

      Social work and clinical sociology

      In the context of a women’s rehab center in New York State, Jessie Taft continued to criticize seeing these women as having< déficiences mentales >> and argued that there could be rehabilitation focused not so much on them. Same, but in modify their environment and living conditions. For example, making sure they have sufficient financial resources or adequate education.

      These were the beginnings of “clinical sociology”, which then moved towards the social care of children already having different difficulties. restructuring adoption practices.

      After encountering various difficulties in accessing a job as both an auditor and a sociological researcher, Jessie Taft joined the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, which in particular made her a woman leader in this discipline.

        Symbolic interactionism and the women’s movement

        Jessie Taft argued that the women’s movement (which was caused by growing unease), it had its roots in a psychic conflict of this collective. They had desires for emancipation which they could not fulfill because social conditions did not allow them.

        He significantly underlined the need to make changes in a “social conscience” that it promotes domestic individualism around a depersonalized industrial order.

        In analyzing the social and economic transformations of industrial societies, Taft has been very careful in detailing how gender makes lived experiences different for men and women. Thus he argued that reforms could only be carried out when the individual’s “me” became aware of the subjectivities and social relations that were being built in industrial societies.

        Bibliographical references:

        • García Dauder, S. (2009). Jessie Taft. Symbolic interactionism, feminist theory and clinical social work. Social Work Today, 56: 145-156.
        • García Dauder, S. (2004). Conflict and social conscience at Jessie Taft. Athenea Digital, 6: 1.14.
        • Taft, J. (1916). “The women’s movement from a social conscience perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
        • The University of Chicago (2018). Ahead of its time. UChicago Magazine. Accessed June 20, 2018.Available at

        Leave a Comment