The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Bernece Kern Simon, 1914-2014 Social Work Pioneer for her generalist model of social work intervention and practice

Bernece Kern Simon AB '36, AM '42, Samuel Deutsch Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration  passed away on May 19, 2014. She was 99 years old.

James Baatz, AB '13 

Bernece Kern Simon

Simon was a pioneer in studying social work generalist practice theory and its connection with social work practice in casework.

“Bernece honored and built on the work of the founders of SSA.  She was an original thinker whose concept of generalist social work practice shaped the social work curriculum and field education program at SSA and schools across the country,” recalled Karen Teigiser, former Deputy Dean at SSA and senior lecturer who considered Simon a mentor.  “Noteworthy was the generous way in which she shared her knowledge through her teaching, her mentoring of doctoral students, her directing the field education program, and her devotion to the mission of the School.”

Simon received her master's degree from SSA. After several years as a social worker at the Jewish Children's Bureau, she returned to the University, where she was employed in the University Hospitals and Clinics first as a caseworker, then as a field instructor and staff supervisor. In 1944, she joined the SSA faculty as a field instructor and classroom teacher. She became an assistant professor in 1948. In 1961, she became chair of the generalist program and director of field instruction. She continued teaching casework in both the master's and the doctoral programs. In 1964, she was appointed professor and in 1975 was named Samuel Deutsch Professor, an honor awarded for outstanding scholarship and service to the University. She retired in 1979 and taught in the doctoral program for several years after that.

Outside of SSA, Simon held many other professional positions. She became the book review editor for Social Work in 1983. The next year, she was named a Distinguished Academic Associate of the National Academies of Practice. She served on the board of the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) as well as the national committees of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Simon was also on the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia of Social Work.

NASW named Bernece Simon as a Social Work Pioneer for her generalist model of social work intervention and practice which prepared students broadly for work at the micro level (with individuals and families) as well as at the macro level (with communities and with policy makers).

“Bernece was a go-to person, sought after as a teacher, colleague, counselor and friend,” said Emeritus Professor John R. Schuerman who worked with Professor Simon for decades. “Bernece avidly defended the clinical program in the context of urgings from some that it be downplayed in favor of enhancing the School’s policy emphasis,” Schuerman noted. “She deeply believed that both sides of the profession and the School were essential and must develop together.”

In 2002, SSA established the Bernece Kern Simon Teaching Fellowship, which recognizes her contributions to teaching and scholarship. This fellowship is awarded annually to doctoral students who are dedicated to becoming outstanding teachers.

Her husband of 66 years, Marvin L. (Bud) Simon, died in 2006. She is survived by her sister, Rachel Wolff of Woodland Hills, CA; her daughter, Anne, daughter-in-law Adrienne Cool, and grandson, Jesse Cool, all of Oakland, CA; and several nieces and nephews. 

Services and a reception were held at Temple KAM Isaiah Israel, 1100 East Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago, on Thursday, May 22, 2014.