Not long ago, I had the pleasure to visit with Mary Wells, the founding director and visionary behind Oaks Integrated Care. Mary has been a mentor and inspiration for me since my earliest days at Oaks and I try to keep in touch with her. As I left her house, I thought about what a truly remarkable and accomplished person she is – and what a remarkable woman she is. I thought about her amazing efforts to start a social service organization and grow it into something so much more. And it caused me to connect Mary with so many other amazing, remarkable and accomplished women who have contributed to our community, nation and world.
March is not only Women’s History Month but also National Social Work Month. How fitting! Women have been trailblazers and leaders in the field of social work since its inception. There have been women like Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix and Mary Wells, who have New Jersey ties while Octavia Hill, Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr and Mary Ellen Richmond made their marks in Britain and across the U.S. Having just recently observed the 100th anniversary of both World War I and women’s suffrage, I was reminded of the rise of professional social work as a response to the needs of America’s veterans and vulnerable populations, including widows and orphaned children. Burlington County’s own Alice Paul, along with Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony helped ensure that women secured the right to vote. By doing this, they helped elevate and empower women in the polling place, the workplace and throughout society.
My own decision to go into social work was influenced by my mother, who had committed to that vocation years earlier. She was my primary inspiration and model. As I followed in her path, I met many more amazing women like her and Mary. I have had the pleasure and honor to work and engage with a multitude of dedicated professional women making impact in the lives of those they serve. Some have been teachers and instructors. Some are colleagues while others are young women just entering the field, who feel a similar call to serve their fellow human beings with compassion, commitment and excellence.
There is a quote from Sir Isaac Newton that refers to his accomplishments being possible because he was “standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is no less true of the work we do at Oaks, in social work, or practically any field. It is because of the achievements of bold, visionary, usually unconventional people before us that we are able to do what we do, to make further impact in our community and the world. We stand in a long line of these amazing predecessors that include well-known names like Barton, Dix, Addams, Paul, Mott, Anthony, Wells, and those less known — our grandmothers and mothers, teachers, counselors or others who inspired us. I hope you’ll take time before this month is over – and throughout the year – to reflect on remarkable women who have inspired you and share in the celebration of their accomplishments – and yours!
Derry Holland, LCSW
CEO, Oaks Integrated Care