Our year comprised close to 60 students, mostly full-time, the majority of whom were from across Canada, but with a liberal sprinkling of students from around the world. Some of us entered the master’s program straight from undergraduate studies, while others had already worked in the field of social work or allied fields. This created a diverse body of students which led to a healthy cross-fertilization of ideas, experience, and expectations. Some had been seconded by their employers to undertake this course and would be returning to employment on completion of their studies, while others only developed a clearer understanding of what they hoped to achieve while at McGill or following graduation.
While a number of students had previously studied at McGill and were familiar with both campus life and what Montreal had to offer, for many this was a new departure on both fronts, and for some a great contrast to what they had previously experienced. For some students it was a lonely sojourn far away from home and family for the duration of the two-year course. The majority of students were single, but others were married and/or had families to look after in addition to the arduous demands of the course. Some got engaged or married during this period. The extent to which individual students participated in campus activities varied enormously therefore, but there was nevertheless a great sense of camaraderie, often fostered by close proximity on fieldwork placements as well as being fellow students on certain courses.
The memorable profs
Some of the professors who stand out from this era are Larry Shulman, who taught group work, Sheila Goldbloom, who taught community organization, and Allan Sirkus, who taught psychodrama. Each made a lasting impact one way or another. It would seem we were a bolshie lot. For example, when Mrs. Stevenson proposed setting an exam in casework in our first year we unanimously voted her down! We don't remember a single exam being set in the whole two years of the program, assessment having being made on the basis of class participation and presentations, term papers and fieldwork performance. Larry Shulman introduced the alternative of being graded on a pass/fail basis but this did not find favour with everyone; some felt this would be detrimental to their chances of further study.
Penelope Winship recalls this humourous incident: Those of us who took Professor Dorothy Freeman's class on marriage therapy were invited to her home for dinner at the end of the course. When we got there we were given a tour of the Freemans' sumptuous apartment. Barbara Findlay, on seeing the size of the marital bed, couldn't help but exclaim, “Wow, get the size of the bed!!!”
Miss Griffiths was another memorable faculty member. As Admissions Officer she took no prisoners, and proved a formidable faculty advisor to those who had the benefit of her input when doing research and writing their theses. She was not known to mince words and was a fierce critic. Penelope Winship agreed to write an article for the PGSS newspaper during the academic year of 1969-70. Upon its publication, Miss Griffiths hauled poor Penelope into her office and went through the article with a fine tooth comb, having underlined much of it in thick red felt tip for emphasis, to register her disapproval and point out errors of fact. She concluded by saying, “You should have consulted me first!” The article hung on Penelope's bedroom wall for the remainder of her time at McGill and was the first thing she saw when opening her eyes every morning, as an object lesson.
Miss Griffiths did, however, have a more tender side to her disposition. When interviewing applicants for admission her poodle, Eloise, sat in on the interviews, and was known to have a say in the final admission verdict. And when Thelma Silver and Penelope Winship had completed their joint thesis to her satisfaction, and it was on the point of being submitted, Miss Griffiths invited them for supper. Over sherry prior to serving the meal she informed them that they could now call her Margaret. However, neither of them had the nerve to do so! Her particular interest was child welfare and, on her death, she left a bequest to assist those who intended to specialize in this field in their studies at Wilson Hall.
Gary Davies also clearly recalls his admissions interview and a subsequent encounter with a student already in the course who explained Eloise’s role. He received a $20 parking ticket as he parked in a nearby no parking zone to avoid being late for his interview.
The Times They Were a Changin’
Our class experienced the October 1970 FLQ crisis. For a time, Sheila Goldbloom and her husband, Victor, then a cabinet minister in the provincial government, were away from Montreal at a location known only to Dr. David Woodsworth, the School’s director. Early in 1971, Sheila returned to campus and a bodyguard was present in her classes for several weeks.
The School of Social Work fielded two postgraduate students, Rudy Lewis and Penelope Winship, to represent Social Work at the PGSS (Post-Graduate Students Society) Council in the 1969-70 academic year. These two went on to become Internal Vice-President and External Vice-President of the PGSS respectively in their final year. Their participation in the first year could perhaps be characterized generally by a tendency, in true social work fashion, to heckle the executive committee of the day. Being asked to run for office the following year was both unexpected and salutary. Perhaps their most noteworthy achievement in office was to instigate a one-day seminar with representatives of French-speaking universities from across Canada, which was attended by many such delegates and was hugely successful.
Towards the end of the first year of the master’s program a 'scout' came from the North West Territories to interview four students who had applied for its one-year scholarship to cover the expenses of their final year of study. None of those interviewed were accepted. This was perhaps just as well. A successful applicant would have been committed not only to working for the North West Territories for the two years immediately following graduation, but also to learning how to fly a plane which landed on skis, in order to visit far-flung clientele.