Diamonds and Rust: Re-housing the Student Records


One of the largest components of the Department of Social Work’s archive is a collection of over 1000 student admission files from 1928, when the school was transferred to the university, to the mid-1950s.

This is a wonderful set of records. As well as telling us about the backgrounds, interests and careers of the students they are also a rich resource for social history. The files cover a period of social reform and change – World War 2, the introduction of the welfare state, immigration and changing population. They make it possible to build up a picture of the personalities involved in the profession at any given time and, through the inclusion of descriptions of jobs for which the students are applying, we can see the advancement of social work as a field during this period.  Our previous blogpost “A New Profession” looks at the contents of these files in more detail.

This short post looks at the process of re-housing this material.

Archival boxes and folders

Paperclips and Pins

The first task was to remove all rusty paperclips, staples and pins. Not only do they pose an injury risk to those looking at the material, they also make it difficult to view the material without folding or tearing the pages and over time the rust will further stain the paper. Where necessary metal paperclips are replaced with archive friendly plastic ones.

Tool for removing staples



Folders and Boxes

In their original state, the admission files were housed in overcrowded file boxes. The boxes were dirty and too small resulting in the contents of the files being subjected to wear and tear over the many years of being removed and returned. Moreover the files were stored vertically meaning much of paper was becoming distorted.

Once all staples and pins had been removed each file was re-housed in an archival standard folder. The files consist of many different sizes of paper and so they have been re-housed in four-flap folders which will keep all the contents secure but also easily accessible.

Several files were housed in one overcrowded folder……

…..and multiple folders squashed into overcrowded boxes

Archival 4 flap folder

New folders in archival box

Where photographs were present they were placed in protective see-through pockets.

Photograph in protective sleeve (plastic paperclip for scale)

Similarly any pages that have been “repaired” with sellotape were placed in archival polyester sleeves so as to prevent the sellotape leaking onto other pages as it degrades. In the future these pieces of sellotape will hopefully be completely removed.

Research Assistant Sarah helping with the re-housing – thanks Sarah!

Rust removed, double click on the images here to view just some of the diamonds uncovered during the process.







The Edinburgh School of Social Study and Training


Social work training at the University of Edinburgh has gone through several guises since it was first taught in 1918.  Initially it was established as the Edinburgh School of Social Study and Training, under the auspices of the University of Edinburgh.  The School was established to meet the increasing need for trained social workers, in the broad sense of the term, which had been highlighted during the First World War.  A number of civic minded citizens, including several University of Edinburgh lecturers, came together to form an Association for the Promotion of Social Study and Training in 1917.  The School began teaching students in 1918.  The School operated as a separate body until it amalgamated with the University in 1928 to become the Department of Social Studies and Training.  Archival material gives us rich insights into these early years, and the work that was done to keep the School running and demonstrate that training for social work was both feasible and worthy of association with the University.

Theoretical and Practical training:

The first lecture of the Edinburgh School of Social Study  and Training was given by Miss M. T. Rankin on the subject of ‘Social Economics’ on 8th January 1918  at 4.15pm in the Mathematical Institute, 16 Chambers Street (shown opposite).

The lecture series for the term also included ‘Social Ethics’ and ‘Personal and Public Hygiene’. Students could enrol for the full 2-year Diploma Course or attend individual classes, with public lectures also being given on topics such as ‘The Nature and Duties of Citizenship’ and ‘The Co-operative Movement in Edinburgh’.  By 1927 the curriculum had expanded to include, among others, courses in Elementary Anatomy and Physiology, Social Psychology, Office Work and Moral Philosophy.  As well as attending theoretical courses students undertook practical training for 3 days each week working in a variety of settings for example day nurseries, juvenile and adult courts, the Craiglockhart Poorhouse, and the Welfare Department of the North British Rubber Works.  Additional visits were organised to factories, hospitals and public health departments.


Student and their career prospects: 

Initially numbers enrolling in the School were small, but they gradually grew from 11 full time students in 1918 to 34 in 1927.  The School was training its students for social work, but at this time the field encompassed much broader roles that it does today, including jobs such as Factory Inspectors, Welfare Workers, Labour Organisers and House Management Workers.  Archival material notes that former students went on to have careers in a variety of roles such as the Maternity and Child Welfare Visitor, Stockton-On-Tees; the Industrial Secretary of the YMCA, China; the Police Court Missionary and Probation Officer at Marlborough Street Police Court, London; and the Assistant Welfare Worker in Fry’s Chocolate and Cocoa Works. As well as providing training for social workers the School offered a Health Visitor’s Probation Certificate, which was awarded to 132 students.  Archival material also shows that the School was also approached to offer various forms of training and lectures to other groups including disabled officers following the First World War, Women Police Officers and the Edinburgh Women Citizens’ Association.


Amalgamation with the University:

The Director of the School, Miss Nora Milnes, and the wider Executive Committee of the School were keen that the School and its students be afforded academic recognition on a par with the other social studies courses being run at Universities around the UK.  The School quickly began setting out its case for its relationship with the University to become more integrated.  This was achieved in 1928 when the University Court agreed to the proposed amalgamation and the School became the Department of Social Studies and Training.  Announcing the amalgamation in the 1928 Annual Report Nora Milnes notes that:

“the change which is now to take place is the best proof of the success of the School.  Social Study has won for itself a recognised position not only in the University, but also in the City of Edinburgh.”


Celebrating 100 years of Social Work at Edinburgh University

Welcome to the blog page of Advisors, Advocates & Activists: A Century and more of Social Work in Edinburgh. Work has now begun on cataloguing the collections of Edinburgh University’s Social Work Department and the papers of associated individuals, including former staff. This blog will keep you updated on the project’s progress and share some it’s highlights.  Alongside posts from the project’s archivist and research assistant it is hoped to have contributions from other individuals who have an interest in the material.

In the meantime you can read more about the project in the About Us section and more about the history of social work education and practice at the university and beyond at