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Jean Paton in 1939: student and social worker

In 1939, Jean applied and was accepted as a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work.  Along with course work, Penn’s School of Social Work prepared its future social workers with extensive training in fieldwork.  For the first two years of graduate study, Jean traveled by train to Richmond to work as a caseworker with foster children waiting for placement in adoptive homes at the Virginia Children’s Home Society.

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Jean Paton as Artist


As many of you know, Jean Paton was a wonderfully creative artist as well as the first adoption reformer.  This rare photo of Jean, age 39, taken in 1947 in Manchester, New Hampshire, is the only one I know of that shows her working at her artistic craft.  When this photo was taken, Jean was employed at the New Hampshire Children’s Aid Society.  In the evenings, she took lessons in sculpture from Maria Kostyshak, “a very interesting young woman of Russian extraction, a painter herself” at the Museum School in Manchester, acting upon a suggestion from her mentor and social work teacher, Jesse Taft, who was responsible for first suggesting that Paton take up artistic endeavors.  Paton ventured for the first time into bas-relief, as well as three-dimensional figures.  Creating art from clay to affect adoption reform became a life-long avocation..

Jean Paton Graduates from the University of Wisconsin, cum laude, 1932


In 1928, with the financial support of her father, Jean Paton went off to the University of Wisconsin to study economics and sociology.  But Jean’s scholastic difficulties followed her to the Badger University, discovering again that her inner demons prevented her from engaging in the vigorous life of the mind that professors demanded of all students.  In 1929, at the end of the academic year, she traveled to Philadelphia, to work at the Children’s Aid Society in Philadelphia. This position was, in Paton’s words, “my port of entry into social work . . . after a miserable failure at college.”  Jean had just turned twenty-one, and she was “utterly inadequate to the task” of functioning as a social worker.  After floundering in this position for several months, Jean decided to return to the University of Wisconsin, and three years later, she received her B.A. degree cum laude.  Looking back, Paton blamed the extraordinary length of time she spent at college to an unidentifiable “psychological blockage to get myself to classes,” which resulted in failing some courses.

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