Louise Shoemaker, 87, retired dean at Penn

Louise Shoemaker
Louise Shoemaker
Posted: April 01, 2013

Louise Shoemaker, 87, of Philadelphia, retired dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania and a nationally known social-work innovator, died Tuesday, March 19, of a ruptured aorta at Lankenau Hospital.

She had been hospitalized briefly due to mobility problems.

For 29 years ending with her retirement as professor emerita in 1994, Dr. Shoemaker was a recognized leader in the academic and professional development of social work at Penn.

She started as an assistant professor and rose to professor, acting dean, and then dean, starting in 1973. She held that post for 12 years before returning to teaching in 1985.

Among her priorities as dean was promoting the advancement of women and minorities for faculty appointments. The school acted as a conduit for skilled administrators who then became leaders of social-work schools and social-service agencies across the nation.

"When she was a dean, we produced the women that were leaders," said Sandra Bauman, associate director of field education at Penn's social-work school. "She was an amazing person."

Penn's on-campus day-care center and faculty/staff assistance program were started under her leadership, Bauman said.

Dr. Shoemaker advanced the body of knowledge available to social workers by encouraging group interaction among staffers in institutions providing services to clients, and by training social workers in settings such as prisons, orphanages, and health-care providers. Done routinely now, it was rare then, her family said.

She handled students, faculty, and university leaders with such finesse that she was able to ensure the school's continued existence during the 1970s, after a period of student unrest and funding deficits, her family said.

As acting dean, and then dean, she developed a rigorous course curriculum, secured donations for a scholarly research center, and nurtured the accreditation process.

"At a time when schools of social work were under siege, Louise managed not only to preserve the school of social work, but to enhance its national reputation and its centrality at Penn," said Vartan Gregorian, a former colleague at Penn.

"Her priorities were clear: academic integrity, excellence of faculty and programs, and the notion that a school of social work and the Ivy League were not mutually exclusive."

The school, greatly expanded in the early 2000s, is now called the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice.

Born in Clinton, Iowa, to Carolina and Otto Proehl, Dr. Shoemaker grew up in a Lutheran household with two older brothers and an older sister.

Her mother, a bank teller and homemaker, and her father, a pastor and college president, instilled scholarly ambition in their children; all four went on to become academics.

Dr. Shoemaker graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1945. She received her master's degree in social work in 1947 and her doctorate in social work in 1965, both from Penn.

She authored many papers and lectured in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

From her position at Penn, Dr. Shoemaker helped establish a school of social work at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria in the 1980s.

In a March 25 condolence letter to Dr. Shoemaker's family, Penn president Amy Gutmann called Dr. Shoemaker a global educator ahead of her time for making connections between Penn and universities in Africa.

"Perhaps the greatest lesson that I personally learned from your mother is that a university can and should aim to make a global impact," Gutmann wrote.

Dr. Shoemaker served on the executive committees of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for more than two decades and helped it steer toward the ordination of women, the acceptance of gay congregants, and the integration of international and minority populations, her family said.

She also served on numerous social agency boards and civic groups in Philadelphia, nationally, and internationally, seeking to address discrimination and poverty. She was a charter member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Other interests included tennis, Scrabble, and the life of her congregation at University Lutheran Church in West Philadelphia.

Bauman, a friend of long standing, said Dr. Shoemaker would be remembered for her integrity and her "enormous heart."

"Whatever she believed, she practiced," Bauman said. "She took people in, she gave away her money. If she could help, she would."

She is survived by a son, Paul; daughters Caroline Niemczyk and Lisa; six grandchildren; three foster children from Vietnam and Sudan; and four others she helped informally.

She was married to Bryce W. Shoemaker in 1947 and divorced in 1975. He died in 1987.

Dr. Shoemaker was cremated. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at University Lutheran Church, 3637 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Interment is private.

Donations may be made to Amnesty International via www.amnestyusa.org; to SEPA Lutheran Charities Appeal via www.lutherancharities.org; or Southern Poverty Law Center via www.splcenter.org.

Condolences to the family may be offered at www.danjolell.com.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook

at 215-854-2611 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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