Portrait of Jane Addams, co-founder of Hull House, with her head resting on her hand.Date: ca. 1890

As an MSW and an improviser, I am proud of the relationship between my two vocations and the women who pioneered social work and improv comedy, the “Mother of Social Work” and the “Mother of Improv”. How their lives intersected is inspirational to me.

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860-May 21, 1935) is known as the “mother” of Social Work and was a pioneer in the American settlement movement, an activist/reformer, social worker and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. In 1920 she was the co-found of the ACLU. In 1931 she was also the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1889 (the year of the first MSW program at Columbia University) she co-founded Hull House. In the beginning Hull House was for recently arrived immigrants to help them assimilate to their new country. Her project continued to grow and by 1911 she had 13 buildings.Hull House had numerous programs for children and soon developed a theatre company and a Recreational Training School.

Neva Boyd (February 25, 1876 – November 21 1963) was a pioneer in social group worker and in the Modern Play movement, who founded the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She ran movement and recreation groups for children and used games and improvisation to teach language skills, problem solving, self-confidence and social skills. She published numerous papers and books, including Play and game theory in group work: A collection of papers by Neva Leona Boyd (1971)

Viola Spolin (November 7, 1906 – November 22, 1994) is considered the “mother” of improvisational comedy. In1923, Spolin began studying with Boyd at the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She then worked with the Chicago WPA as supervisor of creative drama a recreational project in the 1930’s

It was during this time that Spolin began creating the improv games that resulted in her “Bible of Improv”, Improvisation for Theatre published in 1963.

When you read Spolin’s work, you will see how much of an intuitive therapist she was. Her method of “coaching”, without labeling the work as “good/bad” is an example of her therapeutic approach with her students.

“Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Neva Boyd

“The only person I felt was the inspirator of my life was Neva Boyd—and she continues to be.” Viola Spolin

Over the past 30 years I’ve been conducting workshops on the “Positive Power of Play” for adults and most recently “Improv and Therapy”. These inspiring women have helped lead me to my path today. I am eternally grateful for Jane, Neva and Viola.