Felice Davidson Perlmutter, 87, of Philadelphia, a Temple University professor of social work administration who spoke out on an array of social issues, died Saturday, July 27, of cancer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
Professor Perlmutter was a pioneer in developing the subset of social work that focuses on policy and administration. She believed that social workers have a unique set of compassionate values that should be brought to bear on social needs and the organizations that address them.
Conversely, she believed that social workers would do well to deepen their skills in business and management before taking the helm of social service agencies or nonprofits.
“Today’s human service organizations are extremely complex,” she wrote in the summer 2007 issue of Social Work Today, a professional journal. “Social work managers need [training in] business, financial management, public relations, development, and strategic planning.
“Given the challenges in our society today,” she wrote, “it is often necessary for social agencies to become engaged in partnerships and collaborations, not only at the local level but at the state and federal levels as well. You have to be comfortable going out and playing with the big boys.”
To fix the situation, she suggested changes in the education of social workers, the profession’s accreditation process, and state licensure.
Born in New York City, she moved to Philadelphia and graduated from West Philadelphia High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree from New York University, a master’s from University of Connecticut, and a doctorate from Bryn Mawr College.
Professor Perlmutter joined the Temple faculty and in 1974 helped create the School of Social Administration, one of the first academic programs of its kind in the nation, her family said.
Until 2003, when she retired with the title of professor emerita, she taught social workers whom she inspired both in the classroom and through her writing.
“Even decades after graduating, former students who ran into her at community events would rave about how great an impact she had on them,” said son Saul.
Professor Perlmutter published 11 books and 80 articles on social work management. Her book Changing Hats: From Social Work Practice to Administration was written to help social workers decide whether to jump from casework to the front office.
Her contributions drew many national honors.
Though her daily work product was intellectual and sometimes esoteric, she was down-to-earth. “She demonstrated warmth, energy, compassion, and generosity” to those around her, the family said. She made friends wherever she went.
Her lively intellect caused her to roam far afield of social work. She wrote letters to the editor. She also gave talks and wrote books on various social issues.
Angry over the sale of the University City High School to a developer, she fired off a letter that was printed in The Inquirer on June 17, 2014.
“The school was built during a period of great optimism when the focus was on improving the quality of life in Powelton and Mantua,” she wrote. “It is tragically a sign of the times when community benefits are put aside for development that mostly benefits the wealthy.”
She wrote a 1997 book on welfare reform, From Welfare to Work. She wrote to The Inquirer on the need for affordable housing.
She applauded when Temple said it would require students to take a course on race, starting in 1993. “The world is falling apart with ethnic strife,” she wrote in The Inquirer on Dec. 14, 1991. “One has to begin somewhere.”
She was active in the Black-Jewish Relations Task Force of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Educational Vocational Service.
In 1954, she married Daniel D. Perlmutter. The couple raised their children in Philadelphia, in a home filled with music, art, and games.
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by daughters Shira and Tova, and three grandchildren.
Shivah will be observed at the family home from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Aug. 1, 2, and 3. A memorial event will be later.