Psychologist and social worker
Maria Dorothea Simon combines training in various social science disciplines and social work in several countries. Having gained social scientific research experience on both sides of the Atlantic, she played a crucial role in the professionalization of social work in Austria starting in the 1970s.
Maria Dorothea Simon was born in Vienna in 1918. She trained as a kindergarten teacher and in 1936 went on to Prague to attend the Masarykschule für Sozial- und Gesundheitsfürsorge [Masaryk School for health and social services], a school of social work funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The German-speaking division of the school was closed down in 1938, and Maria Simon spent the next several years in England, where one of her positions took her to Anna Freud’s Hampstead Nursery. Starting in 1941, Simon attended the University of Oxford to pursue a degree in Social Work (receiving her Diploma in 1944). Also in 1944, she married Joseph Simon, who she had already known from her time in the socialist youth movement in Vienna. Since World War II was still raging, she decided to contribute to the efforts against National Socialism, and she joined the army and worked as a teacher for soldiers. At the same time, she took distance learning courses from London University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economic and Politics. After spending a year in Denmark, Simon went to the United States in 1946, and found employment as a social worker with the Jewish Family Welfare Service in Seattle, WA.
In 1947, she returned to Vienna and went back to university for a doctorate in psychology, minoring in anthropology (Ph.D. 1952). At the same time, she received further training in psychoanalysis, working with August Aichhorn, among others. Simon’s subsequent professional activities in the United States included an assistant professorship at the University of Arkansas (1957-1961), courses at the University of Chicago (with Bruno Bettelheim, among others), and as a guest lecturer at Hofstra University.
Even though she had more professional opportunities in the United States, Maria Simon decided to return to Vienna for personal reasons. In 1963, she joined the sociology department of the Institute for Advanced Studies (Institut für Höhere Studien, IHS) in Vienna. During her tenure at the IHS, Simon conducted research on a variety of topics reflecting her rich and multifaceted education, training, and work experience. For instance, she studied national stereotypes among children, developed methods to study family pathologies, and assembled a survey of the state of social work in Austria. She conducted a comparative study of suicide in Vienna and Los Angeles, which brought her back to the United States for a few months.
In 1969, Maria Simon started the research program in social pedagogy at the Youth Welfare Service of Vienna, and in 1970 she became the director of the City of Vienna Academy of Social Work. Her plentiful experience that took her across geographic and disciplinary boundaries enabled her to play a crucial role in the professionalization and restructuring of social work in Austria at a time when the field flourished and attracted many students. Even after retirement in 1983, Maria Simon maintained her international ties and active involvement in social work, for example as Senior Representative at the United Nation’s World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH).