The Lisbon Social Work Institute (1935-1944): between care, education and social control

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In Portugal, the institutionalization of professional social work occurred in 1935, with the opening of the Lisbon Social Work Institute, whose technical direction was taken until 1944 by a French social worker: Marie-Thérèse Lévêque. This period of Portuguese history leads us to the New State’s (Estado Novo) construction phase, during a new national conjuncture in relations between Church, State and intellectual movements.

Through a logic of rationalization and professionalization of the care/assistance, but also control and social education of the «(...) humble families with limited culture, more easily influenced, (...) so they could never deviate from the human, corporate and Christian sense.» (DL 30.135, 14/12/1939*), Portuguese social workers were trained to ensure the needs of technical personnel for both public and private institutions. Being an all-girls school, the Social Work Institute intended to train «(...) suitable and responsible leaders in the midst of which they work, while simultaneously conscious and active co-operators of the National Revolution.» (DL 30.135, 14/12/1939*).

About the construction of teaching in that school, some Portuguese authors mention the influence of French currents of social thought and action, for instance, as a result of the employment of French professionals, as is the case of Marie-Thérèse Lévêque. Knowing the Portuguese social reality of the 1930´s, this permeability is not surprising, taking into account the social and cultural similarities of Latin reality, which stand out the small and medium industries, the Catholicism, and a personalistic view that more easily harmonized with the existing possibilities during this historical period.

This communication results from a doctoral research, still ongoing, and focuses on the complex process that led to the opening of Lisbon Social Work Institute (1935), distinguishing, by its peculiar relevance, the role of hygienist current, the catholic social movement, and some feminine elites. It will also attend to the teaching’s construction in this school, highlighting the influence of two international organizations: the “Union Catholique des Services de Santé et des Services Sociaux” (Paris); and the “Union Catholique Internationale de Service Social” (Brussels). Finally, it will make reference to some professional fields where the first Portuguese social workers were placed, and how their action contributed (or not) to an effective "(...) education or full rehabilitation of the families, improvement of economic and social living conditions, and reorganization of [social] environment.» (DL 30.135, 14/12/1939*).

The historical sources that support the doctoral research (and, respectively, this presentation) have been collected in Portuguese and foreign archives (located mainly in Paris and Brussels); and through oral testimonies (biographical-narrative interviews with social workers graduated at the Lisbon Social Work Institute between 1935 and 1944).

* Decree-law n.º 30.135, 14/12/1939. Diário do Governo, I Série, N.º 291
Period5 Apr 2012
Event titleSocial History Society Annual Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number37th
LocationBrighton and Hove, United KingdomShow on map


  • Social work history
  • Portugal
  • Social Work Institute
  • Care
  • Education
  • Social control