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Frank Parsons's enablers: Pauline Agassiz Shaw, Meyer Bloomfield, and Ralph Albertson.

Frank Parsons was not the 1st American to recognize or address the need for vocational guidance. Why he, rather than his predecessors, is credited with initiating the field can be attributed to the largely overlooked contributions of 3 other persons: Pauline Agassiz Shaw, Meyer Bloomfield, and Ralph Albertson. The author calls attention to the contributions of these 3 remarkable individuals, and several others who supported them, in enabling and perpetuating Parsons's work.


As every counselor knows (e.g., Brewer, 1942; H. V. Davis, 1969; Gummere, 1988; Jones, 1994; Pope & Sveinsdottir, 2005), Frank Parsons established the field of career counseling (then called vocational guidance; Pope, 2000) by becoming the founding director and vocational counselor of the Vocation Bureau of Boston on January 13, 1908. He held this position until his untimely death on September 26 of that year. Parsons, however, was by no means the first American to recognize the need for vocational guidance or to propose ways to meet that need (Brewer, 1942). Among others who antedated his work, Lysander Richards (1881) published a book titled Vocophy, in which he proposed a new profession of vocophers, equal in training and status to doctors and lawyers, who were to be experts on the requirements of the different occupations and on assessing the abilities and interests of individuals. Vocophers thus had the knowledge and skills to inform people of the occupation in which they would be most successful. Also, from 1898 to 1907, Jesse B. Davis counseled hundreds of students in Detroit's Central High School concerning their career plans. One may therefore ask why Parsons, who worked in the field less than a year (compared with Davis's prior 10 years' work) and who died without having published a book on vocational guidance (compared with Richards's 1881 book), was accorded the preeminent position in this field.

This article posits that it was the largely unheralded contributions of three other people that saved Parsons from the oblivion that enveloped Richards and Davis. Without the participation of Pauline Agassiz Shaw, Meyer Bloomfield, and Ralph Albertson, Parsons's work in this field would almost certainly not have come to fruition nor have survived him. The names of these three persons (plus, of course, Parsons's name on the title page, followed by the erroneously attributed degree of PhD) are the only ones that appear within the prefatory pages of Parsons's (1909) posthumously published book, Choosing a Vocation. Shaw was the person to whom the book is dedicated, Bloomfield was holder of the copyright, and Albertson was author of the introductory note to the book. This article seeks to correct the lack of recognition of the seminal role of these three individuals in the historical memory of the field of career counseling. In doing so, it also notes the contributions of several other persons who both facilitated the work of Parsons's three principal enablers and, in their own right, helped establish and perpetuate Parsons's work.

Pauline Agassiz Shaw

Parsons, his enablers, and those who supported them were all active participants in the social reform movement that flourished in liberal intellectual circles in Boston around the turn of the 20th century (Mann, 1954). Among these individuals, however, Pauline Agassiz Shaw (1841-1917) uniquely possessed the combination of wealth and foresight needed to fund the realization of Parsons's ideas about vocational guidance. Pauline Agassiz was born in Switzerland, a daughter of the world-famous Swiss naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz. Soon after her father immigrated to the United States to take the position of chair of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University, he brought his family to Cambridge, Massachusetts. About 10 years later, in 1860, Pauline Agassiz married Quincy Adams Shaw, a wealthy Boston financier. She and her husband had five children, which led her to an interest in early childhood education. Consequently, in 1877, she opened two model, professionally supervised kindergartens in the Boston area, thereby initiating the kindergarten movement in the eastern United States. These two prototypes were so successful that by 1883, she was supporting 31 free kindergartens throughout Boston. Simultaneously, she started a day nursery school, which she later expanded to seven more locations around Boston. These activities led her to an interest in settlement houses as purveyors of education. Among those she established and funded was the Civic Service House. (Preceding information is from, 1997.) For the job of director of the new Civic Service House, Pauline Agassiz Shaw chose a young man whose work at Jacob Hecht Club for boys (another Boston settlement) had particularly impressed her, Meyer Bloomfield (Solomon, 1956). Thus, Pauline Agassiz Shaw established the setting in which Parsons's ideas about vocational guidance were to be realized and hired as its director the person who encouraged Parsons to develop these ideas there. Subsequently, she provided the funding needed to establish the Vocation Bureau that implemented Parsons's ideas.

Meyer Bloomfield

According to his obituary in The New York Times ("Meyer Bloomfield," 1938), Meyer Bloomfield (1878-1938) was born in Rumania and immigrated to the United States in his youth. His first years in America were spent in the Eastern European Jewish enclave on New York's lower East Side. This account conflicts with the one given by Philip Davis (1952), Bloomfield's closest colleague and successor as director of the Civic Service House, who stated that Bloomfield was "the American son of immigrant parents ... [b]orn on the East Side" (p. 122). Unfortunately, this conflict is not resolved by Bloomfield's Social Security death record, which leaves blank his place of birth, nor by the Ellis Island immigration records, in which his name is not listed. In 1899, Bloomfield graduated from the College of the City of New York (CCNY). He then moved to Boston and attended Harvard University. Brewer (1942), himself a Harvard faculty member, and Braverman (2005), in a history of the Boston Jewish community of that period, stated that Bloomfield graduated from Harvard College. Because these statements conflicted with Bloomfield's obituary, I checked with the Harvard Alumni Records Office and found that there is no record of Bloomfield having received a degree from that institution. To further complicate this issue, however, I recently found that the flyleaf of his 1915 book, Readings in Vocational Guidance, in the library of the Harvard Graduate School of Education is inscribed by Bloomfield: "To the Harvard Union from Meyer Bloomfield '01. May, 1924." Whether or not Bloomfield graduated from or just attended Harvard, in 1905 he did graduate from Boston University Law School. Coincidentally, from 1892 to 1905, Frank Parsons taught insurance law at Boston University Law School (Mann, 1954), so Bloomfield may have first encountered Parsons in that venue. In Boston, Bloomfield's first occupation was social service, which led him, in turn, into vocational guidance, personnel management, and labor law.

When Pauline Agassiz Shaw started the Civic Service House in 1901 and hired Bloomfield to direct it, her aim was to establish a settlement that focused on educating and acculturating adult immigrants, rather than the youths who were the target population of most other settlement houses. The North End of Boston, where the Civic Service House was located, was known by social workers as
 "Boston's classic land of poverty." ... [I]t had become, since the
 1840's, the first place of settlement of the poorest immigrants,
 who, on prospering, sought more desirable quarters in the city. As
 fast as the prosperous moved out, the depressed from overseas
 crowded in. (Mann, 1954, p. 4)

Although there was considerable overlap, the principal waves of immigrants to the North End were Irish (1840-1870); Eastern European Jews, primarily from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Rumania (1870-1900); and from 1900 on, Italians (Nichols, 2003; Ross, 2003). Thus, at the time the Civic Service House was founded, its clientele were preponderantly Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants. The program of the settlement focused on teaching English language, civics, and acculturation to American society. "Among the civic-minded Bostonians who contributed their services to this worthy enterprise we find Frank Parsons" (Brewer, 1942, p. 57). H. V. Davis (1969) stated that Parsons's friend, "Ralph Albertson, personnel director of Filene's and teacher at Civic Service House, was responsible for bringing Parsons into the work at Civic Service House" (p. 110). Parsons's involvement in that activity is rather surprising in light of his history of outspoken opposition to unrestricted immigration, based on "his fear that the Eastern European would pollute the Anglo-Saxon blood of America" (Mann, 1954, p. 137). As recently as 1904, Parsons "proposed that immigrants pass an English literacy test before admission and that they wait twenty-one years for naturalization papers" (Mann, 1954, p. 137). These views, which appear draconian today, were shared by many of Parsons's liberal contemporaries. Nonetheless, in 1905, working with Ralph Albertson, Parsons established an educational program at the Civic Service House that they named Breadwinners' Institute. This program was modeled on one that had been started in England called Workingmen's Institute (Mann, 1954). Breadwinners' Institute offered evening and Sunday afternoon courses on history, civics, English language and composition, literature, science, economics, applied psychology, and music (Brewer, 1942). Of course, the establishment of this program at the Civic Service House required the active support of its director, Meyer Bloomfield. Among those who taught in this program were Parsons; Albertson; Bloomfield; Bloomfield's wife, Sylvia; and his cousin Therese Weil Filene (Brewer, 1942; Ross, 2003).

According to Brewer (1942), in the late spring of 1907, Bloomfield invited Parsons to address the graduating class of a Boston evening high school on a topic that he had presented to the Economic Club of Boston during the prior year: the need of youth for help in choosing a vocation. The response of the audience to his presentation was so overwhelmingly positive that Bloomfield encouraged Parsons to develop a proposal for a vocational guidance bureau at the Civic Service House. This account differs from that given by Bloomfield (1911):
 An experiment with a group of high school boys shortly before their
 graduation three years ago revealed a need for vocational guidance
 which led to what is probably the first vocation bureau in this
 country. Sixty or more boys were invited to a reception on the roof-
 garden of the Civic Service House in the North End of Boston, to
 talk over their future plans with the late Prof. Frank Parsons and
 several other workers of that neighborhood house. (p. 29)

The majority of the boys had either unrealistic career goals or no career direction at all. As a result of whichever of these two events actually took place, Bloomfield encouraged Parsons to draft a proposal for a vocational guidance bureau to present to Pauline Agassiz Shaw. Parsons did so in the fall of 1907, and Mrs. Shaw agreed to provide start-up financial support for the project (Brewer, 1942). Consequently, in January 1908, "an office was opened to give those who so desired an opportunity to talk over their vocational problems with a sympathetic and skilled economist. Professor Frank Parsons was put in charge of the Civic Service House Vocation Office" (Bloomfield, 1911, p. 30). Thus, with encouragement and a venue provided by Bloomfield and with funding provided by Pauline Agassiz Shaw, the Vocation Bureau of Boston opened with Parsons as its director. Among those who joined the board of the new Vocation Bureau were Ralph Albertson and his employer, A. Lincoln Filene (Brewer, 1942). Filene was manager of Filene's department store and husband of Bloomfield's cousin, Therese Weil Filene, who taught music at the Civic Service House (Ross, 2003).

Bloomfield was clearly invested in the work of the Vocation Bureau. For a 6- or 7-month period following Parsons's death, David Stone Wheeler, a progressive educator, served as director of the Vocation Bureau. In late 1909, however, Bloomfield turned the directorship of the Civic Service House over to Philip Davis in order to become full-time director of the Vocation Bureau, a position he held until 1917. Brewer (1942) evaluated Bloomfield's performance in this job very favorably, based on Bloomfield's tangible results, his writings on vocational guidance, the support he was able to secure for the program, his effective publicity for the field, and his teaching others how to do vocational counseling. Thus, Bloomfield (1911, 1915b, and 1915a, respectively) authored or edited a number of books, including The Vocational Guidance of Youth (which was dedicated to Pauline Agassiz Shaw); Youth, School, and Vocation (also dedicated to Shaw); and Readings in Vocational Guidance (dedicated to A. Lincoln Filene). In 1911, Bloomfield gave the first university course on vocational guidance at Harvard Summer School, and over the next few years he lectured on vocational guidance to education majors at Harvard, Columbia, Boston University, the University of California, and other universities. In 1912, he served as vocational adviser to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Bloomfield co-organized the first (1910) and second (1912) national conferences on vocational guidance and was a member of the committee that in 1913 established the National Vocational Guidance Association (NVGA; renamed the National Career Development Association in 1985 [Herr & Shahnasarian, 2001]). He served as the third president of NVGA from 1916 to 1918. Under Bloomfield's direction, the Vocation Bureau was instrumental in creating the new profession of personnel management (Brewer, 1942), and in 1910 Bloomfield chaired the committee that established the first major employment managers association (Witzel, 2000). In that year, A. Lincoln Filene asked Bloomfield to mediate a strike in the garment industry in New York. Although not personally successful, Bloomfield was able to enlist the services of Louis D. Brandeis, a prominent Boston attorney and future Supreme Court Justice, who did succeed (Greenwald, 1998).

In 1917, Bloomfield left the Vocation Bureau when President Wilson appointed him head of the industrial service department of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, which managed the emergency ship building program for the war effort ("Meyer Bloomfield," 1938). The Vocation Bureau was transferred to the Division of Education at Harvard University, where it was renamed the Bureau of Vocational Guidance and was eventually headed by Professor John M. Brewer (Brewer, 1942). After the war, Bloomfield worked as a consultant on industrial relations and practiced labor law in New York City. In 1922, President Harding sent him to Russia to report on industrial conditions there. In 1929, Bloomfield returned to vocational guidance, becoming career adviser to seniors and professor of vocational guidance at his alma mater, CCNY, a position he held for the rest of his life ("Meyer Bloomfield," 1938). Thus, Bloomfield provided the venue and the encouragement for Parsons's realization of his ideas about vocational guidance and, after Parsons's death, carried on and expanded his work.

Ralph Albertson

The third of Parsons's enablers was Ralph Albertson (1866-1951), Parsons's closest personal friend and confidant in Boston (Pope & Sveinsdottir, 2005). As indicated in the brief biographical preface to the Yale University Library's collection of Albertson's papers (Roach, 1999), he studied at Oberlin College and Theological Seminary and was ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1891. In 1895, he left the ministry to found a utopian community in Georgia, based on the principles of Christian Socialism. When that community dissolved 5 years later, he founded another short-lived utopian community in rural Massachusetts. He then became personnel manager for Filene's department store in Boston, which had an exceptionally progressive employee relations program.

In his association with Parsons, Albertson helped organize the Breadwinners' Institute and cotaught several courses with him there. Albertson served as secretary to the Vocation Bureau board of trustees. Standing in for Parsons, who died just before the course was scheduled to begin, Albertson conducted the first training course for vocational counselors, held under the joint auspices of the Vocation Bureau and the YMCA (Brewer, 1942; Pope & Sveinsdottir, 2005). Most important for the history of vocational guidance, Albertson acted as Parsons's literary executor and prepared the manuscript of Choosing a Vocation (Parsons, 1909) for publication following Parsons's death (Pope & Sveinsdottir, 2005).

During World War I, Albertson served as a YMCA representative to American troops in Russia. After the war, Albertson became head of a mercantile concern in New York, the position he held for the remainder of his career. As summarized by Brewer (1942),
 Ralph Albertson was Parsons' constant intellectual companion and co-
 organizer with him of the Breadwinners' Institute. He served as
 secretary to the board of trustees of the Vocation Bureau, conducted
 the first [agency-based] course for the preparation of [vocational]
counselors ... and prepared Choosing a Vocation for publication.(p. 65)

Supporting Roles

Two other individuals should be recognized for the roles that they played in facilitating the work of Parsons's three principal enablers and for their own contributions to the realization and perpetuation of Parsons's ideas. Paul H. Hanus was a professor of education at Harvard University, and A. Lincoln Filene was general manager of Filene's department store. Since 1905, these two men had served together on the Massachusetts State Commission on Industrial Education. From the inception of the Vocation Bureau, Hanus served as chair of its board of trustees, and Filene served as a very active board member.

Because of his professorial position at Harvard, Hanus lent academic credibility to the fledgling Vocation Bureau. He was also instrumental in arranging for the first university course in vocational guidance to be offered at Harvard Summer School in 1911 (Brewer, 1942). As indicated earlier, Bloomfield was the instructor in this course.

Filene served as a nexus for relationships among those more centrally involved in enabling Parsons's work. As a fellow Boston philanthropist with Pauline Agassiz Shaw, he provided financial support to the nascent Vocation Bureau. He was Bloomfield's relative by marriage and Albertson's employer. Filene, Parsons, Bloomfield, and Albertson were also strongly linked through their early advocacy of progressive personnel management (Berkley, 1998; Roach, 1999; Witzel, 2000).

Parenthetically, Filene appears to have transmitted his interest in career development to his daughter Catherine, thereby further perpetuating and building on Parsons's work. While an undergraduate, Catherine organized a series of conferences to promote jobs for educated women. She then worked as assistant to the chief of the Women's Division of the U.S. Employment Service. In 1920, she published a book titled Careers for Women (Filene, 1920), with a second edition in 1934. In 1926, as the first woman to chair the board of the Federal Prison for Women, she instituted job training programs for inmates; and in 1929, she founded the Institute for Women's Professional Relations, which organized national conferences on opportunities for college-educated women ("Catherine Filene Shouse," n.d.).


It is safe to say that without Pauline Agassiz Shaw's financial support, Meyer Bloomfield's providing the venue for and subsequent direction of the Vocation Bureau, and Ralph Albertson's wholehearted participation in Parsons's endeavors and preparation of his manuscript for posthumous publication, career counseling would not be what it is today nor would career counselors necessarily regard Frank Parsons as the founder of their profession. Moreover, it must be recognized that other individuals played important roles in supporting, facilitating, and expanding on the enabling contributions of Shaw, Bloomfield, and Albertson. (A portrait of Pauline Agassiz Shaw can be seen online at Harvard University Library Visual Information Access [; search for WRC-1045a-1], and photographs of Albertson and Bloomfield can be found in Brewer, 1942, facing page 66.)

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Berkley, G. E. (1998). The Filenes. Boston: International Pocket Library.

Bloomfield, M. (1911). The vocational guidance of youth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Bloomfield, M. (1915a). Readings in vocational guidance. Boston: Ginn.

Bloomfield, M. (1915b). Youth, school, and vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Braverman, W. A. (2005). The emergence of a unified community, 1880-1917. In J. D. Sarna, E. Smith, & S.-M. Kosofsky (Eds.), The Jews of Boston (pp. 65-84). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Brewer, J. M. (1942). History of vocational guidance: Origins and early development. New York: Harper.

Catherine Filene Shouse (1896-1994). (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2005, from

Davis, H. V. (1969). Frank Parsons: Prophet, innovator, counselor. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Davis, P. (1952). And crown thy good. New York: Philosophical Library.

Filene, C. (Ed.). (1920). Careers for women. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Greenwald, R. A. (1998). "More than a strike": Ethnicity, labor relations, and the origins of the protocol of peace in the New York ladies' garment industry. Business and Economic History, 27, 318-329.

Gummere, R. M., Jr. (1988). The counselor as prophet: Frank Parsons, 1854-1908. Journal of Counseling and Development, 66, 402-405.

Herr, E. L., & Shahnasarian, M. (2001). Selected milestones in the evolution of career development practices in the twentieth century. The Career Development Quarterly, 49, 225-232.

Jones, L. K. (1994). Frank Parsons' contribution to career counseling. Journal of Career Development, 20, 287-294.

Mann, A. (1954). Yankee reformers in the urban age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Meyer Bloomfield, a welfare leader: Vocational guidance expert and labor arbiter died here on Saturday at 60. (1938, March 15). The New York Times, p. 23.

Nichols, G. (2003). An historical overview of the North End. Retrieved April 19, 2005, from

Parsons, F. (1909). Choosing a vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Pope, M. (2000). A brief history of career counseling in the United States. The Career Development Quarterly, 48, 194-211.

Pope, M., & Sveinsdottir, M. (2005). Frank, we hardly knew ye: The very personal side of Frank Parsons. Journal of Counseling & Development, 83, 105-115.

Richards, L. S. (1881). Vocophy: The new profession. A system enabling a person to name the calling or vocation one is best suited to follow. Marlboro, MA: Pratt Brothers.

Roach, C. (1999). Guide to the Ralph Albertson papers. Retrieved January 15, 2005, from

Ross, M. A. (2003). Boston Walks' the Jewish friendship trail guidebook (2nd ed.). Belmont, MA: BostonWalks.

Solomon, B, M. (1956). Pioneers in service: The history of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. Boston: Associated Jewish Philanthropies.

Witzel, M. (2000). Introduction. In M. Witzel (Ed.), Human resources management (pp. 1-12). Bristol, United Kingdom: Thoemmes Press.

David B. Hershenson, Professor Emeritus, The University of Maryland, College Park. He is now at the Department of Counseling and School Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Boston. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David B. Hershenson, 70 Park Street, Apt. 42, Brookline, MA 02446 (e-mail:
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Author:Hershenson, David B.
Publication:Career Development Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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