Rehabilitation in an Historic Perspective: The Work of Bell Greve

Article excerpt

Bell Greve was one of the most prominent figures in rehabilitation from the 1930s through the 50s. Greve was not only a key figure in the National Rehabilitation Association, which still presents an annual award in her name, but in rehabilitation efforts around the globe. It is unlikely that what is today Rehabilitation International would exist without her hard work. Yet unlike many of her contemporaries, Bell Greve has been all but forgotten. A modest woman, apparently more interested in the world around her than in recounting stories from her own past, she rarely wrote about herself in her professional correspondence and left no memoirs to summarize her achievements. The following biographical sketch is based on Greve's personal papers and interviews and correspondence with colleagues and relatives.

Early Years

Bell Greve was born in Chicago on January 4, 1894, the second child of three born to Louis F. and Margaritha Greve. The dominant figure in Greve's early years was her mother who encouraged in her children "a sense of responsibility for self or for family, independence, steadfastness, appreciation of decencies" (Greve:nd). Bell's mother had good cause to stress such attributes, for her father was, in her own words, "restless, untrained for any work." He also had a problem with alcohol (ibid). Greve's mother was responsible both for raising and working to support her young family. When Bell Greve and her brothers reached adulthood they urged the mother to seek a divorce, which she did. (D. Greve:1993)

Keenly aware of the difficulties women had in supporting themselves, with her mother's encouragement, Greve attended Hiram College (Greve:nd) and then transferred to Women's College (today part of Case Western Reserve University) to complete her degree. Years later, she apparently told friends that her intention was to become a missionary (Bruere:1957a; Greve:1993), however it is unclear whether this decision was guided by strong religious conviction, by a curiosity to see the world or by some combination of both these reasons.

In 1916, during her junior year of college, Greve began to volunteer at Hiram House, a neighborhood settlement house in Cleveland. This experience seems to have proved key to her decision to undertake a career in social service (Filmer:1983). Soon after graduating from college, Greve took a job as a relief worker for the city of Cleveland. At the same time, she began taking night classes in law. Her interest in the law seems to have stemmed from an interest in policy and advocacy (Wilson: 1990). She received her law degree from Baldwin-Wallace College and passed the bar, although she never practiced law.

It is unclear how Greve became involved with rehabilitation, but she seems to have done so early in her career (Rehabilitation International:nd). Her youthful plans to become a missionary may have predisposed her to working with under-served populations. The roots of her interest in international issues are also unknown but apparently began quite early and continued throughout her life (Greve: 1993). It is interesting to note that a group of internationally oriented professionals were beginning to work on disability issues in the Cleveland area during the early 1920s. In 1922 in the nearby town of Elyria, Ohio, Edgar Allen had founded an organization initially called the International Society for Crippled Children. This would eventually give rise to two organizations: the National Easter Seals Society and what is today, Rehabilitation International. Over the next few decades, a number of leading national and international figures in rehabilitation can be traced to Ohio and many were affiliated with the Case Western Reserve University's School of Social Work. In addition to Bell Greve and Edgar Allen, Leonard Mayo, Romaine Mackie and slightly later, Donald Wilson, would all begin their careers in Cleveland (Groce: 1993).

Whatever her initial links to the very early international rehabilitation efforts in nearby Elyria, Greve's first overseas experience dates from 1921, when at the age of 27, she left Ohio to become the director of the Red Cross Child Health Center in Hodonin, Czechoslovakia (Binere: 1957a; Filmer:1983). …