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Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller papers

Identifier: sw0203

Scope and Content

The Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller papers consist of correspondence, reports, speeches and writings. Other documents include, song books, newspaper clippings, slides, audio tapes, photographs, meeting notes, and print materials. The papers focus primarily on the Teffertellers' careers and, to a lesser extent, on their political activities and biographical information. The papers document programs at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Ralph Tefferteller's work on drug addiction projects, Ruth Tefferteller's work as director of the Massachusetts Salem-Danvers Department of Mental Health and Retardation, and the Teffertellers' time at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Mission in Saigon, Vietnam. The papers also relate to some of the Teffertellers' other professional and political activities. They are a source for studying youth work in the mid 20th century; social problems, such as drugs, delinquency and gangs; and camping and recreation. The Henry Street-related materials reflect the administration and, to some extent, the inner workings of the settlement and its relations with some neighborhood residents. In addition to settlement house activities, the papers also document folk music and dancing and the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a community education and activism organization. Finally, the papers document extensively the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) Mission to Saigon and its Ban-Co Multi-Service Neighborhood Center. These materials reflect an attempt to apply U.S. settlement house and community organization methods in Saigon during the Vietnam War.


  • 1928-1988

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room.


Contact the Archivesregarding copyright.

Biographical Note

Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller were social workers who spent much of their careers (from 1946 to 1967) at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City. After leaving Henry Street, the Teffertellers worked with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Mission in Vietnam until 1971. The Teffertellers led active professional and political lives and were involved with nearly 20 agencies and organizations during their long careers.

Born in rural east Tennessee on January 10, 1910, Ralph B. Tefferteller began preparing for a public service career early in life. He graduated from Maryville College in 1932 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1935. Between 1936 and 1938, Ralph worked with the renowned, socially radical Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, training industrial workers in leadership and unionization skills. He then became a field organizer for cultural and educational activities with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, a position he held until 1942. It was during his tenure with the Clothing Workers Union that he married Ruth Sinovoy. Ruth was born on August 28, 1917 in Albany, New York. Also displaying an early interest in public service, she graduated from New York State College for Teachers with a B.A. in Social Sciences and English and from Columbia University School of Social Work with a Master's Degree in Social Welfare.

In 1942, Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller began coordinating their respective concerns and careers. From 1942 until 1946, both served in the Army. Ruth was an army hospital recreation worker with the American Red Cross and Ralph was an Army Air Force officer with Rehabilitation Command. In 1946, both joined the Henry Street Settlement, Ralph as associate director and Ruth as project director and special assistant to the executive director. It was to Henry Street that the Teffertellers devoted twenty-one years of their lives. They remained at the settlement until 1967, setting up educational programs, providing counseling services and recreational alternatives to urban youth and fighting drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

Following their tenure at Henry Street, the Teffertellers became involved in the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) mission to Saigon, Vietnam. Ralph arrived in Saigon in 1968, where he served as the UUSC social welfare administrator. Ruth, delayed due to illness, followed in January of 1969, becoming the UUSC senior social welfare adviser. Their mission in Vietnam was to create an all-purpose social welfare center that was very similar to the settlement house on Henry Street, yet designed to accommodate the unique needs of the war-ravaged area. Echoing the rhetoric of the American government at the time, the UUSC mission determined to "Vietnamize" the social welfare center. The mission pursued this goal by training Vietnamese social workers to replace the UUSC American workers by 1972. Recognizing the ever-diminishing need for their services, the Teffertellers themselves left Vietnam around 1971. Back in the United States, Ralph Tefferteller officially retired, but continued to involve himself actively in various social welfare related campaigns and programs, including, but not limited to, the Marblehead Nuclear Freeze Committee and the North Shore Health Planning Council, of which he was president. Ruth Tefferteller remained officially employed, becoming the Area Director for the Massachusetts Salem-Danvers Department of Health. She held this post from 1971 until 1986. Ralph Tefferteller died on February 5, 1988. Ruth Tefferteller died in May of 1989.


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The papers of Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller, social workers who spent much of their careers at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City. The papers document programs at the settlement as well as some of the Teffertellers' other professional and political activities and their work with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Mission in Vietnam.


The Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller papers are arranged into 7 series:

  1. Series 1. Personal Correspondence and Papers
  2. Series 2. Highlander Folk School
  3. Series 3. Henry Street Settlement
  4. Series 4. Narcotics Projects
  5. Series 5. Professional Activities
  6. Series 6. Ruth Tefferteller, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health
  7. Series 7. Vietnam

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished inventory available. Please contact the Archivesfor more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller agreed to donate their personal papers to the Social Welfare History Archives in 1986. Following Ralph Tefferteller's death in February of 1988, Ruth Tefferteller completed the organization and preparation of the papers, assisted by Laurie Millman. The records were shipped to the Archives in 1988.

Ralph and Ruth Tefferteller papers, 1928-1988
Leigh Ann Wheeler and Linnea M. Anderson
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Social Welfare History Archives Collecting Area