Ruth H. Young, the retired dean of the University of Maryland's School of Social Work who fought child abuse while promoting the rights of children, died of respiratory failure Feb. 15 at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The former Sykesville resident was 86.
"She was a real trouper, a role model for women, was a dedicated individual and a free thinker," said Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. "She had a strong personality and a very clear vision."
Born Ruth Harney in Framingham Center, Mass., she earned a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and served in the Navy's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES. Stationed in Washington, D.C., she worked in military communications, friends said.
She then became a Washington social worker and earned a master's degree and doctorate in that field at the Catholic University of America, where she was a clinical instructor. She was also on the Howard University faculty. She worked in various positions related to child welfare.
"She focused on public service," said Matt Conn, a University of Maryland spokesman. "She felt strongly that social workers should be actively involved."
She moved to Baltimore in 1964 and joined the faculty of what was then called the University of Maryland School of Social Work and Community Planning. She was initially an assistant professor for social welfare administration and social strategy. In 1969, she initiated an undergraduate program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and was its director for seven years.
Dr. Young, who had been appointed her school's associate dean in 1966, was named dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work in 1977. She held the post until retiring in 1988 and successfully pushed the state legislature and school administrators to construct the social work school's headquarters. She officiated at the West Redwood Street building's groundbreaking in the early 1980s.
"She could be crotchety, very direct and deliberate, and didn't suffer fools, but she was still a very giving, loving woman," said Sue Gladhill, a friend who is vice president for external affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. "She improved the lives of thousands of children who came across her path. And as a teacher, she was popular with her students because she was an advocate for them."
A children's and family research center at the University of Maryland School of Social Work is named for her.
"I loved her energy and her leadership," said Barbara Bonnell, a friend who served on an advisory board to the social work school. "She built her school into a premier place and pushed for it to be integrated into Maryland's other programs, such as law, medicine, pharmacy and nursing."
During her tenure, the school's academic standards increased and its enrollment increased. She also promoted community organization as a means of bringing beneficial social change.
For many years, Dr. Young lived on a small Sykesville farm. She later resided in Columbia and moved to Roland Park Place last year. A world traveler, Dr. Young made a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway last year.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 28 at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Her husband, Joseph J. Young, a classics scholar, died many years ago. She leaves no immediate survivors.