Emily Dinwiddie grew up on her father's farm in Greenwood, where she probably acquired her lifelong enthusiasm for such outdoor activities as botany, hiking, camping, and swimming. She was educated at Peace Institute in Raleigh, N.C., where she received a B.A. degree and stayed on to teach Latin for two years. The family had a tradition of teaching and religious service, but it was apparently through a New Jersey, aunt, Sophia (Bledsoe) Herrick, a member of the editorial staff of the Century magazine, that Emily Dinwiddie in 1900 became an investigator for the New Jersey State Board of Children's Guardians and thus entered the field of social work. The following year she enrolled in the summer course offered by the New York School of Philanthropy and joined the staff of the New York Charity Organization Society. In this she served as investigation bureau visitor, assistant district agent, and acting agent (1901-02), and editor of the Charities Directory (1903). Experience during 1903 as an inspector for the New York City Tenement House Department marked her first contact with problems of housing. Another temporary assignment (1903-1904) took her to Philadelphia as special investigator of housing conditions for the Octavia Hill Association; during this sojourn she took graduate courses in economics and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Next year she returned to the New York Charity Organization Society as assistant secretary (1904-05) and then as secretary (1905-09) of its tenement house committee; she examined the housing scene in Pittsburgh (1907-08) under the auspices of the Pittsburgh Survey, and the general supervision of Lawrence Veiller, the nation's foremost housing reformer.
Her next position, as supervisor of dwellings for New York's Trinity Church (1910-18), enabled her to make her own distinctive contribution to the cause of housing betterment. One of the largest owners of low-income housing in New York City (its properties all located on the Lower West Side), Trinity had been subjected to scathing criticism by a New York State Tenement House Committee, the press, and even the president of the Board of Health in 1894-95. The criticism, leveled at alleged structural and sanitary abuses, in addition to use of the property for saloons, gambling, and prostitution, did not always distinguish between the houses actually owned by Trinity and those held by others on long-term ground leases, over which the church posessed no control. Following renewed attacks by the writer Charles Edward Russell and others in 1908-09, the heyday of the muckraking era, the Trinity vestry authorized an investigation by the tenement house committee of the Charity Organization Society. Carried out by Miss Dinwiddie, the investigation revealed that by almost an criterion the great majority of the 334 Trinity-owned properties (most of which were not even tenements, but dwellings occupied by one or two families) provided a home environment equal or superior to the average tenement accommodation of New York's immigrant and working-class population. Trinity then hired Miss Dinwiddie to manage all the properties and to evolve a consistent policy regarding their maintenance and, not least, the welfare of the tenants.
A person of quiet charm, tact, and patience, dignified but gifted with humor and wit, and experienced in casework, housing investigation, and administration, Miss Dinwiddie was ideally equipped to launch an ambitious experiment in housing management. This was consciously patterned, in part, on the work of Ellen Collins in New York and the Octavia Hill Association of Philadelphia. Under her guidance, Trinity Church became a model corporate landlord. The church systematically acquired houses as ground leases expired or, at most, relet them for a year at a time on condition that necessary repairs be made; it renovated houses as they fell into its possession or tore them down if structurally unsound, eliminated rear tenements, and forbade use of its property for immoral purposes, as well as for rag or junk shops and home manufacturing. Tenants were encouraged by Miss Dinwiddie to match the church's efforts in maintaining a satisfactory sanitary environment and, beyond this, to take advantage of the comparatively low land coverage of the Trinity dwellings by planting flower and vegetable gardens in the yards. She made sure, in addition, that the church kept rents low and gave preference to tenants with large families.
Emily Dinwiddie left Trinity Church early in 1918 to join the American Red Cross. She spent a year in wartime France as director of a social service exchanged giving aid to refugees. Returning to the United States in 1919, she settled in Washington, D.C. as associated director of the Red Cross Information Service, advancing to director in 1921 and to assistant executive secretary of the Red Cross in 1922. Next year she left the Red Cross to become a social work consultant to St. Elizabeths Hospital (1923-27 in Washington (where she also took courses in psychiatry) and a lecturer in social casework at George Washington University (1924-27). In 1927 she accepted an appointment in her home state as director of the Children's Bureau of the Virginia Department of Public Welfare, where she devoted much attention to the task of coordinating the bureau's work with that of the state's public and private welfare agencies. She also prepared a detailed report on Virginia's mental hospitals, exhibiting in the process a sound grasp of the most progressive ideas concerning the organization of state services for the mentally ill.
Miss Dinwiddie left Virginia in 1934 to become state case supervisor of the Kansas Emergency Relief Committee, and then assistant state superintendent of relief and state superintendent of the child welfare program from 1936 until her retirement early in 1938. As head of the committee's children's program, she supervised the use of federal funds to improve county and rural children's services through training local workers and coordinating local welfare activities. She died of arteriosclerosis in Waynesboro, Va., at the age of sixty-nine and was buried in Lebanon Presbyterian Churchyard near Greenwood, Va.
Throughout her long career Emily Dinwiddie displayed a verstility that was destined to become increasingly rare as social work evolved a professional, institutional apparatus with all its pressures for the division of labor and specialization. Although she was pragmatic and experimental in both attitued and practice, Miss Dinwiddie's significance lay no so much in innovation as in sober, competent administration and the application of previously formulated concepts in charity organization, housing, and child welfare. Supplementing her administrative talents was a capacity for field investigation and research, particularly in housing, which contrasted sharply in its objectivity and precision with much of the sensationalist reform literature of the early twentieth century. Her most memorable achievement was the transformation of Trinity Church's not-altogether-deserved- reputation for corporate irresponsibility into a record of responsible and social-minded housing management all to exceptional in the speculative low- income housing market of the time.
(Miss Dinwiddie's writings include the following reports on her housing surveys: Housing Conditions in Phila. (Octavia Hill Associ., 1904); Housing Conditions in Phila., Charities, April 1, 1905; "Pittsburgh's Housing Laws," Charities and the Commons, February 6, 1909; and "The Truth about Trinity's Tenements," Survey, February 26, 1910. A sampling of her ideas on the subject of housing management includes: "The Tenant's Responsibily," Nat. Housing Assoc., Proc., I (1911), 52-60; "Educating the Tenant," ibid., V (1916) 386-92; "Tenement House Supervision," Journal of Home Economics, February 1912; and "Management of Wage-Earners' Dwellings in England," Am. City, August 1915. Brief reports by Miss Dinwiddie on her supervision of the Trinity properties appear in the Trinity Church Year Book and Register, 1911-16. She touches on the subject of housing code inforcement in "Women Tenement Inspectors in N.Y.," Am.Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals, September 1903, and in "The Work of N.Y.'s Tenement House Dept.," Charities and the Commons, October 6, 1906. She compiled advice for both social workers and tenants in The Tenants' Manual (Greenwich House Publications, No. 1 1903). Her excellent study of Va.'s state mental institutions appears in Va. State Hospitals for Mental Patients-Report on Receiving System and Hospitalization Needs (State Dept. of Public Welfare, 1934). Her work on behalf of child welfare in Kansas is partially explained in Kans. Emergency Relief Committee, Social Welfare in Kansas, 1936 (1937). Biographical data on Miss Dinwiddie is found in Lilian Brandt, The Charity Organization Soc. of the City of N.Y., 1882-1907 (25th Annual Report of Charity Organization Soc., 1907), pp. 236-37; Woman's Who's Who of America, 1914-15 Durward Howes, ed., Am. Women, 1939-40; and the obituary in the N.Y. Times March 13, 1949. On her ancestry, see Elizabeth Dinwiddie Holladay, Dinwiddie Family Records (1957). Information on Miss Dinwiddie's personal background and details of her career were provided by: Elizabeth Dinwiddie (Mrs. Lewis L.) Holladay, a cousin; Mrs. Emily D. Halley, a niece; Miss Margaret Brown, a former secretery; the Presbyterian Hist. Soc. and the Hist. Foundation of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches; the Rev. Charles T. Bridgeman, Historiagrapher, and Mr. Desmond L. Crawfor, Comptroller, Trinity Church; Mr. Clyde E. Buckinham, Director, Officer of Research Information Am. Nat. Red Cross; Mrs. Isabel S. Eldridge of the Va. Dept. of Welfare and Institutions; the Kansas State Dept. of Social Welfare; Mr. John G. Stutz, former Director, Kans. Emergency Relief Committe; St. Elizabeths Hospital; George Washington Univ., the N.Y. School of Social Work; and the Univ. of Pa.)