Natalia Ritter retired from the NYU Silver School of Social Work in 2004. She spent seven years working on continuing education programs, directing special training programs for outside agencies. Her relationship with the School, however, spans over 50 years. She was among one of the first cohorts of students to enroll in NYU’s Department of Social Work—before an independent social work school was established at the University.
Ritter arrived at New York University from the Philippines in 1956, as part of a Philippine-United States economic development program. She was one of eight students chosen to study in the United States in various fields, including engineering, community development, and resource development.
“I was probably the first to leave from my town to go to the States,” she said. “At that time in the Philippines there was no school of social work.” Only three U.S. schools offered degrees in both her fields of study, public administration and social work.
After one year at NYU, the Philippine president died and his initiative died along with him; Ritter was told to return home. She explained, “[My professors] felt it was too premature for me to go home. They said at least I should finish my course work and then finish the master’s thesis at home.”
Instead of returning to the Philippines in 1957, Ritter stayed in New York for one semester and a summer to finish her coursework. NYU secured grant support for her, allowing Ritter to attend free of charge. “For that I am forever grateful.”
She returned to Manila in 1958 and worked at the University of the Philippines while she finished her thesis. She took a position as a research assistant for a Department of Sociology and Public Administration professor, teaching two courses and helping him write on community development.
She also worked part-time for the Youth Welfare Coordinating Council, an umbrella organization for youth services in Manila. In this role, Ritter attended the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth. Because she came on a special diplomatic visa, Ritter stayed in the United States. Eventually, she landed a job as a psychiatric social worker at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene.
Ritter brought her research with her to finish her thesis. In 1963, it was approved and she graduated, after an independent school of social work had been founded.
Ritter stayed in New York and went onto a distinguished social work career. She was a medical social worker at Beekman Hospital, supervising its psychiatric clinic. She served as the assistant executive director of the Puerto Rican Family Institute from 1966 to 1983, and later was the executive director of Inwood House—a child welfare agency—for 12 years. She capped her career at the Silver School, coming full circle and helping train social workers at about 45 social service agencies in the New York metropolitan area.
In addition to completing her graduate education at NYU, Ritter met her husband, Arthur, whose roommate was a fellow student from the Philippines. Just as the School is celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Ritters are celebrating 50 years of marriage.
During this anniversary year Ritter reconnected with the Silver School to share her story because, “I felt like I was one of the last students of the old school, when it was still part of the School of Public Administration, and then one of the existing students when it became a school. I felt very connected to the school … it really equipped me for my career.”