Social worker at USC studied cancer patients
Frances Lomas Feldman, a USC professor and social work pioneer who conducted a groundbreaking study in the 1970s that showed cancer patients faced discrimination in the workplace, has died. She was 95.
Feldman died at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena on Tuesday, a week after having a stroke, USC announced.
In 1976, she began a multiyear study to investigate the work experiences of people treated for cancer. Her research provided the first systematic evidence that employers and co-workers often imposed harsh, even illegal conditions on cancer survivors, The Times reported in 1985.
Not long after beginning her research, Feldman called the results “disheartening.”
The study of more than 200 Southern California cancer survivors found that more than 50% of white-collar workers and 84% of blue-collar workers faced discrimination when they returned to work. The affronts included demotions, denial of promotions and withdrawal of health insurance coverage.
But the American Cancer Society, which funded the study, used her findings to call attention to the problem.
Researchers from around the world continue to seek out Feldman’s research, which was “an early look at a continuing problem,” according to USC.
Several states also modified fair employment legislation because of the study, the National Assn. of Social Workers said on its website.
For more than 50 years, Feldman concentrated on the study of the social and psychological meanings of work and life. Her original research on the effect of financial stress on families led her to co-found a national network of nonprofit credit counseling services that continues to operate.
After joining USC as a professor of social work in 1954, Feldman was instrumental in establishing the first curriculum in the West devoted to industrial social work, which involves helping people cope in the workplace.
At USC, she also was a key founder of the California Social Welfare Archives, a volunteer organization that preserves the state’s social work history.
“She almost single-handedly was responsible for the discovery and preservation of social welfare history in Southern California,” Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work, said in a statement.
Among the 10 books Feldman wrote was “Human Services in the City of Angels: 1850-2000" (2004). Her research showed that Los Angeles was a pioneer in social services, reimbursing citizens for taking care of sick strangers as early as 1850 and establishing city-run day-care centers in 1918.
The youngest of six children, she was born Dec. 3, 1912, in Philadelphia to Harry and Devora Lomas, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Her father was a master tailor who moved his family to Los Angeles when she was 8.
She considered medicine as a career but fainted and broke her nose while observing a brother perform surgery, so she made other plans, said Dona Munker, her only child.
“Somebody told her that by going into social work, you could help people even if you weren’t treating their bodies,” her daughter said.
At USC, Feldman ran a laundry service to pay tuition and received a bachelor’s degree in 1935. She earned a master’s degree in social work from the university in 1940.
In 1935, she married Albert G. Feldman, who was so captivated by the stories she told about her job as a social worker for the state that he left behind his work as a research chemist and followed her into the profession. He became deputy director of the USC Andrus Gerontology Center and died in 1975.
In the late 1960s, officials in Alaska asked Feldman to research the social service needs of the state’s native people, and her observations led to many improvements in basic services, according to USC.
In Alaska, Feldman -- then in her 50s -- rode on dog sleds and slept in igloos as she traveled to isolated Eskimo villages. The experience made the “natural optimist” want “to know how the rest of the world lived,” her daughter said. Feldman ended up traveling to more than 200 countries.
Although she retired in 1982, Feldman stayed involved with USC and drove twice a week to the school from her home in Pasadena.
For her 95th birthday, she renewed her driver’s license and received a perfect score on her test, said her daughter, her only immediate survivor.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Culver City.
Memorial donations may be made to the Albert G. and Frances L. Feldman Fund for graduate scholarships at the USC School of Social Work, Montgomery Ross Fisher Building, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0411.