Reflecting on Its Origins
First there was the word professional, which initially meant someone engaged in an occupation connected to a scientific learning that was liberally acquired. As a worker, his or her accomplishments stood in contrast to the artisan or craftsman or whose skills were acquired through manual labor using traditional methods.
During the Victorian era (1837 - 1901), the suffix “ism" was added to coin the word “professionalism", which denoted a practice or condition that was related to a doctrine, principle, characteristic, devotion or adherence. Hence, putting both together gives a definition of professionalism as the practice of an acquired scientific learning in accordance with its principles and doctrines.
Let us reflect on the Victorian era to come to an understanding of the conditions that gave rise to the concept of professionalism. It was during Queen Victoria’s rule that the British people experienced peace and prosperity for quite some time and particularly for the educated middle class.
This was largely attributed to the advent of industrialization and the acceptance of scientific knowledge as a tool for improving man’s way of life. In earlier years, science was taboo because it was considered as a tool for wizardry and witchcraft.
The British nobility now included the British gentleman or lady who had reached prosperity through his or her acquired liberal education without regard for his or her ancestral origins. As prosperity was attained, many of the British leaders instituted political and moral reforms, which gave rise to the Victorian morality.
These referred to the ethics and principles that were founded on the common desire to make the world a better place for all mankind. The leaders were collectively known as “the Victorians" who spoke of and recognized a sense of shared responsibility toward the less fortunate although they specifically excluded the alcoholics and the lazy members of the poor sector.
Nevertheless, they planted the seeds of the new breed of professionals in the workplace. They were those who had the desire to either eliminate or be lifted out of poverty through hard work, honesty, thrift and the elimination of child labor.