100 Years of Professional Social Work


The 1800s

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BC through 1700s Social Work Milestones
1900 to 1950s Social Work Milestones
1950s to Present Social Work Milestones

1819 Scottish preacher and mathematician Thomas Chalmers assumes responsibility for Glasgow’s poor. He develops private philanthropies to help meet the economic needs of poor people and organizes a system of volunteers to meet individually and regularly with disadvantaged people to give them encouragement and training.

1824 The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is established. It is the first federal organization to attempt to provide direct assistance in the welfare of some Americans.

1833 Antoine Frédéric Ozanum establishes the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Paris, using lay volunteers to provide emergency economic and spiritual assistance to poor people.

Slavery is abolished in the British Empire.

1834 The new Poor Law is established in England to reform the Elizabethan Poor Law (1601). The underlying emphasis of the new law is on self-reliance. Public assistance is not considered a right, and government is not seen as responsible for unemployed people. The principle of "less eligibility" (a recipient of aid can never receive as much as does the lowest-paid worker) is enforced.

1835 The Reverend Joseph Tuckerman, a Unitarian minister who is influenced by the reports of Thomas Chalmers’s work in Scotland, organizes the Boston Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. This organization uses many of Chalmers’s principles of individualized work with poor families, volunteer visitors, coordinated fundraising, and social action. Tuckerman’s organization is influential in the subsequent development of the Charity Organization Societies (COS).

1836 Laws offering some protection for child laborers are enacted in Boston.

1843 Robert Hartley, using the teachings of Thomas Chalmers, Joseph Tuckerman, and French philanthropist Baron de Gerando, establishes the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. Soon imitated in many other American cities, the association stresses character building as a way to end poverty. Volunteers, usually middle-class Protestant laypersons, work to get poor people to abstain from alcohol, become more self-disciplined, and acquire the work ethic.

1844 The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) is founded in London.

Parisian nuns establish the first "day care" facility for infants of mothers working away from home.

1845 As a result of the social movement led by Dorothea Dix, the first state asylum for mentally ill people is established in Trenton, New Jersey. Soon Dix’s efforts convince many other states to build mental hospitals.

1847 The British Factory Act restricts the working day for women and children to 10 hours, down from 13 to 18 hours a day.

1848 Feminists from throughout the United States convene at Seneca Falls, New York, to declare the goal of equal rights for women and to establish the philosophy and objectives of the women’s movement, including suffrage, equal opportunities in education and jobs, and legal rights.

1850 Old Age Insurance is established in France.

1851 Mary Carpenter establishes refor-matory schools for juvenile offenders.

1853 The Reverend Charles Loring Brace, concerned about the plight of New York’s street children and children living in almshouses, organizes the Children’s Aid Society. The society transports thousands of children every year to the West to live with rural families.

1854 Congress, pressured by Dorothea Dix’s movement on behalf of mentally ill people, allocates funds and land to build mental hospitals. President Franklin Pierce vetoes the legislation, saying that charity is the province of the states and localities.

1860 The Food and Drug Act is established in Great Britain.

1862 Congress establishes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Homestead Act (Ch. 75, 12 Stat. 392) is passed, giving 160 acres of unoccupied public land to any American citizen who agrees to live on it for five years.

Freedmen’s Aid Societies are established in the northern states to assist former slaves with education and supplies.

1863 Massachusetts establishes a state board of charities to investigate and supervise its almshouses, prisons, and mental institutions. Other states soon follow suit.

The Red Cross is established in Switzerland by writer Jean Henri Dunant, and soon there are Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in many other nations.

1864 French sociologist and engineer

P. G. Frédéric Le Play completes the first scientific study of poverty—its extent, causes, consequences, and possible solutions.

1865 At the end of the Civil War, the United States establishes its first federal welfare agency, the Freedmen’s Bureau, as part of the War Department, to provide temporary relief, education, employment, and health care for the newly released slaves.

Octavia Hill begins London tenement dwelling reforms.

1866 The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) establishes its first group in Boston.

1868 Orphans are boarded in private family homes in Massachusetts using public funds.

1869 In London the first Charity Organization Society (COS) is established. Formally named the "Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity," the society works to coordinate efforts at fundraising and to disburse funds in a systematic fashion. Volunteers are recruited to befriend applicants for assistance, make individual assessments of the reasons for their poverty, and help correct those reasons.

1870 Social Darwinism gains influence. Herbert Spencer’s thesis was that "survival of the fittest" should apply to human society and that poverty was merely an aspect of natural selection. Helping poor people, it was believed, would make them lazy and nonindustrious.

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing each citizen (not including women) the right to vote, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

1872 The Freedmen’s Bureau is abolished. Charles Loring Brace publishes The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among Them, which raises U.S. consciousness about the plight of urban poor people.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is established.

1874 Members of private charity organizations, religious agencies, and public officials from several northeastern states begin meetings to discuss their mutual concerns. These meetings lead to the establishment of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later renamed the National Conference on Social Welfare).

1877 The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children is formed in New York by E. T. Gerry.

Using the London organization as his model, the Reverend S. Humphreys Gurteen establishes America’s first Charity Organization Society (COS) in Buffalo, New York. Volunteer workers dispense advice rather than money to poor people and information about them to philanthropists and private relief agencies. A sign at the doorway of the Buffalo COS reads "No relief here!" Within a decade, COSs are established in most larger cities, and many are giving direct financial relief to needy people.

1878 The Reverend William Booth reorganizes his East London Revival Society as the Salvation Army.

1881 Clara Barton establishes the American Red Cross.

1883 In newly united Germany, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck establishes a national health insurance system and, shortly thereafter, accident insurance and old age and invalid insurance programs. This system becomes a model for social security programs in many other nations, excluding Great Britain and the United States.

1884 Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house, is established in London by Vicar Samuel A. Barnett. The settlement movement spreads quickly, and facilities are developed in most larger British and American cities. Their philosophy is to eliminate the distance between socioeconomic classes by locating settlements in working-class neighborhoods where ideas and information can be exchanged.

1886 Stanton Coit, who had resided in Toynbee Hall, opens America’s first settlement house, the Neighborhood Guild, in New York. Eventually more than 400 houses are established. Their residents are involved in social advocacy, group work, and community development.

1889 In Chicago, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr open Hull House, which becomes one of the most influential social settlement houses in the United States.

1890 The Consumer’s League is established in England and, later, in the United States. Its purpose is to fight for better conditions in the work environment and safer products for the public. In the United States, the National Consumers League (NCL), under the leadership of social worker–lawyer Florence Kelley, establishes local chapters in most larger communities and leads successful campaigns to abolish child labor practices and to achieve minimum wages and shorter working hours as well as safe and effective consumer products.

1894 Amos G. Warner’s American Charities—the first U.S. social welfare textbook—is published.

Japan's first social welfare law, the Indigent Person Relief Regulation, is enacted, requiring families to care for disabled, ill, and frail elderly people and children.

1896 In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the "separate but equal" doctrine, which gives legal sanction to segregated schools and other facilities.

1898 The first school for social workers is established. The New York School of Philanthropy (later to become the Columbia University School of Social Work) grows out of a series of summer workshops and training programs for volunteers and friendly visitors and offers a one-year educational program. Faculty member and COS administrator Mary E. Richmond publishes Friendly Visiting Among the Poor.

1899 The Institute for Social Welfare Training, a two-year course in social services, is established in Amsterdam.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) is established to develop and maintain standards in the nation’s health care facilities.

Chicago establishes the nation’s first juvenile court.

by Robert L. Barker,
published by NASW Press, 1995
National Association of Social Workers

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