100 Years of Professional Social Work


1900 to 1950

Other Sections:
BC through 1700s Social Work Milestones
The 1880s Social Work Milestones
1950s to Present Social Work Milestones

1900 Educator Simon N. Patten coins the term "social workers" and applies it to friendly visitors and settlement house residents. He and Mary Richmond dispute whether the major role of social workers should be advocacy or delivering individualized social services.

1902 Homer Folks, founder and head of the New York State Charities Aid Association, publishes Care of Destitute, Neglected and Delinquent Children. His philosophy becomes influential in subsequent child welfare goals and methods.

1903 Graham Taylor and others establish the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, which eventually becomes the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

1905 A social services department is established in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to help patients deal with the social problems of their illnesses. Within the next decade, more than 100 hospitals hire hospital social workers.

1906 School social work programs are introduced in New York and other cities.

Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle leads to the U.S. Pure Food and Drugs Act (Ch. 3915, 34 Stat. 768).

1907 Psychiatric social work begins at Massachusetts General Hospital when social workers are hired to work with mentally ill patients.

The United States passes laws governing immigration.

1908 Pittsburgh Associated Charities is founded as the first community welfare council in the nation.

1909 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded. Social workers Mary White Ovington and Henry Moskowitz and others help organize black and white people to establish this voluntary organization oriented toward the protection of the legal and social rights of black people and other groups.

President Theodore Roosevelt convenes the first White House Conference, bringing together social workers and other leaders to discuss the problems of America’s children.

1910 Several states pass "workmen’s compensation laws" to protect wage earners from the economic risks of injury or unemployment. By 1920, all but six states have some form of workers’ compensation program.

Boy Scouts of America is founded, based on the British Boy Scouts established in 1907.

Social workers and others found the National Urban League.

1911 Great Britain passes the National Insurance Act, which organizes a health and compensation program paid for by contributions from workers, employers, and the public.

1912 The U.S. Children’s Bureau is created, headed by social worker and former Hull House resident Julia Lathrop.

Girl Scouts of America is founded as part of the Girl Guides/Girl Scouts movement.

1913 The U.S. Department of Labor is created, primarily to promote the welfare of American workers.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is established.

1914 The Harrison Narcotics Acts (Ch. 1, 38 Stat. 785) becomes U.S. law, establishing the government organization later known as the Bureau of Narcotics; the act makes the sale and use of certain drugs a criminal offense.

The Boston Psychopathic Hospital establishes a social services department and uses the title "psychiatric social worker" for the first time.

1915 In an address to the National Conference on Social Welfare (NCSW), Abraham Flexner declares that social work has not yet qualified as a profession, espe-cially because its members do not have a great deal of individual responsibility and because it still lacks a written body of knowledge and educationally communicable techniques.

Margaret Sanger publishes Family Limitation, the first book on birth control.

1917 Mary Richmond publishes Social Diagnosis (New York: Russell Sage Foundation). Social workers use her book as a primary text and as an answer to Abraham Flexner’s 1915 report.

The first organization for social workers is established. The National Social Workers Exchange exists primarily to process applicants for social work jobs. Later the group becomes the American Association of Social Workers (AASW).

1918 The American Association of Hospital Social Workers (AAHSW) is formed as the first specialty within the new field. The organization is renamed the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) in 1934.

Ida M. Cannon, director of medical social work at Massachusetts General Hospital, delineates the principles of medical social work.

Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, establishes the first training program for psychiatric social workers.



1919 The 17 schools of social work that exist in the United States and Canada form the Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Work to develop uniform standards of training and professional education. This group is later renamed the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW), which later merges with the National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA) to become the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Social workers employed in schools organize as the National Association of Visiting Teachers.

The Charity Organization Societies (COS) become oriented increasingly toward helping families. Many local societies change their names to Family Welfare Agency. The National Alliance for Organizing Charity is renamed the American Association for Organizing Family Social Work. By 1946, this organization is known as the Family Service Association of America, renamed Family Service America (FSA) in 1983.

1920 The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) is formed.

The National Conference of Catholic Charities is established.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote.

Unemployment insurance is established in Great Britain and Austria.

1921 The American Association of Social Workers (AASW) is created.

The U.S. Sheppard–Towner Act (Maternity Act, Ch. 135, 42 Stat. 224) goes into effect. Federal funds are granted to state health departments to provide for the pre- and postnatal health care of needy mothers and infants. Nearly 3,000 child and maternal health centers are established nationwide, and the nation’s infant and maternal mortality rates drop significantly. Nevertheless, the program is dropped in 1929.

Social work educator Edward C. Lindeman publishes The Community (New York: Republic Press), in which the basic concepts of community organization are delineated.

Japan’s Women’s College establishes that nation’s first school of social welfare.

1923 Clara Kaiser begins teaching the first social work course in social group work at Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The Tufts Report on social work education is completed (Education and Training for Social Work, by James H. Tufts), formally delineating the components necessary to provide adequate education for social workers. The report recommends training students in bringing about improvements in society as well as in individuals.

1926 The American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW) is founded, as social work increasingly comprises caseworkers and clinical practitioners.

The U.S. Veterans Bureau (now U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) begins employing social workers in its hospitals.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) is founded.





1928 The Milford Conference convenes to discuss whether social work is a disparate group of technical specialties or a unified profession with integrated knowledge and skills. The conclusion is that social work is one profession with more similarities than differences among its specialties. In 1929, the report of the conference is published as Social Case Work: Generic and Specific (New York: American Association of Social Workers).

The International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) is founded in Paris.

1929 The stock market crashes, heralding the Great Depression.

The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) is founded.

1930 The American Public Welfare Association (APWA) is established.

Virginia Robinson, who with Julia Jessie Taft developed the "functional school" of social casework, publishes the first com-prehensive text to integrate social and psychodynamic concepts, A Changing Psychology in Social Casework (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press).

Grace Coyle publishes the first comprehensive text on social group work, Social Process in Organized Groups (New York: Richard R. Smith).

1931 Social worker Jane Addams becomes co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaims a "New Deal" for Americans and establishes major social welfare programs to combat poverty and unemployment. Programs include the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and later the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Social workers Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins are appointed to the highest relevant positions, Hopkins as head of FERA and Perkins as U.S. Secretary of Labor (the first woman to head a cabinet department).

Through FERA, Harry Hopkins begins a federal grant program establishing public assistance offices in the states. Each office has to have at least one trained social worker on its staff.

1934 Puerto Rico passes a law regulating social work practice. This is the first time social work is legally regulated in any U.S. state or territory.

1935 The U.S. Social Security Act (Ch. 531, 49 Stat. 620) is signed into law. It includes a workers’ retirement insurance program and coverage for dependent survivors and disabled workers. The act also establishes a federal welfare program that helps states pay for and administer programs in Old Age Assistance (OAA), Aid to the Blind (AB), Aid to Dependent Children, and General Assistance (GA) for needy people who do not qualify for other forms of help.

The National Conference on Social Work recognizes social group work as a major function of social work.

Social worker Jane Hoey is appointed head of the U.S. Bureau of Public Assistance. She influences the state departments of public assistance so that qualified applicants for help receive counseling as well as income maintenance. She sees to it that professional social work education is a requirement for public assistance administrators.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the nation’s first self-help organization, is established in Akron, Ohio, and becomes the prototype for many other self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Parents Anonymous (for those who abuse their children).

1936 Group workers begin regular meetings and form the American Association for the Study of Group Work, an association that in 1946 becomes the American Association of Group Workers (AAGW).

The National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA) is established. In 1952 it merges with the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) to become the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

1937 The American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) declares that beginning in 1939 the requirement for social work accreditation will be a two-year master’s degree program. The master of social work (MSW) degree becomes a requirement to be considered a professional social worker.

1938 The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) begins its home-loan guarantee program to encourage home ownership.

Japan establishes its Ministry of Health and Welfare.

1939 The Lane Report (The Field of Community Organization, by Robert P. Lane) presents a systematic and comprehensive description of the roles, activities, and methods in the field of community organization. The work built on previous studies by Edward C. Lindeman in his 1921 book, The Community, and Jesse F. Steiner’s 1930 book, Community Organization.

1940 Mary Parker Follett’s posthumous book Dynamic Administration is published; it becomes an influence in the field of social welfare administration.

1941 The Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) is established to monitor and correct discrimination practices in the U.S. labor market. FEPC is abolished in 1945.

1942 The Beveridge Report is issued in Great Britain, recommending an integrated social security system that attempts to ensure cradle-to-grave economic protections for its citizens. Many of the report’s recommendations go into effect after World War II.

The Lanham Act (Ch. 14, 56 Stat. 11) is passed in the United States for the first federal funding for day care for children of working mothers.

1943 Social agencies begin charging modest fees for clients who can afford them.

The Marsh Report is issued in Canada. Based partly on Britain’s Beveridge Report, it establishes the guidelines for the Canadian social welfare system.

1945 World War II ends. On October 24, the United Nations is established, with many agencies for dealing with world social welfare problems, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); the World Health Organization (WHO); the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The GI Bill is implemented. The program is designed primarily to provide educational and vocational training opportunities for returning veterans of World War II.

California becomes the first state to pass a social work regulatory act, a registration law.

1946 Great Britain establishes its National Health Service.

After meeting in special study groups since 1936, group workers formally organize as the American Association of Group Workers (AAGW).

The Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO) is established.

The National Mental Health Act (Ch. 538, 60 Stat. 423) is passed, establishing the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and encouraging states, through grants, to develop and upgrade community and institutional mental health services. The Hill–Burton Act (Hospital Survey and Construction Act, Ch. 958, 60 Stat. 1040) is passed, providing federal funds to develop new hospital facilities.

The School Lunch program is established. Cash and commodities are supplied to the states, municipalities, and schools to ensure that poor children have adequate midday nutrition.

Emily Green Balch, social reformer and social work educator, receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

1947 More than 1 million war veterans enroll in colleges under the U.S. G.I. Bill.

1949 The Social Work Research Group (SWRG) is formally established.

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

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