NASW Centennial: Celebrating 100 Years of Professional Social Work, 1898 - 1998

The goal of the Centennial Celebratory Year was to raise the visibility of the social work profession and improve the public perception of social work.

Major NASW-Sponsored Centennial Events

NASW Centennial Collection Donation Celebration and Reception, Smithsonian Institution

On November 12, 1998, NASW capped its Centennial Celebratory Year with the donation of more than 30 social work artifacts to the National Museum of American History, Social History Collection. Social work’s treasures, including a rocking chair from Jane Addams’ Hull-House, were on display during the reception and later accepted by the nation’s treasure-keeper, the Smithsonian Museum. In accepting the gift of artifacts from NASW during a formal transfer of deed ceremony, National Museum of American History Director Spencer R. Crew commended the profession for its mission to "make a better world and assure that all may participate in it." These artifacts speak loudly of the wonderful contributions professional social workers have made to society over the years."

In attendance at the reception held in the Museum Presidential Reception Suite were collection donors, special guests and representatives from NASW Chapters, social work pioneers, board and staff. Remarks were given by NASW President Josephine A.V.Allen, Executive Director Josephine Nieves and Social Work Pioneer Ruth Knee. The program ended with special exhibition tours by Museum specialists to "Parlor to Politics" and "Between a Rock and a Hard Place. A history of American Sweatshops, 1920 to Present".

A Congressional Reception was held in celebration of the Social Work Centennial to honor Social Work Members of Congress: Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representative Debbie Stabenow, Representative Ciro Rodriguez and Representative Edolphus Towns. A special tribute was given to retiring social worker, Representative Ronald Dellums.

The reception was held at the Rayburn House on April 1, 1998 – the first day of the NASW Annual Leadership Meeting. All honorees (with the exception of Ron Dellums who was traveling out of country) were present and received a plaque of appreciation. Each gave well-received remarks including reflections on the role of social workers in political office. There was strong attendance by other members of Congress, Friends of NASW, Chapter/National leaders and staff.

A Social Work Centennial Commemorative Celebration was held on April 5, 1998, at the Capitol Reflecting Pool on the Mall in Washington, DC. Over 200 social workers, friends and family participated in the Commemorative Celebration. Although the weather was bitterly cold, participants enthusiastically responded to readings by Jane Addams, Whitney M. Young, and Jeanette Rankin – all in period costume. President Josephine Allen and Executive Director Josephine Nieves underscored the importance of social workers in the fabric of society. Commemorative wreaths were laid and tribute was given to social work’s "Fallen Heroes" and to social workers who touch the lives of children with hope. Children from two neighborhood choirs under the leadership of Joan Phalen combined to raise spirits with participants joining in the refrains of well-known social movement songs. The lone notes of trumpeter Emerson Head opened and closed the program with beauty and grace.

Student volunteers distributed programs and festive centennial ribbons and assisted in the social advocacy writing of Birthday Cards to Legislators. Artwork for the cards celebrated 100 years of social work contributions to individuals and communities with hand written messages urging support of federal legislation for comprehensive managed care standards. The Massachusetts Chapter Committee provided informational handouts for the Study and Prevention of Violence Against Social Workers.

Social workers were heard saying, "I feel proud to be a social worker!" as they left the celebration. The Washington Times titled their April 7, 1998 Page A2 article: "Social workers celebrate 100 years of helping people. Aging populace means field will continue to expand."

A professionally produced videotape of the event was made and distributed to all NASW Chapters, placed in the Library and submitted to the University of Minnesota Social Welfare Archives. Additional copies are available for loan through the NASW Office of Public Affairs. The program is available for use in promoting airing of the 31-minute video on local radio stations. Scripts for all presentations were distributed to Chapters and have been used in numerous gatherings, workshops and conferences during the centennial year.

Other Centennial Activities

Social Work Birthday Celebration and Advocacy Event

Social workers were invited to join in one unifying activity to recognize the past, honor the present and look towards the future of their chosen profession. Chapters, Units, Schools, Agencies and other social work organizations participated in the NASW and CSWE sponsored national "decentralized" birthday party held across the nation from March 23 – 31, 1998.

Activities included local agency/organization birthday celebrations with social work colleagues, human service professionals, clients, students/faculty and friends of social workers. Others gathered on the steps of city halls or state capitols across the United States while others held special gatherings in homes of social workers. Many events included a letter-writing campaign to Members of Congress as part of their celebration. Letters were sent in the form of a birthday card inviting legislators to join in the celebration of 100 Years of Professional Social Work and encouraging their action in support of federal legislation for comprehensive managed care standards. Due to the popularity and flexibility of the event social workers were encouraged to host similar events throughout the remainder of the centennial year.

Documentary on the history of social work

NASW and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) began collaborating on the development of a production-quality video on social work history during the Centennial year. The video will be designed for social work education programs, NASW chapters and the general public. Educational Film Center and Christenson Associates were selected as the video production team for the project with completion estimated by year 2000. Funding sources are being explored. The video and derivatives will be used in various ways as part of a comprehensive media campaign.

The Social Welfare History Group is providing leading social work historians for the project. Professor John M. Herrick, Acting Director, School of Social Work, Michigan State University states: "As President of the Social Welfare History Group, I am very pleased that we have been invited to work with NASW – CSWE on the Centennial Video Documentary Project… We think it will produce great benefits to students, faculty, NASW members and others concerned about the profession of social work, its impressive past and exciting future!"

Members of the Social Work Video Steering Committee

  • Josephine Nieves, Executive Director NASW 
  • Jane Browning, Director Member Services and Publications, NASW 
  • Lucy Sanchez, Manager Public Affairs, NASW 
  • Elizabeth DuMez, Manager Ethics & Adjudication, NASW 
  • Donald W. Beless, Executive Director CSWE 
  • Ann Weick, CSWE Publications Commission 
  • Professor Phyllis Black, Chairperson CSWE Centennial Committee 
  • Professor William H. Simpson Whitaker, Member CSWE Centennial Committee

Members of the Social Welfare History "Video History Group"

  • Professor Leslie Leighnige, School of Social Work, Louisiana State University 
  • Professor John M. Herrick, Acting Director, School of Social Work, Michigan State University 
  • Professor Yolonda Burwell, East Carolina University School of Social Work
  • Professor Dan Huff, Boise State University – producer of the social work history website

NASW Centennial Collection

NASW and NASW Social Work Pioneers joined in a partner project to collect material of historical importance related to the history of social work. A call for contributions was sent to NASW members and Chapters as well as social work and allied organizations. Over 80 social work artifacts were given to NASW by social workers, their families and social work organizations.

The Centennial Collection was analyzed by Smithsonian Institution Social History Specialist Harry Rubenstein. Thirty items/sets were selected and deeded to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History on November 12, 1998 (see Smithsonian Reception above). The remaining items in the NASW Centennial Collection are housed in the NASW Library, overseen by the Pioneers Steering Committee under the leadership of Ruth Knee and Mark Battle. Additional items are welcomed for the collection. Plans are underway to create a display of selected items from the Centennial Collection at the national office.

Centennial Historical Document Project: Milestones in the Development of Social Work and Social Welfare

This partner project between the NASW and the CSWE generated information on milestone events in the development of social work and social welfare. Of special interest were events related to minority groups -- racial, ethnic, social class, religious, gender and sexual orientation. Material generated in this project was submitted to Robert L. Barker, author of the Social Work Dictionary for his use in the 1998 revision of the "Milestones" section of the dictionary. This revision now includes more than 100 new or edited entries -- many of which can be attributed to this Centennial project. In a recently received e-mail message, Barker was generous with his appreciation: "I am pleased to have all the good input from all your people and that most of it could be included in the Milestones. I think this part of the Dictionary will be stronger than ever before because of this work."

Plans are underway to publish the Milestones in the Development of Social Work and Social Welfare in a "small, handsome booklet" suitable for gift giving or use by social work practitioners and others who may not have use for a new edition of the Social Work Dictionary.

A Social Work Summit was convened by NASW in recognition of 100 years of professional social work. Social work organizations gathered on October 4-6, 1998, with two representatives from each of 45 national organizations in attendance. The Social Work Summit was under the direction of NASW Sr. Staff Associate Marcia Rincon-Gallardo. Additional information can be obtained from the Division of Professional Development and Advocacy.

The NASW website promoted participation in centennial events by maintaining a Centennial Calendar and providing information and resources for the social work community. It became a rich resource of material on the history of professional social work. Monthly updates and new additions kept the material fresh and encouraged continued use of the association Web site. Material from the Centennial section and a new Centennial Photograph Album is being archived permanently onto the Web in the following categories:

Centennial Background
Centennial at a Glance
Centennial Messages
Centennial Events, Activities and Special Projects
Centennial Resources
Centennial Social Work Leaders and Pioneers
Centennial Photograph Album
Centennial Historical Links

The purpose of archiving the centennial material is to:

continue to promote the dissemination of information on the rich history of the social work profession to social workers and others interested in the development of social welfare in the United States,

continue to provide a "morale and image" boost to members of NASW by "telling the social work story", and
continue to provide resources that can be used by students and others as they organize social work events (i.e. examples of public service campaigns, proclamations, etc.).

The Annual Leadership Meeting (ALM) opened on April 1, 1998 with the Centennial Congressional Reception for Social Workers in Congress and closed with the Centennial Commemorative Celebration at the Capitol Reflecting Pool on the Mall, Washington, DC on April 5, 1998. Other activities included:

Briefings to Council of Chapter Executives and Council of Presidents by Cheryl K. Simpson-Whitaker, Centennial Coordinator.

Centennial display - the "California Social Work Timeline".

Insurance Trust recognizes the 100th Birthday of professional social work and Insurance Trust 30th Anniversary at their Reception.

NASW Centennial display, information and assistance provided in the ALM Exhibit Area.

Centennial Display Boards featuring photos, centennial products, etc. from Chapters, Schools and other social work agencies/organizations.

Display of Centennial Commemorative Collection items.

Other NASW National Signs of the Centennial

NASW President and Executive Director speeches focused on the Centennial themes: Heroes, Traditions, and the Future.

NASW News featured the Centennial with special articles, interviews, calendar and more.

Centennial logo was created and distributed to NASW’s key affiliates to promote public awareness of the Centennial of Professional Social Work. It was also used on NASW stationary, NASW News, publications, etc.

Centennial materials and messages were developed and used in communications with social work employers, managed care companies, other relevant audiences, work with sections, and other routine association work.

NASW’s national telephone voice mail airs a Centennial message.

Centennial messages were used on membership promotions, recruitment and retention materials, sections, and other marketing vehicles including Insurance Trust communications and JobLink.

Press and Media Activities

Information available from NASW Office of Public Affairs. Press and media activities not coordinated by the Centennial Coordinator.

Centennial Materials

Centennial Poster - "100 Years of Professional Social Work - Celebrating America’s Real Heroes". Print run: 80,000. Extensive distribution to Chapters, social work education programs, agencies, organizations and individual social workers.

Centennial Logo – "100 Years of Professional Social Work". The logo was available as camera ready slick and in diskette form. The Centennial Logo was widely used as the design for Chapter banners, keepsake buttons and pins, conference and workshop program art, newsletter banners, emblems for T shirts, banners for letterheads, etc. The 3x10 foot NASW banner hung in the main lobby of the Professional Building at 720 First Street, Washington, DC during March, Social Work Month and in front of the Capitol during the Centennial Celebration. It was prominently featured in the Centennial Commemorative Celebration photo featured in the Washington Times article on April 7, 1998. The New Jersey ruby and gold colored centennial pin (logo design) was one of the items deeded to the Smithsonian Institution as part of the NASW Centennial Collection. 

The Milestones in Development of Social Work and Social Welfare (reprinted from Social Work Dictionary, 3rd. Edition) was distributed in the Centennial packet of material to Chapters, Schools, social work and other allied organizations as well as to individual social workers upon their request. It was also placed on the NASW website.

A Centennial Idea Booklet was developed and distributed to Chapters, social work educational programs, social work and other allied organizations as well as to individual social workers upon their request. It was also published on the NASW website, Centennial section.

Trexco developed a centennial line of promotional merchandise. The Trexco brochure was included in information packets sent to social work schools and organizations and published on the NASW website

NASW Board of Directors

Members of the Board of Directors attended all major Centennial events and submitted material for the Centennial Historical Document.

VI. NASW National Sections/Committees

NASW Sections, Committees and Caucuses were encouraged to participate in all Centennial activities.

VII. Chapters Centennial Events/Activities

55 NASW Chapters recognized the Centennial during 1998. Activities ranged from including the theme in annual conferences, awards banquets, and continuing education events to giving special recognition awards, hosting lobby days, conducting media campaigns, creating traveling displays, etc. A representative of the Chapter Council of Executive Directors participated on the National Ad Hoc Centennial Committee.

Chapters collaborated with social work educational programs, other social work and allied organizations on many activities. A calendar of activities and contact information for each chapter was included on the NASW Web site. A monthly calendar was included in the NASW NEWS. Centennial memorabilia was contributed to the NASW and placed in a series of scrapbooks celebrating the Centennial Year. Chapters actively promoted the Centennial to the media throughout 1998 with a total of 142 articles from January – October 1998.

NASW materials for Chapters were distributed at the beginning of the Centennial year.

  • 300 posters - "100 Years of Professional Social Work"
  • Centennial Idea Booklets with sample letter-to-the-editor, sample radio PSA, sample press release, etc.
  • Brochures/order forms with new Centennial line of promotional merchandise.

Additional Centennial informational kits produced at intervals throughout the year including op-ed. pieces to place locally, past hero/present hero pieces to pitch and ideas for further publicizing the profession during the Centennial.

NASW Pioneers Activities

Social Work Pioneers mobilized to collect historically significant materials for the NASW Centennial Collection.

Social Work Pioneers held a Social Work Forum with Metro DC Chapter to examine faith-based social work. The forum was held at the Washington National Cathedral, March 5th, 1998 under the theme of Social Work Traditions.

NASW Key Affiliates

Social Work Programs

NASW Executive Director Josephine Nieves and CSWE Executive Director Donald W. Beless sent a joint letter to 570 deans and directors of schools of social work. Included in the mailing was the Centennial Plan, Fax Back Pledge, Centennial poster and the Centennial Idea Booklet. Centennial Coordinator Cheryl K. Simpson-Whitaker provided periodic updates throughout the year and attended the CSWE Annual Program Meeting to promote participation in Centennial activities. Units of 300 posters were made available to social work education programs during the fall of 1998 for the cost of postage.

Allied Organizations

A wide variety of social work and social work-related organizations numbering over 100 received a letter from NASW Executive Director Josephine Nieves encouraging them to join in the Centennial Celebration. Information was also solicited for the historical document project Milestones in Development of Social Work and Social Welfare. Centennial camera-ready artwork was designed and distributed which recognized the Centennial of Professional Social Work and encouraged collaboration between allied organizations and NASW in the challenges of the next 100 years.