A Brief History of Social Work (for Social Work Month 2015)



our country's vibrant and strong because he has been woven from people's stories into a compelling narrative of struggle renewal and success the Social Work profession has a distinguished history of not only providing social safety nets to the most vulnerable but also challenging systems that impede social mobility this presentation is a journey through the pioneers of social work who wove the first threads of advocacy into the fabric of our profession if there is a hub around which the Social Work universe turns it is Jane Addams a leading social reformer of her day and lifelong champion of social justice in 1889 she founded Hull House in Chicago part of the settlement house movement dedicated to giving immigrants and other marginalized people in the cities access to health care education sports activities and political power settlements focused more on the causes of poverty than on the flaws of the poor some of the social problems addressed were infant mortality factory working conditions housing and sanitation conditions and truancy some of these investigations led to social policy throughout her life she through her energies into such activities as gaining the vote for women and the international peace movement she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 the first given to a woman though in the United States her pacifist views gained her the reputation of being one of the most dangerous women in the country marry Richmond's research on poverty and other social ills in her book the social diagnosis formed the basis of social casework or what we would today call person-centered care World War one provided unique opportunities for social caseworkers through their work in war related activities such as the Red Cross's home service led by Mary Richmond caseworkers applied their skills to problems faced by servicemen and their families Richmond's most important contribution was her insistence that care was a partnership where the social worker would work with people strengths to craft appropriate responses to a person's needs before Florence Kelly began her work in 1899 at the Henry Street Settlement on New York's Lower East Side she cut her teeth with atoms at Hull House where she surveyed working conditions in local factories her research led Illinois to pass the first factory law prohibiting children under 14 from being employed in New York she became Secretary of the National Consumers League responsible for introducing the white label designation which was granted to employers that followed labor laws and safety standards she also led campaigns that resulted in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which regulated working hours and minimum wage she established the National Child Labor Committee and her signature accomplishment was the creation of several organizations that set up federal state partnerships to combat maternal and infant mortality and better the lives of children Robert hunter came from the Chicago Hull house to join University settlement in New York where he headed Florence Kelly's national child labor committee and commissioned Louis W Hine to photograph child labor in America which Hine did from 1908 to 1912 hunters employment of Hine led to one of the most recognized set of images in American culture the young people in Heinz's photos give a stark and uncompromising picture of the way the economic system used anyone of any age to generate its profits and these pictures helped galvanize many states into passing laws banning child labor it took the federal government until 1938 to do the same thing Edda wheeler brought the first case against child abuse in the United States in 1874 the child was Mary Ellen Wilson at that time there were no laws against child abuse and although she went to the police the courts in the church nobody listened so she went to Henry Bergh founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who became an ally in her efforts wheeler gathered documentation on the abuse and recruited witnesses while Berg contacted New York Times reporters who published detailed accounts and pictures of the abuse Mary Ellen was removed from her parents custody and her case led to the creation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children the first protection agency in the world later in life Mary Ellen got married had two children and later adopted an orphaned girl she died in 1956 at 92 the Great Depression gave the Social Work profession a national stage the american association of social workers testified before the Senate on the gravity of the crisis and many people who began their careers and settlements now moved into public service such as Frances Perkins who became Secretary of Labor molly Dusen a political organizer for the Democratic Party Aubrey Williams assistant federal relief administrator and Harry Hopkins an architect of FDR's New Deal social works influence also changed cultural attitudes about poverty and misfortune before the Great Depression most people thought of welfare is something poor people received from mostly private charities after the depression providing welfare for American citizens became a widely recognized responsibility of the federal government social workers like many others from the 1950s to the 70s worked in the civil rights movement Whitney Moore young junior president of the National Urban League from 1961 to 71 initiated programs in education and community-based planning and encouraged major corporations to hire more blacks Dorothy Height a key figure in the struggles for school desegregation voting rights employment opportunities and public accommodations was called the godmother of the civil rights movement by President Barack Obama Irena Sendler a Catholic polish social worker with the Warsaw Municipal Social Service saved the lives of about 2,500 Jewish children in the warsaw ghetto under the pretext of inspecting sanitary conditions Sendler and her co-workers smuggled out the children sometimes disguised as packages Sendler kept records of all the children in a jar so that after the horrors ended they could be reunited with relatives in 1999 encouraged by a teacher whose classroom motto was he who changes one person changes the world entire students and rural Kansas discovered Irina's story they exchanged hundreds of letters with her and visited her several times Sendler started a tradition when the first students went to Poland to visit her she gave them each a necklace saying no matter where you are or what happens you will always have a piece of my heart i de cannon dr. richard cabot in Garnett Isabel Pelton helped established the first social work department at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1906 with cannon being named to the first chief of Social Work in 1914 together they created collaborative systems of practice that mixed medical and psychological information with data gleaned about patients living conditions dr. Cabot held that it was not possible to restore patients to health without considering what he called the non somatic factors such as living conditions Ida cannon professed that social workers see the patient as a member belonging to a family or community group that is altered because of his ill health a concept that is still relevant to our practice today in 1904 Presbyterian Hospital placed a nurse as a social worker in the neurological Institute to assist patients and focus on promoting public health that same year saw the creation of the New York school of applied philanthropy which later became Columbia's School of Social Work Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center added a Social Work Department in the 1920s and hired Janet Thornton as the first director in 1924 Thornton published the social component in medical care in 1937 to demonstrate that improving a patient's social factors would decrease the impact of disabilities and lastly our own Sheila Ryan who added the most amazing threats to this fabric of Social Work history Sheila died of cancer on January 20th 2013 when she was just 18 she began her lifelong commitment to social justice volunteering for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and going to Mississippi for freedom summers voting registration battles she was arrested at the first ever sit-in at the White House where she and others demanded to speak to President Johnson about Selma Alabama always active while in prison she organized a prisoner to prisoner literacy program in the 1980s Sheila worked for peace in the Middle East wrote extensively and co-hosted a radio program Sheila also earned simultaneous masters degrees in Social Work and Public Health from Columbia University and became director of the special needs clinic supporting children and families affected by hiv/aids along with other special needs clinic staff she co-authored several chapters in a psychology handbook dr. Warren Ning said at her funeral that she was a fighter armed with her humanity and her exquisite intellect dr. Jenny havens also remembered her as a true social worker loved and trusted by her patients in an interview in 1999 Sheela described the clinic's patients as people whom the system considers expendable they've been beaten down and traumatized their families have been torn apart and still they won't give up their will to survive not just in a physical sense but as human beings is inspiring this presentation has been a brief journey through a family album that helps us see where we come from and inspires us to continue our work each day let us add our own portraits to this album as we weave threads of resiliency and advocacy into the fabric of people's lives as well as into the fabric of our professions history

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of Social Work (for Social Work Month 2015)”

  1. What a scam! Social workers are the worst kind of people and barely help anyone. Stripping children away from parents that like weed ha! People have been so brainwashed for so long, social workers go by your financial status, as well as religious status when they make a decision, ask Kansas about the scams going on there!

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