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   The Conference On Charities was created in 1870 as an offshoot of the American Social Science Association. In 1879, the Conference split off from the Association to more actively explore its practical work. In 1884 the group changed its name to the National Conference On Charities and Corrections (NCCC) and opened its arms to colleagues engaged in private charity work.

   In the 1890s settlement workers joined the NCCC. At the turn of the century the NCCC was regarded as the primary social work organization. Reflecting that status, in 1917 the Conference changed its name to the National Conference of Social Workers.

   At approximately the same time (1912), the newly formed Intercollegiate Bureau of Occupations began a special department for social work applicants. That department quickly broadened from an employment agency into a general registry for all social workers. In 1917 the department separated from its parent to form the National Social Workers' Exchange.  The Exchange dealt with a number of issues including employment, working conditions, and salaries.

   The success of the exchange provided evidence that there was a need for a national organization. In 1921 a group from the Social Workers' Exchange met at the National Conference and voted to change their name to the American Association of Social Workers. They opened their membership to accept everyone, trained or volunteer, who identified themselves as social worker.

   Meanwhile, social workers toiling in specialized areas began their own organizations. In 1918, hospital social workers formed the American Association of Hospital Social Workers. In 1920, leading Psychiatric social workers formed the Psychiatric Social Workers Club.


   Early social work leaders realized that education would inevitably play a key role in their field's attainment of true professional status. The early charity organizations took the lead in education. In the early 1890s,Mary Richmond, then director of the Baltimore Charity Organization, began developing training programs which were widely copied by other charity organizations.

   In 1898, the New York Charity Organization started the first school for social workers. The original curriculum was designed as a six week set of summer classes and included formal lectures and field work. By 1919 this program had grown and changed its name to the New York School of Social Work, later to become the Columbia University School of Social Work. 

   The settlements were not far behind. In 1901, the Chicago Commons Settlement co-operated with the University of Chicago to offer extension courses on social work. By 1907, the program had grown into a full  curriculum known as the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. In 1920 it officially became the University of Chicago School of Social Work.


   Formal training programs spread through the major urban areas. By 1910 five schools of philanthropy had been instituted and by 1920 there were 17 schools of social work that formed the Association of Training Schools of Professional Schools Of Social Work. The organization was the predecessor to what is now known as the Council On Social Work Education.


   When the 20th century began the visitors from charity organizations and the residents from settlements were just beginning to call themselves social workers. During the early years of the century, Jane Addams led the settlement movement into its ascendancy in the charity field. By 1920, the settlement movement had become less influential. A growing number of leaders identified the practice of social casework as the core of the new profession. Meanwhile, there were new professional organizations and seventeen  schools of social work. The new field of social work was now ready to begin creating a true and widely recognized profession.

A poster for Charity Organizations

Industrial development in the cities created many new career opportunities for women. In addition to social work, many women worked in business as "typewriters" and telephone operators or "hello girls".

A modern picture of the former Chicago Commons

Jane Addams in 1915

A group of social workers plan their next crusade

Adapted from

Special thanks to the late Professor Dan Huff and Boise State University School of Social Work

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