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Social Work Pioneers

Social work can be traced back as early as the Middle Ages. With the help of numerous pioneers, social work has evolved into a field focused on enhancing human well-being, paying particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.


Jane Addams, also known as the “mother” of social work, is recognized as one of the first women pioneers in the field. Addams set up settlement houses in Chicago in the early 1900’s to provide shelter for immigrants. She co-founded Hull-House, America’s first settlement house. Addams then went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her leadership and peace advocacy.

Frances Perkins is another pioneer in the social work field. Perkins was a sociologist and a workers’ rights advocate. In 1933, she was appointed as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, becoming the first ever woman in this position. As Secretary of Labor, Perkins played a key role and drafted much of the New Deal legislation in the 1940’s.

Whitney M. Young Jr is considered a trail blazer for civil rights. He received his M.A from the University of Minnesota in 1947. In 1954, Young became the Dean pf the School of Social Work at Atlanta (Georgia) University. During this time, Young was also serving as the executive director of the National Urban League. While in this position, Young is, “credited with almost singlehandedly persuading corporate America and major foundations to aid the civil rights movement through financial contributions in support of self-help programs for jobs, housing, education, and family rehabilitation,” ( Young also served as President of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in the 1960’s.


Social work has evolved and grown throughout the years but one thing remains the same- the path led by those early pioneers was one that allowed for the field of social work to grow into an essential part of our world today.


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