Skip to main content

Council on Social Work Education

Council on Social Work Education: Its Antecedents and First Twenty Years

By Katherine A. Kendall

Note 1: Katherine A. Kendall has been closely identified with major development in social work education over the past four decades. As Executive Secretary of the American Association of Schools of Social Work in 1951-1952, she played a major role in bringing the Association and its graduate school membership into the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). CSWE was launched as a result of the merger of three organizations, Kendall became its first Educational Secretary with responsibility for curriculum consultation and related educational services. As Associate Director, Executive Director, and Director of International Education, she remained with the Council until 1971. (Copies of the softcover book are available at:

Note 2: Another detailed description of the first years of the Council can be found in the Ernest Witte entry under PEOPLE.

Its Antecedents and First Twenty Years

Chapter One

Setting the Stage

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) was launched on January 28,1952, as a result of a profession-wide effort to resolve an educational conflict. It began operations on July 1 of that same year. In the process of a troubled decade of gestation, confrontation gave way to cooperation around a central, commonly held purpose–the promotion and improvement of social work education as a concern of the total profession. How it all came about presents a fascinating picture of the evolution of social work as a profession and the significance of the internal and external influences that shaped its development. Because the story requires more than a simple recounting of events, the stage will first be set and the actors introduced.

In most accounts of the controversy leading to the formation of the Council, undergraduate programs of social work education are pitted against and seen as victims of oppression by the graduate schools of social work. Kernels of truth to that effect abound in this picture, but it is by no means so simple or that complete. There are other important actors on the stage, including the practice community as represented by the several membership organizations in operation at the time, the voluntary agencies (particularly family welfare societies), the federal agencies (especially the Children’s Bureau and the Bureau of Public Assistance), university administrators, and several accrediting bodies.

Sadly missing is an understanding of the inevitability, in the light of their historical beginnings, of the conflict between the undergraduate and graduate proponents of social work education. There is a marked difference in the origin of graduate education as represented by the American Association of Schools of Social Work and undergraduate preparation for social work as represented by the National Association of Schools of Social Administration. Different purposes were espoused and different paths were followed to reach their specified goals. Within a historical context, it is possible to see that each association was right according to its beliefs and aspirations for the profession.

To come to that understanding, however, it is necessary to look closely at the unfolding of the conflict and its ultimate transformation into shared participation in the launching of the Council on Social Work Education. The words of the people who were there and deeply involved in the process will be used, to the extent possible, to tell the story.


The American Association of Schools of Social Work, hereafter referred to as AASSW. Seventeen schools launched the Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Work in July 1919. During this period, most schools were sponsored by private social agencies and located in or near urban areas. In 1937, the association (now known as AASSW) voted to limit membership to graduate schools only, effective in 1939. Until that date, programs were admitted that included undergraduate as well as graduate education.

The National Association of Schools of Social Administration, hereafter referred to as NASSA. Eleven representatives of sociology and social work programs in state universities met in Dallas, Texas, in April 1942 to organize what became NASSA. Motivated by the AASSW decision to require graduate education for social work, the University of Oklahoma began in 1937 to mobilize other state-supported universities in opposition to what it regarded as a misguided action. Under the Social Security Act’s burgeoning welfare services there was an urgent need to prepare workers in social work. NASSA saw this as a call for expansion rather than restriction of educational opportunities.

The American Association of Social Workers, hereafter referred to as AASW. As the major, although not the only, organization of social work practitioners, the AASW exerted considerable influence on the development of professional education through its development of standards for membership. Launched in 1921 as an outgrowth of a placement service known as the National Social Workers’ Exchange, it was preceded by the American Association of Medical Social Workers in 1918 and the American Association of Visiting Teachers (later the American Association of School Social Workers) in 1919 and followed by the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers in 1926. All were involved, along with certain other newly organized practitioner groups, in founding the Council on Social Work Education.

The Federal Agencies. The training needs for the public social services that the Social Security Act established or expanded led a number of the federal agencies to become directly involved in the competition between undergraduate and graduate programs of social work education. It fell to the Children’s Bureau and the Bureau of Public Assistance, however, to take the leading roles. Katharine Lenroot, chief of the Children’s Bureau, emerged as the major player in the beginning scenes, with Jane Hoey, chief of the Bureau of Public Assistance, taking over that role in the final act and outcome of the controversy.

The Accrediting Bodies. The accrediting function loomed large as a bone of contention in the struggle for control of the educational arm of the profession. The AASSW was the acknowledged accrediting body for social work education until 1943 when NASSA was granted recognition as an accrediting body by the National Association of State Universities and the Association of Land-Grant Colleges and State Universities. Their regulatory authority covered undergraduate education plus one year of graduate education leading to an M.A. or M.S. degree. The resulting confusion led to a suspension in 1947 of all accrediting activity in the field of social work education until some accommodation could be reached by the two competing associations.

The National Council on Social Work Education, hereafter referred to as NCSWE. This was the temporary organization that brought together in 1947 all the interested parties involved in working out a solution to the problems related to the academic level of professional education and its accrediting authority. NCSWE undertook as its major charge a comprehensive study of social work education, mobilizing the entire profession in its planning and implementation.

With the major players now on stage, the dramatic ebb and flow of events that took place in the several decades prior to the launching of the Council can be described.


At the heart of the struggle lies a marked difference in the backgrounds and objectives of the two groups. The graduate schools of social work, as represented by AASSW, were descended directly from the training programs for volunteers and salaried workers launched by the Charity Organization Society (COS) in London in 1890 and in New York in 1898.1

Private Agencies and Casework Practitioners

The first schools in the United States were established not by educational institutions but by practitioners in private social agencies. Their primary interest was to produce practitioners who were better prepared to work with individuals and families, using casework as a special kind of helping relationship. With practice as a central concern, casework in the classroom and supervised practice in the field became, and for many years remained, the hallmark of American social work education.

In the early years, the teachers came from the social agencies, often on a part-time arrangement, and to a large extent the agencies determined the content of the educational programs. In a 1942 report on Education for the Social Services, sponsored by the AASSW, it was stated:

“…the first schools grew out of the interest of social agencies in securing personnel better equipped for agency responsibilities. Thus the focus of agency objectives emerged in these programs. As the schools were affiliated with universities, the more general character of the educational process was established. Yet, at intervals, pressure from the agencies for greater and greater attention to their specific needs has been intensified.”2

At the time of the events leading to the formation of the Council, Ben Youngdahl, president of the AASSW in 1948, also noted:

“…Even as late as 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, about two ” thirds of all the accredited schools were private. We have built up a system of fieldwork geared to specialized needs and specialized agencies in large cities….”3

It is understandable, then, that the member schools of AASSW were largely engaged in producing qualified staff skilled in social casework for the private agencies. The faculty members, full-time and part-time, recruited from the private agencies inevitably influenced what was taught in the educational programs. Karl de Schweinitz notes the impact of these factors on the attitude of many qualified social workers:

“The system, the nucleus of the knowledge and skill that later expanded into social casework, not only had its initial identification with the voluntary services but was based on a denial of the efficacy of public efforts to deal with the problem of poverty. In charity organization doctrine, resort to tax funds for relief was evidence of failure to the person who had undertaken to help him. There was something shameful for everybody in public assistance….”4

It is essential to add that there were notable exceptions: Grace Browning reflected the experience of certain schools when she wrote in 1944:

“Outstanding have been a few farsighted schools which from their inception have fought vigorously for the establishment of public welfare agencies and whose graduates have furbished the shock troops of public services.”5

She went on to say that, fortunately, there had been a change in the previous decade as schools of social’ work began to direct their attention to the importance of public welfare as a social work field of practice. Edith Abbott, dean of the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, emerged early as a champion of public welfare as a basic area of study and practice in social work. Even prior to the passage of the Social Security Act, she declared in no uncertain terms:

“There are no more fundamental or basic subjects of study for our profession than public welfare administration, social legislation, including statute law and court decisions bearing upon the major problems of social work and methods of research. Must these always be referred to, slightingly, as “background courses”?  6

No matter what the field of practice and despite the development of group work and community organization, casework along with collateral courses continued to be the preferred area of interest for students. It remained the primary subject of instruction in both class and field. Social work education, in all its aspects, however, was becoming more theory-oriented and to a greater extent research based. Casework, in particular, through incorporation of psychoanalytic theory, was becoming more demanding, sophisticated, and professional. Nevertheless, what was regarded as progress toward ever higher professional standards by the graduate schools led to what was described by one of the leaders as “a revolt” by the undergraduate programs in the land-grant colleges and state universities against the over-emphasis on casework and neglect of public welfare to the detriment of the profession.

Public Service — Its Responsibilities and Opportunities

The group of university administrators and undergraduate representatives that met in Dallas in April 1942 to launch a new approach to social work training lost no time in establishing what was designated as NASSA. The Joint Committee on Accrediting of the Association of Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of State Universities also moved quickly to give official recognition to the new association. Chaired by the president of Florida State University, one of the strongest supporters of the movement, the Accrediting Committee in 1944 formally recognized NASSA as an accrediting agency in social work. The constitution adopted in that year listed its purpose as training:

“…persons for service and administration in such fields as the following: (1) employment service, unemployment compensation, and old age insurance; (2) recreation service youth services and group work were later added to this entry; (3) rural social welfare programs; (4) personnel work and guidance programs to meet current and future needs in government service, industrial service, and in the guidance programs of universities, colleges and secondary schools; and (5) public assistance, to provide trained personnel to administer old age assistance, aid to the blind, aid to dependent children, and general relief programs. This will include training in social casework, social group work, community organization, and social statistics and research.”7

This was a large order for a newly organized association of what, in the main, were undergraduate courses grouped as a major in a social science department, most often a department of sociology. A fifth year, with a social work major and social science minor leading to a master’s degree, was projected, but ultimately offered by relatively few members of NASSA. As new members were gathered in, separate departments were recommended and established in some of the colleges and universities in the association.

Commitment to the social sciences as an essential base for professional education for social work, plus determination to staff large segments of public service, created its own world of expectations and responsibilities. In that world, preparation for a broad array of public services called for an educational pattern different from that of the AASSW. It was their position that the burgeoning social services offered many positions that could benefit from some training in social work but did not need the highly sophisticated casework skills of graduates of the professional schools.

As stated by Hattie Cal Maxted, a leader in the movement, their mission in undergraduate education would provide more rather than less training for social work. She said: “The facts are that we may have thought of training for social workers as graduate training but the greatest percentage of our social workers have had little or no training and for them training even though undergraduate is an advance.”8

To their belief in the value of undergraduate preparation for social work, the founders of NASSA brought a historical background and perspective different from the practice-oriented, agency-sponsored background of the member schools of AASSW. The antecedents of undergraduate social work education, like the COS forebears of the graduate schools, date from the turn of the 19th century when social science and sociology were seen as offering great potential for the development of a more scientific philanthropy. E. J. Urwick, the head of the London School of Sociology, the first school of social work in Britain, heralded the new discipline of sociology in these words:

“Within the last decade 1890s a new science has come to the front- the science of social life, or Sociology. Among the teachers and thinkers of all civilized nations it has won its place as a separate (although not yet clearly defined) subject for study.” 9


The relationship of the social sciences to social work emerged early as a difficult and puzzling question in the growth of the profession and figured prominently in the conflict between the undergraduate and graduate educators. NASSA’s strong commitment to a broad social science background and criticism of AASSW for what it saw as too narrow an approach to professional education could have been inherited directly from a cantankerous exchange between two of social work’s most illustrious forebears. This occurred at the first International Congress of Charities, Correction and Philanthropy held in Chicago in 1893.

Professor Amos Warner, serving as secretary of a section on training objected to the title “Sociology in Institutions of Learning,” which had been assigned to it. He regarded philanthropy as a subject in its own right to which he ascribed the name “philanthropology.” The Rev. Fredereck Wines, presiding officer for the entire Congress, responded sharply to Warner’s complaint:

“If we were to consider the teaching of social science in college from the narrow point of view of the professional philanthropist, you might as well call your section the section on the introduction of social therapeutics, etc.; and better, because it is the cure of social wrongs which directly interest the philanthropist. A much higher and larger aim is to correct the narrowness of the philanthropist, by teaching him that the pathological social conditions can not be understood with- out a complete view, in the first place, of the anatomy and physiology of the social organism, and its normal operation in a condition of health. Much less is the philanthropist (so-called, who is often a mere sentimentalist, whose methods are purely empirical) prepared to administer remedies intelligently without a thorough grounding in the elementary principles of social science.” 10

Professor J. E. Hagerty, a pioneer in undergraduate education for social work, echoed Rev. Wines in simpler language in 1931 when he posed and answered the following questions:

“Which fits men and women best to become skilled social workers? Which is most desired, immediate or remote returns? The first class of schools graduate schools undoubtedly fits them better for immediate returns. Is this the great desideratum in professional education? I do not believe that it is. Professional education does not necessarily involve teaching to do specific things. It is very important to give the student in social training the fundamental principles of the social sciences and of psychology and biology, subjects furnishing an excellent discipline in clear thinking on social questions.” 11

With the substitution of social work for philanthropology, Abbott echoes Warner’s complaint in asserting that while it would be agreed that social work is not a substitute for social science, “let us not forget that social service is both a cultural and disciplinary subject in its own right.”12 She went on to describe how the Conference of Social Work was originally intertwined with the Social Science Association and regretted their drifting apart as the social sciences developed into separate branches.

Perhaps she had read Wines’s portrayal of philanthropists as sentimental because she added: “Again some of these social science friends are afraid that we cannot be scientific because we really care about what we are doing and we are even charged with being sentimental.” In rebuttal, she is glad that a social worker cares genuinely about what happens to the unfortunate people for whom she is temporarily responsible and quotes from Flexner: “Humanity and science are not contradictory.”13

It is noteworthy that even before sociology claimed its place as a separate social science discipline, systematic instruction on philanthropy or charity and correction was given in a number of prestigious universities, including Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Stanford, and a few state universities. Warner described these developments in a keynote paper on “Philanthropy in Educational Institutions” at the 1893 International Congress.14

Brackett followed up on this subject with a detailed account of a great variety of approaches to academic instruction on philanthropic work at the turn of the century. 15 In most of the examples cited by Brackett, the instruction is sponsored by well-known philanthropically committed academics. In many instances, the courses vanished with the departure of the sponsor.

As separate departments of sociology were established within universities, lectures and discussions on social problems and criminology figured prominently in their educational programs. Many departments also offered instruction on the “social treatment of dependents and defectives” accompanied by visits to social agencies and institutions. I6 Just as the roots of the graduate schools lie within the world of practice and the private agencies, the roots of the undergraduate departments lie within the academic world of social science and, in particular, the departments of sociology.

There is little evidence in the documentary material of recognition of this difference in historical background as a factor to be understood and accepted as legitimate. One may speculate that accommodation to the differing perspectives might have come more quickly and readily if the leaders of NASSA and AASSW had acknowledged the validity of their parallel but separate historical development and were more appreciative of the different worlds from whence they came. As it was, the difference became a barrier to understanding that took more than a decade to overcome.



1. For detailed information on the beginnings of social work education, see Katherine A. Kendall, Social Work Education: Its Origins in Europe (Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education, 2000) and Leslie Leighninger, Creating a New Profession: The Beginnings of Social Work Education in the United States (Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education, 2000).
2. AASSW, Education for the Public Social Services, Report of the Study Committee (Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 1942),6.
3. Ben Youngdahl, “Shall We Face It?” in Professional Education, Five Papers Delivered at 29th Annual Meeting of the AASSW, Minneapolis, MN, January 21, 1948 (New York: AASSW, 1948), 32.
4. Karl de Schweinitz, “Social Work in the Public Services,” Social Work Journa1 29, no. 3 (July 1955): 88.
5. Grace Browning, “The Responsibility of the Schools of Social Work for Training for the Public Welfare Services,” in Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work, Cleveland, Ohio, 1944 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), p.353.
6. Edith Abbott, “Some Basic Principles,” in Education for Social Welfare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931), 80.
7. NASSA Constitution and By-Laws, Adopted April 22, 1944, Maxted Papers, Box 1, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.
8. Hattie Cal Maxted, “The Need for Undergraduate Trained Social Workers in Arkansas,” 1945, Maxted Papers, Box 1.
9. E. J. Urwick, “A School of Sociology,” in Methods of Social Advance, ed. C. S. Loch (London: Macmillan, 1894), 8l.
10. Amos G. Warner, “Philanthropology in Educational Institutions,” in Sociology in Institutions of Learning, ed. A. G. Warner, International Congress of Charities, Correction and Philanthropy, Chicago, 1893 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1894), 81.
11. James E. Hagerty, The Training of Social Workers (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1931), 56.
12. Abbott, 71.
13. Ibid, 72.
14. Warner, passim.
15. Jeffrey R. Brackett, “Instruction in Educational Institutions,” in Supervision and Education on Charity (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 158.
16. Ibid, passim.

Chapter 5

The Curtain Falls on AASSW and NASSA

By 1946, the combination of suspended accrediting and a spreading uneasiness with the standoff in the NASSA-AASSW negotiations led to renewed efforts to bring the struggle to an end. Finding a way out of the difficulties that the controversy posed not only for the educators but also for the profession and the field as a whole introduces a whole new cast of characters in the continuing drama. The American Association of Social Workers, along with the several specialized practice groups, l the many employing agencies, both public and private, as well as other professional groups, all became intimately involved. As already noted, suggestions for a study and some form of a broad commission on social work education had come from both the graduate and undergraduate educators. How those hazy ideas coalesced into definite plans for a new strategy marks the beginning of the end of the decade-long struggle.

With both associations having endorsed continuing negotiations under a more broadly based Interim Committee, the threatened stalemate became, in fact, a last chance to put an end to the battle of wills for the future of the profession. The new committee included members from the Children’s Bureau, the Bureau of Public Assistance, and the American Public Welfare Association in addition to representatives of the American Association of Schools of Social Work and the National Association of Schools of Social Administration.

They met twice in 1946 and recommended the ‘establishment of a National Council on Social Work Education, outlining the conditions of its membership and its major functions. They further proposed that AASW should convene the first meeting of the Council, if approved by AASSW and NASSA. Both educational associations accepted the recommendations of the Interim Committee, which then declared itself discharged.2 The stage is now set for the last act.


At the first meeting of the NCSWE held in New York on August 26 — 27, 1946, officers were elected, with Irene Farnham Conrad, executive director of the Nashville Council of Social Agencies and a former president of AASW, as chair; Arlien Johnson, for AASSW, and Ernest Harper, for NASSA, as first and second vice-chairs; and Joe Anderson, of AASW, as secretary. In addition to representatives of the various social work organizations and the public social services, the membership included representatives of the Associations of American Colleges and American Universities, and Joint Committee of Accrediting of Association of Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, the National Association of State Universities, and the Association of Urban Universities. This was indeed a broad-based combination of interests, all targeted on social work education. The membership became even more comprehensive when it was further broadened to include members at large from the social sciences and other related fields.

While delighted to accept staff service from AASW, the membership agreed that the National Council should become incorporated as a separate organization. The Certificate of Incorporation, issued in 1947, listed two purposes:

1. To bring together organizations interested in social work education for discussion of their common problems, to serve as a clearing house and to provide machinery for cooperative activities related to social work education.
2. To engage in research, including the continuous collection of data on personnel needs and educational problems in social work and sponsorship of special studies on such personnel needs and such educational problems as the need arises.3

There was no question as to the major activity to be undertaken by the new organization. It was clear to all involved that a study was needed to find a solution to the problems relating to the AASSW-NASSA conflict and particularly to accreditation. At its first meeting, therefore, a comprehensive study of social work education was authorized. This involved planning and staffing the study, appointing a study committee to carry major responsibility for oversight and assistance to the staff, and organizing a national advisory committee composed of university presidents and corresponding luminaries from a variety of fields and occupations.

Planning the Study

The objectives, content, and methods of social work education were to be examined in the light of the actual and potential needs of social work practice in a time of rapid social change. A parallel proposal for a collection of statistical data, also accepted at this meeting, became the basis of a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The following statement reveals the strong support accorded the National Council for its prompt and decisive action:

“The whole profession of social work is mobilized around this study through the NCSWE. Both Associations of Schools are participating fully in planning for the study and believe this to be absolutely essential to the resolution of differences, the strengthening of professional education, and the establishment of a single accrediting body for social work education. The membership associations are in urgent need of the findings of groups in the fields fundamental to the advancement of social work practice.”4

A highly effective study committee, under the leadership first of Kenneth Pray and, later upon his death, of Harriett Bartlett, included Jane Hoey, Ernest Harper, Donald Howard, and Wilbur Newstetter. In a personal memoir, Alice Taylor Davis, assistant director of the study, recorded this observation:

“The devoted work of the members of the study committee was a central force that contributed to the eventual completion of the study by stimulating, informing, guiding, and calming the profession as the study moved along.”5

Sue Spencer, now executive secretary of AASSW, and Joseph Anderson, executive director of AASW, provided staff service and, with Ernest Harper of NASSA, maintained liaison with the participating organizations. Davis said of their participation:

“The study required from these three professionals, devotion, great patience, reams of time, and often considerable negotiating skills to keep the interaction among the associations, the schools, and the staff moving forward.”6

Questions of Money and Staff

Financing the National Council as well as the study posed the usual problem in social work of large ambitions and small resources. Profession-wide belief in NCSWE and the need for a study, however, produced donations from across the country and across the range of interests in social work education and practice. NCSWE also benefited from contributed professional and clerical services, reducing the need for money in the bank. An initial budget of $500 covered the cost of four meetings of the study committee. A budget of $250,000, put forward to finance an organizational survey along with a study of social work practice and education, found limited financial support.

The Carnegie Foundation, which had earlier expressed interest in providing financial help, awarded a grant of $31,000 to launch the study, stipulating that: (1) it should be more limited, in light of the funds available, than contemplated in the proposal and (2) the director should come from outside the profession. The two requirements gave rise to questions about the reduced scope of the study and some apprehension about a director with no experience in social work or social work education. Nevertheless, the National Council accepted the conditions and, from a long list of candidates, appointed Ernest V. Hollis as the director.

This turned out to be a fortunate choice. Hollis, as Chief of College Administration for the U.S. Office of Education, had participated in studies of a number of other professions. Better still, he was given a leave of absence on full salary to direct the study, thus removing a significant salary item from the budget. The National Education Association, which had handled the funds for an earlier study in which Hollis was involved, agreed to do the same for the study of social work education. Alice Taylor Davis,7 a respected social worker with wide experience in social work practice and education, administration and research, was selected as the assistant director. She was recruited from the Bureau of Public Assistance, which provided office space. The study was launched on October 1, 1948.

Process and Progress

Reactions to the study plans ranged from delighted acceptance to reluctant relief that at last something specific was being done to settle the questions posed by the AASSW-NASSA conflict. Harper was particularly enthusiastic about the choice of an “outsider” for the director. His support was evidently of tremendous help to the staff as the study progressed. Davis described Harper as a faithful and able committee member whose cooperation with Hollis did much to achieve “the final acceptance of the study’s recommendations by both groups of schools and the NCSWE.”8

Kenneth Pray, dean of the Pennsylvania School of Social Work, served until his untimely death as the first chair of NCSWE. Well-known and highly respected in the profession, he spoke for many in the graduate schools when he described the study in these terms:

“It is a truly momentous adventure, in which the stakes for all of us are enormous. The potential gains are great beyond calculation. But the risks, too, are by no means negligible. We are initially taking our lives in our hands. We are throwing open to question, and subjecting to critical reevaluation, all that we have built by patient, laborious work over a whole generation.”9

He went on to note that it was a sign of maturity, courage, and vision that the’ profession of social work was willing, out of a sense of responsibility, to undergo a searching, impartial inquiry upon the foundations of its professionalism. Harriett Bartlett, an equally well-known and respected educator and medical social worker, replaced Pray as chair of the study committee. Davis described her as “a leader par excellence–wise, patient, well organized, and analytical. She used her extensive knowledge of education, research, and practice with utmost diplomatic skill in relations with staff, the study committee members, and the profession.” 10

Differing expectations as to what should be studied and the methods to be employed in the collection of material led to periods of high tension in the initial phase of the research. At meetings of the AASSW, there seemed to be a misunderstanding of what was being attempted. Bartlett wrote:

“A great deal of confusion seems to center about the expectation that this is to be a fact-finding study or survey. Dr. Hollis said he under- stood from the beginning that it was neither practical nor desirable to attempt statistical studies which would convince by weight of evidence. We sought his help as a person outside our field who could bring to bear on our problems a body of principles from higher education and broad practical experience.” 11

Davis described the change in attitudes as the study committee, the director, faculties, deans, and practitioners throughout the country worked together. They developed, she said, “a mutual respect and trust and responded enthusiastically to the stimulus of involvement and eager anticipation of the findings and recommendations. “12

A problem expressed by Bartlett reflected, however, what seemed to be a universal concern. Could a study of education for social work proceed without a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for professional practice? The need for a study of practice along with a study of education had been emphasized in the initial discussions within the National Council, but insufficient financing effectively eliminated any such possibility. Bartlett put it bluntly when she said:

“…we must do this type of study sometime and the sooner we get started, the better. In fact, from my viewpoint, we should have begun twenty years ago.” I3

Following three years of field visits, analysis of reams of material, and countless sessions, not only with professional groups but, also, with university and college administrators and members of the public, the report was approved by the study committee in February 1951, officially accepted in April, and published by Columbia University Press in December. These words of praise were wired to Hollis upon its approval:

“Congratulations and warm appreciation. Study Committee finds report creative, fresh, exciting, provocative, statesmanlike and objective. What more can you ask?” 14


When the report made its public appearance as Social Work Education in the United States, it held no surprises. The chapters, in draft, had been widely distributed and discussed. Hollis, in speeches and journal articles, had given advance notice of his views on general and professional education and the positions he was likely to take on the problems at issue. He held no brief for accreditation of what might be offered as undergraduate education and made clear his position on the level of education for professional social work. His early pronouncements, such as the following on the role of the undergraduate college, troubled the leaders of NASSA:

“In the chapter dealing with professional education, I will deal with and describe and justify the giving of this form of education in a separate graduate professional school whose program and procedures are controlled by social work educators working in cooperation with all other elements of the social work profession.

“In keeping with a similar line of reasoning, it will be my position that the people who are now charged with the responsibility of operating undergraduate colleges for the purposes of general and liberal education should have as clear-cut a responsibility for the social welfare concepts taught at this level as they have for concepts basic to law, medicine, public health, business administration, and similar fields. In proposing concepts I shall follow the clearly discernible trend among most professions of modifying or eliminating specific pre-professional requirements in favor of sound liberal education.” 15

Writing to Harold E. Wetzel, NASSA President from 1949 to 1952, Ernest Harper stated his agreement with Hollis in opposing any form of approval of undergraduate curricula, but added:

“Try setting down Hollis proposals in one column and our own philosophy of social work education in another and study the result. I’ve found it rather disconcerting. I favor his accreditation recommendation but on nearly everything else our position has been the reverse! … If he is right we must revise our philosophy and get busy on the task.” 16

Role of Undergraduate Education

Following the decade of contention about graduate and undergraduate education in social work, the final recommendations were eagerly awaited. Hollis referred to the decision taken by AASSW in 1937 to require graduate education in these words: “While the decision regarding graduate study may have been premature at the time, the present level of developments in general education and in professional social work indicates that it is a sound policy for the future.” 17

In the final recommendations, the commitment to graduate education is clear, but with a highly significant proviso. Professional preparation does not stand alone, but begins with an undergraduate concentration and proceeds through graduate study and ongoing professional development. The nature of the undergraduate concentration, as outlined in the report, is hard to follow in terms of the content to be included, but not in what should be excluded, as here recorded:

“It should not include concepts and experiences that require the intellectual and social maturation associated with later stages of graduate professional development. For example, it should not include the teaching of professional skills or require students to engage in casework and other professional practice as a learning experience prior to their undergoing a series of graduated learning experiences that include both a knowledge and feeling component. At the other extreme, an undergraduate concentration should not include learning of a technical and vocational nature that can be secured more quickly and effectively as on-the-job training in a social work agency or as outcomes of especially designed semi-professional courses of a terminal character for which credit toward college graduation ordinarily is not given.” 18

The content suggested for inclusion is described as embedded in practically every field or department in the college, with particular mention of anthropology, philosophy, biology, literature, statistics, psychology, genetics, sociology, ethics, home economics, religion, economics, and government. The impossibility of taking the usual credit courses in each or all of those fields was said to require the “unglamorous and even painful task of identifying key concepts and selecting teaching materials for a composite course or courses…“19 In discussing the concepts to be communicated not only to future social workers but also to all undergraduate students in arts and sciences, Hollis laid particular stress on the need of every educated citizen to understand the philosophy and purposes of social welfare.

The authors recognized that reorganization of undergraduate education in this regard would not be easy. They put the burden of working out the concepts and teaching materials on whatever organization emerged to represent a unified social work profession. However, the administration of the concentration along with responsibility for organization of the content into courses and sequences was left to the undergraduate college. The report, as noted here, counted on talented teaching to bridge the gap between professional content and undergraduate course offerings:

“What is needed are teachers who, in addition to having an intellectual command of their fields, know the contexts in which prospective social workers use the learning outcomes of their fields. Professionalizing arts and sciences concepts is a matter of giving the emotional tone or coloration and valuation associated with professional application…20

Mixed Reactions

Arlien Johnson, an influential graduate educator, noted a problem with this particular recommendation that was widely shared. She accepted the proposed objectives of undergraduate education as excellent and even as stirring the imagination, but questioned the proposed method of achievement:

“But how? …They ostensibly leave control to the liberal arts college but they “professionalize” the content of the instruction. Every profession yearns for such a happy solution–and the liberal arts college is very jealous of its own prerogatives. Where will lie the balance of power? No, in spite of the desirability of the authors’ ‘‘concentration,’ it seems to me it could be rarely achieved. 21

Helen Wright, the founding president of the Council on Social Work Education, was critical of some of the recommendations, but was ready to move on the “unglamorous” task of identifying key concepts to be taught at the undergraduate level of social work education:

“As Dr. Hollis has well pointed out, the professional school has an obligation to work with the undergraduate college to let them know the needs of students who enter graduate schools of social work. In other words, we can do the job of professional education which is demanded of us only if we can get students who are prepared for education which is wholly professional — not the mixture of general and professional that is given today in the name of professional education.” 22

She recognized the difficulty of predicting when the suggested changes could take place but emphasized an obligation on the part of the profession to move in that direction. She identified benefits beyond those applicable to social work education:

“The effect of the changes that are needed here to prepare students for a professional curriculum would not be limited to the profession of social work. They would facilitate communication with other professional groups and would do much to make possible the achievement of the broad aims of social work. It cannot be stated too often that the goals of social work cannot be attained by social workers alone; they must be understood and accepted by others.23

How undergraduate educators reacted can be sensed in an article by Ernest Harper. He described the changes that took place in attitudes and views on undergraduate education as a result of the many sources of inter-action before and during the study process. He granted that the recommended concentration was somewhat less professional than favored by many undergraduate colleges, particularly with respect to skills teaching and practice. He regarded the report and accepted its findings as “bench marks” for future development, not as “blue prints for immediate action.” He understood Hollis to be “quite conscious of the temporary need and justification for a more vocationally oriented undergraduate curriculum than the proposed concentration recommended as a long-time function of the college.” Working on that long-time function was welcomed by Harper as a major task for the newly created Council on Social Work Education, specifically its Division of Undergraduate Departments. He wrote:

“It will be the job of this division, in cooperation with that on graduate schools to assist the colleges in discovering and defining the social welfare concepts which the authors hope can be made to infiltrate general education, as well as those which may properly be allocated to the junior-senior concentration….Undergraduate social work courses in the future, as Dr. Hollis sees them, will not only be interdisciplinary and comprehensive in nature but will also be constructed on the assumption that ‘knowing, doing, and being,’ on the part of the student should proceed hand in hand.” 24

Proposals for Graduate Education

The authors clearly state, in the Preface, that the study hoped to produce benchmarks for use in charting for the profession and universities a course of action for the next two or three decades. Emphasis is placed on what the study did not try to do: it was not a survey, not a treatise on organization and administration, not a manual on accreditation, and definitely it was not a curriculum study. The recommendations were designed to deal with broad fundamentals, which would set forth principles and policies for use by the profession in developing curriculum content and establishing organizational and administrative procedures.25

The recommendations for graduate education developed within this broad framework produced another set of mixed reactions. The member schools of AASSW were gratified by the resolution of the two major conflicts: (1) the role of undergraduate education in the preparation of social workers and (2) the recommendation that only graduate education for social work should be accredited. A repetitive reference throughout the study to basic (generic) education was welcomed by the Curriculum Committee of the AASSW and several of the leading schools, all of whom were working on curriculum reform in that direction. Hollis recommended what he called basic professional education for an array of social work functions far beyond those traditionally associated with the profession. He saw this as the most fundamental need of the profession and called attention to an address delivered by Edith Abbott in 1928, in which she called for a basic curriculum with an integrated class and field program to prepare social workers for a profession, not for narrowly conceived practice based on “casework methods and such phenomena as the ego libido and various psychiatric diagnoses, and such exigencies as community chest fund campaigns.”26 The strong support in the study for generic preparation was stated, as follows:

“The assumption is that a social worker employs or should employ similar professional skills under defined circumstances regardless of whether he is engaged in a private group work or casework agency or is employed by the courts, an industrial corporation, a labor union, a federal agency, or a county welfare department.” 27

This broadening of the scope of social work education, although appreciated by many, was perceived by some as an attack on casework. Indeed, the pronouncements on casework and fieldwork became the most widely discussed and debated part of the final report. The study took the position that while casework was the profession’s greatest strength, it also was an important handicap to improvement of the curriculum.

Casework was described as the “matrix out of which most social work principles, content, and processes have emerged,” 28 thus becoming synonymous with social work itself and limiting its influence.

To achieve a broader vision for social work education, the study called for the identification of concepts, which would then be arranged into sequences providing continuity and progression in learning, which in turn would be organized into comprehensive areas of instruction. In a later assessment of this recommendation, Grace Coyle wrote:

“Some of us remember the shock of the Hollis-Taylor report on Social Work Education. The report stated that social work education lacked adequate conceptual thinking and could not develop to its true professional level until it had grown its own consistent set of concepts. After some initial resentment at this attack, real movement has been made in recent years in this direction.” 29

The recommendations on fieldwork generated the greatest shock to the graduate schools. Fieldwork, along with casework, had from the beginnings in the charity organization movement given social work its distinctive character as an emerging profession. Hollis questioned the disproportionate amount of time allocated to fieldwork, the costs involved, and the qualifications of agency supervisors to teach graduate students. He argued, further, that first-year students were not ready to assume responsibility for working with a case or group. He proposed a different method of achieving the “learning ‘to do’ and ‘to be’ associated with field teaching while bringing it into line with graduate education.” 30 The instruction in the first year would be conducted in the classroom with a panel of school and agency field teachers. Teaching units were to be organized with objectives identical to those of classroom work. This would enable the student to progress from observation and group participation to the assumption of individual responsibility for direct service to individuals or groups. He urged research and experimentation to clarify methods of field instruction and concluded:

“…the paramount principle to be observed in revising the field teaching aspects of the basic curriculum is to have the same broad content of social work taught in the classroom and in the field and to relate the field assignments given students to their background and knowledge and experience.” 31

This call for better-organized and more conceptual teaching in both class and field had a dubious reception at the time. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, curriculum reform, including research and experimentation with new approaches to teaching and learning in the field, became key program activities for the present Council on Social Work Education.


A major principle, forcefully underlined throughout the Hollis-Taylor report, asserted that education for social work is a responsibility not only of educators but equally of organized practitioners, employing agencies, and the interested public. Widely accepted by the profession, this assertion became the cornerstone of all subsequent developments. The authors declared:

“It is the position of this report that all organized segments of the social work profession should join in the development and equitable support of an organization through which they and the public can have an effective voice in shaping and maintaining educational and accrediting policies and procedures.” 32

With the study close to completion, the National Council, in October 1949, established a Special Committee on Structure for a Social Work Education Organization. Following two meetings, the Special Committee presented a report in March 1950 that included a statement of assumptions, a statement of functions, and suggested by-laws for what would emerge in 1952 as the Council on Social Work Education. The Special Committee introduced its report with this account of its assignment:

“It was agreed by NCSWE that plans should be made immediately for implementation of the findings and recommendations of the study. Specifically, it was suggested that consideration be given by the National Council to the kind of organizational structure which would be necessary for the development of programs of social work education to replace the existing organizations in the field. There was general acceptance of the principle that the responsibility for developing sound programs of social work education must be shared by the educational institutions, the professional membership organizations, the employing agencies and the general public. The recommendations in the study stress the importance of having a single unified and adequately financed social work education organization in which the above groups share their appropriate roles.” 33

The Beginning of the End

The inevitability of their passage from the scene as separate organizations prompted the leaders of AASSW and NASSA to express their thoughts in farewell speeches. The supporting cast from the field and the profession also had words to say about the advent of a new force in social work education.


Helen Wright, the last president of AASSW and the first president of CSWE, addressed the graduate schools at the final annual meeting of the association in January 1951. By the following January, she expected the new Council on Social Work Education to have taken over many of the tasks formerly the responsibility of AASSW. She introduced her speech with the following remarks:

“The schools which are represented here today have varying feelings about what this will mean for the advancement of social work education to which we in the schools are devoting our lives. A few, I fear, believe we are selling our birthright for a mess of pottage; a few may look on the new organization as the Moses that will quickly lead us to the promised land; probably most have some questions about the step we are taking — even though the step seems inevitable and in the right direction.” 34


Hattie Cal Maxted, then serving as president of NASSA, addressed the membership at their final meeting in May 1952. She referred to the path they had followed for 10 years and concluded:

“It does not appear to be bragging if we claim that NASSA should be given credit for providing the motivating force for the formation of the Council. It seems almost fantastic what a small group with no prestige and no money to speak of has accomplished.” 35

She went on to express high hopes for undergraduate education within the new organization and said:

“NASSA as a protest group will disappear and, we hope, that persons interested in social work education will consider both undergraduate and graduate education to have an equally important, if different, place in the field of social work and that we can all work together to improve both types of education.” 36

Ernest Harper had worked closely with Hollis and Taylor to bring about the merger. His final words, in a critique of the report, consisted of a tribute to all who had contributed to the outcome along with a plaintive personal remark: “It has been a long road and the human cost has been great.”37 Anticipating the merger, he had applied for AASSW membership, which was granted early in 1952. The Universities of Oklahoma and Florida had earlier taken the same step, much to the chagrin of both Harper and Maxted. Notwithstanding his newly minted membership in AASSW, Harper’s allegiance remained with NASSA, as seen in a letter to Maxted:

“As you know, I waited until the last possible moment and can face the prospect of being within the AASSW with equanimity only with the knowledge that its days are limited and after July first, if all goes well, we will all be together.” 38

Maxted was brief in her acknowledgement of the news:

The Practitioners

AASW welcomed the news that the National Council had established a committee to develop plans for a single unified organization for social work education. Much was said at a meeting of its Board of Directors in January 1950 about the stake of the total profession in the educational preparation of its members. The following excerpt expresses support for a broadly based new organization:

“There is a growing conviction in the field, as represented in the NCSWE, that the responsibility for the development and advancement of educational institutions and programs must be shared by all the members of the social work community, educational institutions, the professional membership and the general public.” 40

They expressed gratification at the action of the National Council in moving quickly to produce a constitution for a single unified organization and urged financial support from all the interests involved. The AASW was already moving in that direction through a special assessment on its members to assist the AASSW in meeting its obligations and winding up its affairs in the transition to a new entity. In addition, a committee was established to explore the feasibility of a plan for ongoing support of social work education through an appropriate contribution from the AASW membership.41

Employing Agencies

The employing agencies were represented on the National Council by the American Public Welfare Association for the public field and the National Social Welfare Assembly for the major private agencies. Two questions were raised in their examination of the Structure Report and the proposed by-laws: (1) how to ensure participation of the various non-academic groups through appropriate representation in governance and program activities, and (2) how to meet the urgent need for adequate financing and identification of possible sources of support. They recognized, as seen in the following account, a difference in the degree of interest in education among those groups and the consequences for financial support:

“Representatives of the voluntary agencies indicated that acceptance of the plan by the individual agencies would depend on the degree to which there was understanding on the part of the professional and lay leadership regarding their stake in social work education. The opinion was expressed also that as this understanding increased there would be a greater acceptance of financial responsibility on the part of employing agencies.” 42

Questions of representation and financing remained to be answered. How it was done will be described in the story of the creation of the Council on Social Work Education, as told in Part Two of this historical account. Meanwhile, let the curtain fall on the story of its antecedents with these words of wisdom from Harriett Bartlett, which may still provide thoughts to ponder:

“As we consider the implications of the study we can see that in the past, social workers have been too concerned with segmental, specific, and immediate interests. We have done too much acting and not enough thinking. To attain our full growth we must not only be able to grasp the intellectual concept of a united profession but also go through a change of feeling which will place togetherness ahead of separateness. We must learn to think and act together in a sustained way toward common objectives.” 43



1. At this time, specialized sequences in medical social work and psychiatric social work in the graduate schools were accredited, respectively, by the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW) and the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW). The National Association of School Social Workers (NASSW) and the American Association of Group Workers (AAGW) had assigned responsibility for approval of their specialties to the AASSW. The Social Work Research Group (SWRG) and the Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO) did not function as accrediting bodies.
2. Minutes of Interim Committee of Education for Social Work, May 22, 1946, CSWE Records, Box 15.
3. NCSWE Certificate of Incorporation, 1947, Document #1166, CSWE Records, Box 19.
4. NCSWE Proposal for a Comprehensive Study of Social Work Education, March 1947, CSWE Records, Box 19.
5. Alice Taylor Davis, Making of a Teacher — 50 Years in Social Work (Silver Spring, MD: NASW, 1988), 134.
6. Ibid.
7. The report carries her name as Alice Taylor. At its publication in late 1951, she celebrated another event with her marriage to Michael Davis. Later references to her participation usually carry her married name.
8. Davis, Making of a Teacher, 135.
9. Kenneth L. M. Pray, “The Plan for a Study of Social Work Education,” The Compass 28, no. 3 (March 1947): 10.
10. Davis, Making of a Teacher, 131.
11. Ibid, 142-143.
12. Ibid, 142.
13. Ibid, 139.
14. Ibid, 150.
15. Ernest Hollis, “Position Statement on Role of the Undergraduate College in Social Work Education,” Document #20.15, CSWE Records.
16. Letter from Ernest Harper to H. C. Wetzel, April 17, 1949, Maxted Papers, Box 2.
17. Ernest V. Hollis and Alice L. Taylor, Social Work Education in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), 30.
18. Ibid, 182.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid, 183.
21. Arlien Johnson, “The Hollis-Taylor Report as Seen From the Viewpoint of a Social Work Educator,” Social Work Journal 33, no. 3 (July 1952): 136.
22. Helen R. Wright, “The Professional Curriculum of the Future,” Social Service Review 25, no. 4 (December 1951): 466.
23. Ibid, 475-476.
24. Ernest Harper, “The Study of Social Work Education: Its Significance for the Undergraduate Educational Institutions,” Social Work Journal 32, no. 4 (October 1951): 182, 183.
25. Hollis-Taylor, xi-xii.
26. Ibid, 234.
27. Ibid, 228.
28. Ibid, 225.
29. Grace L. Coyle, ” Mutuality-The Foundation Principle of the Council on Social Work Education,” in Education for Social Work, Proceedings of the Annual Program Meeting, 1960 (New York: Council on Social Work Education, 1960), 85.
30. Hollis-Taylor, 231.
31. Ibid, 243.
32. Ibid. 7
33. NCSWE Report of Special Committee on Structure, Document #32, CSWE Records, Box 19, I.
34. Helen R. Wright, “The Years Ahead,” Social Work Journal 33, no. 2 (April 1952): 85.
35. Hattie Cal Maxted, “President’s Report,” Annual Business Meeting, NASSA, May 29,1952, Maxted Papers, Box I.
36. Ibid.
37. Harper, “The Study of Social Work Education,” 197.
38. Letter from Ernest Harper to Hattie Cal Maxted, March 17,1952, Maxted Papers, Box 3.
39. Letter from Hattie Cal Ma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *