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National Association of Social Workers: History (1917 – 1955)

History of the National Association of Social Workers (1917 – 1955)

Editor’s Note: This entry about the early history of NASW is primarily a compilation of summaries from finding aids and scope notes from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Introduction: The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with 140,000 members (circa 2013). NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. The National Association of Social Workers was established in October, 1955, following five years of careful planning by the Temporary Inter-Association Council (TIAC). Seven organizations – American Association of Social Workers (AASW), American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW), National Association of School Social Workers (NASSW), American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW), American Association of Group Workers (AAGW), Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO), and Social Work Research Group (SWRG) – merged to form the NASW.  The attainment of this long-sought objective reflected the growing conviction on the part of social work practitioners that there was need for greater unity within the social work profession, and an organizational structure through which the resources of the profession could be utilized most effectively for the improvement and strengthening of social welfare programs.

The first formal step leading toward the establishment of NASW was taken in 1948. In the years that followed, careful study was given by the memberships of all the associations to the principles on which the new organization was to be created. This study culminated in an overwhelming affirmative vote on the part of the members of all seven organizations to establish the National Association of Social Workers in the fall of 1955. Major responsibility for formulating the plan of organization, which served as the foundation of the new professional organization, was vested in a Planning Committee of the Temporary Inter-Association Council (TIAC) which included key representatives of each of the seven organizations. Members of the Planning Committee were: AAGW, Sanford Solender (chairman), Janet Korpela; AAMSW, Mary L. Hemmy, Mary L. Poole; AAPSW, Marcene Gabell, Ruth I. Knee; AASW, Joseph P. Anderson, NASSW; Melvin A. Glasser; ASCO, Philip E. Ryan, Amy Wells; NASSW, Opal Boston, Ruth E. Smalley; SWRG, Margaret Blenkner, Elbert Hooker.

Ruth I. Knee, American Association of Social Workers
Ruth I. Knee, American Association of Social Workers
Joseph P. Anderson, National Association of Schools of Social Work and the First Executive Director of NASW
Joseph P. Anderson, National Association of Schools of Social Work and the First Executive Director of NASW
Melvin Glasser
Melvin A. Glasser, American Association of Community Organization
Ruth E. Smalley, Social Work Research Group
Ruth E. Smalley, Social Work Research Group
Sanford Solender, American Association of Group Workers and First Chairman of TIAC
Sanford Solender, American Association of Group Workers and First Chairman of TIAC









In recognition of the outstanding contribution which this group made to social welfare, the National Conference of Social Work (NCSW) presented its 1956 Annual Award to members of the TIAC with the following citation:

 For giving unstintedly of their knowledge, skills and time to conduct long and arduous negotiations leading to the formation of the National Association of Social Workers; for exercising unusually creative imagination in evolving a structure for the new Association which is carrying forward the strengths of the predecessor organizations and at the same time making possible an integrated program to advance the interest of the social work profession and the nation it serves; and even beyond defining the structure, for planning and presenting an outline of program content which was enthusiastically adopted by the Board of Directors and which has made it possible for the new National Association to launch immediately a strong and effective program. (Source: National Conference on Social Welfare. National Conference on Social Welfare Proceedings (Pages ix-x) –

Organizational History

Temporary Inter-Association Council of Social Work Membership Organizations (TIAC)

The Temporary Inter-Association Council of Social Work Membership Organizations, referred to as TIAC, grew out of a meeting called by the American Association of Social Workers and the American Association of Schools of Social Work in the fall of 1947. The meeting itself was entitled “Conference on Proposals for Inter-Association Activities.” The American Association of Social Workers (AASW), the American Association of Medical Social Workers (AAMSW), the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW), the American Association of Group Workers (AAGW), and the National Association of School Social Workers (NASSW) were all represented. This preliminary session created the Committee on Inter-Association Structure of Professional Organizations in Social Work which met in December 1948, and began functioning actively in January 1949. The purpose of the Committee was to exchange information about the participating associations’ objectives, membership requirements, programs and administrations, finances, etc., and in this way work toward a plan for one unified professional social work organization. As the talks progressed, the need for a more permanent organization arose. The committee, after due discussion, dissolved on June 10, 1950, and became the TIAC. The discussions of TIAC centered on two major problems — the type of organization needed for a new association and the actual deliberations necessary in constructing a functioning social work association. During the years of negotiation and discussion, the Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO) and the Social Work Research Group (SWRG) were invited to join and accepted membership on the Council in 1952 and 1954, respectively. The Council itself was guided by two chairman, Dora Goldstine, 1950-1953, and Sanford Solender, 1953-1955.The member associations rejected the idea of an organization for social workers that was merely an inter-professional committee, and the same fate lay in store for the projected plan of a federated professional organization. The need for a single unified organization was found most appealing to the TIAC delegates and their home organizations. It met the needs of an entire profession by having a broad membership base, creating divisions of members grouped according to specialized interest, and establishing committees to deal with projects related to broad interests. Therefore, following the structural lines of a single membership organization, the governing body was composed of a delegate assembly, which elected the top officials and a board of directors. To reflect the evolution of specialization within social work, five sections were developed; group work, medical social work, psychiatric social work, school social work, and social work research. The Council determined that ASCO would be represented by a committee on community organization and could petition for section status once NASW began functioning. In October 1955, the plans for a single professional organization for social workers reached fruition and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) began operating. Its first president was Nathan Cohen, and Joseph P. Anderson was selected to serve as executive secretary.

 American Association of Social Workers (AASW)

Established in 1917 as the National Social Workers’ Exchange and reorganized in 1921 as the American Association of Social Workers, the organization addressed issues of concern, set professional standards, and (in the early years) served as a placement bureau for social workers. As the senior professional social work organization, the American Association of Social Workers (AASW) traces its origin to the Intercollegiate Bureau of Occupations. The Bureau was founded in 1911 by a group of New York alumnae of various colleges to provide vocational information to young ladies seeking employment in New York City. The many questions received concerning social work positions led, in 1913, to the formation of a special department within the Bureau — the Department of Social Workers.

Functioning as a clearinghouse for information regarding social workers and social work positions, the department also emphasized better standards in its placement and publications. The decision to become an independent organization was made in 1917, and the National Social Workers Exchange (NSWE) was established with its own board of directors. The purpose of the Exchange was “to develop a better adjustment between workers and positions in the social field, to discover new opportunities, to encourage adequate preparation and professional training, to facilitate the choice of competent candidates for positions, and to secure equitable standards of employment.

The National Social Workers Exchange held its first meeting on May 18, 1918. Meeting concurrently with the National Conference of Social Work in Kansas City, a nominating committee composed of Arthur P. Kellogg, Ida M. Cannon, Alfred Fairbank, Gertrude Vaile and Edith Abbott presented a slate of candidates for board of directors. Edith Shatto King was named manager of the NSWE, while the elected officers were Richard H. Edwards, president; C. C. Carstens, vice president; Margaret Byington, secretary; and James S. Cushman, treasurer. At the third annual meeting in New Orleans, a resolution for incorporation “…under Article III of the Membership Corporations Laws of the State of New York, pursuant to Section 5 of said law” was authorized by the national body.

In 1920, the board of directors set up a central council, which in turn, appointed committees on placement, job analysis, training, industrial service, recruiting information, publicity and education. The official organ of the Exchange, The Compass was first published in December 1920. An executive committee was formed and its membership roll included C. C. Carstens, J. Bradley Buell, Clare M. Tousley, James S. Cushman, Harriet Anderson, Grace H. Childs, David H. Holbrook, Philip P. Jacobs, and Mary van Kleeck.

Before the annual meeting on June 27, 1921, Graham Romeyn Taylor, son of the settlement leader, Graham Taylor, was appointed national director. The Exchange continued to function as a nonprofit employment agency, but the need for a distinctly professional organization of social workers developed. In short, according to discussion in The Compass for that year, the Exchange had to become more than an employment bureau. Thus, at Kilbourn Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the NSWE became the American Association of Social Workers (AASW) — an organization formed to stimulate professional growth in social work and offering a vocational placement service. The elected officials of the newly named organization were Owen R. Lovejoy, president; Clare M. Tousley, first vice-president; Gertrude Vaile, second vice-president; Rose J. McHugh, third vice-president; Josiah Bradley Buell, secretary; and W. W. Norton, treasurer.

Providence, Rhode Island was selected as the place of the annual meeting in June 1922, and it was here that the central council became the national council. A report of a special committee, headed by Harry Hopkins, was also read. He spelled out a financial policy for the Association. Duly adopted by the assembled membership, this program, hereafter known as the “Providence Resolution,” provided that dues and contributions from members would support all Association activities, after January 1, 1923. This undertaking was ideally to be realized by January 1, 1925.  Financial difficulties forced the deadline to be extended to January 1927. The goal was finally met when the decision was made to separate the Vocational Bureau from the Association, as its operating costs were draining funds from the treasury.

Structurally the organization experimented with several types of governing bodies. Through the course of the Association’s existence governmental responsibility shifted from one group to another. The national council succeeded the original body of authority, the central council, in 1922. An executive committee was appointed to run Association affairs between council meetings. The national council became so unwieldy and its membership so widely distributed that it caused the council to lose its directing capability. In 1926 the executive committee assumed administrative duties. The national council henceforth functioned as a delegate body acting in an intermediary, advisory capacity. To compensate for the loss of’ the council, an interim committee of the executive committee was created to act on urgent matters subject to final approval by the higher authority. The first members were Neva Deardorff, Dorothy C. Kahn, William Hodson, Linton B. Swift, John A. Fitch, and Katharine Tucker.

Since the formation of the Association, secretaries who have directed the Association’s affairs in the national offices include: Graham R. Taylor, 1921-1922; Edith Shatto King (acting executive secretary) 1922-1923; Philip Klein, 1923-1927, with assistance from Elizabeth de Schweinitz (Mrs. Karl de Schweinitz). Walter West assumed the position in November, 1927.

With the advent of the “Great Depression” and social work’s greater interest and involvement in government programs dealing with relief on state and federal levels, financial problems and overwork plagued the organization. According to The Compass reports, the executive committee found itself burdened by administrative detail, and consequently lacked correlation with national committees. In 1934 action was taken to decentralize the governing committee’s responsibilities by creating divisions which would be guided internally by steering committees. Certain administrative committees were left out of the divisional scheme, i.e., national membership, publications, and chapter organization.

The main concerns of the Association were reflected in the division titles: government and social work, personnel standards, employment practices, and personnel practices. A word of explanation helps to describe the complicated evolution of the division on government and social work. At its annual meeting in Minneapolis in June 1931, the assembled membership of AASW authorized the formation of the commission on unemployment, which was to gather information on local situations through AASW chapters, and study and report on proposed programs meant to deal with unemployment, i.e., federal relief fund. A second assignment involved the study of the social and economic effects of unemployment and the possible regularization of employment by unemployment insurance. The first chairman of the commission was Mary Van Kleeck who was supported by a panel of distinguished citizens: Joseph P. Chamberlain, Stanley Be Davies, Helen Hall, David H. Holbrook, Porter R. Lee, Betsey Libbey, Harry Lurie, Linton B. Swift, Frances Taussig and Walter West.

Coincidentally, executives of national agencies called for the Social Work Conference on Federal Action to discuss plans for action on governmental programs. The steering committee of this conference, with Linton B. Swift as its chairman, became the AASW’s committee on federal relief under the auspices of the Commission on Unemployment. Not content with this label, the committee was renamed the federal action on unemployment committee. Linton Swift chaired the committee; its membership included Benson Y. Landis, Frank Bane, Allen T. Burns, C. C. Carstens, Joanna C. Colcord, Helen Crosby, David H. Holbrook, Paul U. Kellogg, Harry L. Lurie, the Rev. Dr. John O’Grady, Helen Hall, Ralph G. Hurlin, Walter West, and Stanley B. Davies.

Lack of funds caused the chairman of the commission to ask for the commission’s discharge in April, 1933, but as many functions as possible were assumed by the division on government and social work under its first chairman, Linton B. Swift. Dissatisfaction with this divisional structure was brought to the surface in August 1938, by the resignation of Florence Taylor (Mrs. Graham R. Taylor), who had served as an assistant executive secretary. She pointed out that the executive committee left too much decision making to the executive secretary. The interim committee could not cope with the responsibilities developing because the executive committee met too infrequently, the committees were too loosely organized, there was too heavy an administrative burden for the national office, and a difference of opinion existed regarding the basic policies and program of the Association.

Faced with such explicit criticism, measures were taken the following year to remedy the situation by creating a new governing body, the national board of directors, from whose ranks an executive committee would be selected to exercise the powers of the national board between meetings of the latter group. Due to the re-organizational shuffle, the divisional apparatus gradually faded out, to be replaced by regional national committees. By March, 1941, the outstanding committees were executive, national membership, government and social work, personnel practices, chapter, personnel practices for national staff, and nominating. This basic pattern, changed only by addition or deletion of national committees, remained true of the Association’s structure till dissolution in 1955.

The problem of administrative structure was thus amended. However, matters of procedures continued to plague personnel and employment practices’ investigations, i.e., employment practices inquiry, 1940. The division of opinion regarding basic doctrine of the Association remained unresolved. One member commented that the struggle to solve these issues caused a loss of momentum in the Association’s forward progress and resulted in the resignations of president, executive secretary, and members of the executive committee and board of directors. This period, 1941-1943, was one of internal dissension within all sections of the organization. After Walter West’s resignation in the early part of 1942, Elisabeth Mills served as acting executive secretary until the appointment of Joseph P. Anderson as executive secretary on May 15, 1942. Anderson continued in that capacity until the dissolution of AASW in 1955 at which time he became the executive secretary of National Association of Social Workers.

Beset with financial difficulties and a scattered membership involved in war-time defense concerns during World War II, national conferences were canceled in 1943 and 1945. However, during the postwar period, the Association grew steadily. Reflecting the growth of professionalism in social work, The Compass became the Social Work Journal in 1948. Simultaneously preliminary discussions were initiated with other professional social work organizations to examine the possibility of merging operations to further the social work profession as a whole. This inquiry led to the formation of the Temporary Inter-Association Council (TIAC) in which AASW took a leading role.

American Association of Hospital Social Workers (AAMSW)

The American Association of Hospital Social Workers (AAMSW) was formed with the adoption of a constitution and bylaws on May 20, 1918. In 1926 AAHSW was incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and in 1934 it became the American Association of Medical Social Workers, a name it retained until its merger, in 1955 to become the National Association of Social Workers. The informal origin of medical social work in America came in 1905 when Dr. Richard Clarke Cabot, staff member of Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, arranged for the employment of a “person of experience in health and social work” to assist in the out-patient department in solving problem of sickness and ill health related to social factors. Though volunteers and hospital auxiliaries had been engaged for many years in friendly visiting, sewing, and other services to hospitals and patients, this marked the beginning of an effort to provide adequate, consistent professional service to clients.Organization of hospital social workers on a national scale came in May, 1917, when approximately thirty workers met in Pittsburgh in connection with the National Conference of Social Work to discuss the question of a national organization. Because of the war, further efforts were delayed until the 1918 National Conference in Kansas City, when a series of meetings were held, culminating in the organization of AAHSW. According to its original constitution, the purpose of AAHSW was “…to serve as an organ of intercommunication among hospital social workers, to maintain and improve standards of social work in hospitals and dispensaries, and to stimulate its intensive and extensive development.” (The purpose was later amended to reflect changed emphases within the profession, to read: “…to promote the quality and effectiveness of social work in relation to health and medical care.”) The constitution of 1918 provided for the offices of president first and second vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, and opened membership to institutions and individuals in the United States and Canada. The bylaws adopted set forth duties of the officers and an executive committee, listed qualifications for membership, and provided for an advisory council, annual meetings and procedures for amendment of bylaws. Original membership qualifications established active, associate, and honorary classes. Active members were paid hospital social workers or executives of social service departments. Associate members included individuals who had been active in hospital social work or allied fields but were not eligible at the time, or those who had only recently begun this work, and social service departments or organizations and institutions in fields allied with medical social work. Honorary members were individuals deemed by the Association to have made a significant contribution to medical social work. An executive secretary (titled executive director after 1953) was employed part-time from 1918 and full-time from 1922. From 1936 to 1955 a business manager, Mrs. Ellen Michaels, directed the national office. Other part-time or full-time professional staff members were:  the consultant on education, Kate McMahon, 1925-1955; consultant on practice, Addie Thomas, 1953-1955 (this position was established in 1953); and consultant on recruitment (a position also established in 1953), Elma Phillipson and, later, Opal Gooden. In 1920, in an effort to make a national organization less remote and more relevant to individual members scattered across the country, a plan for organization of the Association on a district basis was proposed. At the semi-annual meeting, held in conjunction with the American Hospital Association, the district plan was accepted by the membership with the provision that the executive committee approve district limits and that district constitutions conform to the national constitution. In 1945 specific criteria for districts were adopted. These included, among others, a minimum of 25 potential members, leadership, financial stability, and proposed district limits. During reorganization of the Association, 1940-1942, a plan for establishing five regions for members living outside district areas was adopted. At the 1921 annual meeting, a group of psychiatric social workers who were members of AAHSW, petitioned to form a psychiatric section within AAHSW. In 1922 the Section was formed with its own bylaws, officers, etc. In 1926 the Section dissolved its ties with AAHSW and formed the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers.

National Association of School Social Workers (NASSA)

An association of school social workers was originally established in 1919 as the National Association of Visiting Teachers and Home Visitors.  After several name changes, in 1945, ,it became the National Association of School Social Workers. The organization’s purpose was to define the role of school social workers, advance the quality of social service in public and private schools, and improve standards of training.  In 1916, fifteen visiting teachers met to consider the formation of a national organization of visiting teachers. The First World War effected a temporary postponement of their plans, but in 1919 the National Association of Visiting Teachers and Home Visitors was established, with Jane Colbert elected as the first president. Because the field was closely allied to both education and social work, the Association held its annual meetings alternately with the National Education Association or the American Association of School Administrators and the National Conference of Social Work. In 1919 interested social workers met at the National Conference of Social Work to form the National Association of Visiting Teachers and Home Visitors. In 1929 the name was changed to American Association of Visiting Teachers (AAVT). In 1942 the name was changed to American Association of School Social Workers (AASSW). In 1945 the name was changed again to the National Association of School Social Workers (NASSW). Through the years the major objectives of the Association involved defining the role of school social workers, organizing the development of social work programs in schools, and improving standards of training. Several surveys were undertaken to meet these objectives. One survey, was completed in 1921. Titled. The Visiting Teacher in the United States, and published by the New York City Public Education Association, the survey considered the organizational structure and methods of the work, the preparation and training of visiting teachers, and the possibilities for future developments of visiting teacher services. In 1940, the standards committee of the AAVT, under the chairmanship of Margaret Sager, published Visiting Teacher Service Today: A Study of Its Philosophy and Practice in the United States. The NASSW and the American Association of Social Workers cosponsored and published Report of a Study of School Social Work Practice in Twelve Communities, a project undertaken by Mildred Sikkema in 1950. The National Committee on Visiting Teachers was made up of many members of the National Association of Visiting Teachers, but apparently an independent committee seems to have advised the Association from 1921 to 1930. It worked to extend the establishment of social workers in more and more schools, set up demonstration centers, and issued reports that were published by the Commonwealth Fund. The Association was administered by the executive officers, consisting of a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer who were elected annually at first and biennially after 1931. Standing committees on membership, education, standards, program, ways and means, nominating, publicity, as well as regional committees, did such of the work of the Association. Other administrative and study committees such as resolutions and amendments, were formed when the need for them arose. By 1947, the Association was able to establish a permanent office with a full time executive secretary, Mildred Sikkema. Inadequate funds forced the closing of the office and the elimination of the position in 1951, but reestablished in 1954, with financial help from the Grant Foundation and with individual contributions. The office employed Marjorie Case as a professional consultant.

 American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers (AAPSW)

This association began in 1922 as the Section on Psychiatric Social Work of the American Association of Hospital Social Workers and organized as an independent organization in 1926. The organization sought to define and set standards for social work practiced in connection with psychiatry. The AAPSW informally began in Boston in 1920 as a discussion group of seventeen members, headed by Mary C. Jarrett, who called themselves the National Psychiatric Social Workers Club. In 1922, the group was organized on a national basis as the Section on Psychiatric Social Work of the American Association of Hospital Social Workers. In May of 1926, the members of the Section voted to withdraw from the group (which later became the American Association of Medical Social Workers) and form an independent national organization, the American Association of Psychiatric Social Workers. In these early years, the purposes of the Association were: (1) to promote association among members; (2) to establish standards of training; (3) to improve practice; and (4) to engage in continuous study of function in order to define the relationship of social work to psychiatry. The growing membership, employed in a variety of agencies, represented an expanding field. By 1929, there was evident confusion over which of two areas of activity the Association was pledged to foster and promote — whether it was to be “social work practiced in connection with psychiatry” or “social work in whatever setting a worker took adequate working knowledge of mental hygiene.” The bases for membership in the AAPSW,  initially determined upon the individual’s vocational position as well as his or her educational background, were broadened throughout the first decade of its existence, but discussion of membership qualifications continued. A study committee under the leadership of Mrs. Lois Meredith French undertook an analysis of trends in the AAPSW in the 1930s, and the report was formally published in 1941. At its annual business meeting, the AAPSW membership voted to clarify the responsibility of the Association in “…fostering social work in relation to the practice of psychiatry and contributing to the study, treatment, and prevention of mental disease. Relationships with other professional social work organizations . . . [would] be strengthened.” In addition, the Association hoped to achieve a closer relationship with the field of psychiatry. The Second World War indicated a need for additional training of personnel and integration with other professional groups. The war service office, with Elizabeth Healy Ross as secretary, was set up by the AAHSW in 1942 in response to the greatly increased wartime demand for psychiatric workers. It was financed through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1944, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene joined the AAPSW in sponsoring the office, and the name was changed to the “war office of psychiatric social work.” The work of the office included recruiting psychiatric social workers, evaluating military social work and standards, undertaking studies of personnel, and coordinating the placement of psychiatric social workers in the most urgent positions. The office was also concerned with the U.S. Veterans Administration, the American National Red Cross, standards in psychiatric social work, and the Wartime Committee on Personnel. Members of the joint committee to the war office included Mrs. Ethel Ginsburg, Dr. Marion Kenworthy, Dr. David Levy, Marion McBee, Madeleine Moore, Mildred Scoville, Dr. Frank Fremont Smith, and Dr. George S. Stevenson. Two other war oriented committees were established during the war years. One committee focused on relations with the Red Cross, and the other worked with the American Psychiatric Association and later with the American Association of Medical Social Workers to stress the importance of keeping up standards of psychiatric and medical social service in military installations.

American Association of Group Workers (AAGW)

This association was initially organized in 1936 as the National Association for the Study of Group Work (NASGW; and reorganized in 1946 as the American Association of Group Workers. The organization sought to define and promote higher professional standards for social work with groups. Most of its members were employed by settlement houses, YMCAs and YWCAs, and recreational and camping organizations. The NASGW was organized in May 1936, to develop and refine the aims, methods, and practice of group work. This purpose was accomplished through local study groups, an annual conference, and by publication and distribution of material of interest to the practitioner. Membership was open to any person interested in the study of group work, regardless of their prior affiliation in other social welfare organizations. As an organization of professional group workers, the NASGW cut across all agency, religious, racial, and occupational lines. In 1939 the organization became the American Association for the Study of Group Work, and in April 1946, the AAGW was formed, replacing the AASGW as the professional organization of group workers. By 1948, membership in the AAGW had grown to 19,811, with members from such organizations as the settlements YMCA’s, YWCA’s, Jewish Community Centers, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Schools of Social Work and recreational organizations. For most members, the AAGW was not the primary professional organization. The AAGW tried to professionalize group work wherever it existed, rather than to initiate new programs independent of already existing social welfare enterprises. The AAGW sought constantly to professionalize its work, and by 1948 it had defined quite clearly what it conceived group work to be. A description of the AAGW’s nature and functions in 1947 states: “Group work is a method of group leadership used in organizing and conducting various types of group activities. While group work developed first in connection with recreation and voluntary informal education . . . its use is not confined to those fields. It is increasingly being used in various types of institutions, in hospitals and clinics, in. the extra-curricular activities of schools and in similar situations. The guiding purpose behind such leadership rests upon the common assumptions of a democratic society; namely, the opportunity for each individual to fulfill his capacities in freedom, to respect and appreciate others and to assume his social responsibility in maintaining and constantly improving our democratic society.” The inter-agency character of the AAGW was demonstrated by the fact that the executive personnel were already heavily involved in other professional occupations. For example, Arthur L. Swift, Jr., a professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, was actively involved in the formation and early operation of the Association. Similarly, other people prominent members in the organization included: Louis Kraft (of the National Jewish Welfare Board), Ann Elizabeth Neely (on the national board of the YWCA), and Edna d’Issertelle (of Girl Scouts, Inc.). Until 1946, there was no full-time, paid executive secretary for the organization, indicating the voluntary nature of the AAGW.

 Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO)

Formed in 1946 and incorporated in 1947, the Association for the Study of Community Organization (ASCO) sought to increase understanding and improve professional practice of community organization for social welfare. It differed from other professional social work organizations in that it accepted educators and other non-social workers as members. ASCO was a temporary organization from August, 1946, to August, 1947, when it was incorporated and bylaws were adopted. The primary purpose of the Association was to study community organization, and consequently membership was open to anyone interested in that subject. Arthur Dunham, first president of ASCO, said in January, 1947: “We are of course interested in improving standards of professional practice in community organization, and in this our aims are similar to the established professional associations.” However, “We are not strictly a ‘professional organization’ in the sense that we limit membership to persons with certain qualifications of professional education and experience.” Thus ASCO attempted to improve the study of community organization without professionalizing it to the extent that many interested practitioners were excluded. The membership, which peaked at around 500, included professional social workers, educators, professors, and practitioners from diverse occupations and positions in life. When ASCO merged into the NASW in October 1955 all of ASCO functions were assumed by the new national organization. The Association provided many services during its brief existence, including publication of a newsletter and a quarterly Checklist of Current Publications on Community Organization; investigation of cooperation with other national welfare organizations; preparation of a book of readings on community organization; sponsorship of local discussion groups; definition and elaboration of the principles of community organization; and participation in the Temporary Inter-Association Council (TIAC) as the representative of students of community organization.

 Social Work Research Group (SWRG)

The Social Work Research Group (SWRG) was formally established at the National Conference of Social Work in June 1949, “…to provide a medium of communication for social work practitioners [and] to establish a permanent organizational structure to further the development of research in social work.” Communication, standards of practice including ethics and personnel practices, public relations, and research were the major objectives of the group.The governing body of SWRG consisted of three elected officials– a president, secretary, and treasurer — and a steering committee. Three committees were set up to fulfill the objectives of the organization: 1) the committee on research function and practice; 2) the committee to study structure of advisory committees; and, 3) a committee on education. The group published SWRG Periodical Abstracts, which included articles on research in social work, or on research in a field other than social work where the method had application to social work, and a newsletter. In October 1955, SWRG joined NASW and became the research section of that new organization. Prominent members of SWRG included Ann Shyne, David French, and Tessie Berkman.

Source: National Association of Social Workers and Predecessor Organizations Records, 1917-1970. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN

For More Information, visit: Social Work Degree Center: Looking for Leaders: The Crisis in Social Work

4 Replies to “National Association of Social Workers: History (1917 – 1955)”

  1. Trying to locate info on past National officers. My family history states that my grandmother (Margaret Jacobsen) was once a National Vice President.

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