The National Social Welfare Assembly
Introduction: This organization changed its name 1n 2005 to the National Human Services Assembly. The membership of the National Assembly includes national nonprofit organizations in the health and human services field (e.g., Girl Scouts, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army). Those organizations and their constituent services networks collectively touch or are touched by nearly every household in America—as consumers of services, donors or volunteers. They comprise a $32 billion sector that employs some 800,000 workers, operating from over 150,000 locations.
Since its original founding the Assembly has been know by different names:
- 1923 — National Social Work Council (NSWC)
- 1945 –National Social Welfare Assembly (NSWA)
- 1967 – National Assembly for Social Policy and Development (NASPD)
- 1973 – National Assembly of National Voluntary Health and Social Welfare Organizations (NANVHSWO)
- 2005 – National Human Services Assembly (NHSA)
History: In 1919 a committee of the American Association for Organizing Family Social Work (AAOFSW) met with representatives of the American National Red Cross (ANRC) to work to discuss how to avoid duplication of effort, particularly in the field of home service which the Red Cross had initiated during World War I to provide case work services to families of servicemen. Recognizing the similarities of their problems and desiring closer coordination of their work, executives representing twelve leading national social work organizations began regular monthly meetings in 1920. Formally organized in 1923, the National Social Work Council (NSWC) retained the same spirit and methods until 1945.
At an all-day meeting January 18, 1945, Council members concluded that some structural and functional alterations were necessary in order to create an organization capable of meeting more effectively the diverse social welfare problems in the post-war community. A new constitution was approved by the membership, and at its December 1945 meeting, the National Social Work Council became the National Social Welfare Assembly (NSWA). The two broad functions of the National Social Welfare Assembly, according to the 1965 edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, were to define and study problems of broad social policy affecting the needs of people and to plan action to meet these needs and, also, to serve national organizations and local communities in developing effective programs, operations, and administration in the field of social welfare.
The Early Years: The National Social Work Council did not undertake any new activities of its own, but sought, rather, to help existing agencies better fulfill their functions by mutual informational exchanges and open discussion of common problems. Until 1925, administrative work incidental to arranging meetings and the printing and distribution of materials was undertaken on a volunteer basis by two executives of national organizations, Howard S. Braucher and David H. Holbrook. After that date, David Holbrook served as full-time secretary to the Council through 1945.
Representatives of government, philanthropic foundations and agencies outside the NSWC were frequently invited to speak at the Council’s monthly meetings and examine with its members topics of mutual concern. Other meetings revolved around reports from member agencies of programs and projects undertaken, and topics of current importance for social work which were discussed at the Council’s “Round-Table Meetings.”
Meeting topics and studies originated by committees of the Council reflect the changing attitudes and objectives of voluntary social work organizations and developments in the larger society in which they evolved. Early NSWC meetings were largely concerned with bases of financial support, budgets, and endorsement. Subsequent topics of discussion included: attempts to achieve better understanding and closer cooperation between agencies functioning in related areas or the same communities; relationships between national organizations and their local agencies; problems arising from the Depression, including the financial pressures toward retrenchment in a period of increasing welfare and relief requests; defense mobilization and its social repercussions; and, a few years later, demobilization and the social needs and problems created by massive relocation.
At an all-day meeting January 18, 1945, Council members concluded that some structural and functional alterations were necessary in order to create an organization capable of meeting more effectively the diverse social welfare problems in the post-war community. A Special Committee on Reorganization was appointed and worked through 1945 to design a more functional framework for the Council. The Special Committee’s Proposed Constitution was approved by the membership, and at its December 1945 meeting, the National Social Work Council became the National Social Welfare Assembly.
Prior to assuming executive responsibilities for the Council in 1925, David H. Holbrook had served as Executive Director of the American Association for Organizing Family Social Work. This Association, originally the American Association of Societies for Organizing Charities, was formed in 1911 and was the forerunner of the Family Service Association of America. Francis Herbert McLean, a pioneer in social welfare and charity organization, was largely responsible for bringing together the participating charity agencies in the AASOC and remained an important and active force in the Association through its subsequent reorganizations. David Holbrook retained a special interest in family social work and close ties with McLean through the years he served the Council.
In 1923, a number of social agency executives in the casework field came together on the invitation of David Holbrook to discuss informally and unofficially their various specialties of work with the hope of achieving clearer understandings and cooperation in over-lapping areas. Taking its name from the town of Milford, Pennsylvania where the first meeting was held in 1923, the Milford Conference continued to meet annually until 1929. In 1928 the American Association of Social Workers published a report of the Milford Conference, Social Case Work, Generic and Specific, which emphasized the common base of practice among all social caseworkers regardless of areas of specialization.
Exigencies of the depression period prevented meetings of the Milford Conference for several years until 1932, when the “mass methods” being called into use in relief work and other problems arising out of the national situation indicated the desirability of calling another conference for discussion. The Milford Conference met again in 1933 and issued a report on social casework in 1934. As the initiator of the Conference in which he remained an active participant, David Holbrook retained correspondence, papers and reports of the Milford Conference among the NSWC files.
The two broad functions of the National Social Welfare Assembly, according to the 1965 edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, were to define and study problems of broad social policy affecting the needs of people and to plan action to meet these needs and, also, to serve national organizations and local communities in developing effective programs, operations, and administration in the field of social welfare.
In 1942, six national agencies, five of which were members of the National Social Work Council, combined to promote joint financing and joint planning of their war service projects in local communities. Established as the American War Community Services (AWCS) and certified by the War Relief Control Board, the agencies undertook cooperative projects of health and welfare services in local communities where the war effort had created serious problems. The functional group of the AWCS, the Service Cooperation Committee, made field studies and coordinated services in those communities selected as projects. On May 1, 1946 the minutes of the Service Cooperation Committee and the files of the AWCS were deposited with the NSWA. After June 1, 1946 the Service Cooperation Committee of the AWCS also served as the Service Cooperation Committee of the NSWA and continued its functions under the Assembly after the dissolution of the AWCS in 1947.
The social health and welfare problems accompanying the relocation of Japanese-Americans during the war were studied by the National Social Work Council and again became a topic of concern for the Assembly when the difficult post-war resettlement began. The Assembly’s Committee on Japanese Americans prepared a series of bulletins covering problems related to discrimination in housing and employment, legislation under consideration and prejudices against Japanese-Americans.
Social welfare agencies serving the interest of youth combined in several bodies of the Assembly to coordinate their work and undertake special projects. One such association, the Young Adult Council (YAC), was founded in 1948 as the coordinating organization for 28 national student and young worker organizations. Particularly concerned with youth in the 18-30 year age group, YAC sponsored a United States Assembly of Youth in 1953 at Ann Arbor, Michigan and also represented young adult organizations in the United States to the World Assembly of Youth (WAY).
Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in America. Edited by Walter I. Trattner. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986.
For further reading: National Human Services Assembly
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J. (2011). The National Social Welfare Assembly. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/organizations/national-social-welfare-assembly/
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