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Youngdahl, Benjamin Emmanual

in: People
Professor Youngdahl
Professor Youngdahl
Photo: NASW Foundation

Benjamin Emmanual Youngdahl (1897-1970) Public Welfare Administrator and Educator


Introduction: Benjamin Youngdahl was a public welfare administrator, educator and lecturer. At various times he served as president of the American Association of Social Work (1951-53),

Career: Benjamin E. Youngdahl was born in 1897 and became a distinguished public welfare administrator and social work educator. A native of Minnesota, Youngdahl was a member of a prominent Swedish Lutheran family. He was educated at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and at Columbia University in New York.

From 1923 to 1933, Youngdahl was a professor of sociology and economics at Gustavus Adolphus College. He became director of social service for the Minnesota State Emergency Relief Administration in 1933 and was appointed director of public assistance under the Minnesota State Board of Control in 1937. A period of controversy surrounding the new public welfare programs culminated in Youngdahl’s resignation in 1939. (Note: The records documenting this controversy form one of the richest parts of the Youngdahl papers, located in the Social Welfare Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries.)

Following his resignation, in 1939, Youngdahl joined the faculty of George Warren Brown School of Social Work as an associate professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, where he spent the remainder of his career in social work education. In 1943, he was appointed as a professor of social work. Following a year spent with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), he was appointed dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work in 1945. As the Dean of the School from 1945 to 1962, Youngdahl upgraded training status, developed a more integrated curriculum, doubled the school’s enrollment and established a doctoral program in 1947. The school was the first division of Washington University to admit blacks. For his concern for civil liberties, he received the Florena Loeher Award for Social Work in 1963. His best known writing was his book Social Action in Social Work in 1966.

Youngdahl retired as dean in 1962, but continued to teach and remained active in social work. He died in 1970.

Throughout his career, Youngdahl was an active leader in many social work organizations, thus exercising a decisive influence on the profession of social work and social work education. From 1947 to 1948, he was president of the American Association of Schools of Social Work. Three years later, from 1951 to 1953, he became president of the American Association of Social Workers. In 1955, he was elected president of the National Conference of Social Work, later named the National Conference on Social Welfare.

Youngdahl published many speeches and articles on social work.  His honors include an LL.D. from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1954 and citations from Gustavus Adolphus College and Washington University in 1960 and 1961, respectively. He was the recipient of the 1963 Florina Lasker Award for his concern for civil liberties.

Most sources dealing with Benjamin Youngdahl’s life and professional career can be located in the papers of Benjamin Youngdahl and the National Association of Social Workers at the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota libraries. Youngdahl wrote many articles and gave numerous speeches copies of which can be found in many of the early social work publications, The Compass, Social Work Journal, the proceedings of the National Conference for Education for Social Work. For useful information regarding Benjamin Youngdahl’s family background, see Robert Espjorson’s biography of Youngdahl’s brother Luther, the former Governor of Minnesota.

Sources: NASW Social Work Pioneers:

Benjamin E. Youngdahl Papers. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN:

Biographical Dictionary of Social Welfare in America, Walter I Trattner, Editor, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1986.