The purpose of this paper is to present and discuss the history of social work in the United States from the founding of the original colonies to the present day. The paper is divided into the following four sections:
I.Christian Outreach and Philantrophy: The Period From 1600 - 1800
II.Great Changes: The Period From 1800 - 1900
III.The Depression and Social Reform: The Period From 1900 - 1950
IV.Changing Views: The Period From 1950 - 1998.
In general, the historical perspective presented in the paper examines the development of social work as driven by two basic engines consisting of: a) philosophical, religious, and sociopolitical notions; and b) societal changes and their effects on the poor.
I. Christian Outreach and Philantrophy: 1600 - 1800
According to Leiby (1979), in the first two centuries of the nation, social work in the United States consisted predominately of people endeavoring to lessen the burdens of the poor through direct relief and prayer. This proto form of social work was conceptually based on the biblical mandate to feed, clothe and care for the poor and organizationally based on the work in Europe of St. Francis De Sales (1576 - 1662) who developed a voluntary association of "friendly visitors" to go to the homes of the poor and see to their needs. Also, influential in shaping the "social work" of the period was the work of St. Vincent De Paul (1576 - 1669) who organized the Sisterhood of the Dames de Charite in Paris, a charity organization aimed at meeting the poor's basic physical needs in order to help them help themselves.
It can be noted that during this period, the predominate concepts motivating social work were religious and philantrophic encompassing the ideas that it was: a) morally right to help the poor; and b) those who had much were morally obliged to share at least some of it with those who had less (Richmond, 1895). Over the first two hundred years of...