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College of Human Environmental Sciences

Our History

bronze tiger in front of Jesse HallFollowing an era of unparalleled social change around the world in the 19th century, the field of social work was in its early infancy at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the first social welfare textbook was published in 1894, and the first school of social work was established in 1898. Recently, the National Association of Social Workers celebrated the profession’s centennial in 1998.

Today, the profession of social work and social work education have evolved in response to the needs of vulnerable individuals and populations, promotion of human rights, and challenges related to social service and social welfare policy. Social work education at the University of Missouri (MU) has progressed, along with the profession, from the earliest stages of social work training to developing leadership for social and economic justice in the 21st century.

In 1906, MU first offered social work training through an extension program in St. Louis. Faculty from the MU Sociology Department commuted regularly to deliver lectures in affiliation with the St. Louis School of Philanthropy. MU assumed control of the school, which was renamed the Missouri School of Social Economy in 1916.

In 1919, MU was one of seventeen existing schools of social work in the U.S. and Canada to form the Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Work. The Association developed the first uniform standards of training and professional education, and eventually became the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), today’s national accrediting body for social work education.

Social work curriculum was first offered on campus through the MU College of Arts and Science in 1925. Then, in 1929, the College of Agriculture established curriculum for the training of rural public welfare workers. In 1935, administration of all social work training was transferred to the Graduate School, and a one-year graduate curriculum leading to a master’s degree in sociology with a major in social work was offered.

In 1946, the Department of Social Work was established in the College of Arts and Science, along with a one-year graduate program leading to a certificate of social work. An undergraduate social work program was also offered as an area of concentration leading to a bachelor of science degree. In 1949, in accordance with national accreditation standards, a two-year program leading to a master of science in social work was added, including an emphasis for the training of corrections workers. In 1953, the department became the School of Social Work within the College of Arts and Science.

In 1965, the School of Social and Community Services was formed, of which the School of Social Work was a part. In 1967, the School of Social Work began providing statewide outreach programs through the University Extension Division. Focuses of the program included developmental training for agency staffs and citizens engaged in implementing new or expanded social services, professional development, and consultation. The School of Social and Community Services became the College of Public and Community Services in 1975.

Following a national trend recognizing the undergraduate degree in social work as the first professional practice degree in the field, the bachelor of social work degree was offered at MU in 1975. Also during 1975, the Master of Science in Social Work was renamed the Master of Social Work degree, and the BSW and MSW programs were offered as components of a five-year continuum curriculum.

In 1988, the College of Public and Community Services was eliminated and the units within the college were reorganized on campus. The School of Social Work joined the College of Human Environmental Sciences, which offers programs in Personal Financial Planning, Architectural Design, Human Development and Family Studies, Nutrition & Exercise Physiology , and Textile and Apparel Management.

In 2000, the school launched its nationally distinctive PhD program with an emphasis on state social policy. Between the period of 2000 to 2002, seven new faculty members with earned doctorates from Doctoral/Research Extensive institutions joined the school. In addition, the school’s mission was determined by the faculty to be developing leadership for social and economic justice.

Today, the school offers its accredited BSW and MSW programs and its nationally distinctive PhD program in light of this mission to develop leadership for social and economic justice. In addition, the school is guided by an overarching commitment as a land-grant university to teaching, research, and service that is responsive to the needs of the state. Finally, the school strives to advance social work research and scholarship that is broadly applicable to the nation and world, which is congruous with its stature as a Carnegie Foundation Doctoral/Research Extensive institution.

References based on the National Association of Social Workers Centennial Index and the University of Missouri Archives. Read more about the School of Social Work in the University Archives.