History of Social Work

Table of Content

Social work is a profession which promotes social change, problem solving, in human relationships, and enhance well-being. There are many people all through history that have had some sort of impact on the social work field. There are three people that I will be covering in this paper, these people are Ida Cannon, Jane Addams, and Ida B. Wells, all of which have had a huge part in the creation of Social Work all throughout history. Ida Cannon worked in the Oncology field as a medical Social Worker, Jane Addams was the mother of Social Work and started the Hull House, and Ida B. Wells spread the truth about the Southern Horrors that tore families apart due to racial differences.

Famous activist, Mother of Social Work, Author, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and Founder of Hull House, Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860 and graduated in from Rockford College in 1892. In Addams biography, she remembered the moment she had decided “it would be a good thing to rent a house in a part of the city where many primitive and actual needs are found” (1910,p.85). In 1889 Addams had leased out an old rundown mansion located on the westside of Chicago in a poor neighborhood. This poor neighborhood was home to immigrants from Russia, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Bohemia. In an essay that Addams had wrote she stated “The settlement existed to add social function to political democracy to assist the progress of humanity, and to express Christianity through humanitarian action (Tims, 1961). She had opened Hull House to give opportunities to the poor, unnoticed, immigrants to show their skills and show that they are people as well. After a few years of being opened and used by the neighborhood, she opened a kindergarten, a juvenile judicial system, assistance for pregnant mothers, as well as many other programs to assist the people of her neighborhood. Addams was soon a founder of the National Child Labor Committee, which was soon passed through Congress in 1907. By 1912, there was the creation of the Federal Children’s Bureau, then by 1916 the creation and passing of the Federal Child Labor Law. Addams went to on to become the first woman president of the National Conference of Charities and Connections, later known as the National Conference of Social Work. She was on the executive boards of the NPC (National Playground Committee), National Child Labor Committee, as well as the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People). She may have been known as the Mother of Social Work, but she has done so much good in other places to help make American greater than the day prior.

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African American journalist, abolitionist, and feminist Ida B. Wells was born on July 16, 1862 and was the oldest of seven siblings. At the age of 16 years old, her life changed drastically and had to drop out of Shaw University due to both her parents perishing from the Yellow fever leaving her responsible for her six younger siblings. One of her first accomplishments was when she was being forced to move from First class that she purchased a ticket for back to the smoking car on her train. She told them no and then went to the court and filed a lawsuit and won $500, but then the Tennessee Supreme Court have appealed the ruling and made Wells pay back her court fees. She then went on to become one of the nations most vocal anti-lynching activists after the lynching of her three friends. After the lynching, Wells started an investigation about the lynching and soon published a pamphlet titled “Southern Horrors” which contained the truth she found about lynching and encountered the “Rape Myth” that is used by the lynch mobs to justify the murders of the African Americans. Her research brought forth the truth about the lynching and how the African Americans threatened the white authority or had successfully competed with white in businesses or politics. This truth then in turn lead to the destruction of the Free Speech offices and her life being threatened causing her to flee to Memphis determined to still raise awareness about the Southern Horrors.

This next person that I am going to talk about goes along with my paper from last week over the topic of Cancer in the Social Work field. This persons’ name is Ida Cannon. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in1877 to an official of the Great Northern Railroad and his wife. Cannon grew up wanting to be in the medical field, so her father did all he could to help her dream come true. She graduated from the Boston School of Social Work and soon went to work at the Massachusetts General Hospital under the leadership of Dr. Richard Cabot. In 1907, she became Head worker, then in 1914 she became the Chief of Social Service, which she stayed as for 31 years. She heled develop a program for training medical social workers at Boston School of Social Work that gave students a command of medical and social work expertise in 1918. Cannon set values in the Medical Social work field, values like the importance of being an advocate for the patient’s point of view within the medical system and in the community, the importance of understanding the cancer disease process, and participating as a team member with physicians and other health professionals, are values from medical social work as described by Ida Cannon, one of the memorable personalities that enriched our field.

In conclusion, there are many people that have made some sort of impact in the social work field, but Ida Cannon, Ida B. Wells, and Jane Addams have made the biggest impacts and changes in the world of Social Work to make America better than the day prior. Ida B. Wells had made it to where people were able to know the truth about all the horror that take place in the Southern part of the United States. She would be the first to make that change that initiated the racial battles that would take place many years later. Jane Addams, the mother of Social Work, had opened a house that would then become to place that all would be welcome and treated equal and given the chance to show their skills and become someone in the United States. Lastly, Ida Cannon. Cannon had worked in Oncology. She created so many things that would make it easier for nurses and social workers to work together and make the things easier for cancer patients and their families. She created a program for social workers to get the medical training they needed to work alongside the nurses and the doctors and did so much more with her career.


  1. Social Welfare History Project (2012). Ida Cannon (1877-1960) – Social worker, nurse, author and founder of medical social work. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/cannon-ida-maude/
  2. Steptoe, T. (n.d.). Ida B. Wells-Barnett, journalist, civil rights activist and a founding member of the NAACP. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/wells-barnett-ida-b/
  3. Paul, C.A. (2016). Jane Addams (1860-1935). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/settlement-houses/addams-jane/
  4. Addams, J. (1910). Twenty years at Hull House. New York: Macmillian.
  5. Fobair, P. (2009). Historical Threads in the Development of Oncology Social Work. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2009; 27(2): 155-215. Page 3.
  6. Dulmus, C. N, & Sowers, K.M. (2012). The Profession of Social Work : Guided by History, led by evidence. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com. Accessed from ncent-ebooks on 2020-01-28.
  7. Tims, M. (1961). Jane Addams of Hull House, 1860-1935: A centenary study. London, UK: Ruskin House.

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History of Social Work. (2022, Jan 03). Retrieved from


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