Early History and Traditions of the School

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, courses have been offered in social work for over 100 years. Navigate through the tabs below to see some of the major milestones at UW-Madison and learn about the establishment of the School of Social Work.

In 1896, the Economics Department at UW began to offer courses in Charities and Corrections, courses designed to educate students in activities related to Scientific Philanthropy.

The program was small – UW’s enrollment per year in the late 1800s was under 500 students a year. Today, around 550 students are enrolled in the five degree programs at the School of Social Work.

Pictured: North Hall, circa 1885, the first campus building

The Economics Department recruited Professor Helen I. Clarke in 1920 with the explicit aim of developing a professional program in social work.  During 1926 – 1945, she taught all social work courses and field training.

She spent 45 years at Wisconsin, during which she helped social work become a professional, publicly-accepted and recognized field in the development of public services as well as private agencies engaged in welfare work.

Helen I. Clarke

The University appointed Arthur Miles, a former county administrator for the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission and former regional statistician for the U.S. Social Security Board, to head the social work program.

He would later serve as the school’s first chair and then director. He was instrumental in establishing the graduate programs at the School of Social Work.

Over the past 70 years, more than 5000 alumni have graduated from the School’s graduate programs.

Arthur Miles

In 1946, the Board of Regents authorized the establishment of a separate Department of Social Work, offering a two-year Master’s degree in Social Work.

The new Department found its home in a small house on Observatory Hill, where the School of Social Work remained until moving to 425 Henry Mall in the early 1970s. The School of Social Work moved on to the current location, 1350 University Avenue, in the early 1990s. Today, the original Observatory Hill Office Building houses the La Follette School of Public Affairs, with which Social Work cross-lists several courses and several faculty members have affiliation.

House on Observatory Hill

In 1950, the School of Social Work hired Professor Alfred Kadushin. His works – Child Welfare Services, The Social Work Interview, Supervision in Social Work, and Consultation in Social Work – continue to be the standard for social work education throughout the world.

Kadushin retired in 1986 and continued to stay intellectually engaged until his passing in February 2014. In 2013, he published the fifth edition of The Social Work Interview and wrote the fifth edition of Supervision in Social Work, which was released March 2014.

Alfred Kadushin

The School of Social Work was admitted as a charter member of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the national social work education accrediting organization, in 1952.

Dean Schneck, long-time director of field education, worked extensively with CSWE to bring the School’s nationally-known model of field education to prominence from the 1970s to his retirement in 1999.

The School has continued to maintain accreditation with CSWE since the 1950s.

Throughout its history, the School of Social Work has had a somewhat different theoretical orientation that proved to influence the field, reflecting a social science, social change perspective; in contrast to the more personalistic, psychoanalytic orientations of many early social work programs.

Professor Arthur Miles wrote American Social Work Theory in defense of such an orientation (1954).

The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) was established in 1966. Jack Lefcowitz and Martin Loeb, a director of the School of Social Work, were early contributors to the IRP, beginning a long relationship between the IRP and the School of Social Work faculty.

The IRP contributes major research in areas ranging from economics to social work to law. Faculty members from the School of Social Work have researched topics in child and family policy, welfare reform and evaluation, alcohol use disorders, mental retardation and poverty, and social program implementation.

As of 2016, IRP is the sole federally funded Poverty Research Center.

Professor Virginia Franks published her paper, The Autonomous Social Worker, in 1967. Franks was the author of the concept of the “autonomous social worker,” a term she saw as applying to the highest goals of service and competence among human service professionals.

Franks was instrumental in developing important programs which have since contributed substantially to the stature of the school. The School’s Virginia Franks Memorial Library on the second floor has been named after her for her remarkable contributions to the school and the profession of social work.

Virginia Franks Memorial Library

In 1972, the Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) is developed at the Mendota Mental Health Institute, in part by School faculty members Mary Ann Test and Deborah Allness. The PACT program, in its focus on “assertive community treatment,” is perhaps the most nationally and internationally well-known treatment approach to those with severe mental illness.

There is likely no other School of Social Work that has such a long and ongoing commitment to the area of severe and persistent mental illness. Both PACT and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) movement were founded in Madison, Wisconsin.

The synergy between these programs and the School’s commitment to research and teaching has made for a rich teaching environment for our students, many of whom continue to work with families and individuals with severe and persistent mental illness throughout the country and internationally.

The Institute on Aging at UW-Madison was established by Martin Loeb, Vivian Wood, and Mary Wylie. Today, many faculty members of the School continue their legacy with research in a multitude of areas, including family caregiving, improving end-of-life care, and aging families caring for adult children with mental illness.

Martin B. Loeb

In 1973, Professors Allen Pincus and Anne Minahan publish Social Work Practice: Model and Method, which became the standard social work practice text in schools of social work throughout the U.S. and internationally.

The book revolutionized the way social work practice was viewed, using systems theory to frame generalist practice.

Social Work Practice

The Waisman Center is dedicated to conducting research and programs to benefit people with developmental disabilities. Its $45 million annual budget provides labs and research space for work that includes molecular and genetic research, clinical services and early childhood development.

Faculty from the School of Social Work have been instrumental in the operations of the Waisman Center, since its establishment in 1973. Norma Berkowitz, a director of the field program at the School of Social Work, and Martin Loeb, a director of the School of Social Work, were early contributors to the center.

The Waisman Center is currently led by School of Social Work professor Marsha Mailick, who has served as the director of the Waisman Center since 2002.

Waisman Center

During the 1980s, the School developed a master’s concentration in Severe and Persistent Mental Illness, one of the first training programs nationally in the field.

In 1980, Clinical Professor Mona Wasow established a field unit in the School dedicated to the area of severe mental illness. Her contributions to the field of severe and persistent mental illness are nationally renowned.

The School’s ongoing efforts training students to work with people and families with mental illness were recognized in 1986 with the first university training recognition award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In 1990, Sheldon D. Rose, Professor Emeritus, published Social Skill Training in Short-Term Groups, a book that had an international impact on the field in developing interventions and group work.

Today, a new state-of-the-art video lab on the fourth floor of the social work building allows students to hone their skills working with individuals, couples, families, or groups.

Sheldon Rose

In the 1990s, Professor Daniel Meyer led a team of researchers that evaluated an innovative experimental child support policy, which demonstrated the advantages of allowing all child support paid by noncustodial parents (usually fathers) to go to the family.

In the United Kingdom, a proposed fundamental redesign of their child support system includes a substantially increased pass-through provision. The UK government’s policy proposal includes a reference to the Wisconsin evaluation as evidence for the importance of allowing families to receive more of the child support paid on their behalf.

In 2013, a study carried out by Maria Cancian and Kristen Shook Slack investigated data from Meyer’s research and found that increased child support also reduced the risk of child maltreatment.

Daniel R. Meyer

Dean Schneck, Director of Field Education, co-edited the volume Field Education in Social Work: Contemporary Issues and Trends, which has been cited by over 35 scholarly articles in the field.

Dean Schneck was a tireless leader and advocate for the importance of field education in the profession of social work. Field Education in Social Work sought to address a large void in scholarship on the topic of field education and presented the idea that field education could and should impact and advance social work practice.

Dean Schneck

The Federal Title IV-E Public Child Welfare Training Program was established at the School of Social Work in 1999. The program offers students free tuition and stipends to complete training in public child welfare work, and requires the students to complete mandatory work payback of either one or two years.

Since 1999, over 200 students have completed or are currently completing work payback in the state of Wisconsin.  Together, graduates of the IV-E program have contributed over 1250 years of public child welfare experience to the state, working in the majority of the counties in Wisconsin.

Students who complete the IV-E program are highly employable, with the average graduate finding work in less than a month after graduation, and graduates in the workforce have a lower turnover rate than the national average.

Map of Wisconsin, highlighting IV-E Program impact by county

In 2000, Evaluating Comprehensive State Welfare Reform: The Wisconsin Works Program, is published, with significant contributions from professors Daniel Meyer and Maria Cancian. The book has had a national impact on welfare reform programs throughout the country.

In 2005, President George W. Bush cited the Wisconsin Works program as an influence on portions of the same year’s Deficit Reduction Act.

The Part-Time MSW Program at the School of Social Work was developed in 2009 to meet the needs of non-traditional students in Wisconsin seeking to broaden their career opportunities. Students earn a UW-Madison master of social work degree by attending courses on Saturday, either in Eau Claire or Madison.

The Part-Time MSW Program has quickly grown larger than the Full-Time MSW Program, and draws students from over 50 counties in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.

Part-Time MSW Program Students

In 2010, Ada Deer, Distinguished Lecturer Emerita, was recognized by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as a NASW Social Work Pioneer for her work as an advocate and organizer on behalf of American Indians.

She became the first woman to be appointed Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin, the first native American to lobby Congress successfully to restore tribal rights, and the first Chairwoman of her tribe, the Menominee nation.

Congressional candidate Ada Deer and U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold with Al Gore and Bill Clinton, Madison, October 2, 1992.

In 2014, UW-Madison associate dean and School of Social Work professor Maria Cancian is nominated by President Obama to be assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Cancian led the Administration for Children and Families in administering more than 60 programs with a budget of more than $49 billion, to promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities.

Maria Cancian