Courtesy of Jenna Coleman, Executive Director of Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) of Colorado.
It seems like no coincidence that March celebrates both Women’s History Month and National Social Work Month. After all, women make up more than 80% of social workers in the United States.
As a profession, social workers are on the front lines protecting and serving our most vulnerable populations. Children. The elderly. Families in need. Those struggling with behavioral, mental or emotional challenges. And social workers do all of this with a passion for social justice and respecting the dignity of those served.
So while we celebrate all the wonderful social workers during Social Work Month, we’d like to also shine a light on some of the women trailblazers who paved the way for modern day social work.
These are just a few of the many women pioneers who helped make social work what it is today.
Jane Addams, born in 1860, is commonly known as the “Mother of Social Work.” She co-founded the first social settlement in Chicago, and with the residents was a champion for public health, education, immigrants rights, free speech, and fair labor practices. She was a fierce advocate for children, helping establish public playgrounds and parks, desegregated schools, and the first Juvenile Court in the United States. During her life, Jane also championed women’s suffrage and civil rights causes. She was the second woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mary Ellen Richmond
Many credit Mary Ellen Richmond (1861-1928) as the woman who helped standardize the profession of social work, calling for training for social workers that included scientific methodology for both the diagnosis and providing of treatment. Thanks to her work serving the poor and vulnerable communities, she was able to transition from charity work to a systematic profession based on research, data and training that allows social workers to best care for the people they are serving.
Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was the first woman to be appointed to a Cabinet position, serving as the Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In this position, she championed worker’s rights and helped pave the way for minimum wage, the elimination of child labor, and workplace protections.
To learn more about the history of women in social work, check out these resources: