On 20th May 1874, 20 delegates (all men) from the State Boards of Charities of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin met in New York City to organise the first Conference of Boards of Public Charities, at the invitation of the American Social Science Association, and from this time, annual conferences were held. In 1879, 25 representatives met outside the auspices of the American Social Science Association and changed the name of their organization to the National Conference of Charities and Correction (NCCC), a title it held until 1917, when it became the National Conference on Social Welfare.
Hansan's account of NCCC's history tells us that 'following the separation from the American Social Science Association, the leaders of the Conference changed the organization’s direction from being interested in scientific inquiry and shifted its major emphasis to administration and methods of practice.' By 1880, the number of members had grown to over 125, most of whom were representatives of public institutions or agencies and delegates of private bodies. The Charity Organization movement, which had appeared in the United States in 1877, was a prominent force within the organisation. Mary Richmond (who went on to become the Organising Secretary of the Russell Sage Foundation's Charity Organization Society in New York) first attended the NCCC in 1890, where she heard a presentation by Josephine Shaw Lowell on pauperism; Shaw Lowell argued that poverty had its roots in the character of the poor. By 1896, the NCCC had changed direction considerably (not least because of the economic depression of 1893), demonstrated in Albert O. Wright's address on 'the new philanthropy', which argued for finding work for unemployed people and feeding starving people. Jane Addams first addressed the NCCC in 1897; the previous year Julia Lathrop, a Hull House resident, had argued at NCCC that 'the scientific information gathered by their (settlement) residents can nowhere be duplicated' (quoted in Franklin 1986: 510).
In 1909, Addams was elected President of the NCCC - she was the first women to do so in its 30 year history; meanwhile, Mary Richmond gave presentations every year from 1907 to 1912, except for 1909!
The 1915 conference was addressed by two of Richmond's allies, Edward Devine and Abraham Flexner; the theme was social work's status as a profession, when Flexner said it could not yet call itself a profession. Two years later, Richmond published her response to Flexner, in her book, Social Diagnosis. (There is a fuller Timeline entry on this conference.)
In 1917, NCCC changed its name to the National Conference on Social Work. The name was changed again in 1956 to the National Conference on Social Welfare.
Carol Jarvis reflects on these developments in her journal article - see Carol Jarvis (2006) 'Function versus Cause: Moving Beyond Debate', Praxis 6 (3): 44-49. She writes:
'The importance of the Flexner report in increasing social work’s preoccupation with function and its companion, technique, cannot be overstated. Comparing social work to other developing professions such as medicine and law, Flexner “denied that social work could ever become a genuine profession, claiming that it lacked a specific skill applied to a specific function” (Lubove, 1969, p. 106). Even though the profession was already on its way to developing training schools, the results of the Flexner report were a “redoubling” of efforts to develop additional social work methods and techniques grounded in the scientific method (Costin, 1983, p. 101), and “status anxiety,” leading to increasing efforts toward professionalization (Weick, 1992, p. 20). These efforts to correct the problems Flexner identified eventually led to a diminution of social reform efforts in favor of casework techniques (Popple, 1995). Schoen (as cited in Saleeby, 1992) remarks that the Flexner report took the profession toward a position of “Technical/Rationality,” “a conception of professional thinking and doing smitten with the notion of professional as applied technologist” (Saleeby, 1992, p.4). Richmond’s Social Diagnosis best exemplifies the profession’s determination to correct for the deficiencies Flexner identified (Blundo, 2001)' (2006: 45).
Social Welfare History project website
Bruno, F..J. (1948) Trends in Social Work, as reflected in the Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Welfare, 1874-1946, New York: Columbia University Press.
Franklin, D.L. (1986) 'Mary Richmond and Jane Addams: From moral certainty to rational inquiry in social work practice', Social Service Review 60(4): 504-525.
Jennissen, T. and Lundy, C. (2011) One Hundred Years of Social Work. A History of the Profession in English Canada 1900-2000, Wilfred Laurier University Press, Waterloo, Ontario.