In This Article History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1900–1950

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Document Collections
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Latin America

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Social Work History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1900–1950
Paul H. Stuart
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0257


The terms social work and social welfare came into common use early in the first half of the 20th century, describing an emerging occupation and social institution in Europe and the United States. Social workers assisted in childcare, assisted the poor, and presented evidence for improving nations’ emerging social welfare systems. A half-century characterized by industrial growth, urbanization, and two world wars led to movements to consolidate and expand social welfare systems. By midcentury, the welfare state seemed well on the way to institutionalization, and social workers in many nations looked forward to their participation in the expansion of social services. But the domination of the nations that won World War II was challenged by divisions between the victors as a new Cold War pitted the USSR against the West. Colonialism would soon be in retreat, and anti-communist campaigns ravaged progressive social work in the United States, which was emerging as the leader of the anti-communist West. This bibliography gathers works that describe the origins of modern social welfare and social work in the first half of the 20th century, as well as their transformation over the course of that half-century.

General Overviews

Included here are works that provide general, cross-national overviews of the development of social welfare programs and the profession of social work between 1900 and 1950. Since most accounts focus on the development of social welfare and social work in Europe and the United States, many emphasize the importance of Christian traditions and neglect other religious traditions, especially Islam and Judaism. This section is divided into sections on Social Welfare, Social Work, Islam, and Judaism.

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