Celebrating 100 Years of People, Policy, and Practice

Travel through the years and see how the School of Social Work has transformed throughout its first (and certainly not last) century.

For the past century, the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work has been a leader in the fields of social work and social justice dedicated to advancing knowledge and to applying that knowledge to the fulfillment of human potential through the prevention and amelioration of social problems.




Students reading and writing at a tableFirst Social Work Courses Offered

Twelve courses are offered, including Problems of Sociology, Race Development, Ethnology and Anthropology, Social Economy, and Race Problems in the United States.



First Child Welfare Course Offered

Problems of Child Welfare is the very first child welfare course offered at Pitt. Today, the school’s child welfare program is the second largest in the country.



Inaugural Year of the Division of Social Work

The division employs 15 faculty members and offers 24 courses. The social work program is housed in the School of Economics until 1922 when a redesign of the School of Economics into a School of Business Administration prompts the University to voluntarily withdraw from the Association of Schools of Social Work. Social work courses disappear from the curriculum until 1924.



First Social Work Accreditation

Pitt receives its first social work accreditation from the newly established Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Workers—later the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW). This also is the very first accreditation in social work awarded to any school and is awarded simultaneously to Pitt and 11 other schools.

Students reading and writing at a table



Manuel Conrad Elmer, a bald man with glasses1926

Program Moves to the Department of Sociology

Manuel Conrad Elmer is recruited by the University of Pittsburgh to serve as chair of the Department of Sociology and immediately installs social work in the department.




Woman readingMarion Hathway Joins the Faculty

Hathway’s charge is to get the social work program reaccredited and to strive to have it established as a separate accredited school.



Pitt School of Social Work’s first dean in 1938Social Work Program Reaccredited

On January 7, 1938, the Division of Social Work (in the Department of Sociology) is accredited by AASSW retroactively to 1934. In August 1938, local Pittsburgh newspapers report that the University trustees have approved the creation of a new school. The School of Applied Social Sciences is described as the University’s 18th separate school.


Cathedral of Learning being built

The Cathedral of Learning, home to Pitt’s School of Social Work, was built during this period, with ground- breaking beginning in 1926 and completion in 1934.




Famous Scholars Flock to Social Work Faculty

During this period, faculty members include William and Karl Menninger, Gertrude Wilson, Gladys Ryland, Erik Erikson, Benjamin Spock, Eleanor Cockerill, Ruth Smalley, and Ruth Gartland.



Foundation Funding Helps to Transform the Program

The Buhl Foundation’s grant of $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.63 million in 2017) is used to support a program in social administration; a social work library; the creation of specialized training facilities; the development of an advanced program; and the development of interdisciplinary programs with law, medicine, business, political science, economics, psychology, sociology, and other disciplines at Pitt to focus on social welfare. This is just one in a series of grants made to the University for social work by the Buhl Foundation beginning in 1931.


University of Pittsburgh Bulletin featuring the doctoral program1945

Doctoral Program Founded

The doctoral program is approved by the University trustees and appears in the Bulletin for the first time. Hathway heads the program.



Ruth Smalley completing her doctorateThe “Great Schism” of ’49

The national controversy over diagnostic and functional casework comes to a head. Ruth Smalley (far right) completes one of the first social work doctorates at Pitt and then leads an exodus of functional casework faculty.

Eleanor Cockerill

Eleanor E. Cockerill was a professor in the School of Social Work from 1942 to 1972 when she retired.




News article on Marion HathowayMcCarthy Hearings Hit Close to Home

U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy attacks Hathway. Allegheny County judge Blair Gunther accuses Hathway of teaching “young folks that there is something wrong with this country.” He also charges that “she teaches in her classes that there are poor people in America.” Gunther demands that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cut off all aid to the University of Pittsburgh if Hathway is not fired. By unanimous student and faculty support, Hathway retains her position as Pitt professor of social work.



Community Organizing Program Formalized

Dean Wilbur Newstetter and the faculty formalize the school’s long-established national leadership in community organization to create a two-year concentration at the Master of Social Work level parallel in academic structure to the social casework and social group work concentrations.

Joint Doctorate and Master’s Degree Program Established

The School of Social Work and The Graduate School of Public Health create the nation’s first continuously federally funded maternal and child health program in public health and social work.


five recent graduates with cap and gowns

Pictured below: Pitt Master of Social Work graduates, from left, Sara Alyce Phillips, Geneva Burney, Oteria William Lott, Mary Bussey, and Olivia King, standing in Syria Mosque, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 1951. (Photo by Charles “Teenie” Harris, black and white safety film, courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund)




Eaton Becomes Chair

Joseph Eaton becomes chair of the doctoral program and initiates major additions of research methodology and theory.



Joseph Eaton, elderly manWilliam McCullough Becomes Dean

Dean Newstetter retires, and William McCullough becomes acting dean and later dean.



William McCullough, elderly white manWilliam McCullough Becomes Dean

Dean Newstetter retires, and William McCullough becomes acting dean and later dean.



First Joint Program Established

The joint Master of Social Work/Master of Divinity degree program is established in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The program is the first of its kind in the country. Today, the school offers 11 joint/dual degree programs, including the new Master of Social Work/Master of Business Administration.



A Class Anomaly

This is the first (and perhaps only) MSW class with more men than women.

group of 26 graduates




David EppersonDavid E. Epperson Takes the Reins

At the time of his retirement in 2001, David Epperson was the longest-serving dean at Pitt. He left a legacy of academic and administrative success as well as participation in education and social welfare missions all around the globe.

Epperson’s 29-year tenure as dean of the School of Social Work is credited with building the school into a nationally recognized program. Under his leadership, the School of Social Work gained national attention. Its enrollment more than tripled, and its ranking soared to the top 10 percent of accredited graduate social work programs in the country. The school became noted for its research, teaching, and practice in the areas of children, youth, and families; mental health; and community organization and administration. With a federal grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Epperson helped to create Pitt’s Center for Mental Health Services Research, one of only seven centers of its type in the United States. He also developed the Child Welfare Edu- cation for Leadership Program, which provides educational opportunities for public child welfare personnel.

Larry E. Davis, who succeeded Epperson as dean of the School of Social Work, said, “Because of Dave’s efforts, our school has the best reputation in the country as a school that is responsive to the needs of its community.”

In addition, Epperson’s commitment to diversity in the school was strong, and when he retired, 22 percent of the school’s students and 25 percent of its faculty were from underrepresented populations.

In 2008, Pitt established the David E. Epperson Endowed Chair in the School of Social Work.

“Dave Epperson is a great man,” says Morton Coleman, professor emeritus in the School of Social Work. “His commitment to education, the community, social concerns, and his family make him one of the most respected individuals within the University and the Pittsburgh community, as well as nationally and internationally. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and caring, and it is my honor to help establish an endowed fund that will honor an outstanding human being.”

David Epperson next to Anne R. Jones holding an award

Dean Epperson with Anne R. Jones



BASW Program Founded

Pitt’s undergraduate social work degree program is accredited by CSWE. Pitt names its bachelor’s social work degree a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work to emphasize the heavy liberal arts component of the required course work. Most other schools, and CSWE, refer to the degree as a BSW or Bachelor of Social Work.





Barbara ShoreMore Diversity

The school undertakes a major, successful effort to increase the number of underrepresented students and faculty.

The Doctoral Program continued its major expansion of funding, research, and enrollment; 88 doctorates are awarded.



Founding of GADE

Barbara K. Shore plays a major role in the founding of a national organization called the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE).



HIV/AIDS Training

In the early 1990s, the school undertook the training of thousands of professionals in HIV/AIDS in public schools throughout western Pennsylvania with the support of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The goal was to educate, train, and prepare school teachers and administrators to understand the issues and to be prepared to address them in school and in the community. As a result, extensive misinformation was dispelled, attitudes were changed, and the groundwork was laid for far better public health responses to the needs during an era of official denial of the problems, especially at the national level.



Child Welfare Education and Research Programs Created

Eventually, the comprehensive Child Welfare Education and Research Programs come to include the Child Welfare Education for Leadership program, the Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates program, and the Child Welfare Resource Center. Pitt’s is the second-largest child welfare education, research, and training program in the nation and one of the largest externally funded projects (if not the largest) at the University.

Emeritus Edward Sites in a suit and tie

Professor Emeritus Edward Sites developed the child welfare training program now used in every Pennsylvania county— one of the nation’s largest child welfare training systems and a model program for other states.




Larry Davis headshotLarry E. Davis Becomes Dean

Larry E. Davis arrives from Washington University in St. Louis, where he was the first African American in any discipline to be awarded tenure. He was a professor of social work and psychology and held the E. Desmond Lee Chair in Ethnic and Racial Diversity.



Center on Race and Social Problems Created

Founded by Dean Davis, the Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) conducts applied social science research on race, ethnicity, and color. CRSP focuses its research, publications, education, service, and events agenda on seven areas of focus: criminal justice; economic disparities; educational disparities; families, youth, and the elderly; health; mental health; and interracial group relations. It is the first such center to be created in any American school of social work.



group of doctoral graduates60th Anniversary

The School of Social Work doctoral program celebrates its 60th anniversary of bridging research with relevance. Doctoral graduates from all over the country attended the celebration. To date, more than 300 doctoral alumni have become leaders in social work research, education, administration, and planning.

Publication founded

The Center on Race and Social Problems publishes its first edition of the journal Race and Social Problems. The multiracial, multidisciplinary journal publishes works by both well- established and emerging scholars in an effort to provide a wide array of ideas on one of the most important social issues of our time.



Julian Bond giving a speech at the Race in America ConferenceRace in America Conference

The School of Social Work and the Center on Race and Social Problems host the largest conference on race ever held in the country. Race in America was a three-day event with 40 national speakers. It was attended by 1,200 educators and social workers from across the nation.



Community Organization Program Anniversary

The school’s community organization program marks its 55th year at Pitt, making it the first and oldest program of its kind in the nation.



School Ranked in the Top 10

In the newly released U.S. News & World Report rankings of graduate schools of social work, the University of Pittsburgh is ranked 10th among the 245 graduate social work programs in the country.



Child Welfare Reaches 1 Million Users

In response to Pennsylvania’s Act 31—which requires all professionals in the state who regularly come into contact with children to receive training in the recognition and reporting of child abuse—the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work offers a comprehensive online training program free of charge. The program also is available to any member of the general public. The three-hour training program is available by visiting www.reportabusepa.pitt.edu.


group of three men in suit and ties

From left, Tracy Soska, chair of Community Organization and Social Administration, Jim Cunningham, now a professor emeritus from the School of Social Work, and Morton “Moe” Coleman, founder and director emeritus of Pitt’s Institute of Politics

Graduate student reading to children

A Pitt graduate student works at a Pittsburgh school as part of the Home and School Visitor Certificate Program.