How has social work evolved? Smyth re-envisions profession on its 125th anniversary

Published February 24, 2023


Nancy Smyth

Nancy Smyth.

How has the social work profession evolved over the past 125 years?

Nancy J. Smyth, professor and interim associate dean for faculty development, has addressed that question — and more — in a article she co-authored for Advances in Social Work. Read more in "Pivoting the Profession as We Approach the Quasquicentennial."


The year 2023 marks professional social work’s quasquicentennial: the 125th anniversary of our profession since the first social work classes were offered in the summer of 1898 at Columbia University.

The profession has grown in its reach across many human service sectors over all these years, creating opportunities for those who want to serve their communities in myriad and impactful ways. As we observe disruptions in the higher education sector, with profound implications to the mission of the social work profession, we are also witnessing many cross-sector opportunities for the future of the social work profession. Given our changing environment, the time is right for us to re-envision social work education and practice in ways that center our professions’ commitment to social justice and the well-being of individuals, families and communities.

In our efforts to meet the needs of the people and communities we serve, we have seen several innovative and impactful expansions into areas that have augmented our original “scope of practice.” Some have occurred to meet the needs of the time; others have morphed due to market conditions for jobs that have been encroached on by other professions/disciplines. And as we see more complex and vexing societal issues in our current environment, it is time for us to collectively discern our purpose, adjust our mindset and be prepared to meet future challenges and opportunities. This special issue on “re-envisioning social work” provides a space for thought leaders to showcase meaningful and purpose-filled advances for the profession.