Social Work at USC

Since its founding in 1880, USC has emphasized the teaching of moral responsibility to the broader community. Its involvement in social work began with Emma Bovard, wife of the fourth president of USC, who believed that a great university included preparing its students for service and was responsible for bringing the work of Jane Addams, the founder of what we know today as the social work profession, to USC.

Students at USC began as volunteer assistants to the Settlement House movement in Los Angeles in the early 1900s, which mainly served the growing immigrant population. This initiated the link that would evolve into the education of social workers at USC. The papers written by students working in the settlement houses formed the beginning of academically based social work research in Los Angeles, and laid the groundwork for the development of a curriculum that would become the first school of social work in the western United States.

The first social work students were enrolled in 1920 in the Division of Social Work, a course of study for a certificate in social work under the Department of Sociology. In 1922, the Division of Social Work became the School of Social Welfare to reflect the program’s growing autonomy and broad-based curriculum. In 1939, an independent School of Social Work was granted full academic status at USC, and it has been a leader and innovator in social work education and research since its founding.

Social work at USC was the first to combine elements of casework, group work and community organization into an integrated model of social work practice, which is widely reflected in curricula across the country to this day. 

Now, in the 21st century, we continue to provide students with a tremendous opportunity to use the city of Los Angeles as an extended classroom, engaging in research, service and community activism that fosters creative solutions to society’s most pressing issues. It is an experience that only a diverse metropolis can provide.