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A Story of Success for Over 75 Years

In the late 1930s, the Public Welfare department of the state of Illinois proposed that the University of Illinois develop a program for training in social administration, similar to the programs developed at schools such as the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. But by 1941, a portion of the Illinois program (along with other schools’ programs) had to be discontinued due to the strain of the war on the university and its students.

The University then hired a consultant from the American Association of the Schools of Social Work to examine the possibility of creating a social work school. The Association suggested that for a school of social work to be successful, a full-time director, trained in the field of social work, was needed.

Marietta Stevenson, with a PhD in political science and experience working for the American Public Welfare Association, arrived in 1943 to head the University’s new social work division. Stevenson eventually renamed the program the School of Social Work, and dedicated herself to building cooperative relationships with social work agencies in order to provide fieldwork placement for students. She even held classes at Chicago’s Navy Pier so students could work in field placements in the city’s more urban setting.

Stevenson retired from the University in 1961 with the School on a solid foundation, ready for the next generation of expansion and success. Since then, leaders at the School have followed in her footsteps, focusing on the School’s mission to develop and disseminate knowledge and to be committed to diversity and social justice, with an emphasis on research-based practice with vulnerable and marginalized populations.

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