First Advisor

Norman Wyers

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




Social workers -- Labor unions -- United States -- History, Social service -- United States -- History -- 20th century



Physical Description

1 online resource (320 p.)


During the period of the late 1920s through the late 1940s, a most remarkable event in the history of American social work emerged: the development of a vital radical trade union organizing effort known as the ''rank and file movement." Born within the growing economic crisis of the 1920s and maturing in the national economic collapse and social upheaval heralded by the Great Depression, the rank and file movement would attract the support and membership of thousands of professional social workers and uncredentialed relief workers in efforts to organize social service workers along the lines of industrial unionism. Within its relatively short life span, the rank and file movement would grow in sufficient number and influence to challenge both the prevailing definitions of social work as a profession - its form and identity and the essence of its function - its practice.

It is the thesis of this study that an understanding of the rank and file movement is central to a modem understanding of our profession. The origin, development and demise of the rank and file movement reflects more than the historical curiosity of a momentary tendency in the evolution of a profession; rather, it reveals the enduring legacy of individuals, organizations and collective intellectual discourse in common struggle for the possibilities of a more just and democratic social order. And, perhaps unlike any other profession, the domain of social work is historically one uniquely born of this struggle, encompassing the self-imposed imperatives and paradoxes of morality, socially purposive service and scientific rationality.

Consequently, this study seeks to inform the terms of this enduring legacy within the dynamic world of social work. It does so by: 1) locating the history of the rank and file movement within the context of an evolving profession; 2) analyzing this specific history of a profession within the context of broader social and political forces that defined both the limits and potentials of that evolution; and 3) assessing the implications of this history for social work in terms of its past, present and future.


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