Executives of twelve leading national social work organizations began regular
monthly meetings in 1920. Formally organized in 1923, the National Social
Work Council (NSWC) held meetings and conferences until 1945 when, upon revision
of its by-laws, the Council expanded its functions and became the National
Social Welfare Assembly.
The National Social Work Council did not undertake initiatives but helped existing
agencies better fulfill their functions by mutual informational exchanges and
discussions. Representatives of government, philanthropic foundations and agencies
outside the NSWC were frequently invited to speak at the Council's monthly meetings
and examine with its members topics of mutual concern. Other meetings revolved
around reports from member agencies of programs and projects undertaken, and
topics of current importance for social work, which were discussed at the
Council's "Round-Table Meetings."
Early NSWC meetings were largely concerned with bases of financial support, budgets,
and endorsement. Subsequent topics of discussion included: attempts to achieve
better understanding and closer cooperation between agencies functioning in related
areas or the same communities; relationships between national organizations and
their local agencies; problems arising from the Depression, including the
financial pressures toward retrenchment in a period of increasing welfare and
relief requests; defense mobilization and its social repercussions; and, a few
years later, demobilization and the social needs and problems created by massive
At an all-day meeting January 18, 1945, Council members concluded that some
structural and functional alterations were necessary in order to create an organization
capable of meeting more effectively the diverse social welfare problems in the post-war
community. A new constitution was approved by the membership, and at its December 1945
meeting, the National Social Work Council became the National Social Welfare Assembly.
The two broad functions of the National Social Welfare Assembly, according to the 1965
edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, were to define and study problems of broad
social policy affecting the needs of people and to plan action to meet these needs and,
also, to serve national organizations and local communities in developing effective
programs, operations, and administration in the field of social welfare.
The social health and welfare problems accompanying the relocation of Japanese-Americans
during the war were studied by the National Social Work Council and again became a topic
of concern for the Assembly when the difficult post-war resettlement began. The Assembly's
Committee on Japanese Americans prepared a series of bulletins covering problems related
to discrimination in housing and employment, legislation under consideration and
prejudices against Japanese-Americans.
Social welfare agencies serving the interest of youth combined in several bodies of the
Assembly to coordinate their work and undertake special projects. One such association,
the Young Adult Council (YAC), was founded in 1948 as the coordinating organization
for 28 national student and young worker organizations. Particularly concerned with youth
in the 18-30 year age group, YAC sponsored a United States Assembly of Youth in 1953 at Ann
Arbor, Michigan and also represented young adult organizations in the United States to the
World Assembly of Youth (WAY).
Several name changes later, the descriptors in this history are as apt today as they were
in those early years. And from the original twelve members to the twenty-nine that comprised
the National Social Welfare Assembly in 1945, the membership has grown to nearly seventy
national organizations. Those organizations and their respective local service networks
collectively touch or are touched by nearly every household in America---as consumers of
services, donors or volunteers. They comprise a $32 billion sector that employs some 800,000
workers, operating from over 150,000 locations.
The work of the Assembly is accomplished primarily through the collective efforts of its
members. Following are examples of the members’ collective efforts:
During the Depression, the members strategized and shared information
on “retrenchment in a period of increasing welfare and relief requests;
defense mobilization and its social repercussion; …and the social
needs and problems created by massive relocation.”
The Milford (PA) conference of 1923 focused on the commonalities in the
practice of social casework across all areas of specialization.
Six national agencies, five of which worked together through the National
Assembly (then the Council), established American War Community Services.
The cooperative service agreement forged at that time continued through
the Assembly after the war.
The Assembly’s Committee on Japanese Americans issued a series
of bulletins covering discrimination in housing and employment and pending
legislation that affected this population relocated during World War II.
The Assembly formed the Young Adult Council in 1948, a coordinating entity
for 28 student and young worker organizations. It hosted the United States
Assembly of Youth in 1953 and it became the home of the National Collaboration
for Youth, which continues today.
Published first in 1974, the Assembly, in partnership with the National
Health Council, published the fourth edition of Standards of Accounting
and Financial Reporting for Voluntary Health and Welfare Organizations in
Also in the late 90’s, “NYDIC”—the National Youth
Development Information Center, a website where all youth agencies and their
workers can easily access information on youth programs, research, policy,
jobs and more—was formed by the National Collaboration for Youth of
In 2002, the Assembly and its members forged a partnership background checks to
perform background checks on volunteers. This was part of a continuing focus
on safeguarding clients, especially children, which included the publication
of Screening Volunteers to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse a few years before
and continuing advocacy for protective legislation.
With terrorism rising and war looming, United Way of America and the
Assembly convened youth-serving agencies to share resources for helping
children and families cope with terrorism and war. The results can be found
In 2003, the National Assembly was cited as an effective collaborative
effort in the Harvard Business Review article entitled, "The Non-profit
Sectors $100 Billion Opportunity."
The traditions of learning, sharing, and collaborative efforts within the Assembly
family of national nonprofit health & human service organizations continue.