Advocacy in Action

Through the stories we share, the Admissions Team at Baylor University hopes to inspire and educate future leaders in the field of social work.

5 Revolutionary Thought Leaders in Social Work

Written by Baylor School of Social Work Team on 01.24.20

While the social work profession is newer in relation to others, it has produced several revolutionary thinkers that have left a significant impression on the field. Each of these forward-thinking professionals, despite the generation in which they lived, has provided a new perspective, model, or theory that is still in practice today.

Let's talk about these five revolutionary thinkers who transformed the field of social work.

Explore our digital resource —  The Guide to Launching Your Career in Social  Work: How an MSW Makes it Possible!

1. Jane Addams:

Jane Addams is known for her activist spirit and advocacy work in a variety of areas, specifically, poverty and women's rights. During her time of practice, she founded the Hull House with Ellen Star. The Hull House provided a variety of services including educational, recreational, and social support for members of her community in poverty. While the Hull House originally was founded as a center for members of the community to access services, Addams used her experience and position in the community to advocate against corrupt legislation and officials.

In addition, Addams also had several notable achievements. She served as the first female President of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1909, which would become the National Conference of Social Work. In 1915, Addams would chair the Women’s Peace Party, and shortly after accepting this position, she would be offered a position as the President of the International Congress of Women. In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her impact on the field of social work.

2. Urie Bronfenbrenner:

Urie Bronfenbrenner was a prominent Russian-American psychologist, known for his conceptualization of ‘ecological systems theory’, which is a foundational theory for social work practice.

Instead of seeing people in their isolated environments, Bronfenbrenner proposed that individuals mature and grow through relationships with their ‘systems’. According to his theory, there are five subsystems in which human growth occurs: the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. This theory revolutionized the way that social workers are taught to view people in relation to their environment.

3. Dr. Lawrence Shulman

Dr. Lawrence Shulman is world-renowned for his extensive research on social practice, supervision, and child welfare. He has been a consultant and trainer on a wide array of topics including direct practice, child welfare family work, group work, and field instruction. Dr. Shulman has conducted this type of work in the U.S. and Canada as well as Norway, Hong Kong, and Bermuda.

He is known for publication of textbooks, articles, and monographs on direct practice including Dynamics and Skills of Group Counseling and The Skills of Helping Individuals, Families, Groups and Communities, 7th Edition. Shulman Skills, named appropriately after Dr. Shulman himself, has been taught in many classrooms around the world. His love and dedication to social work and portfolio of pro bono work  made him a national leader in social work.

4. Dr. Terry Mizrahi:

Dr. Terry Mizrahi is a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work in New York where she co-chairs the Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work and the National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign. Dr. Mizrahi was the co-editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Social Work (20th Edition), author of five books, and over 70 articles, reviews, and manuals.

Dr. Mizrahi’s groundbreaking work Getting Rid of Patients: Contradictions in the Socialization of Physicians (Rutgers University Press, 1986) caused waves in the training of internal medicine house staff. Her extensive research and training included coalition building and inter-professional collaboration between physicians and social workers. This led her to become the president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) from 2001-2003.

5. Dr. Diana Garland

Dr. Diana Garland earned her undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees, all from the University of Louisville in Kentucky. For 17 years, she served as professor of Christian family ministry and social work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. She also served as dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work and director of the Center for Family Ministries. Prior to teaching, she was administrative director of a pastoral counseling center.

Together, Diana Garland with husband, David joined the Baylor faculty in 1997. In 1998, Diana Garland was named director of the university’s then-new Center for Family and Community Ministries. She became chair of the social work department in 2001 and, in 2005, was named inaugural dean of the School of Social Work. During the following decade, she championed the School’s rise to national and international recognition, while maintaining its steadfast mission to prepare social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership.

Garland was author, co-author or editor of 21 books and more than 100 academic articles. Some of her literary works included "Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships," "Inside Out Families: Living the Faith Together," "Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide" and her latest book, "Why I Am a Social Worker: 25 Christians Tell Their Life Stories." She had served as editor of the Journal of Family and Community Ministries since 1993.

Garland also gave significant service to national social work organizations. She served as a Board Member of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work from 2009 to 2014 and Councilor for the Council on Social Work Education from 2003 to 2013. She served multiple terms as president of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work. She also was first lady of Baylor University when David Garland, then dean of Truett Seminary, was named interim president in 2008. She served in that additional capacity until 2010.

Garland is survived by her husband, David; daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Matthew; son, John, and his wife, Abby; three granddaughters, Aurora Grace, Azalea Faith and Tess Moran; and grandson, Matthew Edward.

Are you ready to transform the field of social work?

These revolutionary thinkers paved the way for social work practice and have inspired the field to evolve. From their creative perspectives, insightful models, and new theories, the field has been able to adapt to the ever-changing social situations that affect individuals and communities. In the end, each of these revolutionary social workers enabled future generations to expand upon their work and to better lead the field of social work today

If you're ready to join the field of social work as a changemaker and thought leader, please request more information today! Baylor University's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is dedicated to preparing you to make a difference — no matter your interests, needs, or goals.

Learn how to transform your future in social work when you download our digital resource — The Guide to Launching Your Career in Social Work: How an MSW it Possible! 



Posted by Baylor School of Social Work Team

We are the admissions team at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, at Baylor University. We believe social work is about service and justice; it is about the dignity of individuals and the power of relationships; it is about integrity and competence, and our mission here is preparing social workers to do these things well. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a degree in social work!