Aaron Thompson, PhD, is a professor and director of the School of Social Work.

Welcome to the School of Social Work, in the College of Health Sciences, at the University of Missouri. For over 100 years, social work education has been offered to students at Missouri’s flagship public institution.

The MU School of Social Work promotes leadership for social and economic justice by preparing students for professional excellence and leadership in practice, research and policy. Within the context of a land grant institution, the mission of the School of Social Work reflects the University of Missouri’s tightly interlocked missions of teaching, research, outreach, and economic development.

In a world of sufficient resources, social and economic justice mandates minimal standards of economic and political equity. This means that no human being should die of hunger; be without access to adequate health care, be without safe and affordable housing or adequate clothing; lack access to employment; or be denied equal opportunity for education. Additionally, all human beings should be protected against violence in any form and discrimination on any basis, including but not limited to age, culture, class, ethnicity, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, and/or sexual orientation. Social workers have a professional, ethical, and moral obligation to use their skills and knowledge to challenge social inequities. Social workers must be leaders in establishing just and caring communities wherein all members possess basic economic, social, and psychological goods. Learn more about the social work profession and career outlook.

The MU School of Social Work teaches students to understand and evaluate the gaps between current conditions and a more just and caring society. While the University of Missouri’s land grant mission and the School’s commitment is to publicly funded and administered entities as a means of addressing the needs of poor and oppressed populations, the MU School of Social Work also recognizes the growing importance of the private sector in this regard. To this end, the School educates BSW, MSW and PhD social work practitioners to facilitate change by empowering individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. In addition, the School prepares PhD social workers to establish teaching, research, and professional practices that are grounded in the principles of social and economic justice.

Emeriti faculty

  • Richard Boettcher, Professor Emeritus
  • Judith Burke, Professor Emerita
  • Lee Cary, Professor Emeritus
  • Charles D. Cowger, Professor Emeritus
  • Judith A. Davenport, Professor Emerita
  • Michael J. Kelly, Professor Emeritus
  • Duane Kroeker, Professor Emeritus
  • Joanne Mermelstein, Professor Emerita
  • Dianne Orton, Emerita Teaching Professor
  • Marjorie Sable, Professor Emerita and Director Emerita
  • Paul Sundet, Associate Professor Emeritus
  • Leigh Tenkku Lepper, Associate Research Professor Emerita
  • Wilson Watt, Associate Professor Emeritus


Social work education at the University of Missouri has progressed, along with the profession, from the earliest stages of social work training to developing leadership for social and economic justice in the 21st century.

Following an era of unparalleled social change around the world in the 19th century, the field of social work was in its early infancy at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the first social welfare textbook was published in 1894, and the first school of social work was established in 1898. Recently, the National Association of Social Workers celebrated the profession’s centennial in 1998.

Today, the profession of social work and social work education have evolved in response to the needs of vulnerable individuals and populations, promotion of human rights, and challenges related to social service and social welfare policy.

1906 – MU first offered social work training through an extension program in St. Louis. Faculty from the MU Sociology Department commuted regularly to deliver lectures in affiliation with the St. Louis School of Philanthropy. MU assumed control of the school, which was renamed the Missouri School of Social Economy in 1916.

1919 – MU was one of seventeen existing schools of social work in the U.S. and Canada to form the Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Work. The Association developed the first uniform standards of training and professional education, and eventually became the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), today’s national accrediting body for social work education.

1925 – Social work curriculum was first offered on campus through the MU College of Arts and Science in 1925. Then, in 1929, the College of Agriculture established curriculum for the training of rural public welfare workers. In 1935, administration of all social work training was transferred to the Graduate School, and a one-year graduate curriculum leading to a master’s degree in sociology with a major in social work was offered.

1946 – The Department of Social Work was established in the College of Arts and Science, along with a one-year graduate program leading to a certificate of social work. An undergraduate social work program was also offered as an area of concentration leading to a bachelor of science degree. In 1949, in accordance with national accreditation standards, a two-year program leading to a master of science in social work was added, including an emphasis for the training of corrections workers.

1953 – The department became the School of Social Work within the College of Arts and Science. In 1965, the School of Social and Community Services was formed, of which the School of Social Work was a part. The School of Social and Community Services became the College of Public and Community Services in 1975.

1967 – The School of Social Work began providing statewide outreach programs through the University Extension Division. Focuses of the program included developmental training for agency staffs and citizens engaged in implementing new or expanded social services, professional development, and consultation.

1975 – The bachelor of social work degree was offered at MU in 1975 following a national trend recognizing the undergraduate degree in social work as the first professional practice degree in the field. Also during 1975, the Master of Science in Social Work was renamed the Master of Social Work degree, and the BSW and MSW programs were offered as components of a five-year continuum curriculum.

1988 – The College of Public and Community Services was eliminated and the units within the college were reorganized on campus. The School of Social Work joined the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

2000 – The school launched its nationally distinctive PhD program with an emphasis on state social policy. Between the period of 2000 to 2002, seven new faculty members with earned doctorates from Doctoral/Research Extensive institutions joined the school. In addition, the school’s mission was determined by the faculty to be developing leadership for social and economic justice.

2020 – The School of Social Work joined the School of Health Professions in October 2020. Social work is a critical profession to health care, social justice and community welfare, and the schools’ faculty members have a long history of collaboration. The move provided even more opportunities for interprofessional education and collaboration.

Today, the school offers its accredited BSW and MSW programs and its nationally distinctive PhD program in light of this mission to develop leadership for social and economic justice. In addition, the school is guided by an overarching commitment as a land-grant university to teaching, research, and service that is responsive to the needs of the state. Finally, the school strives to advance social work research and scholarship that is broadly applicable to the nation and world, which is congruous with its stature as a Carnegie Foundation Doctoral/Research Extensive institution.

References based on the National Association of Social Workers Centennial Index and the University of Missouri Archives. Read about our history in the University Archives.