Happy Social Work Month to social workers here, there, and everywhere! As descendants of Jane Addams, the mother of social work, our reach has extended in many directions! Regardless of where you find social workers; eradicating injustices and creating better living and working conditions is at the core of our work. More recently, social workers have become central to the provision of clinical services.

However, some individuals who selflessly entered the field of social work found themselves fulfilling their mission on a different career trajectory outside the walls of typical social work jobs.

Jeannette Rankin
Rankin became the first U.S. Congresswoman; who was elected before women gained the right to vote in 1920. Rankin was a feminist, a lifetime pacifist, and crusader for social and electoral reform. She graduated from the University of Montana. She subsequently attended the New York School of Philanthropy before embarking on a career of social work in Seattle, Washington. In 1914, she became legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. 

Harry Lloyd Hopkins
Hopkins attended Grinnell College and soon after his graduation, he took a job with Christodora House, a social settlement in New York City’s Lower East Side ghetto. He became famously known as the 8th Secretary of Commerce, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s closest friend and advisor. Hopkins was acknowledged for the development of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which he directed and built into the largest employer in the country. In World War II, he was Roosevelt’s chief diplomatic troubleshooter and liaison with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He supervised the $50 billion Lend-Lease program of military aid to the Allies.

Whitney Moore Young Jr.
Young was an American civil rights leader. As a social worker, he spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States and empowering the National Urban League to aggressively work for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity. 

Young earned his Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Kentucky State University. Years later, during World War II, Young was trained in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was known for his exemplary ability to mediate affectively between opposing sides.

Suze Orman
Orman, a financial guru, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work in at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Once interested in opening a restaurant, she moved on to train with Merrill Lynch financial services and eventually became Vice President of Investments for Prudential. Suze Orman is best known for her CNBC show and best-selling books like The Road to Wealth.

Samuel L. Jackson
Before becoming a critically acclaimed actor, Jackson attended Atlanta’s Morehouse College and majored in social work. He later joined the Civil Rights Movement. By 1972, he made his feature film debut in Together for Days. Now, Samuel L. Jackson has a total box office gross over $4.6 million from movies like Pulp Fiction and The Negotiator.

Alice Walker
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Walker pursued her higher education in social work at Sarah Lawrence College. After graduating, she moved to Mississippi to join the Civil Rights Movement and welfare rights campaigns. Her writing career took off after becoming an editor for Ms. magazine. In 1982, Alice Walker published her best-known novel, The Color Purple.

These outstanding social workers represent a short list of those who made a career out of jobs beyond the walls of typical social work occupations. You too can make a difference in the world by choosing or creating your unique path. 

Don’t be afraid to look beyond…

Frances Goddard, LCSW, BCD
Diane Harvey, LCSW