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Hepworth and Larsen (1986) define advocacy as "the process of working with and/or on behalf of clients (1) to obtain services or resources for clients that would not otherwise be provided, (2) to modify extant policies, procedures, or practice that adversely impact clients, or (3) to promote new legislation or policies that will result in the provision of needed resources or services" -Mark Ezell


One of the earliest examples of advocacy in the United States was found in the social settlement movement in the first two decades of the twentieth century concentrated mainly in the industrial cities of East and Midwest.


Social settlements were first and foremost "houses" set up in working class neighborhoods by the college educated sons and daughters of the middle class who were disturbed by the massive social problems of the day that accompanied rapid industrialization, urbanization, immigration.  These were problems such as working class poverty, tenement housing, child labor, tuberculosis.


These early settlement workers were also bothered by the increased distance between the middle and lower classes that also accompanied industrialization and the growing income gap. 


Many of the settlements brought philanthropic resources to deliver many specific services to neighborhoods. Many of these services were in the form of education, for example, classes in English, sewing, wood and sheet metalworking.  Some settlements went beyond this approach and were active in lobbying for tenement reform, publicly provided kindergartens, school nurses, child labor laws. 


Settlement workers attempted to translate some of the new concepts of scientific thinking into strategies that would give their work maximum impact and efficiency.  The early settlement workers attempted to apply scientific thinking through what they often referred to as the three Rs of settlement work: Research, Reform and Residence.

(Picture from Jane Addams Hull-House Museum)

In the 1930's, the emergence of the distinctive approach of Saul Alinsky inspired the profession of social work.  It was Alinsky who drew the roots of community organizing together.  The political radicalism of the 1920s and 1930s focused on organizing tenant unions, unemployed councils and other organizations to protest the horrible conditions of the period, and industrial union organizing of the 1930s (Valocchi, 1995).


During the 1960's and early 1970's, interest in activism, advocacy, and social change increased throughout American society.  Social workers began to advocate for licensure and for governmental support of professional education and activities (McNutt, 2002).   

Alinksy, Saul.  "Rules for Radicals."  February 1972. 
Children's Council of San Francisco.  2005 Retrieved from

Ezell, Mark.  "Advocacy Practice of Social Workers."  Families in Society. January 1994.
Free A Child.  2005.  Retrieved from

Kirst-Ashman, K.K., & Hull, Jr., G.H. (2000). Understanding generalist perspective (3rd ed.) . Pacific Grove, CA:  Brooks/Cole


Mcnutt, John G.  "New Horizons in Social Work Advocacy."  Journal of social work. v.1 #1 February 2002
UNICEF.  2005.  Retrieved from
Valocchi, Stephen.  A Way of Thinking about the History of Community Organizing.  Retrieved from 
Voices for America's Children.  "2004 Voices Network Policy and Advocacy Priorities."  September 2004.  Retrieved from