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Boston College School of Social Work

School History

Founded in 1936 by Father Walter McGuinn, S.J., the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work is the fourth oldest Catholic school of social work in the U.S. It is the highest ranked professional school at Boston College and the highest ranked Catholic school of social work in the country. The School offers a Master of Social Work degree and a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work.


Father Walter McGuinn, S.J., the first Dean of the School of Social Work, received a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work from Fordham University. When asked by Father Louis J. Gallagher, S.J., President of Boston College, to open a school of social work, Fr. McGuinn turned to his former supervisor and teacher, Miss Dorothy L. Book, to join him in this endeavor. Given their close collaboration, they have been often referred to as "co-founders" of the Graduate School of Social Work.

The spring and summer months of 1936 were busy with developing content for the catalog, furnishing the new office space, hiring faculty, purchasing books for the library, and interviewing applicants. One of the first tasks was to acquire field placements. Father McGuinn and Dorothy Book, having traveled and met with agency directors across New England, secured agreements with 12 agencies that would provide field work experience for the first year students.

After months of preparation, the School opened its doors on September 14, 1936, to its first class of students who were graduates of Boston College, Emmanuel, Holy Cross, Radcliffe, Regis, Trinity, and Wesleyan. As Charles Sampson, MSSW '38, recalled, "few of us knew anything about social work…The country was in the depths of the greatest depression in its history and jobs were almost non-existent."

As described in the announcement of the School's opening, the purpose was to offer a program of study that "consist[ed] of academic training under teachers qualified in their respective fields and practical experience in well recognized agencies under competent supervision." The first semester courses included Family Case Work, Child Welfare, Medical Information, Legal Aspects of Social Work, and Psychiatry.

Students were expected to select a field of specialization for the second year. There were four options available: case work, public welfare, medical social work, and probation and parole. In a reflection of his experience as a student, Sampson describes how community organization was added to the choices of specialization. In his words, "[a few students] were intrigued with the idea of working with organizations rather than individuals, of trying to implement the concept of 'making the total resources of the community meet the total needs,' a phrase Mr. Carey [Executive Secretary of the Council of Social Agencies, Providence, RI, and instructor for the course Community Organization] used to summarize his concept of what community organization was all about."

Father McGuinn and Dorothy Book's decision to allow community organization as a specialization would enhance the reputation of the School as one of the best programs offered to prepare leaders to serve in the United Way organizations across the country. Many graduates of the School have served with great distinction in the United Way.


In 1943, Father McGuinn stepped down as Dean to serve as vice-chairman of the Regional War Labor Board of New England. Dorothy Book was appointed Acting Dean, a role that would all too soon become permanent. Due to the untimely death of Father McGuinn in 1944, Book was appointed Dean and served until her death in 1955.

In addition to the distinction of being co-founder of the School along with Father McGuinn, Dorothy Book has an important place in the history of Boston College as the first woman Dean at the university.

Originally located at 126 Newbury Street, the School moved to the Chestnut Hill campus in 1968, where it is currently located in McGuinn Hall, named after Father McGuinn and his brother, Father Albert McGuinn, S.J., a faculty member in the Chemistry Department.

While some lamented the loss of familiar surroundings, others welcomed joining colleagues from other departments and the expanded opportunities for interaction with faculty on the Chestnut Hill campus.

Challenges + Innovation

Throughout its 75-year history, the School has faced challenges that demanded innovative solutions. Perhaps the greatest were those presented by the country's involvement in World War II. The demand for social workers prepared to work with families affected by the war was met with a new program developed for practicing social workers who enrolled in the School's extension program. Among the courses offered in the specially designed program were Services to Children in a War Setting and Emotional Problems in Current Family Life, among others.

In 1942, Father McGuinn was contacted by the Director of Public Assistance in the Rhode Island Department of Social Welfare requesting that the School offer courses to employees of the department in Rhode Island. There was no graduate program of study available in the state and travel was difficult due to gasoline rationing. In response to this request, the School established the Rhode Island Division, offering the option of part-time study. Faculty traveled once a week to Providence to offer classes.

Forty years later, in the 1980s, the School again responded to requests for off-campus programs in Worcester (1980), Plymouth (1981), Portland, Maine (1983), and Chicopee (1989).

Over time, as other MSW programs were established, the need for these off-campus programs declined. Today, the School continues to offer an off-campus program in the Worcester area.

The late 1970s and 1980s were a period of expanding educational offerings through a Five-Year Program of the BA/MSW (1979) available to Psychology and Sociology majors in the College of Arts and Sciences and later available to the Applied Psychology major in the Lynch School of Education. Three dual degree programs were also initiated in the 1980s: MSW/MBA (1980), MSW/JD (1988), and MSW/MA in Pastoral Ministry (1989).

Doctoral Program

As early as 1966, John V. Driscoll, Dean of the School of Social Work, spoke of the need for doctoral prepared faculty because of the small number of doctorates in social work produced each year. In 1979, during Dean June Gary Hopps' tenure, the Board of Trustees approved the Doctor of Social Work degree, which later was changed to a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work. In the first twenty-five years of the Doctoral Program, the School offered the opportunity for part-time study that allowed experienced professionals to transform practice wisdom into theories that contributed to the knowledge base of the profession. A full-time program of study was introduced in 2004.

GSSW Today

Throughout the history of the School, the faculty has assessed the needs of the profession and realigned the curriculum to prepare the next generation of social work leaders. In 2005, four Field-of-Practice Concentrations were introduced: Children, Youth and Families; Global Practice; Health and Mental Health; and Older Adults and Families.

Balancing the need for ensuring competency in critical areas of theory and skills while allowing for choice and flexibility, the faculty approved a Five-Elective Curriculum that was introduced in September 2011.

More than 6,000 alumni serve with distinction as practitioners in social service agencies, policymakers, academics, and researchers throughout the United States and across the globe.

Driven by innovation and entrepreneurship, the faculty, students, research centers, and institutes conduct groundbreaking work in understanding critical social issues. By promoting and respecting dignity, diversity, and distributive justice in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, the School instills in its students the knowledge, values, and skills to initiate and sustain change and become visionary leaders in the social work field.

GSSW Leadership: Deans

1936–1944 Father Walter McGuinn, S.J.
1944–1955 Dorothy L. Book
1955–1958 Father Richard P. Burke, S.J.
1958–1971 Father John V. Driscoll
1971–1976 Edmund M. Burke
1976–2000 June Gary Hopps
2000–2001 Richard A. Mackey (Interim)
2001–2016 Alberto Godenzi
2016–present Gautam Yadama