Social work education at Eastern began in 1959 when a social work major was added by the Department of Sociology. Later, the Department was renamed to the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work with a major in each of the three disciplines.
The School of Social Work came into existence in 1974 with the passage of Washington Senate Bill 2574 providing for a Professional Master of Social Work degree at Eastern Washington State College (now Eastern Washington University). The bill was the result of a graduate and professional education needs assessment sponsored by the Washington State Legislature and a feasibility study conducted by the Council on Social Work Education. The feasibility study noted that no graduate-level professional school of social work existed between Seattle and Minneapolis across the northern tier of states at that time. After examining eight universities located in the inland northwest, the study recommended a graduate-level professional school of social work be established at EWU.
Following legislative approval and initial funding, a search and planning committee was established made up of the provost, graduate dean, and one social work faculty member each from both EWU and WSU, plus three professional social work practitioners from the social work community in Spokane. In the fall of 1974, John O’Neill was hired as dean of the new school and three faculty members were hired to plan a curriculum, establish a location for the school, and develop necessary ties and commitments with the social work practice community, and launch a new school. One social work faculty member each from EWU and WSU also joined in this effort.
The first MSW class was admitted and began the graduate curriculum in Fall of 1975. Also, the BA in Social Work program transferred to the School of Social Work during that academic year. The MSW program has expanded to many parts of Washington State and beyond, and the BA program is a large and respected program. Both the MSW and the BA have grown and matured during the past four decades. As of the 2015 Spring Commencement, EWU has awarded a total of 2,358 BA degrees (in Social Work) and 3,567 Master of Social Work degrees and the School of Social Work has enhanced the landscape of social services in the Inland Northwest.