NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Homer Folks (1867 - 1963)
In 1883 upon graduation from high school in rural Michigan, Homer Folks' father gave him the choice of a farm or a college education. Electing the college education, he entered Albion College and was graduated in 1887. He then enrolled at Harvard College receiving a B.A. in 1890.
Because of his demonstrated interest in social concerns, he secured the position of General Superintendent of the Children's Aid Society of Pennsylvania. That agency was created in 1882 on the premise that children whose families could not care for them belonged in foster homes rather than institutions. Within a few years Folks was known as a leader in promoting training for social work in child care. He believed that government involvement and responsibility was vital, and that volunteers had an important role in the planning and the delivery of social services. In 1893 he became the Secretary of the New York State Charities Aid Association. From that platform he was recognized as pioneer in child welfare.
In 1904 he helped found the National Child Labor Committee and was intimately involved with the preparation for the first White House Conference on Dependent Children in 1909 and with the formation of the U.S. Children's Bureau three years later. He was also a pioneer in mental and public health reforms.
When Folks arrived in New York in 1893, there was a bill in the New York State Legislature to have a system of hospitals for the insane. During the National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1905, the problem of the aftercare of the insane was discussed. Subsequently, Folks collaborated with Alexander Johnson, then head of the New York School of Philanthropy, to employ two students at Manhattan State Hospital as "aftercare workers". This pioneering effort led to the formation of volunteer "aftercare committees" in all the New York State Hospitals. Folks' agency continued to support this practice until 1911 when the State took over that responsibility. Over the years, Mr. Folks spoke widely on the problems of the aftercare of the insane, recommending the establishment of outpatient departments.
Another major concern of Folks was the escalating problem of tuberculosis, and he became a spokesman for early detection and treatment. During World War I, he was Director of the American Red Cross Civil Assistance. From 1913-1949 he was a member of the New York State Public Health Council.
During the depression years of the 1930's, he served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on many welfare matters, and in 1940 he received the Medal of Honor awarded by the Roosevelt Memorial Association. He retired in 1947.