Chauncey Alexander

1916 – 2005

Architect of social work professional standards


A graduate of UCLA and USC, Chauncey Alexander defined himself as an “accidental” social worker, but became a social work icon. He is known nationally and internationally for the decades he spent building and providing leadership at the national level as executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, a time which he regarded as his most important service as a social worker. During his leadership, NASW initiated and supported the licensing, standards, code of ethics and political action for professional social workers.

Alexander’s social work career began in the 1930’s with his first professional job as a caseworker with the State Relief Administration in Los Angeles. Observing the lives and desperation of the people served in central Los Angeles polarized his thinking and involved him in the unionizing activities of the era,not always a popular association. With study at the School of Social Work, he worked briefly at Lockheed involved in personnel and employee counseling, then began to work at California’s Patton State Mental Hospital as a psychiatric social worker and developed community based programs for patients who were harmless to themselves and others.

With the coming of World War II, he participated in programs for screening draftees and participated in reconditioning programs for returning GIs. This led to a civilian role in the Veterans Service Center in Los Angeles. Returning to USC, he completed his MSW work in 1950 and took his career goals to the private sector. Opportunities persistently brought him to an array of settings that made good use of his organizational skills and the fervor of his advocacy.

Always a crusader for health care for the poor, he used his skills in promoting mental health education in his work with the Southern California Society for Mental health. His next efforts were with the Los Angeles Heart Association where he served as Executive Director for twelve years.

In his role as Executive Director of NASW from 1969 to 1982, his advocacy changed the character and image of the social work profession. At the global level, he participated in the development of an international social work code of ethics and was instrumental in helping international social work organizations to achieve and grow as the first US president of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFLA).

After a distinguished national career, he returned to Southern California to share his experiences with students teaching social policy and management at California State University, Long Beach. The teaching materials that he developed will continue to serve as a template for his successors. Chauncey Alexander lived as a voice for the exploited, the misunderstood, the disabled and the disenfranchised. He lived the social work profession and led social workers to become a public presence and voice.

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