The Rural Social Work Caucus; 1976 - 1984
A History and Descriptive Analysis


      Prior to 1940, a demonstrated interest in social work in rural areas had been present in the profession of social work but after 1940 that interest declined and then, for all practical purposes, disappeared.  In the early 1930's, for example, more than fifty articles on rural subjects were published in social work magazines and journals.  A rural casework text published by Josephine Brown (1933) contained a bibliography listing over 130 articles and books directly related to rural social work dating back to 1917.  Schultz (1964) in an analysis of articles published in Social Service Review found that occasional rural articles were published between 1926 and 1943, but that between 1943 and 1964 only one article on that subject had been published.  From 1941 to 1952, only five articles relating to social work in rural areas were printed by The Survey.  Prior to 1941, every issue of that journal contained at least one article related to rural social work.  In 1957 (Bruno, 1957), a history of social work based on the collected proceedings of the National Conference on Social Work published by Columbia University, had only two sentences devoted to the rural context.  Leon Ginsberg, writing in the 1971 Encyclopedia of Social Work drew attention to the general neglect of rural social work.  The 1971 Southern Regional Board Symposium on Social Work in the Rural Context (Levin, 1974) agreed suggesting that “social work practice in rural areas as an issue of concern for the profession was neglected until very recently.” (p. 10)

       An organization known as the Rural Social Work Caucus has been credited for much of a modern resurgence of interest within the profession during the 1970's (Martinez-Brawley, 1981).  A series of field and telephone interviews of 21 acknowledged leaders By whom? in social work in rural areas was conducted during 1982 and 1983 by this author during which they were asked to identify 3 specific major contributions to that resurgence.  

        Twelve of the respondents traced the symbolic beginning of the resurgence of interest to an address, “Education for Social Work in Rural Areas,” given by Leon Ginsberg at the Annual Program Meeting (APM) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in Cleveland, Ohio in January of 1969.  That address was well attended and sparked much discussion at that APM and in later meetings. Seven of the respondents credited the encouragement of Ginsberg of the activities of a number of major actors in the resurgence, all of whom were identified as Caucus members.  Ten respondents indicated that the subsequent publications and presentations of Dr. Ginsberg, as a respected Dean of an established School of Social Work in West Virginia,  helped authenticate the legitimacy of rural social work across the United States.  

       Virtually every respondent identified the importance of the Rural Social Work Caucus or two Caucus products; the continuing National Institutes on Social Work in Rural Areas as well as their edited proceedings, and the scholarly journal Human Services in the Rural Environment (HSTRE).   Six indicated that the leadership of Steve Webster and Paul Campbell in Caucus affairs was critical for this return of interest.  What are the affiliations of these persons? While each of these contributions was related to the others, they all tie directly to the First National Institute on Social Work in Rural Areas held in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1976.  The Institute, organized by Ron Greene, Paul Campbell and Steve Webster, all faculty members at the University of Tennessee, was instrumental in formation of the Caucus, HSTRE in journal form, and in later Institutes.  HSTRE in newsletter form was first published and circulated delete by by at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Ed Buxton serving as editor.  HSTRE, in that form, included brief articles as well as “Notes from the Field” describing innovative or outstanding practices in rural areas.

The Context 

               The twenty-one respondents identified a total of thirty-three “contextual elements” What are these 33 contextual elements? that they believed were critical to the return of interest in social work in rural areas within the profession.  Most of those in some way discussed the importance of the general expansion of the profession of social work during the 1960's and 1970's.   Of special importance was an increase in involvements on the part of the profession with ethnic and racial minority groups particularly as related to increasing use of interventions focused on environmental change through community organizing.  These “macro” involvements, combined with increased attention to social planning and administration, broadened the parameters of social work practice during the 1960's and early 1970's.  New paragraph. With an increase in baccalaureate social work programs, which were accredited by CSWE beginning in 1974, came an expansion in baccalaureate prepared professional social workers who were socialized into generalist orientations to practice.  A larger number of professionally prepared social workers were beginning practice during the 1970's.  As urban social programs began to stabilize or diminish during the 1970's, rural practice became somewhat more attractive for the large number of new social workers in the profession.   Respondents identified eleven elements of a combined social and political rural “renaissance” which heightened attention to rural problems, cultures and issues during the 1970's.  Of particular note were the presidency of Jimmy Carter, and social legislation including the Rural Development Act as well as Title XX and Title IV-A of the Social Security Act.  These along with other pieces of legislation provided additional resources for professional training and service expansion.  The “stage was set” for active leadership returning rural social work to some presence within the profession of social work.

Caucus Activities, 1976-1980

        As noted previously, -the creation of the Rural Social Work Caucus occurred at the First Annual Institute on Social Work in Rural Areas.  According to Steve Webster, Chair of the Institute, due to a “hole in the program” and the suggestions of a number of individuals re-garding the desirability of some “organizing force” to provide leadership, a session was held concerning the formation of a national group or organization related to advocacy for rural social work in the United States. (S. Webster, personal communication, April 1984)  Over thirty people were in attendance at the meeting and the purposes and structure of such an organization were discussed.  After the meeting Webster summarized their thoughts and wrote an initial “statement of purpose” for the organization with the suggested title of the National Rural Social Work Caucus.  Attendees at the final session of the Institute adopted the resolutions and created the Rural Social Work Caucus.

       Reporting in the October 1976 issue of HSTRE, Webster indicates that the resolutions included: the creation of the Rural Social Work Caucus, the petitioning to CSWE for a time slot at the APM Explanation needed-acronyms are frequently used in text with no explanation of what they mean.  Should be written out first and then followed by acronym before their further use in the text. in 1977 and a request for staff and financial resources for the Caucus, the appointment of a Caucus Executive Committee to develop linkages for rural practice issues, the acknowledgement of support “in principle” of a 2nd National Institute, and finally the call for  continued development and dissemination of teaching materials on rural social work.
In that Report Webster indicated that the Caucus is asking the larger profession to be sensitive to practitioners and educators in rural settings. Further, he reported that the Caucus requests that no one “wants to or should become the prime salesperson for rural social workers.” (Webster, 1977, p.1)   Webster suggests that the response should be decentralized and locality relevant through the fostering of regional organizations. Of additional concern was the lack of teaching materials and educational resources, according to Webster, and that the development of those resources by both practition-ers and educators was critical. Finally, Webster reported that the role of the Caucus was still somewhat unclear. One possible future outcome was the creation of sufficient membership to impress national organizations with the concerns of rural social workers. The organization to that point was to have no dues and was considering membership cards. Readers of HSTRE that wanted to join the Caucus were asked to contact Steve Webster.

        The January 1977 edition of HSTRE reports that the “Executive Council” of the Caucus had succeeded in securing Roundtable status of the 1977 CSWE APM in Phoenix.   Additionally, efforts had been made to obtain meeting time at the National Conference on Social Welfare (NCSW) meeting in Chicago in order to provide linkages and additional exposure to social work practitioners. Finally, in that issue, a policy plank and background statement prepared by Paul Campbell and Steve Webster was presented to the readership. The policy plank and statement had been endorsed by the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and efforts were being made to obtain support from other state chapters. The policy statement was to be presented for adoption by NASW at the 1977 annual national meeting.

           Webster reported that the roundtable at the CSWE APM would be chaired by Leon Ginsberg.  It was also reported that Richard Lodge, the Executive Director of CSWE, commented:  “We are very interested in the development of the Rural Social Work Caucus.  I will be taking the matter of (staff and financial) resources before the Executive Committee.”  (p. 1)

       Webster also indicated that the efforts to obtain meeting time at the NCSW were successful and that NASW and American Public Welfare Association (APWA) were being petitioned to focus attention and channel resources for increased sensitivity to rural practice concerns. It was suggested that Barry Morrisroe, the Director of the Office of Rural Development of Health, Education & Welfare, was particularly helpful in the “lobbying efforts” with APWA. Finally, the report announced the planning efforts for the 2nd National Institute to be held in Madison, Wisconsin in July 1977. The Institute was to be jointly sponsored by the Caucus and the University of Wisconsin Extension.

        The May 1977 edition of HSTRE noted that the NCSW in Chicago will would offer two opportunities for individuals with rural interests to convene.  A session, with Leon Ginsberg as chair, would include individuals from the Department of Agriculture, Rural America, and the Caucus. In addition, the Caucus would hold a meeting for the purpose of increasing rural practitioner input which featured Barry Morrisroe.  The May 1977 issue of HSTRE reported again by Webster also details activities related to the Rural Roundtable at the CSWE-APM.   Sixty-five individuals were in attendance. Among the items discussed at the Meeting were the Caucus involvements with the rural policy statement Which rural policy statement?, including co-sponsorship by Vermont and Tennessee NASW Chapters, the attempt to gain special consideration for rural papers at the NASW national meeting, and the attendance of Al Gonzalez, an NASW lobbyist, as well as of four members of the Canadian Rural Social Workers Group. Also discussed was the development of a Caucus membership list. Direction was provided by the Caucus regarding attempts to include rural educators on CSWE accreditation site teams, and having a rural educator included on the next CSWE-APM planning committee. The desirability of holding a Caucus meeting at the next APM was also discussed.

       The July 1977 edition of HSTRE reported on the meetings at NCSW and also indicated that the NASW policy statement on rural areas had been unanimously passed by the NASW Delegate Assembly upon the motion of Betty Rasberry of the University of Tennessee-Martin. Others involved in the passage of the Policy Statement were Natalie Duany of Vermont, and Webster, Greene and Campbell of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The Policy Statement identified four main institutional barriers to the identification and amelioration of social problems in the rural context including biased funding, lack of sufficient data, inadequate support for rural research, and the lack of curricula and educational programs for training rural workers.   In response the 1977 NASW Rural Policy Statement  called for federal policy and programs to be developed that:
“must be designed to provide for the unique identification of rural people, their problems, and needs. Research and demonstration activities that are specifically oriented to non-metropolitan areas and small towns and that recognize the importance of locality in developing intervention strategies must be pursued. The federal govern-ment should encourage the development of educational materials aimed at the rural context, and special attention should be given to the development of rural transportation systems to meet the critical problem presented to rural people in access to services. Development of social work education relevant to rural areas, coupled with the develop-ment of continuing education programs to retrain social workers to be effective in non-metropolitan settings, is essential”. (p.215) 

          The next report of the Caucus prepared by Webster (September 1977) reviewed activities and accomplishments of the Caucus to that point and described the Caucus meeting held at the Annual Institute in Wisconsin.  Among the accomplishments was the development of a Rural Issues Seminar at the APWA use of acronym Annual Meeting, the development of legislative comment for the Congressional Rural Caucus on rural health care bills, and the development of three collections of readings on rural social work. According to the Report, three major agenda items dominated the activities of the Caucus at the Madison meeting. The first regarded the organizational structure, membership, purposes and decision-making style of the Caucus. The second agenda item involved the selection of the host site for the Third Annual Institute from among applications from the Universities of Alabama, Montana, West Virginia, and California at Fresno. Accord-ing to the report, West Virginia was selected because of their express-ed desire to incorporate more practitioners into the rural social work movement.  Following the site selection process, discussions of the structure of the Caucus lead to the development of eight regional structures within the Caucus which working together would take the form of a national Steering Committee. This Steering Committee was authorized to act on behalf of the Caucus in matters related to rural social work education and practice. Two representatives of each region were elected to form the basis of the regional structures at the meeting.

        The December 1977 Report from the Caucus indicates that the Caucus hosted two sessions at the 3rd Annual Northern Wisconsin Symposium on Human Services in the Rural Environment. During the Caucus meeting at the Symposium, discussion focused on the activities of the West region of the Caucus. It was reported that Lynn Hulen, Carol Schultz, and Bob Deaton of that region held a Caucus meeting at the Big Sky Symposium in Montana where participants expressed an interest in a western regional Caucus meeting and specific regional identific-ation in the Caucus. Lynn Hulen reported on a Caucus session at the NASW Professional Skills Symposium where participants also called for a regional meeting. Ron Greene reported on the implementation of the NASW rural Policy Statement and finally the group decided to poll nominees for the NASW Executive Board on their views regarding implementation of the Policy through HSTRE.

       The results of that poll were reported in the April and May 1978 issues of HSTRE where the remarks of each candidate were published in full. In the April 1978 issue, candidate for NASW President Nancy A. Humphreys credited the work of the Caucus but indicates that she has reservations regarding the appointment of a Task Force to deal with specific rural social work needs and issues. Before any commit-ment of resources is made, Humphreys preferred to “devise a plan for relating to special interests” and through the activities of a task force on special interest, report to the Program Committee and the National Board.  

       The May 1978 issue of HSTRE reported on Caucus activities in re-lation to the 1978 CSWE -APM.  It is reported that over 250 persons attended one of the fifteen rurally oriented sessions at the conference. Caucus “leaders” presenting at the APM included Webster, Deaton, Mermelstéin, Campbell, Martinez—Brawley, Hookey and Ible.   A letter from Leonard W. Stern, a staff member of CSWE, responded to a letter from Ira Colby, Coordinator of the Social Work Program of Ferrum College, to Arthur Katz then President of NASW,  in-dicating that the Delegate Assembly did not authorize the establish-ment of such a Task Force but they did authorize national staff to provide technical assistance on the development of a more detailed program. With the letter from Stern, such a staff assignment was made by NASW.

       The July 1978 Report from the Caucus included a copy of the letter from Ira Colby. The letter requested that Dr. Katz investigate the consequences of establish-ing a Rural Task Force on the National level within NASW. The letter further stated that very little had been accomplished by NASW with regard to the Rural Policy since its passage. The letter, which had been adopted by the Virginia NASW Rural Committee, calls for the establishment of a National Rural Task Force within NASW. The purposes of that task force included; guidance and direction on rural matters to state chapters and their rural committees, input into the governance of the profession as it relates to rural matters, assistance to the profession’s political arm as it relates to rural policy matters, implementation of the NASW Rural Policy Statement, and the identific-ation and collection of data on rural needs.

       A report from the Rural Social Work Caucus meeting at the 3rd Annual Institute was made in the October 1978 issue of HSTRE.   At that meeting the Caucus voted to hold the 4th National Institute in Laramie, Wyoming. The Caucus also voted to support the Virginia resolution calling for establishment of a National Rural Task Force within NASW. The Caucus report indicated that many rural social workers were presently lobbying with their state chapters to pass the resolution. It was noted that a number of Caucus members suggested a formal break with NASW be made in protest of the “continued benign neglect” by NASW. The Report, however, indicates success with the APWA in developing more of a rural focus at regional and national meetings. Both the National and the Midwest and West regional meetings  of the APWA had Rural Social Work Caucus participation, according to the Report.

        The November 1978 Report from the Caucus summarizes discussions of Caucus members at the CSWE-APM.   Some success was noted by participants in ad-vocating for rural interests but those same participants encountered questioning at the APM about their rhetoric and assumptions regarding rural social work education.  Following the summary, the Report then goes on to suggest two primary tasks for the Caucus in the future. The first called for continued advocacy within NASW to draw more attention within the profession to rural issues and concerns. The second called for continued knowledge development regarding rural problems and their resolutions. The Institutes were credited with their ability to pursue a decentralized model of knowledge diffusion regarding rural social work. The final organizational note of the Report reminded readers that the Caucus had voted at the 3rd Institute to continue its structure and maintain the eight member steering committee elected at the 2nd Institute. The November 1978 issue of HSTRE also included a call for HSTRE readership to participate in a Delphi Survey process developed by Webster to identify possible legislative goals for the 96th Congress. The results of that survey were to be used by NASW lobbyists with regard to rural issues before the Congress.

       The December 1978 Report from the Caucus reviews and summarizes the accomplishments and activities of the Caucus to that point.  In that report Webster lists the Institutes and their readers, the success with CSWE in obtaining program time including a specific track within the program regarding rural practice, the appointment of two interns at NASW to specifically focus on rural issues and the authorization of NASW for a one day meeting of a national rural pro-gram planning committee in the spring of 1979. Webster also reported on successes within APWA in its national and regional meetings. Finally the Report indicated that the Midwest, West and Southeast membership of the Caucus has held regional meetings and workshops in their respective regions.

        The Report from the Caucus published in the September/October 1979 issue of HSTRE announced the transfer of publication responsibilities of HSTRE to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Office of Continuing Social Work Education.  The new editor, Joanne Jankovic, was introduced.  The Report indicated that three institutions expressed interest in publication of HSTRE but that the University of Tennessee was most willing to accept the risks involved in taking over the publication.  One portion of the transfer process included the understanding that HSTRE would transition to become a more scholarly venue.
The Report also recognized the efforts of Ira Colby and Steve Webster in organizing state affiliates of Rural America, Inc. The new affiliates in the states of Virginia and Wisconsin had at the time of publication over 100 members. According to Webster, affiliate state organizations were being organized in fifteen states and they served as excellent resources for continued networking building as well as the identification of locality relevant issues. The Report also announced the development of the Rural Coalition, a group of Washington D.C. based policy analysts and advocates, who were earlier supported by Caucus members.

       Finally, the Report credited the Caucus with its advocacy efforts within CSWE and NASW. The upcoming CSWE-APM would have, for the second year, rural issues and concerns as a featured category of their program. The NASW Symposium was advertised as having a number of offerings of interest to rural social workers. The NASW President Nancy Humphreys, serving as keynoter for the National Symposium on Rural Justice held at the University of Tennessee in June, 1979, indicated that the Caucus was responsible for much of the current interest in rural social work on the national level. In that address Humphreys suggested that rural social workers had become a legitimate constituency,  “but without continued pressure and organizing, accurate policy analysis and leveraged growth, we will fall quickly from grace.” (p. 1) according to the Report.

        The September/October 1979 issue of HSTRE included the first Report from the NASW Rural Social Work Task Force. According to Steve Webster, Chairperson of the Task Force:  “thanks to constituent pressure by the Rural Social Work Caucus and various state chapters, NASW appointed a Task Force which first convened on February 16, 1979 at the NASW National Office.” (p. 47)

       In that meeting the Task Force presented thirty-eight separate programmatic and policy suggestions to the NASW national office. The Task Force Report also drew attention to the upcoming Delegate Assembly where rural social work as a program priority was to be considered. Additionally, amendments were to be offered to adjust the urban bias and allow for increased attention to rural diversity by NASW. Readers were encouraged to contact their local delegates and contact Caucus members who were delegates. Attention was drawn to Dick Edwards, a Caucus member, who was the chairperson of the Southeastern Coalition of NASW Chapters. Original members of the Rural Task Force included Webster, Colby, Claudia Jacobs of Vermont and Patrice Postula of North Carolina.  Al Gozalez of NASW staff and three graduate interns were assigned to assist the Task Force. (Rural Task Force, 1979) Later consultative arrange-ments were made with Paul Campbell (personal communication, 1981) and Emelia Martinez—Brawley (personal communication, 1984) to expand the membership of the Task Force .  

       The January/February 1980 Report from the Rural Social Work Caucus summarized site selection procedures for the Annual Institutes, credits the work of the University of Wisconsin Center for Social Services, discusses linkages made with the American Rural Mental Health Association through its president Scotty Hargrove, reported that the Caucus has been invited to participate in the White House Con-ference of Families, and finally, reports on successes within the NASW Delegate Assembly in Texas.  According to Webster, the Caucus was successful in “having rural concerns given increased priority ratings in the Assembly’s program planning efforts for the next two years of NASW activity. Virtually every measure supported by the Caucus was ultimately passed by the delegates.” (p. 36)
       According to Colby; Webster, Colby and Edwards were quite successful in negotiating coalitions with a variety of state and regional chapters through informal meetings and the dissemination of various “fact sheets” regarding the effects of recommended policy on rural areas.

       The May/August 1980 issue of HSTRE further documented the activities of the NASW Rural Social Work Task Force regarding the 1979 Delegate Assembly. Summarizing the development of the Task Force, Webster outlined the goals of the Task Force. Included in those goals were the extension of NASW chapter services through outreach into under-served rural settings, to enhance the value placed on rural settings within NASW and the social work profession, to increase NASW political activity and awareness of rural social legislation, and finally to work with CSWE in continuing the development of a rural focus in social work education. Webster quoted Chauncey Alexander, then Executive Director of NASW, as suggesting that the Task Force had “made an impact on the Association.” Webster reported that the Task Force, at the beginning of the Delegate Assembly, called a meeting of all rural delegates and alternates. At the meeting, it was agreed that the group would serve as an ad hoc coalition to support rural positions within exist-ing coalitions and in debate on the floor. Among Caucus leaders credited with activity during the Assembly by Webster were Colby, Edwards, Barry Locke of West Virginia, Bill Whittaker of Wyoming, and Ron Greene of Tennessee then outgoing Secretary of NASW.

        According to Webster, Task Force members authored and dis-tributed over 1,600 fact sheets to delegates on a variety of rural problems such as poverty, health care, housing and the elderly. Among the more interesting coalitions was an agreement with the Urban Task Force and the New York City Chapter to defeat a proposed housing policy. Additionally, particular attention was paid in the Assembly to the special rural needs involved in the development of long-term care policies. During the process of the Assembly, the rural coal-ition along with others, reversed President Humphreys position against providing additional resources to “speciality interest groups.” Finally, rural coalition members specifically authored four resolutions that were unanimously passed by the Assembly on social welfare reform, small farms, rural social work policy, and economics and energy.

       In summary, the Rural Social Work Caucus can be credited with a number of accomplishments during the critical early years of development of modern interest in social work in rural areas. By the fall of 1980 the Caucus had sponsored five Institutes and their respective readers. The Caucus had successfully developed rural content in national and regional meetings of APWA, NASW, NCSW, and CSWE. The Caucus had also been credited with the development of some state affiliates of Rural America Inc., and had made linkages with the Association for Rural Mental Health and the Rural Coalition. Within NASW, Caucus members had been successful in passage of the 1977 Rural Policy, the development of the Rural Task Force and the passage or defeat of a number of policy statements in the 1979 Delegate Assembly of NASW. Additionally, regional Caucus meetings and conferences had been held in the South, Midwest, and West.  Finally, the Caucus had supported the publication of HSTRE at Wiscon-sin, negotiated the transfer to Tennessee and continued to support the publication while at Tennessee.


        From 1982 through 1984 this author conducted a structured analysis of the National Rural Social Work Caucus through obtaining detailed background information on seventeen acknowledged Caucus leaders through interviews and copies of their vitae. This information does not match the information, which I assume is the same study, that is mentioned on pp. 2!  During the field interviews they were asked to characterize Caucus activities and characteristics from a variety of perspectives; including strengths, limitations, areas for growth, leadership and membership characteristics, areas of conflict, etc.  Four acknowledged Caucus leaders also acted as “key informants” for this phase of the research.  The final source for the structured analysis was a short questionnaire conducted in April of 1984 with the seventeen Caucus leaders in which they were asked to define important characteristics of the Caucus, identify its primary contributions, suggest critical events in the life of the Caucus as well as comment upon the structure of the Caucus.  Each of the seventeen, including the four key informants, had been identified by at least four other Caucus members through a snowball sampling technique as important contributors to Caucus activities.  Each of the four key informants had been identified during the seventeen field interviews by at least five respondents as Caucus leaders.

        A summary of the information provided suggests that the typical Caucus leader was a social work educator.  This educator earned a baccalaureate degree in social sciences or social studies in the early 1960's, only four had earned social work degrees.  After graduation the member worked for three years in either community services in an urban area, public social services in a rural area or in the fields of health or mental health.  This typical Caucus leader went on to earn an MSW in the late 1960's and possibly went on to doctoral work in the early 1970's, eight had completed the doctorate by 1973.  That doctoral work was likely in the fields of education or in “macro” areas such as planning or administration.  For those not engaged in doctoral studies an additional three to four years were spent in social work practice.  This composite Caucus leader began full-time employment in social work education in the early 1970's.  That first employment likely involved undergraduate teaching, field instruction, and some work in extension or continuing education.  This typical Caucus leader was promoted, and likely tenured, in the late 1970's and most, in 1983,  were engaged to some degree in administration of their academic unit.  Five at the time of the analysis were full Professors.  In 1983, this composite Caucus leader was teaching in the areas of field instruction, generalist practice, the “macro” areas of program and policy, administration and community organization.    Few, however, were currently teaching specific courses with rural content.  They had remained quite involved throughout their career in social work education with practica and field experiences.   Interviews revealed that a large majority of these Caucus leaders were the only faculty in their respective social work programs with major interests in social work in rural areas.  Interestingly, nine of the seventeen respondents, in an unduplicated count, were at one time involved as a student or faculty member with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  

       The faculty represented taught in thirteen different social work programs in thirteen different states.  Eight of the programs were combined graduate and undergraduate programs with five of the departments offering only the baccalaureate degree.    Programs were primarily located in the mid-west (4), western mountain states (4), south or south-east (3), and in the north-east (2).  The group, as a whole, were quite active in publishing and presenting as well as organizational and political activities.  Many had achieved professional stature through appointment and election to important offices and professional responsibilities in areas both within and outside the profession of social work.

       The structural analysis of the Caucus was also informed by the mailed survey conducted in 1983.  In that survey, respondents were asked to provide definitions of the Caucus.  The responses were typically complex yielding definitions which described the Caucus as simultaneously a collectivity, forum, means, support group, place and a form of leadership regarding social work concerns.  No one definition prevailed.  

       The use of percentages of the respondents would have been more informative for ranking or identifying the relative importance of these items.

        Each of the respondents was asked to provide three distinguishing characteristics of the Caucus that followed from their definitions.  Generally, the members characterized the Caucus as an open and informal structure that encourages, supports, and provides direct leadership for activities related to rural social work in the United States.  A large number of the respondents described the Caucus through characteristics of its membership.  The Caucus, and individual members, appeared to be inclusive to the degree that some individuals had been identified as members who personally claimed no membership.  The Caucus, and individual members, were seen as persistent, committed, and supportive and quite unlike other more mainstream professional groups.  The Caucus was described as having a national scope.  Some differences were exhibited in the degree to which practitioners were seen as being involved with the Caucus.  The Caucus had been directly involved in social justice and advocacy efforts related to rural social work in the United States.  Additionally, the informal or “non-bureaucratic” nature of the Caucus had facilitated the accomplishments of individual members and was a primary source of attraction for some members.  This too was seen as quite different from other professional organizations.  Many of the respondents suggested that different levels of power, involvement, and membership existed within the informal structures of the Caucus.

       Four levels of membership or involvement were suggested.  All of those were characterized as informal, having little to do with any structural or hierarchical arrangements conceived by the Caucus.  Leadership and active involvement in Caucus decision-making were seen as related to the final two levels of involvement.  The first level of membership is the most general and relates primarily to those individuals affiliating “simply because they want to” in the words of Steve Webster. (S. Webster, personal communication, April 1984)  The author learned of individuals who claimed membership but had attended no formal Caucus gatherings.  Often members at this level were involved in organizing in local arenas and had significant professional relationships with other Caucus members located in their local area.  This type of involvement was seen as  more characteristic of social work practitioners and students than the three other levels.

        The second level of membership included no more than fifty social work educators and practitioners.  This type of involvement seemed to take two forms.  The first included individuals who were once quite active in the Caucus and had ongoing ties with currently involved Caucus members.  This type of membership had been attributed by active Caucus members without the knowledge of the alleged member.  In a few cases, such membership had been continued for years without any current activity on the part of the alleged member.  At times these members “return” to active participation and were warmly welcomed upon that return.  This level of membership also included individuals who are currently involved in Caucus activities.  Typically these members were social work educators who attended the Annual Institutes with some regularity as well as the more formal Caucus gatherings.  While at the Institute they typically presented, often had a paper published in the edited proceedings and engaged in discussions with other members.   Some of these members often helped with the editing of the Institute proceedings.  This type of member, however, was not seen as active in formal decision-making events and rarely was directly involved in political relationships or organizing with other professional organizations.  Typically this member had a strong continuing relationship with one or more Caucus members at the final two levels.

        The third level of involvement seemed to represent the “general leadership” of the Caucus and was composed of no more than twenty-five members who are primarily social work educators.  This group was seen as more stable in its membership than the previous two.  Interestingly enough, membership at this level had also been attributed.  The author encountered five individuals who were considered by others to be in this leadership group yet did not consider themselves to currently be Caucus members.  Two of those indicated that they had never been Caucus members.  All of the five continued to be active in rural scholarship, were familiar with Caucus activities and regularly “consulted” with Caucus leaders on a variety of matters.  The majority of these third level Caucus leaders, however, were very active in Caucus matters.  They regularly attended the annual Institutes and were typically involved to some degree in the planning activities for each.  Most of these leaders also commonly attend NASW and CSWE national gatherings and provide some “rural content” or “rural organizing” at those events.  These individuals had a long history of support of the Caucus and often served as “interpreters” of the Caucus to potential members or “host” Caucus gatherings during professional meetings.  It is this group of no more than twenty-five  individuals who largely accomplished the primary purposes of the Rural Social Work Caucus.  Members of this group formed the basis of the editorial board for HSTRE.  They were also responsible for a large amount of the scholarly activity on rural topics in social work from 1975 to 1983.  It is also this group that participated in the field interviews and questionnaires providing the largest portion of the information used in this analysis.

        The fourth level of leadership in the Caucus appears to have emerged during the period of time from 1980 to 1984 when this analysis was conducted.  This is a group of eight to twelve social work educators who “set the agenda” and provided for “internal maintenance” of the Caucus.  The four “key informants” disagreed somewhat on the composition of this group.  It was suggested that this group had replaced many of Steve Webster functions as “Caucus Coordinator” although Webster was still included in that group.  Some of these individuals had held or were holding more formal offices in the Caucus, offices that emerged as a result of Caucus discussions in the post 1980 period.  It is interesting that these leaders often disagreed with each other regarding such matters as the structure of the Caucus as well as the future directions of the Caucus.  Each of these leaders had to a degree developed a “following” among the general Caucus membership and usually had direct, personal, long-standing ties to those members.  It was also noted that the majority of these leaders had “earned” their leadership positions through furthering the purposes of the Caucus by playing important roles in various specific Caucus activities.  A minority of these leaders, however, seemed to have “recently arrived” as of the time of the analysis.  As “new members” their actions and motivations were sometimes seen as suspect by some of the older members.  They were seen by some to have “claimed” leadership rather than “earned” that leadership over the years.  Their ability to continue as leaders, however, provides further evidence for the openness of the Caucus.  Three members of this small group of no more than twelve leaders were candidly ambivalent about their leadership responsibilities.  They claimed that often they were “placed” in leadership situations by Caucus members, often through attribution and assumption, at times through a “drafting” process or  “election” without ever having placed their name in nomination, and felt responsible for following through on those responsibilities.  Again, further evidence for the openness and inclusive nature of the Caucus.    

        It was very clear that the Caucus historically was an extremely informal, open and inclusive phenomenon that occasionally created more formalized structures.  The degree of formalization required for effective operations was a matter of disagreement between some of the fourth group of leaders in the Caucus.  The majority of attempts at formalization had been in response to perceived problems with Caucus decision-making and communications.  Many leaders and members, however, were quite fond of the distinctive tradition of the Caucus existing as an “organization by rumor.”  This was seen by a few as being characteristically rural.  Most of the direct “challenges” to the existing structure emerged during or after selection of Institute sites.  Selection of Institute sites was at the time the only formal organizational responsibility of the Rural Social Work Caucus.  As of 1984 the Caucus controlled no monies, had no membership dues, and provided no financial assistance to HSTRE or planners of Annual Institutes.  Membership was completely open and even at times “bestowed” on unsuspecting individuals.  Individual Caucus members were entirely free to use the name and “power” of the Caucus in whatever manner they chose.  This was seen by some as an important element of the “mystery” of the Caucus.  No instance was encountered of any formal organizational sanctions being applied to “deviant” Caucus members.  In 1984 the Caucus did not exist as a formal organization; no by-laws had been formally approved nor had the Caucus been formally chartered in any state. 

      The Caucus, however, had been seen by some as an organization, had at times acted as an organization and some Caucus leaders, particularly during political and organizational struggles with external entities, had described it as a national organization.  As an organization, the Caucus clearly had some limitations.  For example, with the transition of HSTRE to a more scholarly format, the Caucus lost its reporting vehicle so “minutes” of formal Caucus gatherings were not communicated to the entire membership, often not taken.  Furthermore, as it elaborated some structure, with some clear ambivalence among the membership, often more confusions developed.  For example, as of 1984 there was considerable lack of clarity regarding Steering Committee membership within the Caucus.  It was not clear whether or not past or present Institute Chair’s were regular or “ad hoc” members of the Steering Committee.  Further, some members quietly claimed that some regional representatives on the Steering Committee had been “elected” through “self-proclamation.”  Finally, during the analysis the author encountered Steering Committee members who acknowledged that they had become such by “winning” an “election” that never occurred and without ever placing their names “in nomination.”  It seems that some other Caucus members identified a need for those individuals to become Steering Committee members and “elected” them in absentia.  Finally, confusions even existed among some members as to the role of the Steering Committee in Caucus decision making.

        Finally, formal structures of the National Rural Social Work Caucus when they existed were characterized as dynamic, unclear, and more informal than formal in nature.  They were often created in response to perceived difficulties in Caucus functioning and were likely to be ignored or forgotten by some Caucus members nearly as soon as they were created.  Thirteen of the respondents described the Caucus primarily in terms of the characteristics of its members.  Many indicated that they understood that most Caucus successes were more accurately accomplishments of individual members.  Informal structures, agreements and understandings did exist within the Caucus but they appeared to have developed primarily out of relationships, activities, successes and even the personal characteristics of Caucus leaders.  It seems reasonable to see the Caucus, as of 1984, as a professional/personal network that sometimes acted as an organization. 

Summary and Conclusion

             Bucher and Strauss (1961) contend that diversity, conflict, and change within a profession are conducted through segments that tend to take the general character of social movements.  It is clear that the Caucus demonstrated social movement as well as segment like characteristics in its organized attempts to secure changes within the major professional organizations of social work.  Characteristic of social movements and some social networks are efforts at “consciousness raising” and claims of “disadvantaged status” of their membership. (Wilson, 1973; Piven & Cloward, 1977)  Anderson and Carter (1984) contend that most social movements can best be described and understood as social networks.  Bucher and Strauss contend that critical to the effectiveness of segments are struggles to develop and continue a strong presence within professional gatherings and conferences.   Important to obtaining their place within a place in an institution is developing images of characteristics of that segment that distinguishes them from other segments. A critical dimension of the Caucus reported by the respondents is the presumed informality, inclusiveness and accepting nature of the Caucus, Institutes and Caucus members.  These are also characteristics common to social networks as identified by Weiss (1974).    

       Finally, Bucher and Strauss maintain that effective professional segments are not fixed and perpetually defined.  Often those segments must evolve because of changes in other segments, relationships between segments, the conditions of work of segment leaders and adaptations in the institution itself.  What may have lead to success for a segment at one point in time may not at a future point in time.  Evolution of segments is necessary for continued success.  Conflict can be expected within segments over the nature of that transformation.  Included in that internal conflict are often differences regarding leadership, future goals, as well as the very nature of the segment itself.  

       It has been demonstrated that the general purposes of the Caucus as established in 1976 had been met by 1980.  To a degree the profession had become more sensitive to the concerns of rural social workers and had opened major national conferences up to rural content.  Regional groupings had been established as had a series of Annual Institutes and a scholarly journal, HSTRE.  Finally, a number of teaching materials and innovations in rural social work education had been developed by Caucus members and distributed through the Annual Institutes, national conferences, regional gatherings and HSTRE.  Perhaps more accurately, the general purposes of the Caucus had been achieved by the activities of Caucus members and small groups.  The Caucus had acted as an effective instrument for information flow, support, stimulation and guidance of individual members and as a vehicle for organization of groups of individual members.    

        It has been demonstrated that a professional segment known as the Rural Social Work Caucus has been instrumental in the resurgence of interest within social work education between 1976 and 1980.  The Caucus was developed out of a general context that included inclusion of baccalaureate prepared social workers, an expansion of the profession during the 1960's and early 1970's, the availability of financial and political resources through state and federal governments that supported rural concerns and through the support of a few established leaders in the general profession.  The Caucus had been successful in including rural content and policy positions on the agendas of the major social work organizations, development of educational materials related to rural practice, stimulation and support of scholarship on rural concerns and the development and maintenance of an additional reward track for rural social workers.  The Rural Social Work Caucus during this time period had demonstrated characteristics of a social network.  This section does seem to fit very well in terms of tying up this discussion.  Perhaps it is the introduction of social science theory references at this late point without any mention of them earlier in the paper.  As such this discussion seems pasted onto the end rather than flowing from it.  More mention of a tying theme earlier on would have been helpful to make this connection.   



    •  Anderson, R.E., Carter, I. (1984).  Human behavior in the social environment.  New York: Aldine Publishing Company.
    •  Brown, J.S. (1933).  The rural community and social casework.  New York: Family Welfare Association of America.
    •  Bruno, F.J. (1957). Trends in social work, 1874-1956.  New York: Columbia University Press.
    •  Bucher, R., Strauss, A. (1961) Professions in process.  The American Journal of Sociology, January, 332-334.
    •  Ginsberg, L.H. (1971).  Rural social work.  Encyclopedia of Social Work, vol. 2. National Association of Social Workers.  New York.
    •  Levin, L.I. (Ed.) (1971).  Educating social workers for practice in rural settings: Perspectives and programs.  Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board.
    •  Martinez-Brawley, E.E. (1981).  Seven decades of rural social work .  New York: Praeger Publishers.
    •  Piven, F.F., Cloward, R.A. (1977).  Poor people’s movements, how they succeed, how they fail.  New York: Random House.
    •  Rural Policy Statement of the National Association of Social Workers. (1977).  New York.
    •  Rural Task Force. (1979).  National Association of Social Workers.  New York.
    •  Schultz. T.W. (1964).  Out welfare state and the welfare of farm people.  Social Service Review, 38, 123-129.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1976).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 1, October, 1-2.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1977).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 2, January, 1.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1977).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 2, May, 2.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1977).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 2, July, 21.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1977).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 2, September, 2-4.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1977).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment, 2, December, 8-9.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, April, 15.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, May, 9.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, July, 32.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, October, 20.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, November, 6.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1978).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment3, December, 39.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1979).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment4, September/October, 46-48.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1980).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment5, January/February, 36.
    •  Webster, S.A. (1980).  Report from the caucus.  Human Services in the Rural Environment5, May/August, 25.
    •  Weiss, R.S. (1974). The provisions of social relationships.  In Rubin, Z. (Ed.) Doing unto others. (pp. 17-26).  Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
    •  Wilson, J. (1973).  Introduction to social movements.  New York: Basic Books.