Early social work history
On January 4, 1917 a group of Richmond community leaders met to organize a school that could provide training for social workers. In June, the school hired Henry H. Hibbs, Jr. as school director, and he would lead the school until his retirement in 1959. By the fall of 1917, the school had enrolled 31 students. The first class of what would be called the Richmond School of Social Economy met on October 4, 1917 in a rented building in Capitol Square. Hibbs and one other faculty member along with two part-time instructors were the school’s only teaching staff that first year. In 1918, the school changed its name to the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health.
Ora Brown Stokes Perry (1882-1957), an African American social activist involved in charitable work in Richmond, was denied admission to the school soon after it opened in 1917 because of her race. A few years later, with the help of Orie Latham Hatcher, she organized the Home for Working Girls which provided training opportunities for African American women in Richmond. She remained active in many causes including civil rights throughout her life.
In 1925, the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health relocated to a building at 819 W. Franklin Street, now called Founders’ Hall, and began an affiliation with the College of William and Mary. Soon the school’s curriculum expanded and courses were offered in art, recreation and community work, education, and other basic college subjects. The school was renamed the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary (RPI) in 1939 in order to denote the unique character of the institution.