In remembrance of Jack Hansan: Founder and guiding light of the Social Welfare History Project and a cherished supporter

August 16, 2019
photo of Jack Hansan standing in front of a red door

John “Jack” E. Hansan, Ph.D., founder and guiding light of the Social Welfare History Project and a cherished supporter of VCU Libraries, died August 9. 

Hansan’s distinguished career reflects the evolution of the social work profession. Both his broad intellectual grasp of social welfare history and his personal experiences as a leader in social work shaped the Social Welfare History Project. “Social work has changed dramatically over the years, and I am somewhat of an ‘outlier,’ he said in a 2017 interview. “My career was built working in settlement houses, poverty programs, slum neighborhoods, public welfare, etc. During the past 50 years, the profession has moved away from those areas and concentrated on health and mental health care and private practice (counseling) and the value of licensing.” 

Hanson made many lasting contributions to the profession of social work throughout his career. His impressive academic credentials included a bachelor’s degree from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and the master’s of social work at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned the Ph.D. in social work at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy. Among his many notable activities was helping organize a 500-member delegation from Ohio to the 1963 March on Washington. Later, his Cincinnati program for inner-city, preschool children became the model for the national Head Start Program.  

Hansan was the recipient of numerous honors and awards for his professional life. The National Association of Social Workers honored him in 1997 as a Social Work Pioneer. In recognition of his many contributions to social justice in Ohio, Dr. Hansan was selected in summer 2019 for induction into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame

In the late 1990s, when the Internet was just emerging as a repository for scholarly work and pop culture, Dr. Hansan was approaching the end of his career. After more than 40 years as a social worker, administrator, public servant and leader in his profession, he was retiring. Never one to go slow or sit idle, he had an idea about what would occupy him next. He imagined creating a website that would capture and organize the rich complexity of history represented by our nation’s social welfare policies and programs and how they touch the lives of all Americans. Though designed for the general public, this site, developed by Dr. Hansan over the past decade, includes links to archives, libraries, scholarly websites and other sources of reliable information. 

That project now lives on, administered by VCU Libraries with many new enhancements embraced by Dr. Hansan. “Jack Hansan’s vision informs so much of my work,” said project manager Alice Campbell. “His firm belief in the strength of democracy and the power of education. His great optimism about people’s capacity for good, even when he was reporting on society’s many failings throughout history. Every time I share a photograph or a document, I think about why he wanted to bring social welfare history to people’s attention. He saw educating people as another way to strengthen America, and it’s a privilege for me to carry his work forward.”

“Dr. Hansan was a model of what we aspire to do at Virginia Commonwealth University: to share the work of scholars with the world to solve problems and foster understanding,” said VCU Dean of Libraries John E. Ulmschneider. “He was kind and  warm. He was brilliant, focused, and determined to share the history of his beloved profession so that students as well as modern social workers would not lose sight of the profession’s vast contributions to American life.

“Jack Hansan was a remarkable human being who dedicated his life to helping people rise and succeed. He was an inspirational advocate for social justice and change.” 

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Donations in Jack's memory be made to VCU Libraries Social Welfare History Project. You man give online or send a check to VCU Libraries c/o VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations Box 843042 Richmond, VA 23284-3042. Please make your check payable to VCU Foundation and write “VCU Libraries Social Welfare History Project”. To give online

To mail your donation: VCU Gifts and Records, Box 843042, Richmond, VA 23284-3042


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