Majoring in social work at Norfolk State University, is to be nurtured in a School with a robust history devoted to developing advocates, direct practitioners and institution builders. Social Work became a major in 1960. However, when Dr. Ethelyn Ratcliff Strong became Dean, the School would become a flagship entity of the University. A native of Portsmouth, Virginia, Dr. Strong was a graduate of Virginia Union University, Norfolk division. She earned her MSW from Columbia University and the DSW from Catholic University of America. As the first African American child welfare worker and supervisor with Norfolk Department of Social Services, she became a leader in child welfare advocacy and services. In 1960, Strong was the pulse in the development of the undergraduate program in social work, which became the only Council on Social Work Education approved program in Virginia at that time.
Norfolk State President Lyman Beecher Brooks, Dr. Strong and others, lobbied and testified before a special committee of the Virginia General Assembly, to push for the 1972 legislation which authorized graduate degree programs at Norfolk State. This legislation was a struggle of political and academic maneuvering, for the University had to demonstrate their ability to administer graduate programs, and demonstrate the unique need for NSU to attain graduate status. Dr. Strong’s national involvement in the Dean’s Council, the National Association of Social workers, area agencies and other institutional constituents created a groundswell of regional and national support for the Master of Social Work degree program, which would be established in 1974. She retired in 1983 and was awarded Emerita Status. Dr. Strong continued to be active as a speaker and a guest lecturer until her untimely death in 1986. The Faculty and Board of Visitors voted unanimously to re-name the School after Dr. Strong.