The tradition of the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare (TCSW) began in 1912 in Nashville when then Tennessee Governor Ben Hooper convened a conference of 700 delegates concerned with prison reform, child labor and a constructive approach to improving social conditions. 

Elizabeth Wisner, then Dean Emeritus of the Tulane School of Social Work, described the delegates as "crusaders" and writes "One has only to read the proceedings of this meeting to be caught up in the excitement of this call of the New South, this crusade for social service, this battle for social betterment."  The keynote address included the following challenge:  "Tell us the truth about ourselves, remembering all the while that we want curative remedies and effective surgery, as well as brave and accurate diagnoses."

The following year, 1913, the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare was born and has been “telling the truth and promoting effective remedies for social and economic problems”.  In doing so, we make a difference in the lives of all Tennesseans, especially those who are most vulnerable.