The concept of a national social work honor society came from a group of undergraduate social work students at Michigan State University in 1960. Investigation revealed that local chapters existed at three schools. Those three schools along with a few other schools formed a National Honor Society Committee in November 1960.
For more than a year this committee worked on the constitution and other administrative matters. The name Phi Alpha and the key were adopted from the local chapter which existed at Florida State University. The constitution and formal organization were complete in 1962, and six chapters qualified to become "charter chapters." They were: Florida State University, Michigan State University, Ohio Northern University, Central State College, University of Dayton and the University of Tennessee. Over 380 chapters are now in existence, and the addition of new chapters is continuing.
Phi Alpha offers membership to social work students, faculty and practitioners, and each chapter is free to develop its program to meet local needs. The National Council is the policy-making body and meets each year at the time and place of the Annual Program Meeting of CSWE. Each chapter has one voting representative on the Council.