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Social Workers of Our Time

Out of the thousands who have contributed to the field of social work, a few stand above the rest as pioneers of particular areas of the field, great Samaritans, and important scholars. Here are the twenty picks for the influential, and important social workers of modern times.

  • Richard A. Cloward: Richard A. Cloward, born 1926, died 2005, was an internationally acclaimed activist and scholar. He is one of the most widely read social workers in the field, and held a Master's in social work and a PhD in sociology, both of which were from Colombia University. He founded SERVE, or Service Employees Registration and Voter Education, in 1982. He published "Why Americans Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want it That Way" in 1988, and was a catalyst in a large number of political movements. He published a variety of other books, articles, and other works, and held a position at Colombia University's School of Social Work since 1954.

  • Edith Abbott: Edith Abbott, born in 1876, died 1957, took a Master's degree in social work and a PhD in economics, using her degree to teach economics at Wellesley College. She helped establish the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare in 1926 and helped draft the Social Security Act in 1935. Abbott was also a confidant and consultant to Harry Hopkins, who was an adviser for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Abbott was also the President of the National Conference of Social Work.
  • Sonia Grace Austrian: Sonia Austrian, born 1933, died 2008, graduated from Wellesley College and did graduate work at Colombia University. She was an inspirational teacher, as well as a professor at the Colombia University School of Social Work. She was a prolific writer, completing a number of books that are still used in social work education.
  • Harriett Bartlett: Harriett Bartlett, born 1897, diet 1987, sought to understand the whole of the field of social work. Bartlett applied her skills in analysis and reasoning to become a professor of social economy at the Simmons College School of Social Work for over a decade, and continued to contribute to the profession of social work through writing and organizational contributions for over twenty years after her retirement.
  • Wilma Walker: Wilma Walker, born 1896, died 1981, is known for her book: Child Welfare Case Records, which was published by the University of Chicago Press. This book served as a seminal text for an entire generation of students within the field of social work, and helped Walker move from a research assistant to a full professor, eventually becoming a dean of students and a director of field instruction.
  • Grace Coyle: Grace Coyle, born 1892, died 1962, created a number of writings and speeches that contributed heavily to the acceptance of group work as a social work method. She published a large number of writings, including influential pieces such as "Group Experiences and Democratic Values," and "Social Science in the Professional Education of Social Workers."
  • John B. Turner: John Turner, born 1922, died 2009, was a highly influential teacher, administrator, writer, scholar, and international authority on the field of social work. He was a prolific writer, with many published articles and several books, and served as the President of the National Conference of Social Work. His overall organizational and professional achievements are simply too numerous to mention here.
  • Mary Ellen Richmond: Mary Richmond, born 1861, died 1928, was a theoretician, teacher, and practitioner in the field of social work, and in fact created the first statement of principles of the practice of direct social work.
  • Loula Friend Dunn: Lola Dunn, born 1896, died 1977, spend over four decades of her live in public service as a social worker, at both the state and national levels, eventually serving as the head of Alabama's Department of Public Welfare. She eventually resigned the position to become the Executive Director of the APWA, and influenced many important figures from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson to Nelson Rockefeller.
  • Albert G. Feldman: Albert Feldman, born 1909, died 1975, began his career as a chemist but later abandoned the field to pursue social work. He accomplished many things in his new field of choice, both as a social work educator and administrator, and as a pioneer and innovator. Feldman devised a program with the help of Los Angeles County General Hospital to allow doctors to visit critically ill patients in their homes, rather than force them to visit the hospital.
  • Maryann Mahaffey: Maryann Mahaffey, born 1925, died 2006, chaired the Michigan Social Work Council for several years, as well as the NASW National Public Relations Committee. Mahaffey also pioneered a social work tribute program to recognize the efforts of other influential members of the field.
  • Mitchell Ginsberg: The pioneering effort, for which Mitchell Ginsberg, born 1915, died 1996, is known is his work related to centers for public services. He was also a member of NASW, and eventually served as its president.
  • Elizabeth Law Watkins: Elizabeth Watkins, born 1923, has written and published numerous works in the field of public health and social work. The main focus of the majority of her work and research throughout her career has been to make high quality health care available to children and minority women.
  • Virginia Insley: Virginia Insley, born 1912, died 2003, is most widely known for her continuous promotion of higher standards in social work education, as well as her practice in maternal and youth health programs. She traveled the United States extensively, encouraging the development of higher standards in social work as well as promoting public health social work.
  • Harriett Rinaldo: Harriett Rinaldo, born 1906, died 1981, worked with the Veteran's Administration Social Work Service in order to create higher personnel standards, rating procedures, and procedures for recruitment. These standards eventually became a model for the federal government, as well as a number of other work agencies. Rinaldo was also the first social worker to identify clinical social work as a standard within personnel.
  • Violet M. Sieder: Violet Sieder, born 1909, died 1988, was well known and highly respected for her vision and commitment to the field of social work, not only at local but at state and even federal levels. Sieder's forty-five year career is rich with important and influential decisions within the field of social work.
  • Walter Lewis Kindelsperger: Walter Kindelsperger was a well known social worker who provided the scientific community as well as the public with a number of important scholastic publications. His work focused primarily on group work and group methods, supervision and field instruction, training centers, as well as the nature of social work itself.
  • Abraham Novick: Abraham Novick, or "Abe," wrote extensively regarding the female juvenile delinquent, and therefore was integral in the current standards for juvenile delinquency responses. He also showed how the female delinquent, in many ways, reflects the practices of the social work field.
  • Nancy A. Humphreys: Nancy Humphreys was the President of the National Association of Social Workers for several years, and earned recognition across several states for breaking new ground in the profession. She was also the second woman to be elected to presidency of the NASW.
  • Sanford Kravitz: Sanford Kravitz had a lengthy and influential career as a social worker, working under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and playing a leading role in the design of the Community Action Program in the Poverty Program.