NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Elma Phillipson Cole (1909 - 1999)
Elma Cole was born in Piqua, Ohio. She earned a BA degree from Berea College and aa MA in social work at the University of Chicago. She began her social work career in 1930 and during the 1940’s she worked at the Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC. She later worked in administrative positions for the Conference on Children and Youth and the National Mid-Century Committee for Children and Youth.
When she married she moved to New York City where her husband was an architect. She was on the staff of the National Welfare Assembly from 1957 until her retirement. She was on a number of committees for such national social welfare organizations as the National Conference on Social Work, the National Association of Social Workers, the International Council on Social Welfare, the Marshall Field Awards, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the National Legal Aid and Defense Association. She was also a contributor to a number of social work journals.Elam Coles’ parents worked for The Salvation Army as did her sister, Anita. Her pioneering work was related to the consultation she provided The Salvation Army. At her memorial service, Paul Bollwahn, who was then the National Consultant for Social Services for The Salvation Army - and has since been nominated as a NASW Social Work Pioneer ® - stated that Elma Cole “saved the social work profession and The Salvation Army” by the assistance she gave in the revision of the Army’s standards of practice, which he indicated were second to none in the field of social work. She also worked on a number of issues for the Army upon her retirement and also presented a workshop at the National Social Services Conference a year or so before her death. Again to quote Paul Bollwahn, Elma Cole “exemplified a professional social worker. She had a world view that included justice, fairness and opportunity, not only for the poor, but for those who felt oppressed or those who were victims of discrimination.”