NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Eleanor Cockerill (1902 - 1980)
Cockerill was a leader in medical social work during the period following World War II. She had a rich career from the 1940's through the 1970's during which she contributed, not only to social work in the medical setting, but to the entire field. One of the early graduates of a masters' social work sequence, she became renowned throughout the country as a gifted thinker, an excellent teacher, and an outstanding writer.
Cockerill rose above the diversionary trends and divisive activities that beset the social work profession at the time. Thus, she refused to go along with her colleagues at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh who rejected the theories of Freud and subscribed to the teachings of Rank. Rather, as a professor at the Pittsburgh school, she persisted in synthesizing the most useful ideas of various schools of thought and expressed her unifying concepts in numerous lectures, writings, and articles which could be described as having the underlying theme "Widening Horizons of Social Work," which indeed is the subject of her book.
Her professional influence extended beyond the confines of Pittsburgh. In 1950, in an effort to enrich medical social work nationwide, she assembled key directors of medical social work agencies and departments throughout the country for seminars purposefully geared to improve their practice.
Cockerill was in great demand as a speaker at national and international social work conferences. She became a respected consultant to health agencies. Her services were also retained at the national level by the Veterans Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Because of her appreciation of the multi-disciplinary approach to social work practice, she was invited to serve as a member of various multi-disciplinary bodies.
She was a pioneer in striving to infuse the health field with social work values. In reaching out to the medical profession, she specified how social workers could be helpful in the treatment of various diseases such as arthritis. This outlook had a profound influence on her students throughout their careers. Many went on to become leading practitioners, teachers, and writers.
Cockerill's accomplishments did not pass unnoticed in the field of psychiatry. In the 1950's and 1960's when the Menningers were developing their psychiatric facility in Topeka, Kansas, she was invited to make regular visits there to afford insight and guidance to the resident staff. Her focus was consistently geared to enhancing the treatment accorded the patients beset with mental illness, in an effort to speed their health adjustment and recovery. She was always eager to explore new professional ways. Cockerill spent a sabbatical in England devoted to social work practice in the health field there.
Eleanor Cockerill was an original of her day and an inspiring thinker. Like many unusual persons, she had her eccentricities and foibles. These were observed and disparaged by some of her contemporaries. She firmly held that a social worker should at all times and at all costs reflect, in her personal conduct as well as in her professional practice, the values that should govern the individual, the community, and society.