NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Henrietta DeWitt ( -1962)
Henrietta DeWitt was a psychiatric social worker and a crusader for the improvement in the care of the chronically mentally ill. Her pioneer work began in the 1930s when, as an untrained social worker assigned to the Springfield State Hospital in Maryland, she alone began to tackle the problem of how chronically ill mental patients who had long since lost all connections with the outside world could leave the hospital and reestablish community ties.
This effort led her to establish one of the first foster home care programs in the United States. Later, her formal training in social work at the University of Pennsylvania gave her a theoretical basis and a teachable method for her visions. Her continued work established psychiatric social work as a major discipline in Maryland mental hospitals.
DeWitt spent 18 years at Springfield State Hospital and then was chief psychiatric social worker for the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for more than 10 years until her death. Her work provided a model for other states to follow and she communicated her ideas through interdisciplinary teaching and involvement with many professional groups. She was honored as a teacher with an honorary doctoral degree from Western Maryland College.