NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ann E. Fenlason (1891-1950)
Ann Louise Fenlason was a most influential faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work for a period of twenty years. She was both a Professor of Social Work and a member of the mental hygiene clinic staff at the student health service. Through her understanding of students, their needs, and their potential, she was a much sought out advisor and mentor. She was a strong influence on her students-many of whom became pioneers in their own areas of practice.
Ann Fenlason grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1913. She had worked on the college newspaper and for one of the city newspapers during summer vacations. Upon graduation, she had to decide whether to become a women's editor at the Duluth News or to accept a fellowship to the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. She flipped a coin and decided to go to school. After completing her work at Chicago, where she had lived in the Chicago Commons, she returned to Minnesota as a school attendance officer. She was one of the first women attendance officers to replace truant officers.
She became field representative of the Red Cross NW Division and organized home services during WWII and the devastating Minnesota Forest fires. In 1920, Fenlason became District Secretary of the Minneapolis Family Welfare Agency. She first became interested in psychiatric social work through her work in the Child Guidance Home Demonstration Clinic in Minneapolis. From 1923 to 1925 she was "just a farmer's wife" but then re-entered the University of Minnesota in 1925. She received her MSW in 1927 and became an associate professor.
Her interest in family, friends, and students continued throughout her life. Her death in 1950 was very sudden. She had published two books, a brief work entitled The Problems of Old Age, Particularly with Reference to Institutional Facilities in Minneapolis, 1927 and Essentials in Interviewing for the Interviewer Offering Professional Services published posthumously in 1952. A revised edition of Essentials in Interviewing was published in 1962. Her co-workers remember that one of the students that she especially befriended and helped to remain in the graduate program and obtain a social work education was Whitney Young, Jr.