NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
William E. Gordon ( -1990)
William E. (Bill) Gordon's research, writings and critiques concerning the social work profession have forever changed the profession. The "Working Definition" which he developed is a bench mark of what social work is about.
Although not a social worker himself, Gordon was recruited in 1951 to establish at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, one of the first doctoral programs in social work. He had been educated as a natural scientist and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in quantitative ecology in 1941. His unique perspective gave him an ambition to develop a science-based profession of social work. He trained hundreds of first-rate social work teachers and practitioners in his years at George Warren Brown.
Although he retired in 1978, he continued to provide consultation and guidance to the school. In 1977, he was given the Distinguished Faculty Award by Washington University. In 1978 the Board of Directors of NASW passed a resolution of appreciation for his intellectual and research contributions to the field. In 1979 the Journal of Social Service Research, a journal which he helped to found, published a special issue in his honor. In 1982 the George Warren Brown School of Social Work established the William E. Gordon Research Fellowship for doctoral students. In 1987 the Adelphi University School of Social Work awarded him the first Richard Lodge prize for his contributions to the development of social work.
Gordon's contributions to the development of social work knowledge went far beyond his establishing a doctoral program. With his training as an ecologist, he was among the first to introduce the ecological framework in social work. He identified the person-environment interface as the appropriate focus for social work intervention and expanded social work's dual concern with the person and his or her impinging environment. He demanded clear thinking whether from students, faculty colleagues, or other members of the advisory councils and professional committees on which he served. He was a precise logical formulator of usable constructs. It was his hope that social work will someday become a science in its own right rather than as an offshoot of the behavioral sciences. He devoted his life's work to developing an indigenous knowledge-base for social work.
Gordon was a much sought-after consultant to federal programs such as the Veterans Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health. He served on NASW committees concerned with the development of practice and knowledge.