NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Irene Grant (Dalrymple)
Irene Grant can rightly be called the mother of the Social Work Service of the Department of Veterans Affairs. After service in the American Red Cross, during and following World War I, she was selected as the first Director of the program in 1922. At her first meeting with the Administrator of the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, she was asked if being a social worker was anything like being a socialist.
From this meager beginning and primitive understanding of the nature of social work within the agency, Grant somehow managed to forge a program of individual, group, and community social work for veterans and their families during the euphoric 1920's and throughout the dark and austere days of the great depression. First and foremost in her administrative philosophy was her dogged adherence to professional standards of performance and her insistence on professional education as the basic qualification for employment.
Under her leadership, the program grew in size and professional stature. It was the first Federal social work program to gain affiliation with professional schools of social work. It became a leader in community care for the mentally ill, and in developing the social aspects of medical care and rehabilitation. This was the heritage left by Grant which became the foundation for the post World War II programs.
Following World War II and the unprecedented outpouring of benefits to veterans by a grateful nation, the VA's medical programs, along with social service, were greatly expanded. With characteristic modesty and with her vision for the future, Grant passed the leadership role to younger social workers, many of whom served in the military during the war or in the American Red Cross. She served out her VA career as advisor, counselor, and historian to the new leaders.
Photo rights belong to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs