NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Irene Kohl (1935-1975)
A regional social work consultant with the National Institute of Mental Health, Irene Kohl was very instrumental in developing expanded mental health services throughout the inner mountain area. She had worked in public welfare and family service programs prior to becoming the chief psychiatric social worker for the Indiana Department of Mental Health in the early 1950's.
After she joined the National Institute of Mental Health Denver Regional Office in 1956, she immediately concentrated her efforts on the development of community resources for the care and rehabilitation of the mentally ill and upon the strengthening of social work education programs within her region. Although she worked with the state mental health authorities, she also was involved with local and private agencies.
She was known as an advocate for the disadvantaged and for minorities and for her work with agencies to bring about innovative approaches to service. After the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the Public Health Service assigned a team of specialists to the Watts area to assist in bringing health and social services to that blighted inner-city region. Irene Kohl was selected as the mental health member of that team and spent many months both studying the limitations of services in that area and helping residents find the services that they needed. Later in the 1960's, after she had spent over a year in the Watts area, Irene came to the national office of the National Institute of Mental Health and worked in the epidemiology program.
She retired in the 1970's and returned to the West Coast to live, by that time severely disabled with arthritis. After her death, the Idaho chapter of the National Association of Social Workers arranged to give special recognition to her for her many contributions to the state. A proclamation was signed by the governor establishing an Irene Kohl Day.