NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Gisela Konopka (1910 - 2003)
Gisela Konopka was widely recognized as a researcher, educator, and spokesman for "justice with compassion, justice at heart" especially for youth. Her work with emotionally troubled adolescents has indeed contributed to better understanding to both human development and ways of intervening in the life of troubled youth.
Dr. Konopka was born in Berlin, Germany in 1910. She graduated from the University of Hamburg in 1933, and shortly after joined forces against the Nazis and was forced to spend a short time in a concentration camp. After a period in Austria and France, she immigrated to the United States in 1941. She earned her masters degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh; joined the faculty of the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota in 1947. She received her doctorate in social work at Columbia University in 1957. She continued as professor of social work at the University of Minnesota from 1947 to 1978. In the late 1970s, Dr. Konopka also became director of the Center for Youth Development and Research at the University of Minnesota. Since 1978, she was professor and director emeriti of the School of Social Work, an adjunct professor at the medical school, and a consultant and lecturer. She had written numerous books and literally hundreds of professional articles. Her works have been translated into at least 11 languages. She consulted, taught, and spoke throughout the world.
Dr. Konopka received the highest merit award of the Federal Republic of Germany for her work in rebuilding German social services after World War II. She was a recipient of Fulbright and Lilly endowment awards and was given the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. She also received a Humanitarian award by Minneapolis Community College.
Throughout all of her teaching and research, Gisela Konopka emphasized the importance of love, compassion, understanding, and group relationships. Her work concerning social groups and therapy received special recognition. She represented the practice of social work group work in many social work conferences and organizations. She served on the Board of Directors of NASW and the National Conference of Social Work, and was president of the Association of Orthopsychiatry. Her rewards and honors are numerous, but perhaps the greatest honor was to be known as humanitarian. May 24, 1990 was designated by the Governor of Minnesota as Gisela Konopka Day, which reflected the honor shown to her by her neighbors in Minnesota or more precisely, her neighbors throughout the world.