NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Kate McMahon was a major force in the development of medical social work in this country prior to World War I through the expansion of medical social work practice and education in the decade following Wold War II.
Starting about 1915, Ms. McMahon was a participant in the preliminary discussions, which led to the establishment of an organization of medical social workers. In 1917, she served on a committee that focused on promoting a national organization. This committee assembled in 1918, in Kansas City, and decided to establish an organization known as the American Association of Hospital Social Workers. In 1920, the American Hospital Association undertook its first formal survey of hospital social service departments in the country. As a result of this survey, recommendations were made about needed educational qualifications for social work directors and staff. The American Hospital Association appointed a committee on training for hospital social workers composed of physicians, nursing educators, hospital social workers, and educators in general social service. In 1925, she was appointed Educational Secretary of this organization. It was the first social work organization to appoint an official to give consultation to social work schools and universities. Ms. McMahon held the position as Educational Consultant until the merger of this organization into NASW, in 1955.
Ms. McMahon was never a full time Association employee. She held a faculty appointment as Professor of Social Work at Simmons College until 1948, while she was the Associations Executive Secretary. She had entered medical social work from the field of education, studied social work at Simmons, served with the American Red Cross for which she had planned training institutes, and had been in charge of student field work at Boston dispensary.
During her years as educational secretary, Ms. McMahon traveled extensively. She did not give brief consultation visits, but spent considerable time with schools that were interested in developing the curriculum, helped them plan and develop the curriculum, and then followed up to see how the school had achieved their goals. She also did extensive consultations with medical schools to help them develop curriculum in social components of medical care. She was a consultant to several government programs.
In 1954, there were 27 approved sequences of medical social work, two of them in Canada. Ms. McMahons counsel influenced the development of all 27, and had been an important guiding influence for most of them. Also in 1954, she had consulted with the 54 graduate member schools of CSWE, and had given direct counseling services to 40 schools of social work and 20 schools of medicine. In this same year, she received the Doctor of Humanities Degree from the Western Reserve University.