NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Monte Mae Riley (1906-1991)
Monte Mae grew up in New Mexico and attended the Graduate School of Social Work in Denver and the University of Southern California. Riley is known as a pioneer in New Mexico Human Services. Her 38-year career began in 1935 in the Economic Recovery Administration. From 1936 to 1972 she held a variety of positions within the predecessor agencies of the present Human Services Department.
In her long career Monte Mae had an enormous influence, both on the social service programs and on New Mexico's social workers. Deeply concerned that social services be available to all who need them, Monte Mae encouraged those who worked for her to seek out eligible clients. She expressed the belief that the rule should not be broken, but should be stretched to encompass all who could possibly be made eligible. She also had the strong belief that services may be offered to but not inflicted upon clients. These attitudes often put her at odds with her employers. Her news formed a value base for the many idealistic young people who worked for her and became social workers.
Monte Mae demonstrated, daily, that it is possible -- if difficult -- to be a bureaucrat with compassion. She showed that public social agencies do not have to be inhumane, unresponsive and rigid. She took raw social policy and molded it into forms which could be applied in the real world of human services. If the final product was not perfect, it was at least an improvement on what had often been handed down from Washington and the states. She was also a politician in the best sense of the word. She knew the uses and abuses of power and could use this power to advance her goals. She was in the best sense of the word an exemplar, and was a friend, confident and mentor for many of a New Mexico social workers who now work in the social service systems.