NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ruth L. Shurter (1906 - 2002)
Ruth Shurter's social work career highlights her philosophy of always being willing to try something new and to take advantage of new opportunities. She participated in the development of several important health and social programs. She was born in Kingston, New York, received a bachelors in Chemistry from Syracuse University in 1929 and then returned to Kingston to manage the family bakery business.
With the beginning of the Depression, she accepted a job as a welfare investigator for Ulster County, New York. One of her most important assignments was to certify people for the Work Project Administration which included certifying artists for the WPA art projects. This included many later to be famous artists from the town of Woodstock. She was selected from a group of investigators to attend a crash program on welfare at the University of Buffalo. Later she applied for and was accepted at the New York School of Social Work where she received her masters degree. She then returned to the Ulster County Welfare Department as the director of the Child Welfare Agency.
With the entrance of the United States into World War II, she applied for an assignment with the American National Red Cross. She became field director of the Red Cross unit for the U.S. Army 3004th General Hospital with her first overseas assignment at Mariani Island on the island of Tinian. She was there when the Enola Gay took off from its airfield to bomb Hiroshima. Later assignments with Red Cross included Iwo Jima and Tripler Hospital in Honolulu.
When she returned to the states in 1947, she accepted a social work position with the Veterans Administration and was assigned to Veterans Administration hospitals in Texas. After becoming a regional consultant with the Veterans Administration in Minnesota, she then joined the National Institute of Mental Health in 1957. She was assigned as psychiatric social work consultant to the Dallas Regional Office and did extensive work with community mental health programs and minority oriented social programs in that area. In 1962 she transferred to the Indian Health Service and became chief social worker for the Navajo nation in Windwood Arizona. She retired from that position in 1968 and went to live in Santa Fe. Later she moved to a retirement community in Albuquerque.
In the years since her retirement she has been active in volunteer social work and political affairs, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the ACLU and the Unitarian Church. Currently, in spite of problems with both hearing and sight, she is a leader within her retirement community in terms of both political and discussion and crafts and volunteer work. For many years weaving has been one of her major hobbies.