NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Emil M. Sunley (1906 - 1977)
Emil M. Sunley was born in Miami County, Kansas. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas (1927) and in 1930 began his social work career in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a social worker for United Charities and eventually became first district secretary. Between 1930-1933, he served as field representative of the Bureau of Social Welfare at the University o Iowa. and also served as instructor in the Department of Social Administration at the University of Iowa. He graduated with a master's degree from the University of Iowa (1934).
In 1936 while a graduate student in the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago, he accepted a one-year appointment on the faculty of the University of Louisville, professor and acting head of the Graduate Division of Social Administration. Convinced of the need for doctorates in a growing profession, which then had only a handful, he entered the doctoral program of the School of Social Service Administration of the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate in 1938, and was appointed professor of public welfare in the Department of Sociology at West Virginia University in Morgantown. During his nearly ten years there, he founded and was appointed director of the Graduate School of Social Work.
In 1947 he was appointed director of the Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver In 1962, University of Denver's School of Social Work gained further autonomy and became known by its present name - Graduate School o Social Work. In 1968 his title was changed from Director to Dean which made him the budgetary head of the school, which placed the school on par with other graduate units at DU.
He was the first head of social work at the UC to be appointed Dean. He dramatically increased the size of the student body, which had only 65 full-time students when he arrived, and a small faculty and staff.. In 1954 he secured Templin Hall as GSSW's home. When GSSW outgrew Templin, he worked to raise funds for its eventual new home in Spruce Hall. A tireless fundraiser, he obtained many federal training and research for grants for GSSW. During his tenure GSSW achieved what only four other schools of social work had accomplished: accreditation of course sequence in psychiatric social work, group work, school social work, and medical social work. He created a pre-professional undergraduate social welfare program in 1948, and a doctoral program in social work in 1968. During his tenure the student body peaked at 240 students and the faculty grew to a team of forty.
He was active in national, regional, and local social work organizations. He was active in the American Association of Schools of Social Work serving as a member of the Accreditation Committee, and as Chairman of the Committee of One-Year Schools. In 1947 he was elected to the AASSW national board. At the time of his retirement in 1971, he was the longest serving dean of social work in the country
He died April 30, 1977, in Denver, Colorado.