NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Case Western Reserve University students honor 10 NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Wilma Walker (1896 - 1981)
Wilma Walker, long time faculty member of the School of Social Service at the University of Chicago, was a colleague of the Abbotts, Sophonisba Breckenridge, and other vigorous pioneers. She was perhaps the humanizing and leavening influence to these dynamic women and was an influence on both faculty and students for generations. She came to the University of Chicago in the 1920s to supervise field work and visiting teacher work. She was known as an expert in child welfare and also for her work as dean of students. For years, Walker stood as the embodiment of SSA and of social work and was a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to her colleagues. It was through her development of imaginative approaches to support, both emotionally and financially, that she was able to help many students obtain their social work education. For fifty years, Walker's diligence and wisdom were influential in defining the appropriate role of social work in society and in helping to shape the school into a major social work educational institution. Although she officially retired in 1961, she continued to serve the school in many vital ways until her death. She was director of Alumni Affairs, organizer of alumni fundraising campaign, advisor to faculty, deans, and students.
Walker was born in Iowa and went to Drake University for two years to train and become a primary school teacher. From the age of 19 to 21 she taught in primary school and thereafter returned to university studies, this time the University of Iowa. There she enrolled in a new program in child welfare and received both bachelor's and master's degrees. In the following year, with the aide of a foundation fellowship, she went to the University of Pennsylvania to study social work in the public schools. This was succeeded by a year of work in Kansas before she went to Chicago and joined the SSA faculty in 1928.
In 1937, Walker's book, Child Welfare Case Records was published by the University of Chicago Press. This was a major text for a generation of students specializing in child welfare. At the University, she moved from research assistant to full professor before becoming dean of students and director of field instruction, which brought her into continuing contact with students, agencies, and alumni. In Chicago she was also a member and leader in countless organizational bodies such as the Metropolitan Welfare Council, the Mary McDowell Settlement House, and local social work organizations. The many testimonials given at her memorial service, indicated that the gentleness and personal dignity manifest a formidable strength which was a profound influence on many generations of social workers.