NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ellen Winston (1903-1984)
Ellen Winston was appointed the first United States Commissioner of Welfare in January 1963. She is credited with welding together a number of fragmented public welfare programs and introducing progressive innovations in the federally aided programs of public assistance, medical assistance, and child health and welfare services. Winston also strengthened relationships between public and voluntary welfare agencies. Her broad vision of public welfare was incorporated in many important legislative developments, including the Medicaid program.
Ellen Winston was born in North Carolina. She received a bachelor of arts degree and earned an LLD degree from Converse College and in 1930 earned a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. Winston taught social science in Raleigh, North Carolina from 1928 through 1934.
Winston became a social economist and editor of technical publications for the Works Progress Administration; she became a prolific writer. She held progressively responsible positions in public and voluntary agencies, including the Farm Security Agency, the National Resources Planning Board, and the Carnegie Corporation. In 1944, she was named Commissioner of Public Welfare in North Carolina. Her progressive policies and personnel standards were nationally recognized. She remained as Commissioner until rejoining the federal government.
In 1967 she retired from the Welfare Administration. Winston continued her affiliation with many social welfare organizations, especially the International Conference of Social Welfare. For many years she maintained homes in both North Carolina and Washington, D.C.