NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Elizabeth Wisner (1894 - 1976)
The major contribution of Elizabeth Wisner was social work education in the South. Elizabeth Wisner was the Dean of the Tulane School of Social Work Wisner received her A.B. in 1914 from Newcomb College, Tulane University. She received her master's degree from the Simmons College, School of Social Work and in 1929 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Wisner was appointed assistant professor in the department of sociology at Tulane University in 1933, and was named the acting director of the newly developing school of social work. She was appointed the dean after five years of being scrutinized by the administrators of Tulane since she was their first prospective female dean. Wisner was appointed the Dean and the W.R. Irby professor of public welfare administration. She remained in this position until her retirement in 1958.
She was particularly known in the South for her education for public welfare and for the work she did with students from the South. Wisner had a personal friendship with Harry Hopkins and with various well known faculty and social workers and leaders in Chicago.
Wisner worked with the American Red Cross prior to becoming the Dean of the School of Social Work at Tulane. She established professional education which enforced a generic curriculum eventually advocated by the Council on Social Work Education. This curriculum emphasized a resume of the human life cycle, research skills, organizational analysis and casework, and group work skills. Wisner remained a force in the development of social work standards. Wisner was active with the National Association of Social Workers and was particularly involved in the Association's protest against the Federal Security Administration's attempt to ban Charlotte Towle's book Common Human Needs, which had been developed with the Division of Technical Training in the Bureau of Public Assistance, Social Security Agency. Dean Wisner continued to work with other schools to develop additional schools in the South and to build social welfare programs and organizations throughout the area. Wisner was identified as the "Dean of Social Work in the South," a title that was given to her shortly before her retirement.
After her retirement, Wisner devoted her remaining years to writing about social welfare in the South, the first work of this kind which showed how the South's distinctive socioeconomic conditions shaped social welfare needs and responses in that region of the nation. Wisner was also interested throughout her career in the history of social welfare. Information about Dr. Wisner can be obtained from personal correspondence, manuscripts, and papers housed in the Howard Chilton Library at Tulane University, biographical information may be found in Who's Who of American Women and in the obituary of The New Orleans Times, September 21, 1976.