NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Gertrude Vaile Photo
Gertrude Vaile*

Gertrude Vaile was a public welfare reformer who was able to demonstrate that it was feasible and productive to apply casework principles to the field of public welfare and to change an archaic county agent's office into a legitimate social service department. She used the same concepts of casework practice and public welfare policy in her role as a social work educator. Vaile was born in Indiana and when she was about five her family moved to Denver where they became very prominent, socially and politically. She graduated from Vassar College, and moved to Chicago in 1909 to attend the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. While in Chicago, she was a resident at Chicago Commons, a settlement house founded by Graham Taylor.

In 1913, she was asked by the Mayor of Denver to take a position on the City Board of Charities and Corrections and a year later became the Executive Director of the Board. It was in that context that she began to apply casework principles to a politically-run agency. This public social service department was the first of its kind in the United States. The Denver office used casework, case conferences, and friendly visitors. She also introduced the use of inter­agency case conferences at which representatives of all public and private social agencies met to marshal and coordinate community resources for clients she also made extensive use of volunteers.

During World War II, Vaile served as Director of Civilian Relief for the Mountain Division of the American Red Cross and again found ways of applying casework principles. After the war, Vaile joined the field staff of the Family Service Association of America where she was Associate Field Director until 1923. She left this position to become Executive Director of the Colorado State Department of Charities and Corrections. In 1930, Vaile became Associate Director of the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota, a position she would hold until her retirement in 1946.

In 1926, Vaile was elected President of the National Conference of Social Work. In her presidential address before the conference she spoke of the decline of the kind of crusading social work leadership which had been so evident in the days of the progressive movement. She went on to identify the emergence of a new type of leadership in a field more concerned with day to day administration than with broad ideals in social vision. While lamenting the passing of the reform movement, Vaile stated that the present needs seemed to be for decentralized, diffused learning.

At Minnesota, she worked to strengthen the Association of Schools of Social Work which became the Council of Social Work Education, believing that the potential of social work education could be realized only if the various schools united and worked together. One of the principles she advocated in her administration of welfare programs and her teaching, was that government should assume the responsibility for the welfare of its people. One of her main accomplishments was to show that government could efficiently and effectively develop and maintain a rational system designed to meet human needs.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  2020, 2021 and 2022 Pioneers were inducted at the 2022 Annual Program and Luncheon. 

2022 Special Honoree