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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Virginia Insley Photo
Virginia Insley* (1912-2003)

Virginia Insley is known for her steadfast promotion of high standards in social work education and practice in maternal and child health programs. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, Seattle and her master of social work degree from the Graduate School of Social Work at the same university. In 1942, she worked as medical social work consultant in the division of Maternal and Child Health and Crippled Children Services, Washington State Department of Health.

From 1944 to 1949, she served at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston as a supervisor and later as acting director of the social services department where she taught clinical clerks from the Harvard University and Tufts medical schools as well as nursing students from Beth Israel Hospital. From 1949 to 1952, she was chief social worker for the Richmond City Department of Public Health, taught at the Medical College of Virginia, and was a field instructor from the school of social work at the Richmond Professional Institute.

Insley joined the U.S. Children Bureau in 1952 as a regional medical social work consultant, and, in 1955 came to Washington, DC to accept a position as chief of the medical social services section in the division of Maternal and Child Health Services, U.S. Children's Bureau. When Maternal and Child Health Services was transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service, in 1969 she continued in her position as chief until her retirement in 1980.

Insley has traveled extensively throughout the United States encouraging the development of high standards in medical social work practice in a variety of maternal and child health services and promoting public health social work education in schools of public health. Upon retirement, she was honored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health for her contribution to public health education and also by the social work section of the American Public Health Association (APHA). She has been active in both APHA and NASW. A collection of personal papers and documents is available at the Schlesinger Library on History of Women in America, Radcliffe College.

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!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.