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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Helen Northen Photo
Helen Northen*

Helen Northen was born in Butte, Montana. She received her Bachelor's Degree in 1939 from the University of Pittsburgh, her Master's Degree in 1944 from Bryn Mawr College, and a Doctorate Degree in 1953. She was a renowned social work educator, clinical social work practitioner, and author with more than 40 years of exceptional leadership in the profession. As an educator, Dr. Northen made an important contribution to the development of services in health and mental health settings. During her many years as a Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work, she set a precedent in the development of a health care concentration and was a leader in formulating a generic model of social work that became the corner­stone of USC's social work curriculum.

A lifetime member of NASW, Dr. Northen's work always emphasized health and mental health and the application of a broadly conceived, ecologically focused social work practice. Her ideas about social work practice and health and mental health settings were widely dissemi­nated. She was a prolific writer whose published books were adopted as texts by many schools through­out the nation.

Dr. Northen held many leadership positions in professional organizations. She played a key role in the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups (AASWG) and was a member of AASWG's Board of Directors. She also served on NASW's National Council on the Practice of Clinical Social Work. Northen received a distinguished service award for Distinguished Practitioner of Social Work and then as a Distinguished Faculty Member of the University of Southern California. In 1998, she received the Ruth Knee/ Milton Wittman Achievement Award.

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.