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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Dorothy M. Pearson, PhD, ACSW
Dorothy Pearson*

Dorothy M. Pearson, PhD, ACSW had a distinguished career in social work practice and social work education. She was a graduate of Southern University where she earned her bachelor's degree. Pearson later went to Wisconsin on a vacation and ended up going to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, School of Social Work, where she received her master's degree. She began her professional career as a psychiatric social worker and later accepted a teaching position in the clinical track of the University's curriculum. Pearson then pursued doctoral study at the University and received her PhD degree in 1973. Her dissertation on social class and the mentally retarded was selected by the American Association on Mental Retardation as an outstanding contribution to knowledge in the field. She went on to publish some of her findings in Social Service Review.

After receiving her PhD, Pearson accepted a joint appointment at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Barry University School of Social Work. At the University of Miami, she was part of an interdisciplinary training and research team at the Mailman Center that provided educational experiences for graduate students in social work, psychology, pediatrics, nursing, speech and hearing, special education, law, and nutrition. In 1975 Pearson moved to Howard University and provided leadership for the Board of Trustee approval of a Doctor of Social Work degree program and became the first director of that program. At that time this doctoral program was the only one in existence that predominantly served people of color.

In 1996 she took a one-year sabbatical leave from Howard University to go to Jackson State University, Mississippi, where she laid the groundwork for a doctoral program in social work which launched in 1997. Upon returning to Howard University, Pearson became a full time Professor at the School of Social Work and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Howard University. She also was named Associate Dean of Howard's School of Social Work. Pearson conducted research regarding the educational, social, and family life of professional African American women and later edited and published the book "Perspectives of Equity and Justice in Social Work".

In 1993, Pearson received the outstanding alumnus award from Southern University- Baton Rouge and was the recipient of other honors and awards and organizational appointments. In 1999 she was recognized by the Council on Social Work Education for her leadership in the establishment and development of their Carl A. Scott Memorial Fund. The Fund sponsors an annual lecture series featuring a social work scholar from an ethnic group of color, hosts fund raising events, awards book scholarships to social work students, and it also has a publication program. Pearson received the University of Wisconsin-Madison Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017.

NASW Social Work Pioneer - 1999

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.