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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Frances Perkins Photo
Frances Perkins* (1880-1965)

Frances Perkins received her AB in 1902 from Mount Holyoke College and a MA from Columbia University in 1910. She was trained as a social worker and worked in settlement houses in Philadelphia and at Hull House in Chicago. She was a woman who was not afraid to go wherever she was needed in order to accomplish great things. When she was married she defended her right in court to keep her maiden name.

After she moved to New York to complete her graduate studies, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaiste Company fire in 1911 in which 146 workers, many of whom were women and children, died needlessly because doors were locked in order to prevent employees theft, blocking the worker's escape. The image of women poised on window ledges with their hands folded in prayer, leaping to their deaths, solidified what would become a lifelong ambition within Frances to lobby for industrial reform.

After securing some professional experience in social work, she was selected by Governor Al Smith as the first woman to serve on the New York State Industrial Commission. By the time she was appointed Secretary of Labor by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she brought three decades of commitment to social reform, and the experience to back up that commitment. During her career in politics she helped change the 58 hour work week for women to 48 hours, fought for a minimum wage law, and helped draft the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Social Security Act.

She was the first female Cabinet member; the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession, and she and Harold Ickes were the only secretaries to hold their posts throughout the entire Roosevelt presidency. Following her tenure as Secretary of Labor in 1945 President Harry S. Truman asked her to serve on the U. S. Civil Service Commission, which she did until her retirement in 1952, when her husband died and she resigned from federal service. She wrote "The Roosevelt I Knew". When she retired from federal service she was active as a teacher and lecturer. The United States Postal Service created a 15 cent stamp in 1980 with her image. She was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame and the Labor Hall of Fame. In 1980 the Department of Labor Headquarters was named after her.

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.