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.

Skip Navigation Links
Ada E. Deer Photo
Ada E. Deer* (1935-2023)

Ada E. Deer was born on the Menominee Indian Reservation, Wisconsin, in 1935. Her mother was a nurse and came from a well-to-do family in Philadelphia. As a young woman, curious about Indians, she went to a South Dakota reservation, and later moved to Wisconsin where she met and married. Her mother was a fierce advocate for Indian rights and justice. Her daughter, Ada Deer, followed in her footsteps becoming nationally recognized as an advocate and organizer on behalf of American Indians. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Columbia University School of Social Work.

She became the first woman to be appointed Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior; the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin; the first native American to lobby Congress successfully to restore tribal rights; and, the first Chairwoman of her tribe. Over the years she worked as a group worker, neighborhood house director, community coordinator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Peace Corps lecturer, school social worker, and lecturer for the School of Social Work American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin.

She served on many local, state, and national committees, boards, and commissions, and was the recipient of awards, including the Indian Council, Indian Resources Institute, Girl Scouts, National Women's History, National Women's Studies, Harvard University, Delta Gamma Foundation, and the John Jay Foundation.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Blog Post, November 19, 2014:  Native American Civil Rights Legend Urges Action


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.